Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 164: Surviving Morocco (Chefchaouen)

I am alive. I survived my first few days in Morocco unscathed, except for my wallet. In my €5 hotel room, through the mesh walls of my tent I peered through the window, lazily watching the people of Chefchaouen stroll about. The morning air was crisp and delicious but I needed to hurry. I had a breakfast date. I was meeting with Ibrahim who was going to show me around town.

Chillin' in my djellaba on a hill near Chefchaouen.

Of course I was late, but only fashionably. We were outside at a café below the hotel. Sitting at the table, sipping our coffees, and people watching. As I watched I was fascinated with a few behaviors. I've noticed that most Moroccans are interdependent. Due to financial reasons or otherwise, they do not have the means of getting what they want so they rely on their friends to help them. This behavior is shown as people pass cigarettes, bum rides off friends, or pay later. Because of this, the feeling of community is rampant, like stray cats. Another musing came from watching people drink from a fountain across the street.

The roof of my hotel, right outside my room.
Arabic architecture is awesome.

While public drinking fountains can be found all over Europe, this one was different. To the right side of the fountain hung a metal cup on a chain. There wasn't a line but a steady stream of people frequented the water hole and each one used this same public cup to drink. Watching this set off sanitation alarms aplenty. It is impossible for me to imagine this same behavior in New York or even in Europe. Obviously it's no big deal here and watching these people drink gave me an odd sense of community. Unfortunately my creamy culture dream was interrupted by Ibrahim.

Chefchaouen's official bean counter.
Every vehicle in Morocco is decked out with stickers.

After a €0.45 breakfast, we began our tour of Chefchaouen. Ibrahim wasn't much older than me but he grew up in Chefchaouen so he knew a lot about it. Chefchaouen is known for its painted buildings. Nearly every building in the old town is painted this way, with a vibrant sky blue on the bottom and bleach white on top. Blueberry cream cheese. Ibrahim told me that the white is a natural mosquito repellant and the blue acts like air conditioning to keep the streets cool (If anyone knows how either of these work, please leave a comment). The term 'medina' refers to the old town and is the most active part of Chefchaouen.

Playing soccer in the medina.
Beautiful hand-made rugs. Buy one, buy five.
New school and old school.

The medina was a pile of people. The elderly strolled past fruit and vegetable stands while kids ran around playing. Narrow streets full of thin people. Buildings full of stores, stores full of everything. There was a lot of energy in the air, lively but relaxed. I felt right at home walking around in my djellaba, just like the old men – I totally blended in. Once Ibrahim finished showing me around the medina he took me to see his family's farm in the mountains.

I could also see myself being kidnapped in a van like this.
Yep, we could have fallen to our deaths....
...But the view was beautiful...
...Even though the road was narrow.

What a crazy ride. The old van bounced and made clicky-poppy noises as it labored up the mountain. The views out of the tasseled windows were as dazzling as they were frightening. Maybe some people would be freaked out by getting in a car with a bunch of strangers, but I was having a good time. After 20 minutes the van stopped. Getting out and looking around, I was surrounded by chickens, cows, and a handful of small houses. Ibrahim lead me to a nearby structure where we chilled as a knot of flies buzzed around in the middle of the room. His family grows greenery to sell at the markets. Unfortunately the crop was just sprouting. When I had snapped my fill of pictures, we piled back in the van and bounced back into town.

The view when we got out of the van.
Animals are EVERYWHERE in Morocco.
Looking back at where the van dropped us.
The view from Ibrahim's farm.
I wouldn't mind living here.
Did you know that Morocco his home to more cats than people?
The crop.
Hey kids, don't touch the van!

Ibrahim told me that he had stuff to do so I thanked him for his time and began to explore on my own. Resuming my classic state of aimless wandering, I found myself outside of the city headed up a hill. Chefchaouen is built into a mountain side and the scenery is breath taking. I walked until I had a full view of the city. As I returned to the city I saw a river where people were washing their clothes and playing in the water – it was rather hot so I decided to join them. It was pretty late by the time I got back to the hotel so I passed out, having survived another day in Morocco.

Tre bon!
One of the main streets into the city.

After spending a few days in Morocco, I've become much more comfortable with my surroundings. When I arrived in Tangier I was maximally defensive because I didn't know what to expect or how to react. Thankfully, now that I've experienced a bit of the local flavor I feel more comfortable and can open myself more to the culture. Fear is the opponent of discovery.

Who knew washing clothes could be so fun?
Everyone was having a good time.
...Especially me!

Chefchaouen is an amazing place to visit. Its geography and culture is among my favorites from places I've seen on my trip. Tomorrow I would take the bus to Fes, Morocco's capital of industry. Get ready.


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