Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morocco 2019 - Day 4 (7/17/2019) - To Chefchauoen

Breakfast this morning was mostly the same as the day before, but with the welcome addition of cubed watermelon.  I fought my appetite once again, and was able to stomach a little more than the previous day.  After breakfast we gathered our things from the room and checked out.  Because of my shoulder and aggravation from driving (and also because Fran is not experienced enough to drive in these conditions) the plan was to head directly to Chefchaouen instead of attempting to first check out one of the parks somewhat in the vicinity.  We hit the road somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30am.

The drive turned out to be quite tense overall, and the anxiety started pretty early.  We were barely out out of Fes when the tire pressure warning came back on the dashboard.  To add to that, the road that we were on went through a rural area with no sign of a service station anywhere nearby.  We pressed on for what felt like at least an hour before we came across a gas station.  The fuel tank was half full, so we had it filled up with diesel, and then asked the serviceman to help us with the tires.  Although he didn't really speak any English we were able to communicate to him to pump up all the tires.  Unfortunately, though, this didn't turn off the tire pressure warning.  To make matters worse, Fran was unsuccessful in her attempt to find clean water and a bathroom from the "cafe" next to the gas station (picture a shack next to an old gas station, with no other buildings in sight); they told her that there was not a bathroom, and the water that they did sell her was in obviously refilled bottles.  As we were getting ready to pull out, a driver from another car that was pulling out asked if we were doing OK and whether we were headed to Chefchaouen (where he was just coming from); then he told us to take it easy as the road to get there was not good.

We found out what he was talking about within a couple of minutes of pulling out of the station onto the next section of road.  The pavement was eroded on both sides of the road so that the paved portion was the width of only about a car and a half - forcing impromptu games of chicken when cars approached from the opposite direction.  On top of that, there were potholes everywhere.  These road conditions continued for probably another hour or so.  Somewhere in there, we pulled over so that Fran could go relieve her bladder behind some bushes.  We also came across a group of 3 kids (likely less than 10 years old) who blocked the road to force us to stop and then banged on the car trying to get us to roll down the windows and buy some of the prickly pears that they were selling.  I was also surprised by the variety of things that we passed along the way: people walking alongside the road, kids playing along and on the road, tractors, donkeys dragging carts, roadside vendors, ...

We eventually made it to N13, a more traveled and better maintained road.  This doesn't mean that it didn't have its issues, though - it had some potholes, a few eroded patches, and a couple of detours where major work was being done.  It was on this road that I had a heart-racing encounter with the Moroccan police.  They had set up one of their speed traps where the road goes over and down a hill while the speed limit decreases to 60 kmph (the speed limit signs mainly alternated between 80 and 60, depending on whether the area was populated, though the placement of the signs was often confusingly very close together).  They had clocked me going down the hill at 71 kmph, and waved the car to the side as we pulled up.  One officer asked for he car registration information, my passport, and my drivers license, and then explained to me why they pulled me over.  He then asked me to step out of the car, and the other officer showed me the picture of the car's licence plate on the speed gun.  I remained calm, complied with all their instructions, and weakly tried to explain why it wasn't unreasonable for me to be going that fast down the hill.  I asked them what the fine was, and the first officer said 300 Dirham.  Fran, who had been observing quietly, fished out that amount and handed it to them.  The officer then asked me to follow him over to their police van.  There he began a bit of small talk, asking me if I was originally American (I told him Nigerian).  Then in a surprising change of temperament, he handed me back 100 Dirham (vaguely implying that he was doing something nice for Fran and me) and my documents; of course without recording any of this in any documentation.  Thrilled to no longer be detained, we hopped back in the car and drove off.

The next excitement came when we approached an intersection a few minutes later and a man on the side of the road motioned to us something about the car.  We didn't understand what he was signaling, and I feared that he had observed a flat tire (the tire pressure light was still on).  I pulled over at the next opportunity and we got out to look at the tires, which looked fine to us.  Fran then realized that the hood of the car was popped - from when I had been looking for the gas tank release at the gas station.  Relieved that the latch had prevented the hood from coming up any further, and slightly miffed that the police officers had not said anything to us about it, we properly secured the hood and continued on.

The rest of the trip was thankfully much less exciting, though my shoulder very much disagreed with another long drive (despite the Aleve that I had taken beforehand).  We did find a place to stop and buy properly sealed bottles of water.  We entered Chefchaouen sometime around 4pm (a quick aside: along the roadsides in town there are lots of young men jingling keys as an offer of lodging to tourists), and attempted to follow the directions to our hotel, Lina Ryad & Spa.  Unfortunately, though, Google Maps failed us in this regard, as it led us up and around the city to some non-existent roads.  The hotel was actually not too far from the city walls on the north side (like other medinas, this was not accessible by car), so we parked as close as we could figure out and then tried to find the hotel on foot with our luggage.  We eventually did find it after a few twists and turns, and with a bit of help from a couple of people who could tell that we were lost.  I was a bit of a sweaty mess while the hotel clerk checked us in and offered us some cookies and juice to welcome us.  She then showed us up to our room on the third floor.

After the porter brought our luggage up to the room, we went down to the front desk and asked for someone to show us to a better place to park the car (as we had previously discussed with her).  We then ventured out with the porter to find our car, with Fran leading the way as she powered up the steps while the two men panted and sweated behind her.  Though the communication between us and him was sketchy, he and Fran figured out the way and we found the car.  He then directed me as I drove back into the town center and up a different route to find a parking lot that was closer to the hotel.  The lot that he took us to looked to be full, but the attendants pulled out a car so that we could park.  However, I could not perform the maneuvers required to get the car into the spot, so one of them took over and masterfully squeezed the car into the spot.  We then walked back to the hotel with the porter, giving him 20 Dirham for his troubles.

After a brief respite at the hotel, including checking out the great view from the rooftop terrace, we wandered out to find dinner at a restaurant that Fran had read about called Bab Ssour.  We were worried that the vegetarian options would again be limited, but a greeter at the front assured us that they would be plentiful (Fran told him that we didn't want couscous and vegetable tagine yet again).  Relatively speaking, he wasn't lying, as there were a couple of small sections with veggie options on the menu.  We settled on a platter of 5 styles of stewed vegetables, some stewed lentils, and spaghetti with vegetable sauce; we also ordered blackberry and pineapple juice to drink, along with water.  Fran really liked he stewed vegetables and lentils, which we ate with some bread that they brought out.  I was a little less taken with the meal, but was happy to be eating something different.  The prices were also very reasonable, with the whole thing costing 120 Dirham (about $12).  As we departed, the greeter asked us about the meal, joking that we didn't have vegetable tagine.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a bakery stall to buy a variety of cookies that we had seen (and smelled) on the way to dinner.  After that we took a leisurely route back to the hotel, where we headed up to the terrace to enjoy the view as the sun was setting.  It actually became a little chilly up there just after sunset, so we retired to the room.



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