Published: May 16th 2011April 24th 2011
Blue Is The Colour
How's this for an entrance to your house.
The hotel breakfast was an ordinary, tasteless, carb-dominated affair of chewy roti, dry pastries and stale pittas - not impressed. The only things with any taste were some horrible olive-infused luncheon, hard-boiled eggs and some very salty olives. However, it was included in the price and I had a journey ahead of me so I force-fed myself as much breakfast as I could.
The journey was one by bus from Tangier to Chefchaouen, a supposedly charming and picturesque town in the Rif Mountains.
On arrival in Chefchaouen, my hostel directions say that the hostel is about a fifteen minute walk from the bus station - but it never said that it was a fifteen minute walk up
. Looking at the very steep incline before me (as well as two stray cats shagging off the side of the road) I thought the hell with that. Not with my ankle the way it was. And right on cue, a crusty van pulls up beside me, driven by a man with two old ladies in the back.
"Where are you going?" he asks.
"Bab Al Ain?" I replied.
Having just escaped the hustlers of Tangier, I
Sacks of dye on sale made for a colourful photograph of a colourful town.
normally wouldn't have trusted the man, but with the two old ladies in tow I felt a little reassured. 10Dh seemed a good price too, so in I hopped.
The old ladies were typical old ladies, friendly and sweet, and the man tried to converse with me in broken English, asking where I was from and stuff.
Only having a 20Dh note to pay him with, I was almost expecting him not to give me any change (like in Belgrade
) and was surprised when he gave me 10Dh back. I thanked him and made my way towards the main gate of Chefchaouen's medina.
I was almost immediately lost. I didn't quite follow my directions properly but stumbled across some awesome photo opportunities – a whole lot of old buildings are completely flushed in a light blue. I then discovered that most of the town is painted this colour - it was amazing.
I eventually found my way towards the Pension Souika when a man approaches me saying, "Pension Souika?"
When he starts leading me in the direction I was going anyway, I was thinking 'here we go...'
Once at the hostel, he takes me
But a pretty one.
directly to the front desk, where he seemed to know the guy working there. However, rather than ask for a guidance fee, he smiles and tells me, "if you want hashish, you come and find me", and then he left. Buttering up potential clients.
The hostel was dirt cheap - about £5 a night - and for the price, was actually alright. There was free Wi-Fi, two computers, a TV, a kitchen, hang-out sofas on two floors, and a brilliant view from the rooftop. Perhaps the only feature that was of the expected quality was having only two-and-a-half showers for three floors of guests which would easily have numbered about 40. The "half-shower" was only about a metre high, perfect for a midget.
Due to Chefchauoen's location in the Rif Mountains - famous as a breeding ground for "kif", a highly-concentrated form of cannabis that makes up a large percentage of the region's economy - it seemed that visitors here were either hikers or hippies. A familiar smell greeted my nostrils as two dreadlocked Spaniards in hiking gear walked past me on the hostel roof.
I got talking to some of the people in my dorm -
The Biggest Plate Of Couscous I Have Ever Seen (TM)
Served with a pile of vegetables and meat and some Moroccan "whisky".
Yukiko, a Japanese girl; Tommy, an Australian guy; and Felicity, a girl from New Zealand – Kiwis, we're everywhere.
Having not eaten since breakfast back in Tangier, I was starving and Yukiko came and joined me for a meal.
Typical of a Japanese girl, Yukiko was on the shy side, but willing to have a conversation and to ask questions. She was on a world tour of sorts and was off to Spain next. Her English was good and she even managed to understand my jokes...
Our hostel was quite superbly located just one minute away from the Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the main square where the two main sights of the city are - the alcazaba (kasbah) and the Grande Mosque. Also in the main square are several restaurants set against a lovely backdrop.
The menus at all the restaurants are pretty much all identical, so we ended up dining at the place whose hawker talked to us first. Drinking what the locals called "Moroccan whisky" (mint tea) I then had a Moroccan salad complete with local goat's cheese which was delicious. The texture of the cheese was somewhere between raw mozzarella and camembert and reminded
Set against a backdrop of misty mountains. Taken from the main tower inside the alcazaba.
me of the cheese they served in the salads in Serbia
. I then had The Biggest Plate Of Couscous I Have Ever Seen (TM). The couscous along with the stewed lamb was nice, but again was on the bland side. Needless to say, I decided to skip dessert.
Back at the hostel, I got talking to the people hanging out on the first floor couches. As well as Tommy from my dorm, I also got talking to Mike (American), Joel (Aussie), Leah (Aussie), Ben (American) and Daniel (German). They were a cool bunch of people and easy to talk to. You could even talk to Daniel in any one of four languages if you wished. Three more girls from New Zealand then joined us, which along with another NZ couple in the hostel ensured that there were at least seven random New Zealanders in a hostel in a small Moroccan town in the mountains.
