Like Marrakesh, the old town portion of Fes is contained within the medina walls. The entrances to the medina are
through beautiful gates, adorned with intricately designed tilework. Passing through the Bab Boujloud gate, Jarrod
and I make our way through the mazelike souqs. We begin a hunt for a pair of Moroccan shoes. Jarrod has his eye
out for a pair of Berber style outside shoes in light brown. Unfortunately, the quality of the shoes we find in Fes
don't seem to be as good as what we saw in Marrakesh, so we pass for now. We turn a corner into the food stalls
and are immediately met with the distinct smell of livestock. Hanging from the ceiling to our left and right are every
imaginable kind of meat, freshly butchered, some with the skin and/or feathers still intact. Sheep heads with eyes,
lamb legs with hooves, whole chickens, all are available for purchase. Interestingly, there are live sheep, lamb, and
chickens just behind these stalls. Now that's fresh.
Our riad in Fes, Riad Dar Cordoba, pales in comparison to our riad in Marrakesh. It is beautiful, but more austere
and cold than the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere Riad Chouia Chouia exuded. The staff at Dar Cordoba does little
to warm the place up, and we really feel like we are intruding in someone's home rather than a welcome guest. On
top of that, it has been cold and rainy our first two days in Fes and shows no signs of letting up. After spending two
full days in our raingear trudging through the mud of the souqs, we decide to throw in the towel and leave Fes.
One of the guys we met on our Sahara trip raved about a little town in the Kif Mountains called Chefchaouen.
Feeling like true backpackers, we head for the bus station to buy a ticket for the next day. En route we meet a local
who works at a nearby hotel. He offers to show us the way to the station, and as we walk he tells us about his
family. His wife and son live several hours away. In order to make money for his family, he works in Fes for 20 days
straight, and then takes the bus home to be with his family for two days. He used to have two children, but he told
us that one drowned in a bucket of water that his wife had brought up from the river to use for bathing. His
remaining son has a hare lip, and he hopes to earn enough money to have it fixed soon. As he talks, Jarrod and I
debate whether he knows where he is going or not under our breath, as we are now passing through a
not-so-lovely area of Fes. We keep following, but steal surreptitious glances at our map to try and figure out if he is
going in the right direction. To our relief, we round one last corner and arrive at the bus station. The guy even
accompanies us in and assists us in buying a ticket on the 11am bus the next day. With the tickets in our pocket,
we offer him a tip for his time and help. He graciously denies, and then his face brightens up as he suggests we
instead buy a book for his son, whom he will be going home later that day to see. How can we turn that down? The
book, however, costs almost four times as much as we intended to tip him. Pretty sure that we had now been had
by this guy, we hand over the money, wish him and his family well, and part ways. Who knows-maybe he is working
to earn money for his son's surgery, and maybe our money will go to buy a very nice book for his son. At the end of
the day, we had our tickets to Chefchaouen (and it would have taken us half the day to find the station on our
own), and had an interesting conversation with a local Moroccan.
After dozing on and off for four hours we catch our first glimpse of
Chefchaouen. It is completely unlike any other part of Morocco we
have seen so far. Nestled among the Kif Mountains, the buildings
within the medina walls are all painted a pristine color of sky blue.
From a distance the town has a bit of a Mediterranean look to it.
We pull into the bus station, strap our big backpacks on our back
and our little backpacks on our front, and set off to find a place to
stay. Before we even make it out of the bus station, we are
approached by a local teenager and asked if we want to buy some
marijuana. Chefchaouen's number one crop is marijuana, and some
say the term "reefer" comes from this area of the Kif mountains. The
local term for pot is "Kif", a word that we would hear many, many
times over the next few days!
Going off a recommendation from our Lonely Planet guidebook, we seek out Hotel
Andaluz within the medina. This is our first stab at "roughing it", as the hotel has
rooms with nothing but a bed in them, and no heat. The absence of heat high up in
the mountains turns out to be a bigger deal than we thought. Midway through the
first night, we don our long underwear, flannel pajama pants, fleece jackets zipped
all the way up, and tobogans. With all of this on, we are finally warm--we just can't
Jarrod stumbles upon the perfect pair of Berber shoes,
and after a lengthy session of bartering, settles on an
agreeable price. Quite the Chefchaouen shopper, he tries
his luck at a tiny shop selling all sorts of wool products.
After looking through the owner's photo album, showing
him learning the trade from his father in this very same
shop, Jarrod takes the plunge and buys a sweater. We
decide to celebrate our good luck at finding this town with
a glass of mint tea-our new favorite beverage. Midway
through our second glass, who should we see across the
plaza but our friend from the Sahara expedition-the
gentleman who has been traveling for 18 months. He and
two other people from our tour spent a few days in
Essouria on the coast, and just arrived in Chefchaouen via
The next day we board the full size motorcoach to Chefchaouen.
There seems to be a mix of backpackers, middle-age vacationers
and middle to upper class locals on board. At the first stop, we see
an alternate means of transportation in Morocco. These "buses" are
actually full size cargo vans that have wooden benches nailed to
the floor. People are crammed in as tight as possible. Luggage goes
on a rack on top, tied down with ropes. The first time I see the back
of one of the vans open I can't believe how many people pile out. I
count my blessings that we are on the big bus. The only down side
to our bus is that it is extremely tall with a narrow wheel base,
making for a lot of swaying. Jarrod and I are fine, but at least three
people puked within the first couple of hours of our journey.
|A bus stop between Fes and Chefchaouen. The
"buses" in the background seem to be a popular
means of transportation.
The town is charming, very small compared to Marrakesh or Fes, but much cleaner
and easier to navigate. The light blue color of all of the buildings gives the town a
refreshing feel. Being built on the side of a mountain, the souqs wind up and down
and all around, each leading to another light blue passageway lined with colorful
doors and archways and looks like it could be the set of a movie. There are lots of
kids here too-playing soccer in the alleys, chasing each other up the staircases, or
peeking out of the doorways. All of the twisty, turny, windy paths lead to a central
plaza. The plaza has a giant evergreen tree in the middle of it, and is ringed by small
cafes serving tea and espresso, large restaurants serving tajines and couscous
(what else?), and small shops selling the now familiar shoes, pottery, and jewelry.
|The tiny wool shop, with the brown sweater that is soon to be
Jarrod's in the foreground.
have created with their quaint medina. I would definitely recommend stopping in Chefchaouen for a few days if you
visit Morocco. The slower pace of life, mellowness, and mountain setting provide good balance to the energy,
chaos, and sensory stimulation of Marrakesh and Fes.
We spend our days in Chefchaouen admiring the beautiful
scenery--both the natural beauty of the mountains and
the enchanting atmosphere the locals