Morocco: Chefchaouen, The Blue City

I thought I was alone in my hostel, but I was wrong. I woke up to a cat curled up by my feet, and again, later, to him curled up by my neck. Not a huuuuuge fan of a strange hostel cat being near me and getting its cat hair everywhere…but it doesn’t look diseased or itchy or anything, so that’s a plus. I go online to book a hostel in Chefchaouen to find they’re all full or super expensive. Just grand. After a little panicking (I legit have to go there I can’t just skip it. It looks so beautiful!!) I give in and pay for a hotel. Some go up to 1100Mdh (102€, $145cad), but I find one for 200mdh (19€, $26cad) per night. I get the vibe it’s a little far out from the medina, but that’s okay, because it’s not 1100Mdh.

Now I just have to sort out how to get there. I’ve been told there are just two options, either a bus or a taxi. The taxis are apparently only slightly more expensive and much more comfortable. Of course, I don’t get the whole taxi to myself, I’m going to have to share it with like 7 people, but it still sounds superior to the bus.
Travel before the invention of the internet sounds much more romantic and rewarding, more adventurous, more real…but madre mia I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to get around without Google to answer all my questions.
I go out, further from the centre than I did yesterday, and find a bustling square with taxis, restaurants, shops, ATMs, and of course, street food stalls. Yassssss. I see multiple stalls selling this bread thing so I pick one and have a go at ordering. I am given the choice between cream cheese, Nutella, or peanut butter spreads and I go with cream cheese. I am charged 6mdh (0.60€, $0.80cad) for a huge piece, which is wrapped in brown paper and handed to me for takeaway. It’s kinda like folded naan bread stuffed with cream cheese. I’ve just realized I’m not very good at describing food, so I’ll stop, but trust me when I say it’s good. Next I check out of my quiet little hostel and get on my way.

I take a “petit taxi” (which are just normal sized taxis so I don’t know why they’re called “petit”) to the bus station. I can’t see the taxi stand so for a minute I consider forgetting it and trying to maneuver the madness of shouting bus drivers, vendors, and travellers. It’s hectic as hell, so I just ask someone where I can find a taxi to Chefchaouen, or ‘chaouen as all the cool locals, and now I, call it. He points me over to a slightly less hectic area where I can hear a man shouting “chaouenchaouenchaouenchaouen” very loud and very fast. I ask for the price, am told 80mdh (8€, $10cad), and get in to a 7 seater van. I suppose these are the “grand taxis”.

I meet a super nice couple from Meknes (another Moroccan city) who tell me they paid the same price for the trip which is comforting. 80 doesn’t seem expensive for a 2 hour drive, but I still don’t want to be paying tourist prices if I can help it. We wait, as the taxi won’t leave until every seat is filled; there is no time table, it just depends on demand.

A Spanish guy from Valencia joins our van and I practice a bit of Spanish on him. I can’t do much more than the standard “What is your name? Where are you from?”, and to be honest I don’t even want to be practice Spanish right now because I am mixing it with French when I speak to locals and end up just butchering every language I try to speak in the process. I can only handle one at a time. We all chat the whole ride which makes the time fly by quickly. I now have more Spanish friends in Morocco than I do in Spain. Tally: 1.

When we arrive in Chefchaouen I head up to my hostel. My new pals go in search of accommodation, and I’m feeling great about having booked something in advance. I’m not sure they’ll have any luck. We exchange numbers to meet up later.

The owners of my place made a note on their page about how easy it is to get to from the centre, so I just grab a petit taxi for 15mdh (1.40€, $2cad). The driver is friendly and takes me far up the mountain, which begins to feel way too far out of the city. He drives me to the end of a dirt road and tells me if I just walk up the hill and to the left I’ll find it. Mmmmmk. Not a fan, but sure.

Well, surprise, I don’t find it, and have to ask a group of men for directions. The father speaks a bit of French and sends his son, who is about my age but speaks no French (or English or Spanish) to help me find it. He’s really nice (though we can’t actually communicate) but I’m feeling extremely frustrated by how far away the taxi driver left me. Did he ever know where this hostel was in the first place? I’m in what feels like the middle of God damn no where. No roads, im just walking down a path following some kid I can’t ask any questions. I don’t feel scared per se, but I am aware that this could easily turn into a sketchy situation for me. I don’t have much of an escape route unless I roll down the mountain.

