Moroccan blues

Another bend in the road, another surprising facet of this country. Our bus from Fes took us through verdant, bountiful farm country, but finally we approached the Rif Mountains, a brawny land that made Steve and me feel we were deep within the Rockies. After about 90 minutes, we pulled into a rest stop, where everyone rushed out to use the toilets but then dawdled to smoke and buy snacks and gab. When the driver finally climbed back aboard, he discovered that one passenger was missing. He tooted the horn (and tooted and tooted) and then searched the rest stop for him. Then he gave up and we trundled onto the road again. It struck me that the TSA would be more suspicious of a passenger who simply disappeared. But the bus didn’t blow up, and we reached Chefchaouen only about 40 minutes late.

We took a local taxi to the gate of the walled city to which our B&B had directed us, and I telephoned the proprietor from the the taxi. Carlos, originally from Malaga (Spain), awaited us at the gate. He took some of our bags and led us through the steep, narrow, very blue passages leading to his place, the Casa La Palma.

Most of Chefchaouen is blue — it’s the town’s signature, begun around 85 years ago, when a community of Moroccan Jews moved in and chose that color to contrast with the green tones of Islam. (In the centuries before then, this was a holy city, closed to all but Muslims.) The blue tones have spread, and today Chefchaouen is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Morocco. I had thought nothing could be more picturesque than Fes, but this was picturesque in a completely different (clean! bucolic!) way. I commented to Carlos that I was sorry we had only one night here. He shrugged. The town was a good base for trekking in the mountains, he said. But a day or a day and a half was plenty of time to see Chefchaouen.

In the guesthouse, he took our passports and filled out the official forms, then he offered to show us the way to the center of the village. He had to go there anyway, he said, to turn in the forms that day (required for Americans and certain categories of suspicious Arabs). He didn’t know about our backgrounds, but he mentioned that if a guest was a journalist, the police required that he call them immediately. (Fortunately, Steve’s an Engineer, and I’m a Technical Writer.) Police paranoia was running even higher than normal because the queen of Morocco was coming to visit the next day with some dignitary from Qatar in tow.

For the next two hours Steve and I followed Carlos’ helpful advice. We walked to the river and admired the ingenious stations there for doing laundry. (If you’ve gota wash your clothes in a river, I can tell you: Chefchaouen’s the place to live.)

We climbed up to a monastery with a panoramic view:

Carlos had said there were three restaurants in the town where we were unlikely to get food poisoning. We asked if we could bring the bottle of wine that we had bought back in Marrakesh (and were tired of lugging around). He told us we’d have no problem drinking it at one of the restaurants, so we went to that one around 7:45 p.m.

No one was in the joint, and we smelled nothing to suggest anyone was cooking. But a girl led us to a table and gave us menus. After a long time, the friendly proprietor finally appeared to take our orders. He didn’t bat an eye when we asked if we could drink our wine. But he went away and didn’t reappear with a corkscrew. Another long, long interval elapsed before he finally brought Steve’s soup and my green pepper and tomato salad. We asked about the corkscrew and he looked alarmed; tourists who brought wine usually brought the corkscrew too. (We couldn’t because the TSA doesn’t permit them in carry-ons.) The restaurateur offered to check with a neighbor. Ten minutes later, he reported having no luck. But he called a friend who offered to bring the corkscrew from across town.

That’s what finally happened. The food wasn’t great. The wine was pretty bad. But even a bad bottle of wine is a tonic for a small dose of travel blues. (And so far, we’ve felt no signs of food poisoning.)

Now we’re on our final bus, heading for our final stop in Morocco: Tangier.


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