We left Tangier for Fes early that morning. There was an intermediate stop and a visit to Chefchaouen planned for the day. Departure from town was delayed a little bit because of something left behind by mistake in the hotel room by one of the travelers. I took a couple of pictures of the modern buildings of Tangiers as we motored back and forth in town.
Our route to Chefchaouen took us out of town fairly quickly. We were headed, generally, in a south-easterly direction, towards the Rif mountains. Soon we were in a hilly area and entering the mountains. We were motoring up and down the mountainsides, with views of valleys below. Unfortunately, I was seated on the side of the bus away from the valleys for the initial part of the drive, and the sun was also in my eyes. I could not get good pictures.In the picture above, you can see the wall of clouds built up against the mountainside in the distance. The Mediterranean sea lies on the other side of these mountains.
As we drove through the mountains, we passed a series of lakes formed by dams that had been built by the government for helping the farmers.We stopped near one of these lakes for to visit the The Happy Room.This is what Youssef euphemistically, and consistently, called our rest stops for the entire trip. People used the toilets, got some drinks and light snacks if they wanted, and also walked off the stiffness in the joints by walking around the area. With 41 tourists on the bus, many older than the two of us, there was good usage of these rest areas. In many places there were long lines that formed for the use of the facilities upon our arrival. The nature of these facilities varied throughout the trip.
Our drive took us to the west side of a big city called Tétouan. Tétouan lies along the Mediterranean coast, with the coastline facing in a easterly direction.It is Morocco’s second biggest port along the Mediterranean sea. Tétouan historically used to be a well known place for travelers from Europe and other parts of the world to come to because of its location. It saw a lot of historical action, again because of its location. The city is apparently also a destination for vacations.
We turned south, off the road that we were on that was leading further into the heart of town, on the outskirts of Tétouan, to stay on Highway N2 to Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen is called The Blue City, or The Blue Pearl, of Morocco. The reason will be obvious once you see pictures of the place. The town is situated along the slopes of the Rif mountains. The city was founded in the 15th century. Moorish and Jewish people settled there first. The Jews were fleeing religious persecution in Spain.
In order to make the exploration of the town on foot easier, the bus was driven to a point above the town – so that the walk could generally proceed in a downhill direction. We were met by our local guide at that spot.
These are some generic pictures of the alleyways of the medina.
I have many more pictures that I took of the medina of Chefchaouen that I liked – too many to present here!
I must speak to the picture of the water fountain in the above gallery. Water fountains like these are common on the streets of the towns in Morocco. The water is available for cleaning oneself prior to performing ablutions, and for drinking.
There is some commonality of experience of the medinas we have visited in cities so far. They are located in old, walled, sections of town, and they are full of alleyways that go in every direction. They are like a maze. They are full of small stores selling all kinds of different things. The merchants are all small businessmen. Locals are friendly with tourists. Some speak to you in English.
We stopped at El Haouta Square to take a break before continuing onward. People were going about their lives while we tourists wandered about in their midst. I could see that in this particular case our presence was disruptive to some.
A restaurant owner allowed us to use his space while we ate the food we had bought with us from Tangier. (The intent was to save time.)We compensated the owner by purchasing drinks from him. The owner was an intense bearded chap. He scolded me for letting Teresa take the trash from the table when she asked him where to put it. He was all about equality! He spoke to us about India, and Mahatma Gandhi, and about some other leader, spiritual I think, also from India, who he followed. (Later on, I read about the prevalence of cannabis in this area. It made me wonder.) In any case, I was perturbed by his initial response, but did not react. I knew that he was struggling with the sometimes confusing requests from the many tourists who had suddenly descended upon his establishment, and so was not sure if he was generally irritated. I realized after a while that some of the Moroccans we were meeting with simply had different boundaries than what we expected as tourists. They meant no injury or insult. The people we encountered were indeed generally friendly.
We had some time to wander through the medina on our own. We did not go too far from our meeting point in the square since I was worried about getting lost.
The bus was not where we expected to be at the end of the our walk through the medina after lunch. Youssef and our local guide led us on an extended walk into the newer part of town to get us to the place where it was waiting for us.
It was good to finally get to the bus. Youssef and Rashid were waiting patiently for us. We boarded and got on our way to Fes.
On the way out of town, I was able to take advantage of two photo opportunities that were presented to us by the Youssefs. We stopped beside the road so that we could take a picture of Chefchaouen of from a particular vantage point.Youssef (the driver) then slowed down the bus enough to allow passengers on one side of the bus to take a picture of the door at the entrance to Chefchaouen.There was a similar door beside the road when we were driving into town, but we were not able to take pictures at that point.
The town of Chefchaouen is probably a good place to hang out, not just to spend a small part of a day as a tourist on the run. The town square had an easy-going vibe to it. From what I hear, it is probably a good place to use as a base for explorations of the surrounding mountains. That is something I could dig!
Before I close, some last bits of information about the presence of a Jewish population in Morocco. Jews have apparently lived in Morocco since the times BC. The large migration to Morocco took place in the 15th century. They inhabited cities all over the country and maintained their identity. From what I read, their relationship with their Muslim counterparts seems to not have been ideal, but they were not persecuted as much as in some other Arab countries. Morocco apparently had the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world before the formation of Israel. We found Jewish sectors in many of the towns we visited. We also visited Jewish medina’s in a few cities. The king’s senior advisor today is a person of the Jewish faith. The numbers of the Jewish population went down after the creation of Israel in 1948, when many immigrated. We were told that Moroccans are now the second largest community of immigrants in Israel. While Morocco has had informal connections with Israel for a while, they only recognized the country in 2020.
There are also signs that more is being done in recent times for this Islamic nation to be more inclusive of this of its own Berber heritage. King Mohammed VI made history by marrying a local commoner, outside of the line of his line of Muslim ancestry and royalty. Recently, the Berber language was also made one of the official languages of Morocco, to also be used in the administrations in the future. An official script was developed for the above purpose. You might happen upon some Berber script in a few of the pictures that I present.
We arrived in Fes a little late in the evening that day. We are staying in a Riad. More about this in the next blog about Morocco.