Published: January 8th 2011January 6th 2011
Our ferry back to Spain inexplicably stopped at Gibraltar so I guess technically we’re in the UK right now, hoping that the next stop for this giant ship is Algeciras, where we were supposed to be heading. There was probably some fine print (or even large print with my suspect Spanish skills) that mentioned that the half hour Tanger Med to Algeciras trip was actually a four hour trip on Fridays. Ahhh…the daily trevails of traveling. Good thing we didn’t plan to accomplish much today. We’ll just glorify it as a 3-country day cruise: ‘See Morocco, England and Spain in a day!’
After arriving Wednesday in Tanger Med on the Moroccan coast we were met by our host Terry who came along for the taxi ride in order to hit the supermarket in Tetouan on the way back to Chefchaouen. So along the way we were able to chat with him about Morocco from an ex-pat’s point of view. The taxi was a luxury that saved us both time and aggravation of dealing with buses when time was a precious commodity. So in Tetouan we stopped at ‘the market’ which typically in a country like Morocco I’d picture as an
open-air affair or at best perhaps a small dingy shop with flickering fluorescent lights and flies on meat hanging in a window.
We pull into the parking lot of a market called Marjane which, to give you a sense of scale, would easily match or put to shame a SuperWalmart. It had to be a quarter mile square, this building, filled with clothing, food, big screen flat panel Tvs…you name it. And a Pizza Hut up front. Welcome to Morocco! There was a reason Terry came on the two-hour drive though - that was the nearest place to Chaouen to buy dog food so these stores aren’t in every town.
We survived Morocco nicely and found Chefchaouen to be a really interesting place that I’d recommend to anyone. The people of Morocco are kind and smart, many of them speaking a pile of languages as a result of their proximity to Spain, a French occupation, their native Arabic, Berber dialects and those dealing with tourists, English as well. The town of Chefchaouen is situated on a west-facing slope in the Rif (Reef) mountains and has the reputation of being the epicenter of all Moroccan marijuana production
which apparently from there is distributed throughout the world. It’s not really our game and we wondered if the town would just be in a giant cloud of smoke and overrun with dreadlocked hippy wannabes making a pilgrimage and perhaps never leaving their utopia of plenty.
We had very little time there and so can’t pretend to begin to describe what is really going on in the town but I will say that, other than the two guys that wanted to sell us hash and our hosts who were neck-deep in the culture, you’d never really otherwise be confronted with that side of Chefchaouen unless you sought it out.
The medina (or old city) section of Chaouen is renowned for its mystical blue and white maze of homes, some of which date back hundreds of years. The color is otherworldly and you feel totally immersed the most beautiful color blue as you walk through. Mysterious passages down corridors and windows ornately decorated with wrought iron painted other shades of blue, small shops selling leather goods, carpets, paint, hardware, wood working supplies, groceries the size of large closets…it is a maze of commercialism in a place that feels a
thousand years old. Really it only dates back to 1471 when the Moors booted out of Spain set up camp here. Video of Chefchaouen from above, on the medina wall Video of a small piece of the medina
The women in Morocco enjoy significantly more freedom than some of their other Muslim counterparts, likely owing to the colorful history of Morocco, the late arrival of Islam and the Berber component of life. I don’t know, I need to read more about its history. Wikipedia, as usual, has a very efficient summary here
. But my curiosity about the status of women took about 10 seconds to deduce once off the ferry where two uniformed women met the boat. Guess that answered that.
One of the best things about Chaouen is the jalaba, a long, pointy-hooded cloak that all of the men wear. I tried to talk Todd into buying one to bring back and start a jalaba trend in Montezuma County. Couldn’t sell him on it but I have to tell you - those jalabas are stylin’.
On our first night in town we made our way to the Kasbah,
the old fort/castle in the center of town around which little stores and cafes have sprung up. Finally got to try my first Tajine, a Moroccan stew that was really nice. As soon as our food was on the table we were attacked by about 10 cats who appeared out of nowhere. It was a constant challenge to keep them out of our food. As soon as we stood up to leave they were on the plates like lions on a carcass cleaning up the bits left over.
Oh my goodness, this boat might never get us to Algeciras. Todd is thinking we could have swum across the straight faster than we’re getting there on this thing. The last of the Gibraltar passengers seem to finally be on so maybe we’ll get out of here soon. Ironically enough, any time that we had planned to spend exploring Gibraltar has been eaten up by this unexpected stop at the Gibraltar port. Ah well...
We spent all day yesterday in Chaouen, wandering around. As we headed into town first thing in the morning, the driver that had brought us from Tanger Med port to town zoomed by us in his
taxi and after dropping off his passengers at the nearby driving school came back our way and told us to get in. Not a lot of language in common with Rachid but having spent two hours with him the previous day we figured what the hell. After dropping off one other guy in the cab he asked if we wanted the ‘souk’ which is the market just below the medina. Sure! And what a fantastic pit-stop; it would have been a total shame to miss out on it. It was one of the most vibrant markets I’ve ever seen, piles of oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, gorgeous red and green peppers, red onions as big as grapefruits, burlap sacks filled with colorful spices, huge tables piled with more eggs than you can imagine, vendors hawking their wares loudly in Arabic, the smell of French fries cooking in hot oil…it was pretty cool. We took a turn around the market, bought some freshly ground cinnamon and cumin and a bag of peppercorns and headed up the hill toward the medina.
Seemed like a good place to buy a few things so we began the adventure of Moroccan negotiation in each shop. Chaouen
shop owners pride themselves on being much more relaxing to deal with than their Fez, Marrakech or Tanger counterparts - no pressure, no worry, just looking, only happy smile. You hear that a lot. But they’re not stupid, they know how to work it - it’s just more refined than an all-out assault on your ability to resist, none more highly skilled than the carpet salesmen. And yes, we ended up with a small carpet. Not sure there is any resisting these professionals. But at least you end up with a gorgeous product after the exhausting process.
It was a long day and we crawled gratefully past sheep, goats, chickens and construction back to our guesthouse on the hill where we tried to figure out our next move. The boat is finally moving again and we still don’t have a clue what we’re doing once we re-locate our rental car and point it out of Algeciras. I guess with the daylight we have left we’ll wander up the coast toward Marbella and see what the night has in store for us.
There are more photos below