I wasted a morning trying to post things I don't need home (denied due to holiday), find an ATM that will work properly with my cards, and get ready to go to Africa. The ferry from Algeciras to Tangier was fairly fast and pleasant – exciting watching Africa swim into view, though it isn't much to look at out the side of a ferry (who wouldn't put an open deck on a ferry?). The peace lasted until we had changed some money and made it to the gate to the docks, and then the rip-off artists started.
We didn't hang around in Tangier – not much there to interest us and it's packed with touts and rip-off artists. The bus times to Chefchaouen were nothing like what we'd been told before we left, which was not at all surprising as Morocco is not a country that understands schedules and forward planning.
A guy who called himself a “mosquito” but that I can only describe as Gollum in a sweatshirt grabbed our attention and took us up to the area where the Grand Taxis go from, at which point he set up the inevitable rip-off with one of the taxi drivers, in one of the ancient Mercedes that ply Morocco's roads. This one was pretty had it, it needed a big push-start to get going (and again at the petrol station en-route).
We arrived in Chefchauoen after an uneventful drive through the dusty countryside, at which point the taxi driver claimed we'd agreed to pay far far more than we had. Personally I fall pretty squarely in the “no, fuck them, give them what we agreed” camp, but Melissa decided that the price we had agreed with Gollum was unreasonably cheap anyway and gave him five times that – still much less than he was claiming.
We went on to find our accomodation, where it turned out they hadn't bothered to keep the nice room Melissa had agreed on (when she was staying there last some weeks before). I had wanted to stay at another place that looked a bit nicer anyway, so I was getting pretty steamed up at all this deal-changing – I really fucking can't stand people changing the deal afterwards actually, so I wanted to go elsewhere. They offered another room as a compromise and Melissa talked me into cooling down and taking it.
Morocco was off to an inauspicious start.
Still, we went and had dinner at a nice place Melissa had been too before. The starters were delicious – Bessara, which is a broad-bean dip a little like hummus; a vegetably thing I think was probably baba ghanoush; the most delicious and fresh olives I've ever had, marinated in citrus, herbs, sugar and salt and god knows what, and fat and juicy.
Melissa got the couscous, while I had my first tagine which was actually really disappointing as unfortunately they badly overcooked it. I guess you can't really see what's going on inside the tagine particularly easily. Desert was great though, a lemon tart – not really a Moroccan thing but the waiter and I think some of the cooks was/were French.
The restaurant was across a couple of levels (Melissa went to go and chat in Arabic to the gaggle of women downstairs – she'd been learning Arabic in Fez for a month before I came over) and we were sitting on the rooftop, which was lovely – the air had cooled to a pleasant temperature and you could see softly lit alleyways between the blue walls of houses.
After an alright sleep and a dingy shower, breakfast was served on the roof which was cool – looking over the satellite dishes and aircon units of the adjacent buildings you could see the terracotta kasbah.
Which was closed, despite us having carefully checked the opening hours when we arrived the day before. I suspect the english copy of the opening hours mistranslated the day names…
So, we just wandered around the streets, did a little window-shopping, etc. The buildings in Chefchaouen are famously painted in a cooling blue color, usually up to about shoulder height, sometimes the first story or whole thing. The houses all seem to meld into one another and to the steps and alleys themselves.
I got told off by my resident Morocco expert for taking a photo of someone without asking, which is both fair enough and sad, because you want to see them doing what they do naturally. The locals of Chefchaouen mostly wear those nightdress-like hooded garments, the girls usually with headscarfs rather than hoods, but not burqas (some even wore makeup and/or no headscarf, and no-one batted an eyelid); the majority are Berber, the ages-old tribes who held Morocco's mountainous areas against the Arabs for an impressively long period of time. After eventual defeat, they agreed that they would become Muslim – but not Arab. And today, their although their culture is certainly middle-eastern, it remains somewhat distinct from Arab cultures.
I bought two hats for my partner Sarah from Atman the hat man, who was pleased to hear that he was famous on the internet (well, slightly famous) – he has a small shop on a corner which is essentially a burrow lined entirely with colorful hats which he knits continuously from his hat-burrow down the far end (“I knit so many because I am not married, so I have a lot of time, you see…”).
The guys in the shop next door and up the hill make knitted hats with amusing protrusions, which I was tempted to buy, but decided they were just a bit too silly to really wear, and anyway they cost more than three times as much (and weren't willing to negotiate on price, which is just weird in Morocco).
After Melissa's newly-bought sandal fell apart after about half an hour of usage, we went back to find the guy (harder than it sounds), then took the replacement to the suggested dude who sits on a street corner waiting for people to bring him things to fix. In Melissa's case he whacked a few tacks into the sandals and job done – nice helpful guy. He told us to pay him whatever we thought it was worth, so we gave him some coins and Melissa chatted for a bit in Arabic before he got embarrassed (or done with talking to pakehas) and wandered off.
The town is built up the gentle side of a hill, with a stream running down the side providing for drinking water and communal clothes-washing facilities. We didn't really have any cause to go into the newest parts of town, but the older parts all have fairly narrow streets and a lot of steps, so there's no cars. Donkeys walk buy hauling the ever-present ancient rusty LPG bottles. At any point in time, half the shops seem shuttered, but there's never any shortage of people about, and (unlike most of Morocco) you generally don't get hassled by people trying to sell you stuff, which is great.
There's lots of thread shops, clothes shops, bread and pastry shops, sandal/bag/scarf/blanket shops for the tourists, but away from the main square which has a few touristy restaurants and people with chillers selling drinks, it's fairly traditional which was nice. The people were friendly and helpful – when Melissa asked about the cornbread-like stuff one woman makes, she not only gave her a sample, she cheerfully agreed to open and make some things early tomorrow so Melissa could pick it up fresh before our early bus.
We walked up the hill that starts at the end of town, to where there's an old ruined mosque that they have started to restore. Teens tried to sell us Kif (dope) at a couple of points, but didn't hassle us much. It was very pretty watching the sun go down and the lights come on in the town (they do have electricity).
We headed back down before it got completely dark. Some cute goats were self-herding back to their house to get shut in safely for the night – wish my camera could handle low light better as they were pretty cute, climbing over the shrubs.
We went back to the restaurant again that night, and Melissa braved the salad (apparently great, but I had been warned about salads in hot countries!) which looked good and had the tasty local goat cheese in it. I had the chicken pastilla – chicken (traditionally pigeon but that's very hard to find) with spices and almond wrapped in filo-like pastry and with icing sugar and cinnamon on top, so rich I could only eat half! Very good, I have to try and figure out how to make it.
I tried to get an early night, the next morning we headed to Casablanca to start our tour – and the bus left at 7am :(.