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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 25 Dec 2008

Location: Chefchaouen, Morocco

MapSo this is Christmas, and where the hell am I? What is this Lah lah lah coming from a megaphone at 530 am, sounding like Achmed the Dead Terrorist? Is this to wake the kids up and tell them to check under the tree for presents from Santa? No, Santa didn't bring any pressies becuase we don't celebrate Christmas in Morocco!

So I woke up (for the second time) around 8 am and headed out for a look around the city before bussing to Chefchaouen. The minute I walked into Grand Socco I was being harassed by touts, so I decided to get lost so to speak and ended up in a very residental area of the Medina. Looking lost as I was, someone pointed uphill and said Kasbah, so I figured why not have a look. And at least it appeared on the map, so I would have my bearings again.

Once up there, I walked past it and out through a gap in the Medina walls to look out over the ocean back towards Spain. On a clear day I am told I could see all the way to Europe. In anay case, there was plenty of evidence to support the claim that the Straight of Gibraltar is one of the bussiest shipping lanes in the world with countless ships in sight despite the poor visibility.

While looking out over the sea, the hussle didn't stop. A little kid came up to me and said 'Ola' as everyone heer speaks French and Spanish... more French the further south you go.
Me: Ola
Kid: something in Spanish, por favor (please)
Me: Pardone?
Kid: something in Spanish, por favor (please) - same thing again
Me: hable Englaise? (do you speak English?)
Kid: Give me money.
Seems he hadn't learnt the please part in English yet...

I then wandered through the Kasbah, or palace/Sultan's residence, wondering why in teh world anyone would want to "rock the kasbah" as the song suggests, or have I totally misheard the lyrics to that song? Anyway, it was pretty swish pad, where the Sultan kept his 4 wives and 40 concubines housed, so there was plenty of room to get yourself lost in there. Unfortunatley only a fraction was open to the public. The central courtyard was pretty nice too, and the Tangerine trees were all around (Tangerines from Tanger yeah???).

On the way out I met a guy asking me to come into his club, and this was at about 1030 am. I was a bit dumbfounded, and he said it was right through the arch way. I stalled, but he seemed genuine enough, and it was on the way I was going. His club was no bigger than 2m x 2m and just had couches lining the walls and a bunch of posters, press clipping and instruments on the walls. Turns out he was in some band called Superstar Express Experience, or something of the sort and his club played his music and of course, tried to sell it to you. He was a really nice old man, and whilst I would have liked to stick aorund (not buiying anything) I did have a bus to catch. I've found myself in teh habit of lying to get away from people saying that I am gouing to XXX for a few days but will be back on XXX, and will be sure to come back then. Sometimes it seems the only way top appease them.

At teh bus station, the queueing took on a whole new meaning of wierd. The people at the bus terminal are sooooo slow! I had to buy a ticket (which takes way too long), then take my bag to the other side of the ticket office to get weighed (not something they actually tell you till you try and put your bag underneath the bus), then back to the ticket counter for more waiting to pay a surcharge for your bag (5 dirham, or 50 pence), then back to the bag people so they can put your tag on it. Finally after that you can give it to the bus man who will put it in teh hold. As much of a hassle as it is, each bag tag has a number on it, which is also stuck onto your bus ticket, and at your destination the baggage handlers are ferocious about seeing your ticket. SO in that sense, the bags should be safer that way.

The bus ride was pretty nice. I managed to get some zzz's on the bus. The scenery changed pretty quickly as we moved inland from the Meditteranean coast. Not far back from the coast is the Rif Mountains, and as we drove through there they were all a vibrant green color, and I was a little bit surprised at one point to see a long line of wind turbines alonga high ridge. The only real break from the rolling hills was when the bus passed through Tetouan, a pretty big city nesteld in the mountain range about 75 minutes out of Tanger.

