While in Spanish Ceuta we decided to venture into Morocco for a day, so we rented a car and set off early next morning. Having read that it's best to get Moroccan money from an ATM once in the country, our adventure began when Burger stuck our debit card into the machine at the border, and it was "eaten"! The machine was attached to a bank, but it wasn't due to open for two hours. Disconcerted, we carried on and changed some Euros for Dirhams at Chefchaouen, our destination.
At first we drove south along a fast highway that bypassed the small city of Tetouan, with its tightly clustered, white flat-roofed houses. Then we climbed into the refreshingly green Rif mountains along a windy, two-lane road, well paved with only the occasional pothole. Thank goodness for our Ipad nav program, as the signs weren't always helpful. Burger proved just as capable of passing slow trucks as the locals--not sure that's a good thing? (see photo).
Chaouen ("chow-en"), as it's nicknamed, is famous for its blue-colored medieval old town (medina) built into a hillside, above the modern part of town. At first we couldn't find the medina and wondered why we'd just driven all that way to a rather ugly, bustling little place, unpleasant on a hot day. How do the Muslims survive the heat in their long clothing and head covering? Finally we asked directions in our stumbling French--amazing how words come back to you that you haven't spoken in years ("ou est le medina, s'il vous plait?) and at last we found the entrance arch.
Built by the Portuguese as a base camp to launch attacks against Ceuta in the 15th century, the town changed hands a few times over the centuries (typical of everywhere in Europe). When Jews expelled from Spain settled in Chaouen a couple of centuries later, they chose to paint their houses and the narrow, cobblestone lanes various shades of blue. To this day the medina is mostly blue, which has made it such a tourist attraction.
The streets were filled with vendors selling souvenirs, tin and brass items, brightly colored spools of thread, clothing, straw hats, etc. One hat style looked like a clown's hat with colored balls on it, which we saw both men and women wearing.
Muslim-dressed women carried large, flat loaves of bread to and from the communal bakeries, and filled plastic jugs from water fountains. Lots of children were playing, and there were skinny cats everywhere. The occasional Rifi Berber walked by, wearing a long, brown, hooded robe looking just like a Jedi in StarWars (see photo).
A donkey passed us (see his photo too), carrying propane tanks on his back. He looked so very sad. We walked to the end of town and looked down at a waterfall and river, where locals were washing their clothes. Colorful cloths were drying on nearby rooftops.
We had lamb tangine, a sort of stew, for lunch at an outdoor cafe shaded by grapevines. The waiter was ever so nice and friendly, but the food was mediocre. Tangine is supposed to be sweet and spicy, but ours was bland, completely lacking in spices. We'll have to try it again somewhere less touristy.
We then made our way back down to our car and drove back to Ceuta. What luck! The bank at the border crossing was open when we got there--an adventure in itself driving through the throngs to get to it--and, amazingly, they retrieved our card from the ATM machine unharmed and returned it to us!
PHOTOS CLICK HERE