Showing posts with label Chefchaouen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chefchaouen. Show all posts

Monday 26 January 2009

Goodbye to Rif mountains (Day 7)

After paying for our stay in the Ouarzazate Hotel we negotiated to leave our luggage in the hotel until we left for the bus station.

Before we left Chefchaouen we still had a couple of hours to spare and first we grabbed a pancake breakfast, which was followed by a visit of the old Kasbah. It houses only a small museum, but since the entrance fee is very affordable I guess it is worth a visit.

Since the end of Ramadan was just a day ago, this meant that many Moroccans were planning to travel - usually visiting relatives.

As a precaution we bought our bus tickets a couple of days in advance. This proved to be a good idea, since the bus was fully booked way before departure. We also learned they charged us a bit differently for bus tickets each time.
This time we had to pay a bit more for our luggage. We didn't want to argue with the guy doing luggage check-in over a couple of Dirhams, so we just handed over the requested amount.

Since our next destination was one of the biggest cities in Morocco, we were a bit sad to leave this cute little town, nestled in the middle of Rif Mountains, behind. We really liked it.
Fes was next on our list and in spite of everything we were still looking forward of getting lost in its vast medieval Medina.

The bus ride to Fes went by without any problems. When we arrived to our destination it took us a while to find a decent hotel. The budget options recommended in our LP guide were either full, nonexistent (!) or really stinky.

This was at least the second time in Morocco that our LP guide let us down. The first time it was during a search for a nonexistent museum in Rabat, I was writing about in this post.

We took the only one that was acceptable by our standards (we only wanted a reasonably clean and cheap place to crash).
Hotel Royal turned out to be just that. Nothing to write home about, but served our needs perfectly for a couple of days.

It was probably a really nice place in its time... but I guess that was ages ago. We got that feeling from the generously sized bathroom with a large bath-tub and massive (yet a bit oxidized) water taps.


Monday 19 January 2009

Up and down Jebel el Kelaa (Day 6)

Once again we woke up early in the cosy Ouarzazate Hotel with the intention of going hiking. But this time we weren't ready to give up so easily.

We got up, ate a quick breakfast we bought the day before. I put on my backpack and off we went. Well, almost...
When we tried to leave our hotel, the door was locked and the receptionist was nowhere to be found. We didn't want to give up the hike before it really begun, but there was nothing else we could do but wait.

So we went back to our room. The receptionist didn't take too long to return and we were out of the hotel in a minute.

Jebel el Kelaa was recommended to us both by Lonely Planet guide and a Swiss couple we met on the day before.
We found the northern gate out of the Chefchaouen Medina and followed a path uphill through the old graveyard. Sun was still hiding behind one of the mountains to the east, but it wasn't dark anymore.

It was easy to follow markings on rocks. Unfortunately we couldn't decipher the text accompanying them. The hike was quite pleasant. The winding track was not too steep, but it went on forever. We also had quite a slow pace and have stopped quite often to take photos.
During one of those stops we admired a group of falcons playing in midair, shooting past us while we were sitting on an edge of a cliff. They were too fast for me to take a decent photo. This reminded me that I must replace my Olympus C-5060 camera with a decent DSLR soon.

I also stopped a couple of times to disturb some dung beetles. There were quite a few of them, rolling little balls of dung around. M. is always complaining when I start bugging bugs. It was no different this time but in spite of that it was worth the effort. I got a few really nice macro shots.

Almost all the way to the top there were remains of marijuana harvest on both sides of the track. As a local explained they harvest it at the end of August and in the next months it is time to turn it into hashish.

It took us approximately four hours to get to the top.

Actually we are still not sure if it actually was the top. At 1600 meters there were a couple options to continue. We took the most obvious one and made it to the top.

There we enjoyed a meal of local bread and a few peaces of soft cheese we brought with us. As we learned buying them, those soft cheese pieces, wrapped in aluminum foil were not sold in prepacked boxes, but piece by piece. Surprisingly also cigarettes (by cigarette not box) and chocolate (by square not tablet) are sold in a similar manner in the Medina streets.
After enjoying the snack and a beautiful view we went back down. It took us two and a half hours to get back to the town. First we freshened up with a fresh orange-banana juice and then relaxed until diner.

We were pleasantly tired therefor a paella we ordered seemed even more delicious.
Another fresh orange juice followed (these fruit juices simply rule - they cost one third of the price we're used to back home and are even more delicious). As usually the day ended with a pot of mint tea.


Sunday 11 January 2009

End of Ramadan in Chaouen (Day 5)

We were awaken by the sound of drums and shouting from the street below our hotel window. It was 6 o'clock in the morning and just a perfect time for an early hike up a nearby mountain.

That was the plan, but because of all that noise from the street we quickly changed our minds. We didn't want to miss an opportunity to see a genuine Moroccan festival.
We noticed the anticipation in the local crowd already the previous evening. People were carrying around huge plates loaded with pastries ready to be baked. Also every shop owner was trying to explain to us that for the next couple of days his and almost every other shop is going to stay closed. Of course mostly they were saying that only because if we were moving on to another city soon, it was our last chance to buy something from their shop.

