Morocco - Chefchaouan & Fez, November 2010

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November 16th 2010
Published: December 13th 2010
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YAY off to Africa today! We set off from camp at about 9.30am for the ferry terminal and caught the 11.30am ferry across to Cueta – the tiny Spanish enclave on the African continent. The ferry ride went really quickly. The water was pretty smooth and the sun was out – so overall a great ride and no flashbacks to that horrible ferry from Egypt to Jordan a few years back (stayed away from the ferry toilets just in case) ;-)

The Moroccan border was about 20 minutes from the ferry terminal of Cueta and went pretty quickly actually – we were expecting much more ‘manic-ness’!! All went smoothly and we were through in less than an hour (a new record according to Andi!) – not something to usually expect when crossing land borders in Africa! Once through the border we drove about 3 hours to the sleepy town of Chefchaouen. We were really surprised, the first parts of Morocco we saw while driving along the coast, were really new and being heavily developed. It looks like a lot of money has been poured into this area, a lot of building going on, new resorts and residences (most looking still empty of residents!), and palm tree lined beach promenades which stretched for kilometres – but were completely deserted! We were suitably surprised! We then headed into the Rif Mountains – some gorgeous scenery along the way. Arrived at our campsite in the late arvo, which is about 35 minutes walk from the town. We started up the campfire straight away – there is nothing like campfires, they are awesome! Especially because the nights have been quite cold so far, so it was lovely to eat dinner (chicken wraps), have a few drinks around the camp fire and feel the heat!! We are once again in a Muslem country and the Mosque calls rebounding around the countryside calling Muslems to prayer (or “Mosque O’clock” as we like to call it) brings back a few memories from past travels. Sat around swapping travel stories fairly late, the group is really well travelled in general and there are some awesome stories from around the globe. The nights are still pretty cold, Bunny even pulled out her thermals for bed time and her sleeping bag is pretty awesome - but it’s pretty darned cold up in the mountains! A ‘Bro-mance’ has developed between tent buddies Mike and Big G ... much high fiving and such... ha ha.

The next morning we headed into town ... only to find out everything was shut because it was a religious holiday (Eid-Al-Adha – or ‘Festival of Sacrifice’) and Independence Day is tomorrow. So, as a result, it was a little like a ghost town. It was utterly surreal to go into the medina, a place usually streaming with people and life and craziness.... but which was so deserted! However it was perfect for a few lovely camera shots of the charming blue and white buildings throughout the town. Also, (and here vegetarians are permitted to skip the next part....) the tradition for this particular religious holiday is for families to slaughter a sheep which they will eat and share over the following days. One-third of the animal is generally eaten by immediate family and relatives, one-third is given away to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor. Unfortunately Kristi was in the truck at one point and happened to look down to see a family slit the throat of a sheep in their backyard, then immediately string it up and start skinning. The whole process was super quick!!! And they scrub the blood off the walls of their house pretty quick too... It was all very macabre but surreal at the same time! One minute ‘Timmy the sheep’ is happily grazing in a family’s backyard, next minute the kids are kicking his head around the backyard. It’s all very matter of fact for them and they don’t quite have the same level of queasiness as us sheltered westerners! We saw small children all over the place kicking and playing catch with random sheep parts and skins in piles on street corners. Yet all is in the name of celebrations for a special religious holiday and it’s a very happy occasion. It was quite a weird experience. We headed back to campsite just outside town in the truck and by that time there were skinned sheep hanging up outside all the houses as we climbed the hills – pretty crazy.

We spent most of the rest of the day around the campfire – and Bunny suggested making damper – using beer as yeast. Martin whittled down some green sticks for use in the fire and hey presto, it was an absolute hit! ‘Sir’ Michael gave us all an art lesson too, which was unexpected and pretty fun. Was a pretty cruisy day all up, a very pleasant start to a long time on the ‘dark continent’ – including a ‘truck dinner’ (all food sourced from the truck) of pasta napolitana! We’re definitely eating well so far.

The following day was a drive day to Fez; we left about 8.30am and arrived at campsite at about 3pm after stopping at a supermarket as it was Bunny’s turn on cook group. Also found that olives were ridiculously cheap!! We got a huge bag of mixed olives to snack on and they (even as the most expensive variety available) cost 1 Euro for a giant bag – awesome! We also stocked up on marshmallows for the campfire (of course!!) ;-) When stopped for lunch in a quiet spot a few local kids ran over to investigate – none spoke a word of English, but one wee fellow waved at us the whole time, seriously the WHOLE time – at least an hour of solid waving... weird. Ryan, Tim and Bunny cooked dinner that night – turkey and vegetable kebabs over the fire with pomegranate cous cous – pretty fabulous. Then it was another night around the ‘bush tv’; sharing stories and generally just getting to know each other.

