We arrived in the town of Chefchauen Morocco on May 25th and were there for two nights and about two and a half days. Chefchauen is a Berber town way up in the Rif mountains of Northern Morocco bordering the Talassemtane National Park. It is famous for the buildings in it’s old Medina that are all painted blue making for a really interesting and actually relaxing experience walking around as compared to Tangier. The blue color is not only beautiful, but apparently has a practical purpose in that it repels the ravenous mosquitoes that grow up here. It really has a kind of magical feel about it, like it’s some kind of fairy tale land. However, there are real people who live and work here as you’re reminded walking through the narrow labirynthine streets with Berber women selling mint and grains, merchants selling everything from traditional Berber woolen garb to Snickers bars.
The bus ride from Tangier took about 3 hours over some more winding mountain roads. Luckily Jocelyn was able to find some Dramamine so we didn’t have any motion sickness problems this time. Our first night we got settled into our hostel, called Riad Baraka. This was a really cool place in a renovated 600 year old building. It’s owned and run by an Englishman named Joe, so it was nice to not have to get over the language barrier. After that we headed out of North gate of the Medina and to a waterfall coming right out of the mountain where women do laundry and school kids gather to sing and play drums. It was a lively scene with the music and the washing going hand in hand. From there we walked up the opposite hill to what is called the Spanish Mosque overlooking the town. On the way up we were approached by an entrepid young entreprenour selling flower necklaces that he had made. He quoted us a price of 3 Dirhams (about 50 cents) for one of them. When I accepted his price he tried to raise it to 5, but I stuck to my guns at 3. Hopefully he learned that he should start out at a higher price and bargain down from there. Bargaining is a valued skill among the Berbers and this boy was getting started young. We sat at the mosque for a while looking over the town, listening to the music emanating from it, and watching a woman round up her goats on the hillside below. After that we had some dinner at a place overlooking the square and did some good people watching which is always great entertainment here.
Our second day and only full day, we planned on doing a hike up Mount Kella overlooking the town, but after talking to Joe from the hostel we decided to make the walk to the next Berber village down the road called Kella instead. We started out around 10 am and the walk to the village took about two hours. The walk wasn’t great as it was along the road and they were doing a lot of construction widening and improving it which made things not so tranquil. Once we got to the village however, the construction stopped and the road turned back into the jeep track that I imagine the whole thing had been before they started the construction. We talked to a couple of people along the way however and they were all very friendly, welcoming, and curious about us. Instead of following the road down into Kella we decided to follow it up into the mountains for a little while. About half an hour later, we looked around and noticed that we were in the middle of a giant marijuana plantation. There was a man sitting up on a rock watching us and we decided this was the point we should probably turn around. On the way back down we noticed even more marijuana that we hadn’t noticed before up on the hills and filling terraced farms above the village. Marijuana is technically illegal in Morocco, but the authorities apparently look the other way here in the Rif mountains as it is the only crop that these people can grow that provides even close to a subsistence income and the they have been doing it for centuries. For the time being anyway it doesn’t seem have the violence and organized crime associated with it that it does in Mexico, Latin America, and the US, probably owing to it’s semi-legal status. The young men in Chefchauen offering hashish to tourists are annoying but harmless I think. If anyone reading this is thinking of going to Chefchauen and sampling the hashish, I highly recommend against it. It is still very illegal even if it seems tolerated and I think ending up in a Moroccan jail would really ruin your trip. On the way back down we stopped and ate our lunch in a nice shady rock overhang and then turned and walked down into the village. When I say village, I mean it is a tiny village. There seems to be only a mosque, a school, a cafe of sorts, and a few houses. When we walked into town we were welcomed by children and the owner of the cafe who showed us there. It wan’t much of a cafe, really just a building with some plastic chairs and some crates for tables. He pulled out some plastic chairs and put them in the shady garden area for us and brought us some mint tea. We talked for awhile as best we could in Spanish, which wasn’t very well, but it was a conversation and was fun and interesting. On our way out of town we gave some pens to the children that we had brought with us on the suggestion of Joe from the hostel, which they seemed to really like although we should have brought more. The kids walked us out of town and we headed back to Chefchauen via a different path that climbed up the mountain and curved back around and down into town. When we got back, we were beat and took a nap before finding some dinner and going to bed.
The next day we walked around the Medina some more, met a really nice Berber man who also happened to be a great salesman and convinced us that we really needed to buy a small handmade silk Berber rug. We got to practice our haggling skills which are important here and along with the rug we got some great lessons on Berber culture and spiritual beliefs as well as some mint tea. Well worth the price. We then got on the bus back to Tangier about 3:30 and then caught our night train to Marrakesh at 9:00.
Pictures of Chefchauen below and stay tuned for more from Marrakesh!