Morocco was never a plan, until it was! We have a running list of places we’d like to travel to, and had zeroed in on Africa this time. Yes, that’s not really zeroing in, but you get the idea. Our choice of vacation spot and our timing didn’t match, and Morocco became the wildcard! There is a connection though, but that I shall get to in the end.
We took Etihad’s night flight to Abu Dhabi, but not before eating some lousy Chinese at BIAL! Something surreal happened at Abu Dhabi – right next to the gate for our flight to Casablanca was one for Cochin, of all the places in the world! After confusing fellow Malayalis by speaking to D in Keralese, and boarding a flight to Casablanca, I realised that I had massively underestimated the flying time for the second leg – it was almost 10 hours! But sleep and in-flight entertainment meant I had no reason to complain. The Big Short was a fascinating watch – what performances, and what a tale! Also managed to watch Creed – a lot of it at 2x though.
Immigration at Casablanca was a breeze. I had been a little worried because the visa (at roughly Rs.7000 pp) had our middle names only as an initial, unlike our passports. But except for one idiot, who whacked D’s Reynolds pen, the experience was smooth. Free WiFi helped! A bit about Casablanca. My romantic notion of that place, courtesy a song and a movie, had been shattered during the planning stage thanks to our tour operator and the internet. Apparently, it’s now just a big cosmopolitan city like any other!
So we were whisked off by Hisham, the driver arranged by our tour operator, to Chefchaouen, scheduled to be a 5 hour drive. The first song he played was Didi, by Cheb Khaled, and he got very excited when I hummed along. The area we passed through – up in the north – was famous for wheat and vegetable farming. We had lunch at a small town, which we were told was named after the day of the market – Tuesday. Apparently that was a common practice for small towns. We had the most common dish to be found in Morocco – tajines, named after the pot it is cooked in. We were reasonably famished, and liked it quite a bit.
The rest of the drive was like a fantastic welcome to Morocco. Rolling hills and meadows in green and yellow, as we wound our way up the hills. I’ve always been a little proud of the greenery in Kerala, but the Rif mountains were at a different level altogether – greens like some shade card. The only sad part – something I realised later – was that I lost my favourite green cap there! The roads were populated by everything from horses, donkeys and mules to Audis and Mercedes!
The Riad (a traditional Moroccan house converted now into a hotel of sorts) we stayed at – Chez Hicham – was close to the medina, the big square. The approach to our room was a maze, but we learned to navigate it by Day 2. The room was small, but clean, and the place had WiFi. The journey had taken a little over 6 hours, so a hot water bath was refreshing. Now is a good time to mention that this part of Morocco is quite cold at this time of the year. I was able to get away with shorts, but carry a couple of jeans. Sometimes, it’s not funny!
We then decided to step out, and asked for a good spot to watch the sunset. Ra Salma was the answer we received. We set out and promptly got lost. Directions (for this elusive ra salma) from a policeman got us back to the medina near our hotel! Everyone consistently claimed a 10 minute walk though. We asked again, and this time got it right – apparently it was a 10 minute climb. But when we got there, we remembered that D’s research had thrown up a view from a Spanish church. Sure enough, there was one, and it was the one we were seeking because there was a small set of people walking towards it, and a larger set had already taken their place!
That climb took us another 20 minutes, and we were a few minutes early for the sunset – around 7.45 PM. The place provides a fantastic view of the town – famous for its blue walled houses – against the backdrop of a setting, but still -blazing sun! Very unlike the soft, multi-hued sunsets we were used to. We were gawked at quite a bit, and asked many times whether we were from India. By the time the sun had set, a band had set up and were strumming away quite melodiously.
It was now really cold, and we walked down for some mint tea – the best we had during the trip, and then continued through winding cobblestone paths to the medina, pausing midway to pick up the customary magnet. We had noticed that a lot of houses had their upper floors half built. In fact, it was almost a symbol, judging from magnets and souvenirs. When we asked Hisham later, he told us that people were too poor to complete the construction, but since they wanted an upper floor, they started it, in the hope that they would one day be able to finish it.
Dinner was at Cafe Morisco at the medina. Both D and I totally forgot about the place we had decided upon – Cafe Aladin – the building next to our hotel! Turkey and ground meat fillets that were just about okay. The ‘Whiskey’ Maroc, a version of mint tea with dry leaves, served holding the teapot high above and thereby making bubbles, was also quite a meh rendition. Our own riad meanwhile seemed to have gotten quite a dinner crowd! Oh well!
Chefchaouen doesn’t seem to have been overly bitten by the tourism bug, though it is bound to, if I have to judge by the many blue-wall photographs that online guides have. It is a pleasant, small town with some lovely quirks of its own. This was really the only out-of-the-way part of our trip, and we were really glad to have made it here.