27 December 2017

Chefchaouen, Morocco 2017

The "Blue City" of Chefchaouen was a place I had not seen in my previous trip twelve years before. This time it was definitely a highlight among Morocco's urban areas. Situated on a mountainside, the city long enjoyed a fairly isolated existence. It is said that the Jewish population popularized the blue colour on buildings a hundred years ago, although reasons remain obscure. One theory is that blue works as an effective mosquito repellent. The blue wash, from the natural indigo pigment, is strikingly effective.

Courtesy (companion) Mark Charteris
We checked into Hotel Khalifa one afternoon; it's an unassuming small hotel situated on the mountain adjacent to the old medina. My room had the usual marks of Moroccan hospitality with fruit basket and bottled water, besides the pleasing decor. A spectacular sliding door led to the tiny washroom where the Berber design elements continued. Every room of mine during the trip, whether hotel or riad, had a queen-size bed.

The day is getting on by the time we set out to explore, crossing a bridge over the Ras el-Maa river with its picturesque waterfall. Immediately we are in the medina, the old town, that from here spirals down (way down) to a central square. Apparently we must first search out drinks-before-dinner which can only be found outside the medina where alcohol is haram (forbidden). A different hotel, higher up the mountain, serves the purpose and fortified, we sally forth for the major descent.


It's dark when we arrive all the way down in the central square; our route twisted left and right past shops and homes, adults and children, intent on errands or eager for their waiting dinner. The fifteenth century walls of al-Qasaba fortress in the square are riddled with small openings for ventilation. This city traditionally harboured Christians and Jews in peaceful co-existence.
Our dinner is at Casa Aladin, on the top floor with a splendid view. The ubiquitous, hearty tagine dishes are far too much food for me at one meal so I sample a pastilla, a small-ish pie of flaky pastry with minced meat and some vegetables; its stellar feature is the icing sugar sprinkled over the top with yum cinnamon!

Later the return trip uphill is not as arduous as expected. You can choose dozens of different streets, simply remembering your direction: up or down. Next morning our leader Doug and I set off early for some shopping and schmoozing. Doug carries his tripod and video camera for serious photography. As we cross the bridge, I catch a woman doing her laundry in the river. At this distance I didn't think she'd mind, but she did.

The next thing we see is a handsome ostrich the owner had found in the Sahara. This is a first: up close and personal with Big Bird. I wonder if she lays eggs? Why didn't I think to ask? Ostriches running wild in the desert, who knew? Doug makes a new friend and a video in which I play a small role: https://www.facebook.com/texascamelcorps/videos/1318519328184724/
We stop to check out a clothing shop and meet Mohamed who shows us how he winds his turban to start the day. I never tire of watching Doug the Texan walk up to any man, grasp his hand, salaam aleikum, and the chat begins. In Arabic. It never fails to have a salutary effect. I envy his facility (and dedication) for learning languages.
Showing interest in an item is not merely browsing, it is a social occasion. Happily we both settle on purchases with a minimum of bargaining. We leave with effusions on both sides and a new Facebook friendship. Doug is not much into lively haggling. Bargaining for something he wants is a token to satisfy cultural expectations, because he's helping the modest economy wheels go 'round a bit.

Next stop is a carpet shop where Abdul welcomes us with mint tea and I buy a small blue camel wool carpet. Another new friend for Doug, both of them chattering amiably. Abdul has connections in Montreal ... small world: it seems everyone knows someone with a Canadian connection.

Spending time with "my son" the redhead is so very pleasant. He tells me stories along the way of his families and friends in Egypt and other countries. All the while we are snapping photos like crazy of the fabulous blue colours. Doug's years of Middle East travel have brought him recognition as a camel expert but true to his nature, he prefers to see himself as an ambassador for tolerance and understanding of other cultures. Goodwill is his second name, and it shines.

Courtesy Doug Baum
Courtesy Mark Charteris

We stop at the 400-year-old bakery to add to Doug's video of Chefchaouen. Some of these people he's met on a previous trips. They remember him (who wouldn't? This man in a Texas stetson greets them all and stuns them by conversing in Arabic).

Then we run into a wedding procession with enthusiastic drumming. Down to the square in the sunlight where I sit basking with good coffee while Doug busies himself with tripod and photos and videocam. My rusty French gets me by with the basics despite struggling to hear past the Moroccan accent.

Chefchaouen, the picturesque and friendly Blue City: not to be missed on any trip to Morocco!

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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