Sat 5th - Sun 6th September 2009
Malaga, Spain to Chefchaouen, Morocco – Sat 5th September 2009
Sat 9.30 am I met the group I am to travel with for the next 5 weeks through Morocco and Mauritania into Senegal. I arrived at the hotel slightly later than planned having ended up at the wrong hotel in Malaga – there were 2 Ibis hotels!
The group so far consist of 8 guys and 6 girls, an unusual ratio in favour of the boys. The age ranges between 24 and 60+. Dominated by 8 Aussies, plus 4 Brits, a Kiwi and a Chinese lady from Hong Kong. There are 10 single travellers, and 2 couples making up both the oldest members of the group (and very well travelled) to the youngest who are relocating to Ghana to set up a second hand bicycle ‘Recycle’ charity.
We are to spend the first 6 days more or less as planned but using public transport, taxi’s and a hired mini bus instead of the truck. Now I wish I hadn’t bought those extra boots! We crossed the Spanish Moroccan border from Algaceiras to Ceuta by ferry. Ceuta, the northern tip of Morocco is actually part of Spain. We had a lengthy wait outside in the blazing sun at passport control after being certified fit and well by the doctor residing in a makeshift portacabin next door. The health check consisted of having a light shined on our foreheads (presumably to see if we had a temperature) and amazingly we all passed despite 1 person being at the end of a heavy cold, 1 person just recovering from suspected Swine flu, another recovering from a week’s nocturnal partying in Ibiza and the rest of us suffering with heat stroke having carried our 20kg backpacks a few hundred yards up hill fully clothed in 35 degrees! We all passed with flying colours and they let us into Morocco!
Chefchaouen, Morocco – Sun 6th September
Our first stop is for 2 nights in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangiers and a few hours south of the border. Among a labyrinth of narrow lanes and stairways, the small picturesque town of Chefchaouen clings to the hillside. The houses and buildings rinsed in white and blue, a traditional colour from the Jewish population who sought refuge in the mountainous city after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times. The pretty doorways are entrances to private blue dwellings and shops selling native handicrafts not found elsewhere in Morocco. The walls are adorned with wool garments, beautiful silk bedspreads and woven blankets. The locals wear traditional straw hats decorated with multi-coloured pom-poms.
This region and the countryside around has a reputation for being a prolific source of Kif (marijuana) and inevitably many of us are offered it within minutes of arriving. Morocco is believed to be the world’s second biggest supplier of Cannabis, after the US.
The town is easy to get lost in at first but it seems all lanes eventually lead back to the Kasbah in the medina’s main square, Place Uta Hammam. Chefchaouen’s mosque has the only octagonal minaret in Islam and the muezzin, or muslim call to prayer, originates from here 5 times a day. We are staying at Hotel Chams, centrally located and traditionally built with a roof top terrace overlooking the town and a good place to watch the sun set between the two mountain peaks that give Chefchaouen it’s name.
September is the month of Ramadam so food and drink aren’t readily available between sunrise and sunset. A siren sounds to signify the end of the day’s fasting at which point the town quite literally comes alive, and stays alive! At 4am a horn is blown and a trumpet is played around the noisy streets notifying everyone that nothing else must pass their lips until the day ends once again approx. 15hrs later.
It is in this small town that I try my first Moroccan Tagine and start my daily mint tea ritual.