3. Morocco – Tetouan to Chefchaouen
After a breakfast of warm flat bread and eggs, delicious milky coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, the hotel manager led us out from the tranquil beauty of the Riad Dhalia into the melle of the medina. Jedi knights in their woollen jelebias jostled with donkeys so overladen with sheep skins, gas bottles and greenery, they could hardly fit down the lanes. We made our way to the tannery, still working in the same way as it had in the middle ages. The ground was a carpet of vats of different coloured liquid each housing some concoction, vital to the curing and dying of leather. Lime to remove the hairs, pigeon poo to soften the leather, and pools of poppy petal red, indigo blue, turmeric yellow and mint green with which to naturally die the skins and yes, it stank.
We couldn’t leave the city without the obligatory hard sell by a mint tea offering carpet sales-man, and duly left with the smallest carpet we could get away with, which looks most becoming on Kabylie’s back-seat.
The drive to Chefchaouen, was about 1.5 hours and we started off driving through wonderful green hillsides – not at all what we had expected from Morocco. Fields of rippling green corn undulated in the warm blustery wind and patches of bright yellow and purple flowers bloomed amongst the cork trees. Clouds pored over the Rif into the valley like a waterfall.
Chefchaouen sits perched in the Rif mountains and is famed for the wonderful shades of indigo that adorn the walls and lanes of its medina. Apparently it was the Jewish community who, forced out of Spain moved there and mixed indigo with the whitewash of the time to counterbalance the green of Islam. The result is mesmerising and ones eyes want to drink in more and more of the colour. Chefchaouen is a shoppers paradise, being small and easy to navigate with stalls selling beautiful handicrafts that you want to buy everyone for Christmas. (and we have!) As the whole family gave up buying anything excluding food for lent, we certainly made up for it in Chefchaouen and taught the kids how to drive a hard bargain. Hector still has not quite got the hang of it, immediately declaring ‘ well that’s a bargain’ at the first utterance of an inflated price.
For most of its history, Chefchaouen was very isolated and by 1920 had only ever had 3 non-Muslim visitors. It later became a stop on the hippy trail, mainly due to the availability of marijuana (Kif), the main crop in the Rif Mountains. Over the last few years as less French and western tourist have come to Morocco, the cleaver king has waived visa restrictions for the Chinese and they are now the main visitors that you see and are certainly the ones that the carpet sellers go after.
Over baskets piled high with musk in an Aladdin’s cave of a potion shop, we met a couple of Saudi Arabian men who said they loved coming to Morocco because it was ‘tasty to the senses.’ I think it is a good description. Though Morocco is changing fast, it is still a delight to all the senses and is mightily tasty both gastronomically and culturally.
Our hotel was a labyrinth in itself with our lovely room looking onto the garden. We all slept wonderfully until woken at dawn by the minaret meters from our bedroom window. Thankfully the trickling stream in the courtyard begun to lull me back to sleep until I realised it was actually the loo overflowing onto the bathroom floor…………..