We walk for 10 minutes before we run into another man who speaks French and directs us back the other way. Now the three of us are walking together and they’re asking me lots of questions about my life but all I want to know is where my damn hostel is. We finally arrive and I offer them some dirham for their troubles. They both refuse which is very sweet considering neither of them asked for this little promenade in the first place.

The owner of the hostel comes down, and seems genuinely confused about how I got so lost. Well sir, maybe it’s because there is no road to your building, and only a small painted title on the door. No one knows this exists. He shows me to my room and apologizes because the bathroom light isn’t working. I am more concerned about the fact that I’m a 15 minute walk from the city, uphill all the way home.

I connect to the wifi and get in touch with my friends to see how they’ve fared in their search. Both the couple (Najoua and Amin) and the Spanish guy (Cesc, short for Francesc) have found accommodation for LESS than what I am paying here to live on the top of Mount Everest. Almost half the price I’m paying, actually, and they believe it’ll be easy for me to find a place too. Yeah, I think I’ll go, thanks. I haven’t even paid for this room yet so I’m still a free bird. My friends find a hotel down the street from theirs, send me a photo of a room, and I walk out the door. I have to walk for 5 minutes before I can even find a taxi. I don’t know who would ever choose to open a hostel at this location.

Arriving at my new place brings me peace. It’s in the medina which is literally all that matters to me. Even if the bed wash trash I’d sleep there, but it’s not, it’s a room that could sleep 3 people that I get all to myself, and it’s 120mdh (12€, $16cad) a night. I’m never leaving.

I drop my stuff in the room and we all go for lunch. I am high on the feeling of relief and success, finally at a good location, with great people, in this beautiful city.

We find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we let Najoua and Amin order for us all. A giant plate of assorted fish is placed in the middle of the table with bread, rice, and sauces on the side. In Morocco we eat with our hands, which is always great fun but a small struggle for me because it’s rude to use your left hand, and I am left handed.

We’re not given plates or anything, just paper place mats, and I’m happy I snap both a before and after shot of the mess we make while eating. It’s such good fun! 50mdh (5€, $6.50cad) for each of us to eat this feast.

Next, we wander through the medina. Chaouen is famous for being a blue city. Literally everything is blue. I thought Tangier was blue but this is next level. It’s picture perfect; the kind where no picture can actually explain how beautiful everything is, but you must take 834726 photos to try and capture it anyway. Around every corner there’s a photo op. This also makes Chaouen infinitely more touristy than Tangier, which I never love, but can entirely understand. So. Damn. Pretty!

I see some female tourists running around in tank tops, crop tops, short skirts and shorts, as if they did absolutely 0 research before arriving here. I ask Najoua and Amin about it and they say it’s normal. Some people will be offended but it’s not a big deal. Happens all the time, especially in the bigger cities (though Chaouen is not a big city). I think I am more offended by it than they are. I just feel like it’s so disrespectful to have no regard for the culture and customs, but whatever. Do you.

As it starts to get dark I am ever thankful for moving out of that first hostel. It would definitely not be safe for me to walk up there on my own at night, which would mean I’d have to leave now. At 20:00. No thanks.

We pass a street food stall with a man selling snail soup. Yes. Snails. I find this extra hilarious because I just had a conversation with one of my students, who is 11, about eating foreign food. She was quite reserved in what she was willing to try, and I told her I’ll eat anything. She asked me what I would do if I was offered snails or something weird in Morocco, and I assured her I would happily try them. Well here I am! I order a small bowl for 5mdh (0.50€, $0.66cad). It’s legit delicious, and again, fun to eat. You pick the snails out of their shells with a toothpick, toss the empties into a big collective pile on the stall, and then drink the leftover soup from the small clay bowl. Of course, I send a photo to my student.

We all head back to the couple’s hotel where they have a great little kitchen and terrace. Najoua makes us mint tea, and lays out some Moroccan pastries that she picked up on our way home. We sit outside on their terrace over looking the city, under the stars, listening to people bustling about below us. The call to prayer begins and sounds so beautiful. It echoes throughout the whole city and I’m caught in a moment that couldn’t be more perfect.

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