The next day we had a look around Fez, stopping by the royal palace and viewpoints from above the city at a Borg (castle), and a pottery place where we bought a tiny tagine as a souvenir. The hand-painting at the pottery factory in particular was very impressive – talk about steady hands!! Martin joined in ‘Fitness Club’ with Night Falcon (long story – his name is Mike), Big G (Gary), and Brian. This basically involves doing 15-20 press-ups every time we get off the truck – which unfortunately (or fortunately – depends how you look at it!) can be several times a day. This sounds fine, but when the truck is surrounded by curious locals, or parked in a foot of mud - it can be quite challenging!

We stopped for lunch in the middle of nowhere in the new city, a quiet street with building sites on two corners and a local hammam (Moroccan spa baths) nearby. It was literally nowhere, but some bright spark picked up a free wi-fi signal... and suddenly we had a street side internet cafe going on. 10-15 people on laptops and iPhones standing in the middle of the street – surreal and very amusing! Kalloum, our Moroccan guide for Fez, bought us a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, bread, chips and spicy sauce – just what the doctor ordered. Martin cunningly used his frisbee as plate.

After lunch Martin headed back to camp to do some washing, while Bunny and five of the other girls visited the hammam where they had a definite “bonding” experience and hysterical time being washed by Moroccan women. They couldn’t understand the women, the women couldn’t understand them, so they were twisted and contorted in the large arms of the largely naked, local buxom women and washed well, everywhere. Pretty exhausting stuff! Putting that down to ‘a new and interesting travel experience’. Turkey stew for dinner was great – the African weight loss diet not kicking in yet and we’re all surprised to find that turkey is the cheapest meat everywhere in Morocco so far, hence we’re encountering many new, weird and wonderful ways of cooking turkey over the campfire.

On our last full day in Fez, our local guide Kalloum – who was born and raised in the medina - took us around the medina to various places making and selling traditional Moroccan products. We were very interested to see the tannery, however the reality is quite hard to take in once gazing out over the tanning factory. It’s crazy stuff! The poor guys working here must be in the running for the worst jobs in the world, it’s truly inconceivable. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot that day, so with fresh mint in hand the smell wasn’t too bad the day we were there, but enough to know that the stench on a hot day in the middle of summer would be gut wrenching. The work that the guys were doing day in, day out, for long periods of time was quite unbelievable. Especially the poor men who are assigned to the lime pits – where the acidic liquid can be very nasty indeed... and protective clothing is minimal and laughable.

After this we visited an old palace now home to a carpet factory and managed to be good and not purchase a great big carpet to lug around the rest of Africa... and then a textiles type factory where they make jellaba’s, scarves and so forth and Martin couldn’t resist trying on a black jellaba and resembling Darth Vader.

Following this off we went to a herb and medicine shop where we were entertained by the various herbs on offer and their numerous uses from soaps to opium to herbs and spices to henna. The Fez Medina was really cool, quite different from others we’d seen – apparently it consists of 12,000 streets (we didn’t count them ;-) ) and was a mix of hundreds of stalls selling all types of wares and dark tiny lanes and ‘residential alleys’ that wound around the medina, under houses built over top and just like a real-life maze. It was a really great place to wander around, and we were very restrained and only bought a pile of nougat and traditional sweets. Martin was on cook group and went off to find ingredients for dinner. Bunny went into the new town with Lindi and Cynthia and got drinks before finding a local bus on which ‘packed like sardines’ was given a whole new meaning. It really was packed to full capacity and then some, but Bunny was amused by four local Moroccan kids who tried out their French, Spanish and finally hit the jackpot with English with her, coming up with a variety of questions and giggling all the while ;-) - oh to be multi-lingual so young!
Martin’s cook group produced a lovely Thai Green Curry (Turkey... always Turkey) which would have been even lovelier without the addition of tinned rather than fresh (unavailable) spinach... Urrk. Rain rolled in that night and everyone retired early, except Martin and Ian who stayed up playing chess (round one to Ian... Boo!)

The following morning we had a visa session and filled in forms for the first three visa’s we plan to get – Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania. Then it was off on our way to Rabat......

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13th December 2010

It is so good to read that you have actually followed in our footsteps for a change....well Morocco anyway - we won't know the rest of your trip. We did buy a rug in the Medina but it was wrapped so tightly and small so was ok to carry with the vase from Venice! Would be different for you travelling in the truck! Travel safe. Love mum

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