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Published: February 10th 2019
Today we say goodbye to Fes and head north to Chefchaouen, a town in the Rif mountains just south of the Mediterranean. The day starts badly. We’re made to wait 15 minutes for breakfast – how hard can it be to slice a baguette and make some coffee, which doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but irritates badly. Aziz comes to collect us and help us pull the suitcases back along the alleyways to the nearest road where Hassan is waiting for us, smiling as ever. There’s a heavy mist, which makes the alleys quite ethereal, and reduces visibility on the drive quite considerably. We head off across the plain, which is noticeably greener and more intensively farmed than anywhere we’ve been so far on this holiday, although the villages all look rather miserable. We stop briefly for a view of a lake, but it’s mostly shrouded in mist.
Every now and then we see another pair of storks, perched in their nest, typically on top of the minaret of a mosque, but sometimes on the roofs of homes. One nest is even perched precariously atop a telegraph pole. They used to be migratory birds, but nowadays
stay all year round. The Moroccans consider it a sign of good luck if a stork moves in to live on their roof.
Hassan is punctilious about obeying the speed limits, with good reason. Everywhere we go, there are police road checks. One officer is generally wielding a hand held radar gun, but they also pull up any vehicle they think might not have the right papers. As a tourist vehicle, we’re always waved through. Driving in Morocco is very safe. People mostly obey the speed limits and drive very sensibly. The main roads all have signs in French as well as Arabic, but we’re glad not to be doing a self drive. How on earth would you manage when you reach a town and find you’re staying in the medina and need to park somewhere and then walk to your hotel for upwards of five minutes?
The first three hours of the drive are pretty dull, but the scenery improves as we reach the Rif mountains. We stop to look at the view of Chefchaouen, spread out under a mountain ridge, with the small tightly packed buildings of the medina clearly visible at the top of the
town. Once again, we have to walk the last 10 minutes as cars won’t fit in the narrow medina alleys. Chefchaouen’s claim to fame, and the reason it is so popular to visit, is that the buildings are painted blue as protection against the heat and the mosquitoes. It’s a real tourist trap, but is also a working small town, but it has a charm that somehow overcomes that. Our hotel is a newly converted pair of houses, restored in the Andalucian style of the early settlers who came here when expelled from Spain in 1492. It is, of course, blue on the outside. Inside the walls are painted white and the doors a bright pale blue. The ceilings are carved and painted cedarwood, and the furniture is distinctly Spanish. After settling in, we wander through the alleys until we reach the two main squares, where we find a cafe selling cheap but tasty shawarma and chips. Having got our bearings, we return to the riad so David can depress himself by finding an internet feed and watch Everton lose – yet again – this time to Watford.
Later we return to the main square, where the Kasbah is
decked out in red paper lanterns to celebrate Chinese New Year, in honour of the hundreds of Chinese tourists who are visiting. It's Chinese New Yea! We enjoy a very tasty dish of goat cooked with prunes and quinces, and watch the world go by. Local couples and families mix with Chinese tour parties, all dressed up to the nines, groups of Spaniards and other tourists.
Next morning we watch with amusement the party of eight Chinese tourists who are staying in the riad. Their tour leader is desperate for them to check out, but they are still arriving at breakfast, demanding hot water to add to their pot noodles and ignoring the usual Moroccan breakfast of bread, eggs and pancakes. A youth is disappointed the manager does not have any chilli sauce to add to his noodles so goes to his room to get his own bottle.
It’s warmer than we expected when set off for a walk, and we’re soon shedding layers of clothing. The streets are not so crowded first thing, and the shop owners are just starting to set out their wares for the day. We wander through the Andalusian quarter, which is supposed
to have more affluent houses but looks very similar to everywhere else, and leave the medina via a gate in the old walls which leads out to the source of a spring at the foot of the steep hill that rears up above the town. We decide against the five hour walk through the national park and instead stroll slowly up to a small white mosque called the Spanish mosque. Here local lads are smoking kif while Chinese tourists take photos of each other posing on the small wall with the town spread out in the background. We wander back into town, where the selfie obsessives are now out in force; there can be ten or twenty of them awaiting their turn to pose in front a what they determine to be a particularly selfie-appropriate location, and you have to push your way through. We return to the riad where we are now the only guests. We adjourn to the roof terrace and stretch out with our books for a couple of hours, before heading back to the main square for a late lunch. We can’t improve on yesterday’s tiny cafe selling lamb shawarma and chips for under £2. By
now it’s bright sunshine and 19 degrees – perfect! Back to the roof terrace....
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