Tommy had his laptop out - so naturally we all watched some Flight Of The Conchords on it, keeping with the whole Kiwi theme...
The next day I went for a wonder around the medina.
My first port of call was the
Inside the main residential building inside the alcazaba.
alcazaba. I have to say that it's not the best kept citadel that I have ever seen, although one of the buildings inside it had a beautiful courtyard in the middle of it. There was also a tower that you could go up, that gave some breathtaking views of the blue and white town against a misty mountain backdrop.
I then walked up towards the main mountain behind the town to have a look at the old town wall up there, walking through the residential areas and past the locals who lived there. With all the buildings tightly packed together and painted light blue or white, you could easily mistake yourself as being in a town in the Greek Islands rather than in Morocco.
I then got a bit lost - but luckily Chefchaouen isn't the biggest town in the world, and I ended up back at Bab al-Ain, although I swore I was at the other end of town. Unlike Tangier's medina
, getting lost here was a lot more pleasant. Chefchaouen is quite possibly the most colourful town I have ever been to and there is a photo opportunity awaiting you around every corner. Snaking my way
The store is called Dar Chefchaouen if you're ever interested in buying carpets in Chefchaouen. This is the plug I promised the store owner.
through this maze of a town, I didn't get hassled as much either - although the consistent calls from the locals of "Japan!" and "koninchi wa!" are still very irritating
. Although not as badly as in Tangier, I was still stared at here - and there are still enough faux guides around to make things annoying.
On my way back to the hostel, I am then talked to by a man who wants me to take photos of his carpet shop.
"Free photos" he tells me, letting me know that I don't need to pay him for taking photos of his shop. He seemed to be telling me that he'd like me to advertise his shop for him with my photos - well, good thing for him I keep a travel blog then. Anyway, he invites me inside where he passes me on to a guy who spoke better English and who explains to me the different carpets that are made here and how long they take to make. A big carpet takes a year to make apparently. He also offers me some mint tea, which I gratefully accept.
Unfortunately for him, there is no way I
Chefchaouen has natural beauty as well as man-made.
am going to buy a carpet.
"Not even as gifts or souvenir?" he pleads.
He is even keen to barter; "how about I swap you carpet for your watch?"
"No, I generally don't buy anything when I travel", I tell him, "you've got the wrong guy in here unfortunately my friend". There's no way I can fit a carpet in my hand luggage. It is at this point that he gives up and thanks me for my time. As a consolation, I offer to advertise his carpet shop on TravelBlog by publishing photos of it in this blog entry, and I leave him my website address.
After bumping into Yukiko, I then stumble across a set of reasonably large rapids, that could be loosely classified as a waterfall. It seems to be the
place in town that the locals gather at apart from the main square. It is a semi-romantic spot, with viewing platforms, shelters and bridges built along the rapids. The shelters came in handy, as it started to rain quite heavily. Being up in the mountains, Chefchaouen isn't the warmest place either and it gets quite cool in the evenings. I
The best of the local cuisine that I have eaten so far.
was totally unprepared for cold, wet weather - meanwhile all my friends were raving on Facebook about how warm and sunny the weather is in London. Murphy's Law.
I cruise around town for a little longer, taking more and more photos - it is such a pretty place.
I went back to the hostel for a short rest, where Joel was hanging out on the first floor couch. Having not eaten anything all day, I was starving, so I suggested we go grab a late lunch.
We ended up at a place in the main square that was talked up by peeps at the hostel. This was where I had the best thing I had eaten in Morocco so far - a slightly spicy, tomato-based meatball tagine. Now this was more like what I was expecting of Moroccan food - they sell so many spices on the streets that you'd expect more of them to be used in their cooking. Delicious. Pity the Moroccan salad was shit - far too much raw onion. I rounded things off with a creme caramel.
We were then randomly joined by Tommy and Leah who were also out for a
I think that these things have an actual name but I can't be arsed researching it.
We had some good conversation and it was cool hanging out - there isn't a great amount to do in Chefchaouen apart from just chilling out and we had all seen everything in the town already. It was cold and still pissing down - not the weather I was expecting at all in Morocco.
The only thing missing was some alcohol, so Tommy suggested we head to a hotel which would have its own bar - alcohol is not something in ready supply in Morocco.
Where I had just paid 50Dh for a three-course meal, I then spent the same amount on two 250ml beers, which is testimony to how cheap the food is here in Chefchaouen. The local brew, Flag Speciale, isn't the most impressive lager I have ever had, and the Andalusian "Alhambra" is much better.
