On the Road to Chefchounen

So, we left The European Continent with little hesitation. I like adventure and Mr. C wanted to get another passport stamp. We boarded a bus in Seville bound for the port city of Tarifa, Spain where we would purchase the fast ferry tickets to Tangiers. It was simple to find a ticket office, they line the street heading toward the coastline. We just simply popped into one and requested passage for two. The woman behind the desk was efficient, I think we simply needed cash and our passports. All of our other belongings were in our backpacks strapped to our backs. The ferry service runs six times a day and we were, like, twenty minutes from one departing. She hurried us on our way after collecting about 150 euros for our one way walk on tickets.

Finding the ferry was a little more difficult, but everyone speaks English and we used our mediocre Spanish skills for greetings and words of appreciation. Our wait was quick, they board the walk on passengers before the cars. What a sight that was - we witnessed a battle Royale between two families unable to decide who got to drive on first. Seems unwise, especially with all the armed police rushing to the scene.

Once on the boat we got in line to have our passports stamped and then grab some beverages. I found it strange that everyone was drinking alcohol - it's my dumb luck to get seasick every time I cross the English Channel, I wasn't taking any risks here on the Strait of Gibraltar. I got a Tonic Water for myself and some sparkling water for Mr. C. Whenever I travel to India it seems that we are never able to find tonic water, yet we always have gin. I had to capture my tonic score, simply because of a history of driving the streets of Delhi, juggling fresh limes,  desperate for a G&T. But this scrambling for booze was a survival tactic employed by the other ferry passengers that didn't even register with me. Morocco is a dry country, something I would soon realize when I wanted a glass of wine to wash down my delicious tagine. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The whole ferry ride is maybe a total of an hour and a half, including boarding and debarking. During this relatively smooth ride I practiced my French. What I knew of Morocco was that French was spoken, and what I knew of the port of Tangiers was that there were hustlers ready to nab you to follow their itinerary. My plan was to speak in French as if I were a childhood native returning to see my grandfather. I wasn't about to be bamboozled.

I am an idiot.

The first thing I did when we got off the ferry was to A) forget my French speaking plan and B) to become immediately enamored with a tall, tan, white-suited fella holding a Kinder Chocolate Egg lunchbox. Was it his handsome features, the smile, the Kinder box or his white hat - I wish I had a photo - all I know is that he had a magnetic presence that both Mr. C and I fell for. We were pulled into his path as he asked us if we spoke English and needed a ride.

Sure, why the hell not.

First he directed us to a car waiting at the port. I think it was illegally parked because as we approached he started shouting to a policeman who was approaching. Our new friend got in the driver side door after escorting Mr. C to the front passenger seat, me to the back and our bags to the boot. He drove wildly, stopping suddenly to pick up a new guest - it appears this fella was to be our driver. But our companion stayed with us, getting us first to an ATM where he wanted me to have access to Dinars, and then when I entered my pin and it didn't work (it was the wrong pin, I felt something wasn't right), he took me to a bank where I could exchange 200 Euros into Dinars. I was more comfortable with that.

He took the equivalent of 100 Euros for himself and the remainder was given to the driver. Hell, he may have pocketed more as he was handing over the cash. Then he took his Kinder box and strutted down the sidewalk like he was the richest man in Morocco. The driver then began an hours long journey through the Rif Mountains to our destination: Chefchounen.

The road was modern, though it was riddled with police barricades that we somehow managed to avoid. All along the roadside were Moroccans just out and about - I was glad of this because this is such a common sight in India and I wanted Mr. C to experience it because it always seems to beg the question, "What are these people doing and where are they going?"

Once we got to Chefchounen, our driver found us a local boy who would ferry us and our bags to the hotel Casa Sabila. Upon our arrival we were greeted by the most elegant of men, the owner Mohammed, who reprimanded the baggage carrier for price gouging us and then proceeded to reprimand us for how much we paid for the taxi. He also served us sweet mint tea and fresh cookies with such a warm smile that we couldn't help but feel ridiculous. I know he was angry, though, about our being ripped off. For us, 200 Euros was a small price to pay for a quick journey that got us to our destination - we weren't always sure it was going to to work out for us.

Our room at Casa Sabila was on the second floor and it was positively gorgeous. The tiled floor, the painted walls with hand painted borders, the round bathroom that jutted into our little space - so unique and so comfortable. But we were hungry and asked our Mohammed to recommend somewhere we could get a late meal. But apparently 10:30 isn't late in Morocco and he made a phone call and got us 11pm reservations at the Restaurant Cafe Sofia. His assistant, Omar, took us directly to the restaurant along the stepped passageways of town. It was a gorgeous night, just cool enough to need layers but warm enough that we weren't cold. The restaurant was outdoor seating and it was packed with both tourists and locals. We ordered what was recommended, the salad with the cheese, tabouleh and a chicken tagine to share. I'm always a little hesitant to eat meat when traveling after a bad chicken incident that happened to my Dad in India, but something said this was going to be a special meal.

The next day we followed Mohammed's directions and ventured into town to see the museum, the gardens and the Souk. Just meandering through the blue painted buildings is a journey in itself, photo opportunities abound and we loved getting lost in the maze. We sipped juices at the Hotel Chefchounen's outdoor cafe and we ate another delicious meal towards the center of town where we were serenaded. Of course, by this time in our European/African adventure, our backpacks were growing heavy and we still had another country to go. Add to that, Mr. C bought a sword. We went to Mohammed with our dilemma - we needed to mail laundry and the sword home. Knowing how ridiculous we sounded, it was even more embarrassing as Mohammed agreed to accompany us to the post office as well as carry our bag full of laundry while Mr. C humbly carried the sword. The gentlemen left me unencumbered. Mohammed dropped us and our laundry at the post office and told us to just wait, then he disappeared only to return five minutes later with a blue plastic woven bag. He then instructed us to fill it and went to talk to one of the postal employees who seemed to be in charge. Once he returned he pointed to the man and said that when we were done this fella was gonna help us get this bag shipped. And then he disappeared. Mr. C and I started stuffing, centering the sword and packing laundry tightly around. Of course, once we were done we were left with a bag full of shit and no way to seal it. But Mr. C gets bolder with each day 'in country' and he approached two men and their roll of tape. He mimed that we needed to buy tape and wanted to know where they got it. Instead of sending one of us off, they sold us the roll there and then. Mr. C made sure they finished their boxing, but paid them more than necessary to acquire that roll. I say more than necessary because I think they threw in the service of taping the bag along with the tape. And they used the whole dang roll. By the time it was done, there wasn't a patch of blue to be seen - it was a brown taped oblong structure costing 40 Euros to ship slow boat back to the US. It arrived before we did.

On our last day at Casa Sabila we sat in the sun on the front steps talking with Mohammed. He told us of his story, time in Casablanca and throughout North Africa and France before finally settling in Chefchounen to get away from fast paced living. The house he bought was supposed to become his own home, but instead he opened the rooms to travelers. He was also exceptionally well read and fluent in many languages. We shared a love of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' writing and he complained about the labor of trying to read and learn Spanish through an untranslated copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. Little did I know that this unread tome in my library would take me two summers to get through - and I read it in English!

Lastly, before we left town, Omar took us to the top for a view so that we could capture a panoramic of the city. Sitting there on some crumbling wall and looking at the blueness of the buildings contrasting with the desert mountains, it was peaceful and relaxing and we vowed to return someday and stay longer.

Though the visit was short, the memories were lasting. Hell, it's the first post I'm doing - it was that special of a visit. I hope you get to go sometime.


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