When we finally got up we agreed to make it an easy day around town and its surroundings, join the festival and take a photo or three.

We expected something to be going on, but Medina streets were much quieter compared to previous days. We didn't bother about that, changed our plans and slowly walked through the maze of narrow streets to the eastern part of town. From there we spotted an old ruined mosque on a nearby hill.

It was almost noon by that time and quite hot. As we didn't want to break our habit we bravely took the path leading uphill (we usually try not to, but always end up climbing some hill in the hottest time of a day).
It wasn't much of a climb and after a half an hour we were already at the top, looking down on Chefchaouen - 'The Green Capital of the World', as a local guy standing there called it. As you might imagine it had nothing to do with environmental awareness and quite a lot with large quantities of marijuana grown in the surrounding hills.

There were some people relaxing there and enjoying the view. Half of them were tourists and the other half were locals.
Soon enough we figured out this was a popular spot for hash smoking. The locals were mostly there on business i.e. trying to sell some hash. Surprisingly they were not at all pushy and telling them you don't want any, was enough.

So we just chatted with some of the guys, enjoyed the view for a while, took some photos and then went back into town.

There was still nothing going on, so we took time for a meal and just relaxed for some more.

In the evening people started gathering in the new part of the town. It seemed like everybody was there. But besides the cooked-snail stalls there was nothing interesting to see. It seemed people were just promenading up and down the street.

After a while we got tired of doing nothing and decided to go to bed and head into the mountains early in the morning. I guess I don't need to point out that we were a bit disappointed by the so called 'festival'. We figured that either we didn't find the place or we just didn't get the point of it. Who knows...


Friday 28 November 2008

Chefchaouen - Look at the mountains (Day 4)

The beeping sound of my mobile's alarm woke us up at half past seven. It didn’t seem as early as it should. I guess we were still not completely adapted to Moroccan time (i.e. GMT-1), which in September is two hours ahead of Central European time we are used to in Slovenia (i.e. GMT+1). In Morocco they are on the same time all year around.

From the look through our hotel room window yesterday’s rain seemed just like a distant memory. Our plan was to catch a bus to the town of Chefchaouen. On the way to the CTM bus station we also stopped at the other bus station from where buses were leaving for Asilah. We made an inquiry just in case if the price and time of departure would be right for us. Since the time of departure was not planned for any time soon, we continued to the CTM station where we bought tickets for Chaouen (short for Chefchaouen).

During the bus trip we made a couple of short stops. In Morocco it is usual for the bus driver to pull over every two or three hours of the trip and announce a 20 minute break. Usually the stop is at some kind of a street restaurant and it was always quite obvious that the driver and the owner of the roadside-joint have some kind of agreement.

One such stop was also in Ouezzane – a small town at the southern part of Rif Mountains. The Rif region is known for the largest kif (that’s a local word for marijuana) production in Morocco. You can get the best idea about the extent of the green business in these parts if you count interactions with locals that end up with some kind of a smoking proposal. Well, you may have much less work counting conversations with no hash or kif reference.
In my case I had a firsthand experience with a hashish dealer the moment I stepped off the bus.

I went to buy a bunch of bananas from a fruit market stand at the Ouezzane bus station. There was a local guy standing next to the stand through the short bargaining process. When I was walking back towards the bus, he came after me and started a casual conversation. It didn’t take him more than a couple of sentences to get to the point.

He showed me a fist sized lump of hash and tried to persuade me into buying some. It was a classical “Special price, only for you my friend!” offer. To my surprise I didn’t have to try very hard to shake him off. A firm “Thanks, I don’t smoke.” was enough.

I didn’t know it yet by then, but this was just the first of many similar situations in this region. Fortunately none of them was unpleasant. It was much easier to make a dealer understand I didn’t want to smoke, then to persuade a carpet seller I really didn’t like nor need any carpets and that selling carpets later on Ebay also isn’t my idea of having fun.

After another couple of hours we finally made it to Chefchaouen. It is a relatively small city, surrounded by mountains. Although the bus station is quite far away from the town centre, we decided to walk the distance to the hotel of our choice. Unfortunately it was impossible to see from our LP map that there was quite a steep walk ahead of us. A quarter of an hour and a whole lot of huffing and puffing later, we found ourselves standing outside the medina wall. In the chaos of narrow medina streets we took a wrong turn and wandered away from the hotel we were looking for. Fortunately there were many alternatives everywhere around.

Hotel Ouarzazate was the nearest one. It is a relatively small family-run hotel with shared toilet and shower facilities. Since we were the only guests, that wasn’t a drawback. It looked like the hotel was just renovated and some of the rooms seemed really cute. On top of all those things it was also very cheap. 100 DH for a small (2x2 meters) double room per night - that's less then 10 EUR.

After settling in we went off to explore the town centre and to find some food. It didn’t take us long to realize that we like the atmosphere of this town. We decided over a pan of shrimps and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice that we would stick around for at least three days.

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