The bar wasn't the most ambient place to have a drink - with fluorescent lighting, white tiles and no music, it was a pretty sterile place. Nevertheless we got talking to a couple of locals including a local man who Leah could speak to with her impressive grasp of French.
When we realised that we had
The Sky Is On The Ground
It certainly looks like it here.
spent the equivalent of two three-course meals on four bottles of beer, we decided to make a beeline to the hostel.
We were keen to keep drinking but there was nowhere else to buy alcohol so it was a bit frustrating - but Leah then tells us that the guy in the small foodstore next to our hostel has a secret stash that he discreetly sells to Westerners desperate for a drink. As we enter the store, we all buy chocolates, of which he has an absurd amount on sale. However when we enquire about alcohol, he says he doesn't have any. Leah is sure that he has some, but he smiles and refuses to reveal if he indeed has any or not.
Outside, a hash dealer tries to sell us hash, but we already have a supply - so we then ask him if he can get us some alcohol. He says that he can get us 24 beers at 25Dh each, but that is the same price we were paying at the hotel bar. I think he could've got some for cheaper, but he wanted a margin for himself. We then negotiate over a 1L bottle
All the buildings follow this colour scheme; blue, white or clay.
of vodka. He starts off at 600Dh (£43) which is just ridiculous, before we gradually get him down to 200Dh, which between four of us, is reasonable. He isn't sure that vodka is available, and asks us if we would accept cognac instead. We were desperate for anything, so we told him that cognac would be fine. He then takes our money and disappears to retrieve the goods.
We wait in the store for about twenty minutes, buying lots of 10-15Dh chocolates which must've kept the store owner happy, and I honestly didn't expect the dealer to come back. Just as we are about to walk into the hostel, the dealer re-appears and walks straight into the hostel, hiding the freshly procured vodka into a hidden shelf in the hostel refrigerator. He tells us to be discreet about drinking it and not to drink it on the street. We found the whole sneakiness of it all quite amusing. We then bought some mixers before retiring to the second-floor couches to enjoy a few drinks.
We thought the vodka tasted a little dodgy - the cap wasn't sealed properly - but it did the trick, especially with some pineapple
Joel, Leah & Tommy
My dorm mates in the soup kitchen.
juice and some fresh mint that Leah had in her possession.
As well as alcohol, we also enjoyed some kif in the Rif. We also had some opium that we shared around.
It was a good group of people to hang out with and we discovered that we all had a mutual appreciation of indie and alternative music, which we got cracking on the iPod speakers - good times. Later on we were also joined by Felicity, who had just come back from a hammam
All this smoking makes you quite hungry, so we decided to saunter outside the old town walls to a local soup kitchen where you could get soup and bread for just 5Dh. A backpacker's staple. The price however was matched by the standard of hygiene at the place - low. Crammed with locals eating fried fish and soup, soup stains and fish bones littered the tables which were merely wiped down with a cloth in preparation for the next customers - us. Served with the soup was tap water, and the bread was simply dumped on the table. At the time however, I just looked at it as a local dining experience.
Me & Felicity
I couldn't eat my soup because I was a bit overzealous with the hot seasoning.
The chickpea soup itself wasn't that great and in trying to give it some flavour I ended up putting too much chilli powder/paprika in it so that it became uneatable. Shouldn't have sipped the tap water - a no-no in Morocco.
We then decided to have a final wander in the main square - we really just needed a bar.
So I don't think any of us were quite thinking straight when we got talked into having another meal by a restaurant hawker in the square - in our state, I don't think we could really turn down a three-course meal for just 45Dh (£3.50). We were all just hungry. I wonder why.
The Moroccan salad was good with the goat's cheese outstanding again, while the lamb and coucous was again pretty bland - all the food I have had in Morocco has been pretty bland, apart from the meatball tagine and the pastilla I had in Tangier
. Tagines and couscous have been particular disappointments, as they are basically just boiled vegetables and meat.
I was so full - I couldn't eat my yoghurt for dessert.
Also, for some reason they wouldn't bring out our
Streets Of Chefchaouen #1
Typical alley in Chefchaouen - very pretty.
mint tea until the end. Felicity's banana and avocado fruit smoothie was delicious though.
Meanwhile, I was finding everything hilariously funny and was constantly giggling. It was certainly a different experience to the last time I was this stoned on my travels
I had actually originally only planned one night in Chefchaouen, but made it two when I discovered the accommodation prices in Fes - which is where I am heading next. And I am glad I decided to spend more time here, as I made some cool random friends which is one of the best things about travelling.
There are more photos below