Chefchaouen

Trip Start May 05, 2008
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Trip End May 09, 2009


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Flag of Morocco  ,
Saturday, June 7, 2008

We were quite nervous about going to Morocco, but some advice from a couple of Peace Corps volunteers we met in Seville alleviated some of our fears. Still, we did decide to avoid the legendary touts and hustlers of Tangier as much as possible so we headed straight for the mountain town of Chefchaouen [or Chaouen as it is known for short]. This made for a very long day of travel, which was made all the more difficult by the sad news which Virginia received that very same morning, that her grandmother had passed away. With tears in our eyes and prayer in our hearts, we thus set to cross the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry, after a long bus ride from Seville. The distance itself is not that long, but we had to pass through the Sierra Nevada mountains; which are some of the highest in Europe and oddly reminiscent of the Carpathians.
Anyway; we had read in the guide that the bus station is right next to the Tangier port entrance, so after getting off the ferry, we ignored the dozens of men wanting to show us around town; sell us something or offer a taxi service and we walked as boldly as we could muster the strength to show; with our heavy backpacks and daypacks, through the merciless African sun. It turns out that the distance is actually several kilometers, and it is not in a straight line, so we had to ask some people for directions. One man walked with us for about 20 meters, told us some garbled directions in broken French and then asked for money. When we gave him 5 dirhams (about 80c), he declared it was not enough and asked for euros. We gave him 10 dirhams and hurried on our way. 15 minutes later we got to the bus station and got on a decent looking bus which left for Chaouen a few minutes later. Of course this was after the bus driver asked for 20Dh to put our bags in the bus luggage compartment (the ticket itself was 27Dh). The bus stopped in the town of Tetouan on the way. An ancient looking Islamic preacher, possibly a Sufi approached us and started declaiming verses from the Quran. He then wouldn't leave until he made Tavi repeat the muslim declaration of faith: we're not quite sure, but apparently that is all that is required to become muslim; in which case he probably believed that Tavi was now a devout convert thanks to his efforts. Since we didn't quite know the process, and we didnt' feel anymore knowledgeable in Islam than we were before this sudden 'conversion', we don't think it quite counts... There was an old man next to us who talked to us for a bit; at one point while the bus was struggling on the steep mountain roads, he pointed to a horse and asked us if there are any horses in America; when Tavi said yes; he responded that he knew that; since he knew of at least one horse: Bush
We got off at Chefchaouen from a decrepit bus which hadn't been serviced since the 80s, and were immediately greeted upon arrival by a small fellow named Karim, who showed us the way to our hotel in exchange for us visiting a cooperative which sold various local products. He waited for us outside the entrance to the hotel when we went out to get some dinner and insisted we visit the cooperative shop. Since Virginia wanted a couple of shirts, we agreed and followed him there. The cooperative turned out to be a carpet shop run by a Berber family; before we knew it we had been provided with mint tea, one guy telling us corny American jokes, while the others were rolling carpets in front of us, in between passing among themselves cigarettes laced with hasheesh (the main cash crop of the region). Needless to say we were quite uneasy and on our guard; but after Virginia negotiated for some shirts, they were very nice to us and invited us for dinner along with some Americans. Gaining confidence from strength in numbers; we accepted and we were treated to a traditional Berber meal in the shop which also doubled as their house. They even went through the trouble of making Virginia a vegetable tagine and spent most of the night telling us about life in Morocco. Thus, though we got the 'tourist price' for the shirts, even after negotiation, we still felt that it was worth the experience.
Chefchaouen is a town that could have a lot of potential, because the scenery is breathtaking and the town quite charming; that positive is negated somewhat by our status as walking wallets. Unless we walk briskly and with a purpose, we get stopped every 10 meters by people wanting to take us to their shop; sell us hasheesh or simply begging for money. We thus learned in a hurry to say 'la shukran' (no thank you); we don't feel unsafe though because there are quite a few cops around and Moroccan men look very small compared to Tavi. We are using this opportunity to get our 'Morocco legs', before heading off tomorrow to the chaotic but fabled city of Fez. We are still mourning but we feel that some of the strength from Virginia's grandmother has passed through to Virginia, who has been very good at hauling the backpack without a whimper of complaint, all the while deflecting the Moroccan touts.
As the computers here in Chaouen are quite antiquated; we will upload some pictures later. 
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