Our Backpacking Trip to Morocco starts in Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen (or Chaouen as we fondly refer to this place) was as gentle introduction to Morocco as we had expected. It’s a beautiful town teetering on the edge of one of the Rif mountains, whose name escapes me for the moment. It has an interesting history in that it was a Jewish settlement in it’s past and has an even more chequered history of fighting and interference from the Spanish over the centuries. If you want to know more then here is the link .
What that history has bestowed is an interesting blend of nine parts Africa and one part southern Spain. Now I may well have got those percentages wrong, but you can certainly see the Spanish influences. This only really became apparent to us towards the last day of our brief but enjoyable stay here. Most of the Moroccans speak Arabic and Spanish here rather than French
While the food we came across is distinctly African, you can see the Spanish influences in the Andalusian tiles and the distinctive colours of the blue shaded whitewash they use all over the town. Apparently this was a reaction to the dominant Islamic population whose colour had the town painted green, the Jewish settlers chose this blue in reaction to rid the town of it’s Islamic past, not nice, but then history rarely is….
This was perfect for the job for two nights. Owned by a Scottish couple who have been here for about five years and seem pretty settled. The house was spotless and although a way out of town made up for it with the spectacular views from the rooftop. Also the walk into the Medina from the house was pretty flat and let you ‘drop in’ to the Medina with some pretty views on the way in.
So far we have tried a few tagines, a lamb one with prunes, which was excellent and no doubt will help keep everything regular over the coming days, and a couple of chicken ones which were a little bland, full of spice, but not quite enough for my taste buds.
The cheese salad is interesting and comes with either goat or ewe cheese, we are not sure which but it tasted fine with the Moroccan bread which is great. The great chunks of dough are served with every meal and breakfast is bread, the goat/sheep cheese with honey or apricot jam. The cheese and the jam on the same bread is a very pleasant breakfast experience, washed down with freshly squeezed oranges which just seem to grow wild up here.
Olives are served with every meal and sometimes come sprinkled with cumin which is an interesting taste. By far my favourite discovery is mint tea, or ‘ the de menthe’ to give its proper title. As well as the obvious mint signposts in the title it also, depending on where you get it, comes with either aniseed or caraway seeds as well as some small flowers which we have not yet identified and of course the obligatory four sugar cubes.
Two days in Chefchaouen and I sit typing this trying to occupy myself on a four hour coach journey to Fez, I neither expect it to be four hours, or very comfy, although so far the air-conditioning is working and John and I have the back seats. The scenery remains beautiful. We are still weaving our way out of the beautiful Rif region, but we have been going downhill for the last half hour so I expect flat boring plains may greet us as we head nearer Fez.
Highlights from Chefchaouen
As the town is perched on a mountain you would expect that to reach the Medina there are a series of deeply
graded hills to either climb up or down and all three of us are now sporting calf muscles that would make an Eastern European shot putter jealous. We also managed a number of comedy slips during our ascents/descents of the steep alleyways.
We had breakfast in this very pleasant quiet cafe next to the main town square and all was well until I went in to pay the bill. Inside the main building there was a little shop and the owner of this and the cafe owner were mid flow into some sort of disagreement. I just stood spectating for a few minutes as voices were raised even louder, and then shoes and flip flops started to get hurled around the room. I was spotted spectating this scene, the cafe owner rushed across took my cash and went back in the shop to get change and exchanged a few more insults with his protagonist then came out with my balance. As I was leaving I heard them resume full flow where I had left before my interruption.
There is one Special person I would like to mention in Chefchaouen He is a little man of about 160 (left )who wanders round the old city with a battered old violin with two strings with his son (who is about 95) has a handheld drum keeping as far off the violin beat as is musically possible. Their trick seems to be to annoy any diners with their authentic Moroccan noise (notice I did not say music there) until you give them 10 Dirhams to fuck off.
Finally I have to mention the scents of Chefchaouen the are two primary assaults on ones olfactory nerves. The first is a beautiful citrus fragrance that wafts over the hills and stops you dead as you are wandering aimlessly admiring the beautiful views.
The second is the fresh smell of marijuana plant either in it’s natal habitat, in the ground, or in the process of being smoked by the locals and tourists alike. This is one of the prime crops around here and while it remains illegal to grow or consume such substances in Morocco it would appear that the local enforcement officers have lost their sense of smell.
Kif, as it is known locally, is easily obtainable and as this is a dry city, sans alcohol, seems to be the substance of choice to achieve heightened mental states. I suppose this will continue until the government finds a suitably profitable crop to replace it (unlikely); or has the balls to take on the organised crime which organises its sale, export and pays the local farmers a fraction of the profits they themselves are making (even more unlikely). However, the smells compete fiercely with the orange blossom, which mingles in the air producing an intoxicating aroma.
Just to set the scene as I finish this entry, I am on the bus looking out at the sunshine lighting the beautiful scenery and activities taking place as we pass, listening to the new Adele album, which is just fantastic, on to a new place I have never visited with that tingle of excitement and a little bit of fear of the unknown thrown in. Not a bad feeling on the whole, I quite like it.