Today is our third full day in Chefchaouen, Morocco. What an experience! We’re starting to feel more comfortable and confident walking through town, but I must say that our first morning here brought with it the biggest feeling of “wow, we’re far from home” that I’ve felt so far. Meg and I went to breakfast on that first morning at a restaurant in the main square of the old city, and we both spent most of the meal in silence, looking around us and feeling more than a little lost. So many things felt different to us — while most people speak at least some English or French, the predominant language is Arabic. Being surrounded by a language so different than any we’re used to made us feel quite isolated. Add to that new food, new surroundings, and new interactions with people who sometimes offer help, sometimes offer goods for sale, sometimes ask for money, and sometimes just offer friendly greetings. I suppose confusion was the most predominant emotion, and I found myself wondering at first how we’d ended up here.
Happily, by the end of the first day we’d come to realize that adjusting wasn’t so hard to do. As we got further into the day, we met more and more travelers like us who were going through much the same experiences. We started to learn how to respond to greetings with the appropriate amount of courtesy, friendliness and caution. And perhaps most helpful of all, we ran into a couple of people that we’d met on the bus ride to Chefchaouen, and had a couple of meals with them. It was really nice to have other people who speak the same language to share the experiences with, and to take the edge off. We saw them often over the first two days, before they left for other parts of the country.
So what has it been like here? Well, the medina, or old city, is where we are staying and spending most of our time. The buildings are all painted either white or brilliant shades of blue, and many have Spanish-style red roofs. The city is built on the side of a mountain, so the meandering pedestrian streets climb steeply up and down on some of the trickiest stairs we’ve encountered. Our main breakfasts have been toasts with cheese, butter and honey/marmelade, and we often share our table with groups of cats and kittens trying to eat our food. The best drink is the tea with mint, which comes with about a cup of sugar added, and is refreshing even in the hot weather. There is almost no alcohol here, because of the religion, except for at two of the bigger tourist hotels, but even then it’s only allowed to be sold and consumed in the bar. The weather is scorchingly hot in the day, and sweater/jacket cool after dark. Sunsets are long and spectacular, and the sky goes a beautiful orange/blue gradient that lasts for nearly an hour.
And the people! We see clothing ranging from traditional Arabic robes and headscarves, to jeans and t-shirts, to hippy-esque flowing pants and skirts. It makes spotting tourists really easy, with their shorts and fanny packs, with cameras slung around their necks. We like to think we’re starting to fit in more after three days, but I’m sure we’re not fooling anyone. At least we are walking around more confidently, and that goes a long way to avoiding hassle from the market salesmen.
Perhaps one of the nicest things about being in Chefchaouen is that we’ve had time to sit quietly on several terraces and simply absorb the culture around us. It’s not a big city (only 45,000 people), so it’s been a somewhat gentle introduction to Morocco, for which we are thankful. Tomorrow we are heading for Rabat, the country’s capital on the coast, and then we will be carrying on to Marrakesh for two nights (including Meghan’s birthday). We’re planning to book some nice accommodation in Marrakesh as a treat, so we can celebrate in comfort and style! It helps that our money goes much further here. We have spent three nights in a hostel with a private room for less than half the price of one night in a dorm in Granada. Now that we can get used to!