A couple hours later and we were in Chefchaouen, and immediately I was in awe of the place. Driving up and as we left the next day, it is clear the best pics of the place are from about 6km away, and I wish I'd had time to trek away from town and take the pics. The town is situated in a small pcoket between two peaks in teh Rif mountains. Checfchaouen literally translates to 'look at those peaks'.

The hostels I rang on arrival were booked so I started marching into town, not sure what to expect. A tout spotted me a mile away and started dragging m einto town. He took me to Bab el-Ain Hotel which he pointed out was in teh book. In reality I later wisened up and figured out that Bab meant gate in the medina walls, and el-Ain was the name of the gate, whiwh was situated almost next to the hotel. In any case, it was a handy marker for finding my way back later.

He was an interesting fellow, telling me that Chefchaouen is known forr three things - water, sheeps wool and kif (hash). The number of times I heard, "kif from the rif?", "want smoke", and "want some shit" was rediculous. He also offered to take me to his families Kif farm and carpet factory, and I would be welcome to take photos. Now this really caught my interest, but the thought of being influenced by some powerful Moroccan hash (and by all reports the kif is powerrful) and then being dragged to a carpet store where I offer to buy every rug in the joint cos my mind isn't where it should be prevented me from taking him up on his offer. I presume he got his cut by dragging me to the hotel anyway.

It was a good choice, 130 which is a tad pricey (13 quid) but was with a double bed and a bathroom with toilet and shower. The first that that strikes you about Chefchaouen, aside from its locattion, is that every building in the medina, and most outside of the medina, is painted blue, generally pale blue. I just hope the photos I took turn out well. But there are many differing shades of blue, all of the doors on the houses are blue, and there are accents around the doorways and window silles etc. Even the inside of the houses are painted blue - well, my hotel room was, and the few open doors I stuck my head in were all painted in a similar pale washed out blue... but the actual layouts of the insides, with wide open reception area and arches on the inside was incredible.

I wandered to the Kasbah and had a quick look around. It had a large wide open space in the middle, but was a lot smaller than in Tanger. The top of the tower provided nice views down onto the mosque next door. The surprising thing was that I swear there were gum trees in the courtyard. In fact, the flora could have been straight out of the Blue Mountains in Sydney, which would be a close fit in terms of latituide, altitude and temperature probably.

As I left the Kasbah, the evening call to prayer was sounding so I doubled back to watch all the men head inside. A young fella, probably late teenager, struck up a conversation, and given he hadn't tried to tell me anything immediately, I decided to chat. Though I am curious why, once I tell them I am from Australia, they all say "ahh, kangaroo! Sydeny, Melbourne?", to which I say Melbourne, and of course they always say "ahh, I have many friend in Melbourne". I've never been given a name or address of these friends when I ask admittedly, nor can they tell me how they have befriended so many Melbournites.

So I ask the young chap why he wasn't inside the mosque. "You have to be clean to go into the mosque. Two hours ago I was f--king, so I am not clean...you know? f--king the woman?" The pelvic thrust was enough to have me in hysterics...

Later on I had a great meat tagine for dinner, which I guess is kinda like a stewed meat dish, and a bowl of traditional soup. When asked, no one could explain the ingredients of the traditional soup, at least not in English.

One thing I have noticed about Morocco is their love of sweet pastries, and my word could I fall in love with them too. There are patissieries EVERYWHERE and they sell teh most delicious, qnd no doubt suggary, stuff ever. They also seem to really enjoy their fresh squeezed fruit juice, but more importantly, their fruit smoothies, and I have had a couple of them already!

So another pretty early night, with the sun setting early, no bars, and arabic TV, I headed to the roof terrace of the hotel. It was so dark that I couldn't see the mountains, only tell their outline by the lack of stars at that point in the horizon. As I sat back and looked up, the sky just lit up with more and more stars showing themselves as my eyes adjuested. Within a couple minutes I had spotted a shooting star and decided to call it a night, lest I freeze to death outside in the mountains.

Tomorrow, more Chaouen and on to Fez...