Chefchaouen

When I arrived back to Boston from Croatia, I was talking to a lady while we both waited for the bus from Logan airport to take us to Portland, Maine.  I shared with her that I was going to be in Morocco soon and she said that she had been there.  I was excited and asked where she had visited and what she liked the most.  I am so grateful for that conversation because she told me about Chefchaouen, which turned out to be my favorite place in Morocco.

Chefchaouen is a small village in the northwest part of Morocco in the Rif Mountains.  It was founded in 1471 and is so named for the formation of the mountains behind the village.  They look like two goat horns or chaoua, the Berber word for horn.  In 1912 – 1956, Chefchaouen came under the control of the Spanish when Spain became the protectorate for Northern Morocco.  Today, Spanish is still spoken in this region and it is a very popular destination for the Spanish Catholics during holy weeks of Semana Santa and Christmas.

It is about a 4 hour bus ride from Fez to Chefchaouen.  We took a CMT bus, which is a private bus company in Morocco.  It is a little more for each ticket but the buses are newer, more reliable and comfortable.  Lucky for us, CMT had a satellite office just outside the gate Bab Mahrouk at the bus station Gare Routière Principale, which was a 15 minute walk from our apartment.  It saved us from having to get a taxi and going into the new city where the larger bus station is located.

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Gare Routière  Principale

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Inside the waiting area of the bus station.

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This is a Turkish toilet and I had not seen one of these for quite awhile. I was trying to remember the last time I saw one and I think it was in Jordan. This was at the ladies’ room at the train station. Always new and “fun” things to try when traveling! Fortunately, I had tissues with me…always carry them when traveling. What was the expressions I came up with?  “Toilet paper, in Morocco, is the nectar of women!!!”  Without paper, you would use your left hand to “wipe” yourself and then wash it off in the bucket.  That is why it is hugely offensive, in the Muslim culture, to use your left hand for anything in a public setting….it is highly insulting and you appear to not have any manners if you use your left hand for handling food or passing an item to someone.  Poor David!  He is left-handed!  I just asked him about encountering any situations and he said that he has offended a couple of people by handing things to them with his left hand.  He works very hard at being aware of this custom on a daily basis!

The ride through the countryside was interesting.  I saw many men plowing plots of land walking behind donkeys and a plow.  I tried to get a photo but it was difficult while riding on the bus.  On a few rare occasions, I saw a field being plowed with tractors but for the most part, the fields were being plowed with donkeys.

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This was the landscape for a good part of the ride…..

About midway, we had a “pit stop” at this travel plaza for a 1/2 hour.  What I found interesting is the way the travelers got their meals.  If you wanted meat, you purchased it from this vendor…..img_2587

Then, you took it over to the grill to the right of this photo. They cooked your meat and gave you a piece of bread with it.  Interesting, no?img_2586

As we got closer to Chefchaouen, we started to see the mountains in the distance…and the clouds.  We heard that there was supposed to be rain later that night and for the rest of the week….sadly for us, the prediction was right!img_2591img_2592

We made a brief stop in the village of Ouezzane, about 1 hour from Chefchaouen.  The way the houses were stacked on each other, reminded me of a child’s building blocks stacked haphazardly!

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Ouezzane

This was my first view of Chefchaouen…oh, did I mention that the whole village is painted in shades of blue?  img_2595

The blue is one of the main attractions to the village!  There is not one definite reason for the buildings being painted blue but there are many theories.  One is that the color blue keeps the mosquitos away, although, I never really heard this theory from the locals.  Another theory suggest that the Jewish people, when they arrived as refugees from Hitler during WWII, painted their homes blue to keep reminding them of the blue sky and heaven and to remain spiritual.  I heard from a local, that originally, the Jewish’s homes were blue and the Muslim’s homes were green.  This young man’s grandfather said the leader of the town told people to paint their homes blue so there would be no discrimination towards anyone.  Whatever the reason, the results is inviting.  We arrived at 4:00 in the afternoon and after checking into our Bed and Breakfast, I was “off and running” to capture as many photos as I could before night settled in and the rain came.  I believe in the first half-hour, I took close to 50 photos….every corner was a “Kodak moment!”

We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast, Casa Sabila.  img_3929

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In the local dialect, Sabila means “fountain.”  This fountain was located across from our B&B.  That is where the owner came up with the name.

