The ride to Chefchaouen was uneventful, if cramped. It took about two hours to get there and our mode of transportation was a Grand Taxi, hired just outside the DMZ of the Sebtan border. Grand Taxi’s are wonderful and relatively cheap. I use them on an almost-daily basis to get to and from school, paying only 3dhs (approximately ($0.40 USD) each way. Each one is a big old Mercedes that 6 passengers are crammed into: 4 in the backseat and 2 in the passenger seat. Moroccans don’t have much of a concept of personal space and a Grand Taxi ride is just one example of how you can get real close real fast with some interesting people.
For better or worse our group consisted of exactly six people – perfect for filling up a grand taxi and paying the cheapest price, but also meaning we’d be crammed in said taxi for two hours, hardly able to move. The ride wasn’t all that bad though, as there was plenty of new scenery to enjoy along the way. Chefchaouen sits in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. If you’ve heard the term “reefer”, that’s where it comes from – Chefchaouen is arguably the cannabis capital of the world. My attraction to the place lies more in the gorgeous mountain scenery and the blue color it’s known for, as I noted in my previous experience there last semester, but all of these factors have helped the city earn a name for itself.
Our arrival in Chefchaouen was greeted by misty rain clouds . I haven’t yet managed to visit the place when it’s sunny [and seeing as how I only have three weeks left here, I doubt I’ll have the chance this trip] but the imminent rain couldn’t dampen our spirits as we wound our way through alleys and gardens to some of the boys’ favorite hostel from their last visit.
Our evening was spent eating multi-course meals in the medina, getting to know the other people in the hostel, and wandering through the maze of blue-painted walls at night. We eventually stumbled across one shop, situated between a mosque and a big, ancient olive tree, with one of the friendliest, most insightful and entertaining shopkeepers ever. His name was Rashid and our time with him was so memorable we returned back the next day.
There were so many interesting Rashid quotes, from attempts to sell things for “potatoes price”, to the more philosophical “life is onion”. He had a gift for relating anything to food, even licking one of his leather bags to show it is “like couscous” and true Moroccan leather. It’s people like him that epitomize the generosity, friendliness, and up-selling savvy that permeates so much of Moroccan culture. Several of the guys purchased goods from him and though neither Monica nor I bought anything, pleading lack of funds (my ATM card had been eaten by the machine the first night), he gifted us both with a cloth bag each.
We spent Sunday morning hiking an old Spanish monastery above the town. It was a short hike, but the view from the top was spectacular and we got great views of the city on the way down as well.
The others took the bus back home to Meknes that afternoon but my ATM card was still stuck in an ATM downtown so I had to stay until the bank opened Monday morning to retrieve it. My friend Ben stayed the extra day with me and we spent the afternoon further wandering the town and exploring the old fortress (aka. kasbah) within it. The gardens were beautiful, even in the still drizzly weather, and the tower had been converted into a museum exhibit, offering great views of Chefchaouen’s rooftops on the way up.
Thankfully the next morning’s card retrieval went relatively seamlessly. I spoke with a lady upstairs at the bank and she had a whole stack of ATM cards sitting on her desk that had been eaten by the machine. Mine was near the top of the pile and with a simple display of ID and a signature, the card was mine again. I decided to try a different ATM to get money for the ride back, and as soon as we had our stuff, we were off to the station to get tickets for the three-hour ride to Fes, where we caught the train home. Things certainly hadn’t worked out exactly as planned for our weekend adventure, but the trip ended up being one of my favorites anyway. That’s one thing I love about travel: even through all the uncertainty, at times even having no money or no place to sleep, you can still have fun and enjoy the experience.