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.


Friday 21 November 2008

Searching for a Dinosaur in Rabat (Day 3)

We woke up into a gloomy, rainy morning. The first one like that in Morocco.
We didn't know it yet, but it was also going to be our first pursuit of a nonexistent attraction from our trusty Lonely Planet Bible.

Originaly our plan was to catch the first bus north to the town of Asilah for a one day photo session. It is supposed to be a picturesque little town by the coast. We decided that we don't want to go there in rain and that this day was just perfect for a slow day.

Asilah is supposed to be a cute little beach town surrounded by some picture-postcard city walls. The weather was the number one reason why we chose to stay in Rabat for another day. Unfortunately this ment skipping Asilah altogether.
If we wanted to complete our trip around Morocco in three weeks, we didn't have much time to spare. One of the things M. and I agreed in the beginning of this trip was that we had no intention of running from one city to another. This time we decided to take it a bit slower instead.

We took our time getting up. By the time we agreed on our itinerary for the day, we were quite hungry. We already found a bakery with loads of delicious things to try ne the previous day but it unfortunately didn't open until midday. One of those Ramadan things, I guess.

After an hour of surfing and email writing later, we went back to the bakery and opted for different salty things. They put it all in a paper box. We decided to enjoy our brunch in the privacy of our hotel room. It seemed a right thing to do with everybody fasting around us.

In the afternoon we decided to visit one of the few museums in Rabat. We decided to check out the Science and nature museum. According to our Lonely Planet guide it was supposed to be tucked away in the Ministry of energy and mining building, somewhere in the administrative part of Ville Nouveau. We chose this particular museum because it houses a huge dinosaur skeleton.

Since we had lots of time to spare, we chose to walk to our destination. Unfortunately the museum itself wasn't marked on our LP map. The only thing marked on the map was a rough direction.
After a couple of hours walking and asking for directions we finally found someone who was kind enough to escort us to our nearby destination. After a 10 minute walk we got to our destination at last. That's what we thought anyway. When our unfortunate guide found out he lead us to a completely wrong destination, he was so embarrassed that he insisted on paying us a petit taxi. The taxi driver finally delivered us to the right destination.

By that time we were not even annoyed with the situation anymore. We were way beyond that phase.

After entering the Ministry of energy and mining building, everything looked more or less deserted. The people were on the Ramadan working hours of course (i.e. much shorter working day). After a couple of minutes we found someone who spoke at least some English, just to learn that we can't take a look at the museum. Not because it was closed but because it was there no more! It was relocated altogether with the giant dinosaur , not just to another nearby location, but to another city a few hundered kilometers away.

We really didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. After a short moment we chose the first option.

I guess a small group of employees that gathered around in the meantime seemed a bit concerned about our mental health, but we couldn't care less. We thanked them and left the building laughing.

Still laughing we found a taxi to our hotel. We really didn't feel like walking back.

This event didn't stop us from spending an interesting evening in the city Medina and relaxing over a pot of fresh mint tea afterwards. We got quite used to that part by now.


Tuesday 4 November 2008

Culture Shock in Morocco (Day 2)

The first night in Morocco went by without anything special. The only thing bugging me was a mosquito, desperately trying to whisper something in my ear.

When we got up, we packed our stuff and walked to the CTM bus station. There are many bus companies operating in Morocco. CTM or Compagnie de Transports au Maroc is one of the better ones. We weren't expecting it but their buses are quite new and well kept. We could easily compare them to European ones.

At the station we bought two tickets and after ten minutes we were already on our way to Rabat. No, that wasn't part of a plan, we were just lucky.

Today Rabat is the capital of the Kingdom of Morocco. It has been like that since 1912, when French invaders moved the capital from Fes to Rabat. In the new part of the city there are many administrative buildings and foreign embassies. It is quite well kept and like Casablanca relatively hassle free.

That is one of the main reasons why we chose to visit this city in the beginning of our trip. We hoped that this time we would make it without any substantial culture-shock. After all we have been to Egypt only a year ago. Well, nevertheless it hit us.

We were over it in a couple of days, but while in Casablanca and Rabat at some times we felt a bit disoriented and confused. Luckily we didn't have any shopping plans during that time. Generally it is a good idea to save your shopping for the last days in whatever country you are. If you do that you won't have all that stuff to carry around for the rest of the trip and you also have time to figure out what is a good price for that bag of spices/oriental rug/trashy teapot you need so desperately.

When we arrived in Rabat we first had to get to the city center. Five kilometers was a bit far for us so we decided to try local city buses. It turned out to be a very cheap, moderately uncomfortable, quite crowded and dirty option.

We spent the rest of the first day in Rabat wandering around the Medina and admiring Kasbah des Oudaias.

On our way to the Kasbah we were approached several times by locals offering help or priceless advice we didn't really need. We got rid of the vultures quite easily and found our destination without any problems.

Once we got there, we were approached with a local again. He told us that it was not appropriate to walk around the Kasbah during the time of Ramadan. We didn't know whether to believe him or not, but after a bit of hesitation decided to carry on with our wandering around despite his warning.

It turned out to be the right thing to do - there were lots of other people around and the locals didn't seem to bother at all. We couldn't figure out what was that man up to. This thing really got to M. and she was grumbling about it for the rest of the day.

Besides that event we found the Kasbah with it's surroundings very interesting and picturesque.

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