It was very warm and inviting inside.  There was a fire going in the dining room, when we arrived. img_3985

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The lounge area for the B&B, where we spent most of the rainy days!

Our room was on the third floor off from an open porch area that had a spectacular view of the mountains.  It would have been nice to had eaten breakfast here but this brief moment that I took the photo, was about the only time we were to enjoy it because of the rain!img_3926

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The door to our room.

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Our room and….

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The bathroom.

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Breakfast was served by the fire.  The fire and a pot of coffee…I was good for the day!

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Breakfast was a pancake, piece of chocolate cake (!), yogurt with honey and nuts, dates, Babybel cheese, goat cheese the area is famous for and nice, hot coffee.

David and I usually stay in apartments that we find on homeaway.com or airbnb.com.  Since we only were planning on spending a couple of nights, we decided to stay in the B&B.  When requesting a room, one of the questions asked if we had any “special request.”  I asked that our room be as quiet as possible.  The management wrote back that they would try to honor my request but they had to let us know that the B&B was right next door to a mosque!  That meant at 5:30, each morning, we would most definitely hear the “call to prayer!!!”  I had to laugh and wrote them back, thank them for the information and said that we would be fine…after all, traveling is all about the “cultural experience!!!”

David and I had enough of exploring medinas and shopping at souks between our time in Marrakech and Fez.  For Chefchaouen, we just wanted to walk the streets and take in the sites.  There are some great hikes in this area but again, due to the weather, we were unable to do anything like that.  I will just share some of my favorite photos and write an explanation or two as I feel the need to.  I hope you enjoy the “tour” of Chefchaouen….img_3928img_3930img_3933img_3934img_3937

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These colorful sacs of powder are dye that is used to color the walls of the buildings and homes.

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Uta el-Hammam Square is in the center of the medina (old neighborhood).  It is surrounded by cafes and restaurants.  It is a good place to sit and watch people.

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I was surprised to see Christmas lights, not only here but in Marrakech and Fez as well.  Morocco is a Christmas destination for many Europeans, so the Moroccans have adopted some of the Christian Christmas traditions.

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The Grand Mosque is probably one of the most important buildings in the village.  It is very unique because of the octagonal minaret.

Kasbah Museum

Also in the Uta el-Hammam Square, is the Kasbah the walled fortress from the 18th century.  Today, it houses a garden, museums and art exhibits.  The museum only had descriptions in Arabic and French, so we didn’t understand very much of the displays.  img_2621img_2612

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At one point, the tower housed a prison.

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Part of the prison.

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Looking into the garden with the fountain.

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The Uta el-Hammam Square and Chefchaouen from the tower.

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The white building, in the distance, is the ruins of the Spanish mosque that the Spanish colonist started building in 1920.  It was never really used and eventually fell into disrepair.  In 2010, it was restored and today, weather permitting, it is a nice 15 minute hike to watch the sunset.  This was the only time I was able to get a picture of it as most of the time, it was covered in clouds.

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This was another plaza area that we discovered walking around.  I thought the fountain was especially pretty.

Those were some of my better photos from Day 1.  As I have mentioned, Day 2 was very rainy but there was a brief break in the rain after I had finished breakfast.  So, I ran out and clicked more photos for another half-hour or so.  The streets are glistening in the pictures because they are wet and they were, also, very slippery!!!

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They were already for a rainy day with their umbrella…it was bigger than they were!

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This man is wearing a common outer garment made of wool, which repels water and keeps him warm.

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Did I mention that Morocco has cats????

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They were trying to stay out of the rain.  I wish I could have taken them all back to the B&B with me!

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There is a cat in this photo, can you see it?

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Comfortable and dry!

Ras el-Mar

This is a pretty spot in Chefchaouen.   It means “head of the water” and is a place that the local women gather to wash clothes.  When we arrived, it was fairly dry so the locals were happy that the rain had arrived.  img_4004

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One of the two wash areas for the women to wash clothes.

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These are the washboards that the women use to scrub the clothes.  I must be tiresome work but a great place to get caught up on the local gossip!

I will end this post with one final photo:

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Even the graves are painted blue!  What a lovely resting spot! 

If you are inspired to visit Chefchaouen after reading my post and plan to be there during the months of July through September, be certain to plan ahead and make your reservations as this is the peak season.

My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to spend in this “sapphire of the Rif Mountains” and that the weather had been better.

Next stop, Rabat….blessings to you reading this.

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