Saturday, February 13, 2016

[CHEFCHAOUEN] Crayons Out, Children

Chefchaouen is famous thanks to its penchant for the color blue. It’s as if its inhabitants one day decided to paint the town but didn’t have enough motivation to commit so they just let their kids do it. Like, okay, children, crayons out! We’re painting the town blue today! Voilà, Chefchaouen. This is the part where I tell you that there is nothing to see here aside from too much powder blue, but for some reason that I could not explain, I really enjoyed staring at those houses. They must be hypnotic like that.

Locals call it Chaouen, and we don’t really know where the prefix “chef” came from. Wikipedia will surely have the answer but I’m too lazy to check it out. From Rabat, it will take you between three to four hours on a bus, almost the same amount of time if you are coming all the way from Fez. There are no trains going to Chefchaouen. If you intend to hop on a train from Casa or Rabat, you’ll end up north, in Tangier, and then transfer to a local bus from there. Be lazy. Take the bus. Sleep on the bus.

There is a stopover in a little town called Ouezzane where you’ll begin to see a lot of Jedi roaming the streets. People here in the north like wearing those traditional Moroccan coats with pointy hoodies. Toss them some lightsabers and there will be blood. We, Sith lords, don’t back out from a fight even when we’re greatly outnumbered. And my anger management issues are worse than Kylo Ren’s. But nothing really exciting happened. The lazy Jedis were just there chatting and sipping coffee al fresco at their cafes.

A friend tried on one of those hoodies when we were roaming around Chefchaouen’s medina the next day but the shop quoted MAD 300 (~PHP 1500) which we thought was too pricy. This is when I was supposed to use all of the bargaining expressions I learned in class but we were not buying one anyway so we just smiled and said no. Besides, the material does not seem comfortable enough for me, and I have this feeling that the coat will cease to exist after I throw it into the washing machine.

If I remember correctly, there are two bus companies plying the Rabat – Chefchaouen route. I went with CTM which has no more than one trip a day. They leave Rabat at 3 PM. The return trip from Chefchaouen is at 7 AM the next day. This meant that I was able to leave straight after class. Even so, it would be nicer if there were Saturday morning trips, that way one could save up on the cost of accommodation for one night. An afternoon return trip on a Sunday would also be nice instead of wasting one day on the road.

Even fans of photography will find one day to be too much for this blue town. The medina is quite big but can easily be explored after lunch. There is an unimpressive waterfall somewhere up north but I no longer bothered to go there because I just know I wouldn’t appreciate it, having seen a lot of awesome waterfalls in this lifetime. Aside from that, you can also go hiking! Chefchaouen is surrounded by a mountain range which ensures that the town always has this literally chill atmosphere. Don’t forget your sweater.

As opposed to French everywhere else down south, Spanish is the more useful foreign language here in the north. Spain controls two exclaves in the country’s northern coast, and the proximity to the Iberian Peninsula guarantees a steady stream of Spanish-speaking tourists. If you are not sure whether you should order your food in Spanish, French, English, or Arabic, just try one of those and someone will surely be able to understand you.

I arrived Friday evening and checked in at my Airbnb place in the medina. It was a bit difficult to navigate at first but the 3G signal was just awesome, which meant Google Maps was active all the time. The medina is a 20-minute walk uphill from the bus station so I don’t recommend going there on foot if you have heavy luggage. A petit taxi ride should not cost you more than MAD 10, even if the taxi driver refuses to use the meter. The medina has many gates, so plan your stop accordingly.

The main square is at Avenue Uta Hammam which has a rather large tree as its centerpiece. On one side is the wall of the Qasbah facing a plethora of restaurants and bars that are supposed to be overpriced. The touts there are annoying as fuck. One of them kept offering me hash despite my best efforts to refuse over and over again. I told him I had no money. He said he’ll wait for me until midnight. The next day, he chased me around half-berating me for keeping him up all night. Like, dude, I don’t even know you. Doh?

I think it was still cheap. I got a full platter of fried seafood with fries and rice as well as a bottle of Coke for less than MAD 70. They also have those tea infusion thingies with mint in them. If you want hashish for dessert, it will come to you. Shisha was harder to come by and rather expensive when we inquired. Both Restaurant Aladdin and Restaurant Marisco have rooftop views if you are up for that. Facing the Qasbah, you’ll end up at the mountains if you go left; out of the medina to the main street if you head right.

Are the blue houses worth the trip? I would say so. You know when you are in China and the red and gold overload just becomes old after a day or two? I think the same thing is bound to happen here but since I only did sightseeing for an entire day, the effect was quite hypnotic despite the uniformity in terms of hues. I could stare at those blue and white stairs for hours, seriously. Allot at least an hour or two for getting lost in the medina and taking photos. Three hours if you are an aspiring paparazzo.

Talking about the paparazzi, many locals are not really keen in getting their photos taken. The elderly will wave their index fingers at you while the little children will bluntly yell NO PHOTO! At first, I was annoyed, but then I realized that if I lived here I would most likely feel the same way. So yeah, just respect what’s left of their privacy. You’ll know a certain town is popular if they have a considerable number of Asian tourists running around, and Chefchaouen had several that day, which is a rarity even in Rabat.

There's also a Spanish mosque that you can visit if you want a break from all the blue houses. Just flag a petit taxi and ask the driver to bring you to Ras el Ma where the locals usually wash their clothes on weekends. What I really liked about Chefchaouen, though, is the chillaxing atmosphere. This is perhaps why a lot of tourists tend to come here. Compared to Marrakesh or Fez, the pace here just seems so slow. And slow is good from time to time. Have a break, have some hashish. Kitkat! I meant Kitkat.

[CHEFCHAOUEN] Crayons Out, Children

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