Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morocco 2019 - Day 5 (7/18/2019) - Chefchaouen

Surprise, surprise - we started late again this morning, not getting down to the hotel lobby for breakfast until 11am.  The spread at the Lina Ryad was similar to the one at the Riad Arabesque - breads and pastries, yogurt, a mixed fruit cup, goat cheese; we declined the eggs once again.  After eating Fran used the hotel phone to make a call to the Sixt car rental Moroccan office to inform them about the persistent tire pressure warning; there really wasn't much that could be done about it anytime soon, but they asked us to send them a picture of the issue.  She also called a tour company to confirm/arrange our pickup for a tour in Tangier.  We (read: Fran) then gathered our (read: her) daypack and we headed out on foot around noon.

Fran was our guide for essentially the whole day - she had picked out most of the things that we wanted to see, and she was much better at navigating the medina by the landmarks (my only  contribution was an occasional glance at our GPS location on my phone if needed).  Our first destination was eastward along the main alley that passed in front of the hotel to Ras El Ma, a watering hole of sorts.  Unfortunately, the stream there was at its seasonal low - i.e., barely flowing.  But there were still plenty of vendors and tourists gathered about.

This point was also the start of a "tourist" hiking trail (which we later found out looped for 30km) which led up to the Spanish Mosque (Mosquée Bouzâafar).  We made our way up to the mosque at a leisurely pace; I was trying to avoid sweating too much, and Fran considerately resisted her urge to go bounding up the trail.  It also helped that there was a cool breeze along most of the route that made the beating sun more bearable.  The trail also provided some nice overlooking viewpoints of the city, including on the grounds of the mosque.  After admiring the view for a while, we continued along the trail for perhaps a half kilometer more so that Fran could investigate whether the trail soon began to loop back around (we didn't yet know that it was 30km long).  After I refused to go further, we turned back toward the mosque and then the stream.  One interesting tidbit about the area around the mosque is that the vegetation has a quite fragrant aroma; I don't quite know how to describe it, but I imagine that it wouldn't be weird for a massage parlor to smell like it.

After returning to the bottom and checking out the disappointing stream, we headed for the center of town.  We got turned around a bit, but eventually found the main square (Square Outa El Hamam), and the Kasbah fortress/monument and museum.  We each paid the 60 Dirham (for foreigners) entrance fee and then explored the gardens inside as well as the main tower, which had 4 flights of stairs going up to the top.  We took a snack break in the cool shaded room at the top, with Fran offering to snap pictures a for a couple of families that came up there.  We then made a stop in the bathroom before heading back out to the square.  From there we wandered vaguely in the direction of the hotel, but with exploration being our secondary purpose.  We eventually found the hotel, but continued up the alley to find an ice cream stand that we had passed earlier in the day.  After purchasing a couple of scoops each, we enjoyed our treat on the walk back to the hotel.  I should also mention that we ran into (and briefly conversed with) another American couple four times (on the trail, in the square, in the Kasbah, and walking by our hotel) over the course of the day.

We were back at the hotel around 4:45pm.  Fran inquired about the private pool and reserved it from 5-6pm when we found that nobody had claimed that time slot.  She went for a swim (and water workout) for the better part of that hour while I relaxed in the room.  After she returned and took a shower, we headed back to the main square to find some dinner.  The restaurants there all seemed to have similar menus, and each had a greeter trying to lure you in or at least look at the menu.  We settled on one that was in the middle next to the (non-functioning) fountain, and eventually decided on a seat at the front that allowed for the best people-watching.  As I was unimpressed by my experience of vegetarian Moroccan fare thus far, I ordered a "margarita" pizza (which somehow came with sliced black olives), while Fran had a vegetarian soup and a vegetable tagine.  The pizza actually turned out decent (especially compared to the last time that I had pizza abroad in Iceland), and Fran enjoyed her meal.

After dinner we went wandering once again, this time to the southern parts of the medina, and a bit outside the wall.  In our exploration we also came across a bustling evening market, which was interesting to see as it was clearly meant for the locals and not for tourists.  As the sky turned darker and the street lights came on, we enjoyed the cool night air while meandering our way back up to the hotel.

A few bonus observations about our day in Chefchaouen...  The shades of blue all over the city are a beautiful sight to behold.  The streets and alleys of the medina much cleaner than they were in Fes, and also much easier to navigate.  A couple of times during the day street vendors mistook me (or at least claimed to have mistaken me) for a native Moroccan (perhaps the darker peoples in the south?); they greeted me with the Muslim/Arabic "as-salāmu ʿalaykum" and I replied with my best (but not very good) "wa ʿalaykumu s-salām".  On the other hand, I'm not sure if my being black was the cause of the numerous men throughout the day whispering offers of the best hashish and marijuana.



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