How Many Camels is Mary Worth?

Trip Start Dec 16, 2009
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13
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Trip End Jan 09, 2010


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Monday, December 28, 2009

Up at 6:45 ... restless ... and couldn't really fall back asleep, instead briefly drifting in and out of slumber.  After breakfast, off to the bus station - they have a very backwards way of registering baggage here. First, you line up and have an attendant weigh the bag and then you line up to pay for it. After paying they give you a tag to put on your bag, which you now have to give to the attendant. As a result, the baggage registration area got pretty backed up.

It felt a bit like Spain on board as it was full of Spanish tourists. I guess we've left Morocco early! There seemed to be an issue with people occupying the wrong seats, and some discussions were going on about trading seats. Apparently, Spaniards don't know their numbers very well! Seeing a couple of Spanish senoritas in the middle of the discussion, I proposed a simple solution that worked for everybody - they could just sit on my lap, there's plenty of room for both of them!

Back on board after lunch - as I sat in my seat, one of the Spanish senoritas was organizing her things in the overhead compartment and lost her balance, butt-checking my leg. She apologized, but I thought "Why? You can do it again, if you like. Again, again, and again, in fact!"

We finally arrived in Chefchaouen an hour later than expected, after a five hour bus ride - a beautiful little town nestled up in the Rif mountains, it doesn't have many sights, just a whole lot of great atmosphere to enjoy. It took a while to get a hold of a taxi, as there weren't enough to carry all the people who had just arrived in town. A guy in a white van was trying to make a few extra dirham by shuttling people to the city centre; he told us he didn't have room at the moment, but would return in five minutes. Twenty minutes later there was no sign of him so we hopped into a little blue taxi.

We were dropped at Place el-Majzen, since most of the streets located higher up in Chefchaouen are inaccessible by vehicles. Getting out of the taxi, a local started chatting with us, giving us directions to our accommodation for the night. He mentioned that there are quite a few Chinese people living here, doctors that do a two-year rotation at the local hospital.

Hostal Guernika - a cool, funky little place with a Spanish-speaking owner, with a motif that fits in quite nicely with Chefchaouen's look. Definitely not as fancy as the Riads we've been staying at, it's still got its charms.

Chefchaouen's plazas look more European - wide and spacious, rather than the compact little ones typical of Morocco's medinas. Given the proximity to Spain, you can definitely see some Spanish influences here.

One of the touts at a restaurant overlooking Plaza Uta el-Hammam started chatting with us, also referring to the Chinese doctors that serve at the hospital. Ibrahim was his name, and the touts here certainly give off a different vibe than in some of the bigger towns - there's less pressure, and you get the feeling that while trying to eke out a living, they do have an interest in learning something about you. He was a nice enough guy so we figured that we'd return and have dinner at his restaurant later on.

Over to the new town - for a town of under 50,000, it sure is busy! We wondered if the guidebook was correct with that figure, because the sheer number of people in the streets suggested otherwise. If it is correct, it probably means that the entire town was out strolling this evening, something that also seems very Spanish.

Mary ended up shopping for some souvenirs at a shop run by a guy named Hamou - you always have to wonder how truthful these guys are, because they are trying to make a good buck, after all. Apparently he's from a Nomad tribe in the Sahara and he's quite the smooth talker.  Mary eventually bought a few things - a mini tajine and a little jewelry box, more than she wanted to originally buy. I mentioned he was a smooth talker, right? The price dropped an incredible amount, but whatever she settled for was still obviously way more than it was worth, it's just a question of how much extra she paid.

Funny - Hamou started asking us about the nature of our relationship and he commented that it would be very unusual in his culture for a man and woman to be traveling together if they weren't married or dating. Eventually, he basically told us - "You're single, he's single, so what's the problem?" Sounds a lot like something John would say to us ...

Then Hamou took my hand, placed it in Mary's while muttering some words in Arabic, and proclaimed us married! How is it that whenever we travel together, we somehow end up in these fake marriages? We thought about emailing everybody back home to have a good laugh about it but after the last debacle, nobody would believe us, nor would anyone even care.

We told Hamou that we didn't want each other, so Hamou asked me how many camels it would take for him to buy Mary from me. I told him that I didn't want any camels, and that one of those mini tajines would be enough. He then proceeded to offer me 1,000 camels (Mary says it was 10,000, but I highly doubt that), which I accepted, as it would have been rude not to.

Back to the Plaza for dinner - on the way, I saw the two Spanish girls from today's bus following a local guy into a little shop. It had the feel of something shady, like they were doing something they weren't supposed to do - I suspect that they were buying some kif, what Moroccans call weed. Chefchaouen has apparently been well known to backpackers for a long time because it's readily available here. I think I read in the guidebook that Morocco is the second-largest producer of weed in the world, and that the roads from Chefchaouen to Tangier are lined with fields and fields of the stuff.

The plazas are the perfect place to soak in the atmosphere and people watch. I had wanted to go back to Ibrahim's restaurant, only for the reason that he seemed like a nice guy, but I was confused and ended up sitting at the wrong restaurant! Oops!

Feeling a bit unsatisfied with dinner, we wandered around in search of some sweets - earlier, we had seen a vendor selling Moroccan pancakes with imitation Nutella and a number of pastry shops. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find anything very appealing at this hour, only stands where you could buy a little bowl of boiled snails. I like snails, but not for dessert! But perhaps if they were served with some Nutella ... I ended up picking up a couple of crappy nut cookies instead, choking them down because they were so dry.

On the way back to the Hostal, we browsed at a couple of vendor stalls because Mary wanted to find out how much she overpaid for her mini tajine. Hamou quoted the price of 30 dirham for just the mini tajine, but then she found a much nicer tajine at another stall, one that was much more intricately painted. How much did this other guy want? 15 dirham, and that didn't even require any additional bargaining! But it's always like this as a tourist shopping in a market. And perhaps Hamou didn't sense that I was a spiritual and good man like he told us ... perhaps he thought "I sense ... that you two are dumb asses that I can charge double what I charge anyone else!"

Back to the hostal and its terrace for a bit of blogging - it's a great place to get the creative juices going. I didn't last long out there as it was getting cold and windy, and the sucking make-out noises being made by a Spanish couple that had just stepped outside became quite distracting. All in all, Chefchaouen is a very charming little town - a great place for strolling and relaxing.  I can see why a lot of people stay here for a few days, longer than they originally intended. It's worth staying here just to chill ... and perhaps smoke some kif!
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