Chilling in Chefchaouen

Photo: Plaza Uta el-Hammam Photo: Blue door Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Colorful powders

After working in Fes for a week I caught a bus to Chefchaouen way up north in the Rif Mountains. It’s one of the prettiest towns I have ever visited: all the buildings are whitewashed and painted various shades of blue, and its medina is full of narrow winding streets that are fun to explore.

On the way to Chefchaouen I spent six days in Fes, working and getting over whatever illness I picked up in Merzouga. I stayed in a boring slightly more upscale hotel in the newer part of town, and didn’t explore the city much at all, so I don’t have any photos worth showing.

I don’t know if it was my illness, or a few bad experiences here and there or a combination of the two, but after my first couple weeks in Morocco I had become pretty fed up with the whole country, and considered spending the next couple weeks somewhere fun in Europe instead.

While I was in Fes I tried to get over this by staying pretty close to my hotel in a relatively unexciting part of town and eating more Western food than usual. (actually I didn’t eat much at all — I had no appetite, even for stuff I knew would taste really good)

I did visit the medina for a few hours one day, and I liked it a lot: it’s just as interesting as Marrakesh’s, and way more laid back. Fes el Bali (The Old Fes, the oldest and walled part of Fes) is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, and according to wikipedia is believed to be the largest contiguous carfree urban area in the world by population.

To get to Fes I took an overnight bus from Rissani, planning to try to sleep most of the way and save money on a night of accommodation.

I looked at a couple places to stay in Rissani but decided the whole town is pretty much a hole (which made the overnight bus that much more enticing): in Rissani I was constantly harassed by people wanting to take me to their shop or something; as I was walking to the bus station around 7:30pm one guy even told me I had plenty of time to visit his shop because the bus to Fes left at 8:30pm (uh, no dude, it leaves at 8:00, I already have my ticket, nice try) — I assume after I missed my bus he’d be just as helpful with hotel recommendations.

While another guy was hassling me when I was trying to enjoy a coffee at a cafe, my Mom happened to call which was a great excuse not to talk to him — I should try to remember to pretend my phone is ringing whenever someone else won’t leave me alone. This guy sat there waiting while I talked on the phone for about 10 mins; afterwards I made a point to mention that it was my Mom I was talking to, so he’d see me as a real person with a mother instead of just another tourist to be conned out of his money.

The night bus to Fes was fine — it was relatively empty so I had a double seat to myself, but I wasn’t able to sleep except for half an hour or so, so when I arrived in Fes at 6am I was exhausted. I tried to check in to my hotel early but the night watchman said I’d have to come back at 10, so I walked a few blocks to a cafe that was just opening for the day, for some excellent coffee and croissants.

My laptop was out of juice so I tried to stay awake by watching al-Jazeera which mostly had various African countries’ reactions to the American election results. It was all in Arabic so the only word I understood in the two hours I watched was Obama, but the general gist of the broadcast seemed to be: Africa is stoked. (I also developed a small crush on one of the anchorwomen)

I was so tired I considered hiring a taxi to drive around aimlessly for an hour so I could nap in the back seat, but I tried the hotel again at 8am and they let me in my room, and I happily passed out for a while.

(hmm, I just noticed that most of the above is chronologically confusing. oh well.)

After a few generally productive work days in Fes I hit the road for Chefchaouen. At the bus station I met a French guy named Simon (from Nimes I think); after we bought our tickets we scrambled up the hill behind the bus station to check out the view and wait for our bus.

Photo: Fes

On the bus we met a really friendly young Moroccan guy heading up for a week of backpacking in the Rif Mountains, with a friend. We shared a taxi with them from where the bus let us off into Chefchaouen.

Simon and I decided to share a room at a place one of his friends recommended (Pension Znika), a decent place with a nice view of Chefchaouen, and really cheap after being split two ways — about $6/night each.

Photo: Pension Znika Photo: View

We dropped off our stuff then walked around the town for a bit. We found a bar that serves alcohol, and I had my first drink since arriving in Morocco a couple weeks ago. Alcohol seems pretty hard to find here, though I haven’t been looking. (haven’t missed it at all)

The town was really quiet at night, and in our first few minutes of exploring we were amazed at how beautiful it was — we kept gasping whenever we walked around a new corner.

Photo: Chefchaouen at night Photo: Chefchaouen at night

I spent the next few days relaxing at cafes and wandering around taking pictures.

I really liked Chefchaouen: waaay more relaxed and hassle-free than everywhere else I have been on this trip, lots of fresh mountain air and beautiful views wherever you look.

Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Storefront Photo: Steep street Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Blue door Photo: Plaza Uta el-Hammam Photo: Blue door Photo: Chefchaouen

A few places sold these colorful powders, used to dye paint and fabric I think. I kind of wanted to buy some but couldn’t think what I would use it for.

Photo: Storefront Photo: Colorful powders Photo: Colorful powders

I really liked the colors at this intersection:

Photo: Colorful walls

I hung out there for a while waiting for people to come into the frame to make the photo more interesting. I think this is a slight improvement on the above:

Photo: Colorful walls

Lately I have been doing this more and more (including random people in the frame.) I don’t really know why it improves the photo; I guess it helps provide a sense of setting and scale, and gives your eyes something to focus on while you take in the rest of the photo.

I found that the mood of the photo changes a lot depending who’s in the frame, where they are in the frame, and what they’re doing.

These photos are all basically pretty similar but each one feels slightly different when you look at it on its own:

Photo: Colorful walls Photo: Colorful walls Photo: Colorful walls Photo: Colorful walls Photo: Colorful walls Photo: Colorful walls

Really, this place is so picturesque that you could close your eyes, spin around and take a picture with the camera pointed in a random direction and the result would look pretty good.

Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Whitewashed corridor Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Kids playing Photo: Kids playing Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Football match Photo: Kasbah Photo: Blue door Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Kasbah shadow

It’s not quite as squeaky-clean as it looks: the Rif mountains are the heart of Morocco’s marijuana-growing country — three quarters of the cultivatable land east of Chefchaouen are used to grow it — so you can’t go very far without someone offering to sell you weed or hash.

Generally it’s all pretty harmless but some of the guys trying to sell you hash are a bit on the persistent side, and once in a while you see someone wandering around who has clearly smoked a bit more than they should have.

But I have found that a lot of my favorite places have a bit of a seedy side to them; it almost seems that without it, places become too bland and boring, and tend to get overrun with busloads of package tourists.

Photo: Plaza Uta el-Hammam

One night I went out with Simon and a couple cute French girls he knew, to drink mint tea and play cards at this random hole-in-the-wall that turned out to have fantastic lasagna:

Photo: Bar

Due to the language barrier I only understood about half of the rules of the game they taught me, but it was a fun night anyway.

Simon left a day before I did, and the girls left a day later, but I ran into all of them a few days later in Essaouira, on the other side of the country.

There are supposed to be really good trekking opportunities around Chefchaouen, but I was pretty lazy while I was there. That’s one drawback to traveling solo: there’s nobody around to help motivate you to do stuff. (the frenchies invited me along with them once or twice but I was tired of understanding only 20% of what was said)

I did walk up into the hills above the town a couple times to check out the view from above and take pictures at sunset.

Photo: Medina tower Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen at dusk

Finally, a few more pictures of blue walls and doors if you didn’t get enough earlier:

Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Blue door Photo: Chefchaouen Photo: Blue door

After 5 days in Chefchaouen I headed to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast.

More pictures in Chefchaouen, and if you are really bored, Fes.

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