Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chefchaouen, Morocco

I was not expecting Morocco to be so fertile.  We thought we would be sleeping on the bus ride north from Fes to Chefchaouen, but we were both mesmerized by the lush landscape speeding by outside the bus windows.

Endless velvety green fields of wheat rippling in the breeze, flecked by shocking red poppies growing up as weeds, and scattered with patches of wildflowers the color of warm butter.  Olive trees planted long ago in rows, now tall and gnarled, with tiny silver leaves.  Carpets of spiky fava bean plants.  Prickly pear cactus and agave planted as fences between fields.  Rolling hills in brand new spring greens framed by the bluest sky I have ever seen.  Distant hillsides filled with grazing black and white cows and fluffy grey sheep.  Backyard trellises heavy with grapevines.  Orange trees dense with white blossoms.    Donkeys.  Donkeys everywhere, carrying woven saddle baskets and burlap sacks full of who knows what.

Off the bus in Chefchaouen, I sat in a shady square and watched a donkey loaded up with glass bottles of Coke and Fanta from a delivery truck while Mohit wandered off in search of our accommodations.  The edge of the square was ringed in orange trees ripe with fruit and set against a backdrop of stony mountains.  An old man in a brown hooded robe and pointy shoes sat smoking his cigarette and watching me.

After leaving our bags in our room- a damp, dark, cramped space with narrow twin beds (but in a building redeemed by its cute fireplaced living room), we finally set off just before sunset into the maze of stairs and alleyways of the town’s pedestrian streets.  I was in photography heaven.  Unending beautiful blueness.  The stucco walls are all washed in chalky pastel shades of blue; periwinkle, robin’s egg, cobalt, powder, turquoise, cerulean.  The doorways and stairs have been coated in so many layers of paint over the years that they look as if they are carved out of soft chalk.

Chefchaouen is perched in the mountains, and the nights were cold.  The buildings have no heat, so we bundled up in layers to head out to dinner.  We ate one night at the restaurant at our hotel.  Sitting on the second floor balcony, we had a view of the fireplace below but didn’t feel any warmth.  When the waiter wasn't looking we snuck a second dish of the yummy house-marinated green olives.  The next night, we chose a three-story restaurant, each floor with blue-saturated walls and bright red upholstery.  We ordered mint tea to keep our hands warm while we waited for our tagines to arrive.  I ogled the décor and artwork on the walls and made more mental notes for home-decorating projects when we get back to Boston.

During the day, we went hiking up into the hillsides above the town.  It was a Sunday, so local families were up in the hillsides picnicking under olive trees.  We passed goats and sheep climbing over rocks and munching on grass.  I picked handfuls of yellow wildflowers and dug back into my camp counselor skills to weave a daisy crown.

Back in town, we made our way past the touristy shops and into the souq populated with locals to buy provisions for breakfast since we had a pre-dawn bus to Meknes, and would be leaving too early for our hotel breakfast.  We bought juicy oranges, paper cones of sweetened nuts, fresh local goat cheese, and bread  flecked with fennel seeds and shaped into rings.

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