It’s strange to think that it was only two weeks ago that I was in Chefchaouen – it seems a lot longer than that. I thought at first that Chefchaouen would be a lovely place to relax for my last few days in Morocco and in many ways it was. And, in many ways it wasn’t. We won’t discuss ten-year-old boys exposing themselves while inviting illegal and extremely distasteful activities…
When I arrived there, a man showed me to my hostel and didn’t ask for money. It probably would have taken me a while to find it without his help. First positive. However, the hostel staff were not overly friendly or particularly helpful. After having stayed at some awesome places this was a bit of a disappointment – as was the fact that I couldn’t stand up in the shower, which despite 24/7 hot water having been promised, was never more than a degree or two above freezing. But the bed was comfy, the terrace had a good view and there were some very cosy couches. I was happy.
I went for a wander around the medina, which is almost completely painted blue with the occasional whitewashed wall. It was Thursday, market day, so there were a lot of people around – all the doors were flung open and draped with scarves or strings of dates or whatever the person was selling. Little old women sat on upturned buckets with a cloth piled with fresh herbs before them, gesticulating to everyone who passed and could potentially want a bunch of thyme.
What amazed me most, however, was the number of people who came up to me to tell me how Chefchaouen is very different to the rest of Morocco as no one hassles you. As I would try to extricate myself from multitudes of this same conversation, the person would inevitably grab my arm, offer me the ‘best kif in Morocco’ and bemoan the quality of hashish and marijuana sold by every other person in the country. Despite guidebook advice, a polite ‘I’m not interested’ does not in fact get you anywhere and they will push their policy of ‘try before you buy’, all while refusing to let go of you and espousing the virtues of the local people and how they don’t hassle tourists in Chefchaouen. What exactly do they think they are doing? You finally escape them, only to discover them waiting for you at the hostel the next day claiming that you had asked them to bring you an ounce or two – they’d followed me back there after I had refused to tell them where I was staying. That’s a bit much for me… So, don’t expect a break from the hassle of the rest of the country, although to be fair at least it was mostly a change from the sexual harassment of everywhere else – mostly.
To be honest, there isn’t really anything to do in Chefchaouen aside from laze around. Chefchaouen is apparently known for its weaving, but realistically it’s much better known as the kif capital of Morocco, and is full of stoned old men and hippies most of the time. Apparently most of the weed in Europe comes from this area. Everyone wants to take you to their farm and then charge you an exorbitant amount to look at mountain terraces full of marijuana plants and try to sell you as much as humanly possible.
I found Chefchaouen a fairly easy place to do nothing; lying on the terrace with a book, walking up and down the little blue alleyways in the medina, drinking fresh orange juice at the little cafes on the tiny main square, eating cakes and pastries at Chez Aziz, my favourite little patisserie in the town, watching women scrubbing carpets in the river by the waterfall while half-naked boys played soccer around them.
I couldn’t even tell you what I did each day as each blends in with the next, a blur of pale blue walls closing in around me. I ran into a couple of people I’d met in Essaouira and met some new ones, spending the evenings either on the hostel terrace at sunset with sheesha or in a restaurant on the square being serenaded by wizened old men with battered violins.
My satisfaction with my place of lodging was soon tempered when on my second day in the afternoon, myself along with some of my fellow travellers found ourselves trapped in the hostel as a rather large knife fight, involving about fifteen people and almost as many knives, erupted downstairs. All locals, and we never did manage to find out what exactly started it. Suffice to say that the hostel’s Hostelworld ‘security’ score may have been adversely affected as a result…
I really loved the colours of Chefchaouen, from the pale blues of the walls to the sometimes vibrant, sometimes pastel hues of the pigments in sacks outside shops. The women wear these crazy hats covered in red, green, yellow and black pom-poms, and the narrow alleys are decorated with fabrics and carpets spilling out of various shops. I ended up staying there an extra night and limiting myself to one night and half a day in Tangier, and I’m glad I made that choice as Tangier was so similar, in ways most unfortunate, to Marrakech.
Trying to get from the bus station in Tangier to the medina was a nightmare. According to Lonely Planet, the bus station is only about 400m from the medina up one straight road. Epic fail, LP. I walked for ages and got absolutely nowhere. Turns out that the actual location of the bus station bears no relation to its position on the LP map. Eventually I gave up and flagged down a taxi, who overcharged me but I was so hot and tired that I didn’t even care. The taxi driver dropped me off at the Grande Mosque, and I managed to find a hotel just around the corner. I walked around the medina for a while and had to retreat into a very crappy little local restaurant as there was a big march happening. From what I could tell, they were trying to encourage everyone to vote in the [then] upcoming referendum.
The next day, my last day in Morocco – which was very exciting, as I was well and truly ready to leave – I visited the St Andrew’s Anglican Church, just outside the medina. It was very interesting, having been built in a traditional Moorish style and incorporating a number of unusual, non-Christian elements. For example, the church has a mihrab behind the altar – a decorated niche indicating the direction of Mecca and thus the direction towards which Muslims should pray. The names of the suras, or chapters of the Qur’an, are carved in plaster on the walls and the Lord’s Prayer is inscribed in Arabic. Some people would find the incorporation of Islamic aspects in a Christian church wrong, but the effect was actually quite beautiful and seems appropriate, in many ways, for a church in a Muslim country.
The vicar there, a lovely Englishman in his seventies called Richard, agreed. I spent a few hours just chatting with he and his wife and it was a fantastic way to while away the afternoon, talking about everything from their years running a school in Egypt to the ethics of teaching religion in schools…..This could have been a dangerous topic, given my rather strong views on this and the media attention to this in Australia before I left, but he brought it up and I discovered that the local vicar shared my opinions on this! What truly made me smile, though, was how proud and excited he was to show me his two tattoos that he had done a couple of months ago – a Coptic cross on each wrist. At seventy-three, this kind-hearted English vicar, former high-school principal, decided that it was time he got a tattoo – and he was happy to inform me that there were more on the way. Although, he said, he had an interesting time trying to convince a tattooist that he really did want a tattoo. I guess there’s not a lot of little old men who wait until they’ve retired and joined the Church to get their first tattoo!
Oh, and the other cool thing about St. Andrew’s church? I found a tortoise in the garden, happily plodding along a path through the cemetery.