Chefchaouen – The Blue City of Morocco

02 Jun

Camping Azilane, where I stayed in Chefchaouen, sat somewhere on a hill overlooking the old town. I had to go through a pine forest and a Muslim cemetery to reach the medina. I had just exited the camping ground when a Moroccan followed me. “Hello, we have a farm nearby.” “That’s great, and?” “If you want to smoke hashish …?” “No, thank you!” “Don’t you want to try?”, “Is it legal?” “No!” Then, he suddenly disappeared and I continued my walk.

Northern Morocco – especially the Rif Mountains, was known as the largest area in the world (42% of global production) cultivated with cannabis. Despite the government’s desperate efforts to develop rural tourism as an economical alternative, cultivating cannabis was the main economic activity in the region, doubled by hashish and marijuana.

Chefchaouen at the feet of the Rif Mountains

Chefchaouen at the feet of the Rif Mountains

I walked through the pine forest and descended through the Muslim cemetery to the medina. In the cemetery, I heard someone moaning, so I stopped and listened better. A woman wrapped in a wimple sobbed at a grave. A bit sinister. I didn’t know what to do. I hurried to get to the medina faster.

The sky was cloudy, with big grey clouds but from time to time, a few sunshine rays warmed you a bit. For me, it seemed awfully cold for Morocco. Since I arrived in the north of the country, a cold breeze froze everything around like in winter. In both morning and evening, my pendant thermometer measured 10 Celsius degrees. I would not have expected such a low temperature for Africa.

Located at the foot of the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen (meaning ‘Look at the Peaks’) was called the Blue City of Morocco. One you arrive at Bab Souq Square (the gate to the bazaar), a combination of Moroccan and Andalusian architecture greeted you. Light-blue washed houses or featuring raw-blue foundations, doors, and windows could be seen everywhere.

Chefchaouen: typical colorful street

Chefchaouen: typical colorful street

Doors, shutters, and windows had been previously painted in green according to the Muslim tradition. Also, Christians couldn’t enter the city. However, after 1930, the Spanish protectorate introduced color blue in the city, and all houses in the medina were painted in different shades of blue. Some streets even have a blue pavement. One could see blue everywhere around.

A kid wearing a tracksuit punched his donkey loaded with gas tanks. Women dressed in gallabia and wrapped in a hijab on their heads invariably hurried to their duties. Everything around was blue. One could feel the Mediterranean influence. And the sky looked bluer, although cloudy.

Chefchaouen: the 'Berber car' carrying everything in the medina

Chefchaouen: the ‘Berber car’ carrying everything in the medina

Small shops, crammed into a tiny ground floor displayed their merchandise into the narrow, sloping streets. Red flowers, ivy, or colorful pots occasionally adorned the blue walls of the houses. Donkeys loaded with goods passed by from time to time. Shops with colorful souvenirs assaulted the streets with their goods. Shawls, Berber rugs, colorful gallabias with embroideries, and hundreds of straw hats displayed on streets.

Near the kasbah, I reached the central square of Uta el-Hammam, where Moroccans met for tea and socializing. Here and there, public fountains (of blue color, of course) seemed like gushing out of the houses’ walls. Chefchaouen had a vibe somewhere between urban and rural, but it could also be felt its touristy dimension.

Chefchaouen: the main street going to the river Oued Ras el-Maa

Chefchaouen: the main street going to the river Oued Ras el-Maa

I exited the medina through Bab el-Ansar gate, and passed the group of women who came to the river to wash their clothes under the Ras el-Maa waterfall. Then, I crossed a bridge and a newer cemetery and climbed a path to the Spanish mosque for about 15 minutes. The mosque stood on a hill below the Rif Mountains, overlooking the old town. Spaniards built the mosque but they never used it. Young boys in Chefchaouen came and had fun on the esplanade preceding the mosque. There were no other tourists. Only Moroccans. And I was the only woman.

When I returned to the old medina, I had lunch at a terrace in the central square. I ordered schnitzel with French fries, mixed salad, and, of course, Moroccan coarse bread. Then, I strolled randomly on the streets in the medina. On the way back to the camping ground, Abraham from Vida Colorada approached me. He showed to me everything he had for sale in the store. Thus, I found out that a silk-and-wool bedspread cost 200 dirhams, whereas I paid 10 euros more for a bigger bedspread. Abraham gifted me a blue bracelet and innocently suggested we could smoke hashish together. At that moment, I rushed back to the camping site. I had no desire for illegal complications in Morocco.

Chefchaouen: colored shop with colored carpets

Chefchaouen: colored shop with colored carpets

I stopped at another shop looking for Berber earrings but I couldn’t find anything I liked. The owner started to ask me. Postcards? No! Magnets? No! Hashish? No! A smoke of something? Nooo!, I desperately answered.

The camping staff was very nice and helpful. The restaurant boy made me very happy. Every morning, I asked him to boil me water for tea because my kettle burned. He was always kind. I would have moved to the medina to not stay in the camping site because the forecast predicted a rainy day. I would have wanted to stay in a room, but because the boy working at the restaurant was so nice, I preferred to extend my stay at the campsite and moved into a bungalow.

The following day in Chefchaouen, I sat on the campsite’s terrace all day long. I made a selection of photos, wrote in my diary, and upgraded my number of kilograms for the hold luggage on my return home. I had left Romania with almost 20 kilograms of luggage and I planned to go shopping for the last days of my trip in Fes.

On the restaurant’s covered terrace, I sat wrapped in my dawn bag and wondered how it could be so cold in Morocco – almost 10 Celsius degrees. The boy from the restaurant celebrated his birthday and asked me to help him with an external card to transfer music from his USB stick and play music for his guests. When he saw the card I gave him worked like miracle, he happily kissed my hand. He was always smiling and gave me a discount for lunch because I didn’t have small change.

Chefchaouen: with Robert and Frederique (and Skai, their dog) from the Dragos Riders at camping Azilane

Chefchaouen: with Robert and Frederique (and Skai, their dog) from the Dragos Riders at camping Azilane

At the camping ground, I met Robert and Frederiqua (with their dog Skai) – two Dutchmen who traveled by camper through Morocco and spoke English well. They told me how their camper got damaged somewhere in a remote village. For the time they had to put the camper in service, a hospitable Moroccan woman from the village hosted them. They had to declare they were married so that she accepted them to stay together in the same room. They also told me how a Moroccan in Chefchaouen made a leather harness for Skai, and they had to go back with it because it unstitched. The Moroccan repaired it on the spot and didn’t ask them to pay anything extra.

Before I left Chefchaouen, I asked the Dutch couple to boil me some tea water because the restaurant was closed and my young friend was still sleeping after his birthday party. Robert and Frederiqua invited me to have breakfast with them. Toast, ham, Dutch cheese, something I hadn’t eaten since I arrived in Morocco.

If you want to read more about my trip through Morocco, here are all my Travel Diaries from Morocco (x21).

Have you been to Chefchaouen or plan to go there? Leave a comment below this post and tell me what you liked in Morocco.

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