Sunday, March 28, 2010

Morocco 2

Morocco Day 2: Chefchaouen

Saturday morning I woke up very confused as to where I was before the animal like aroma reminded me that I was in Africa! What a completely weird feeling to have and I’m not sure I was really up for the pure coolness factor of it due to my sleepy brain. Katrina and I got ready for the day and headed to breakfast. It was weird meeting up with Laura and Tricia and not knowing exactly what they had been doing for the past 8 hours. It’s odd how much time we spend together and even more odd how a few hours apart can seem like days…

Good morning world!

After a quick breakfast we boarded one of the 2 big blue busses and headed through Africa. While we were pulling out of the hotel I literally saw two women carrying jugs on their head. This was another visual that will stay with me. Call me na├»ve, call me spoiled or just plain dumb but it had never fully occurred to me that this was literally something that people did. Yes I’ve seen movies, TV and read stories but it was baffling to actually experience the visual. And the most important part was that these women were literally right across from our hotel. The wave of shame I felt the night before regurgitated its way back up leaving a very unpleasant taste in my mouth. Reality doesn’t taste like chocolate chip ice cream.

We had about an hour or two ride to our first location, Chefchaouen (pronounced shef-showen). I had never heard of this city and had absolutely no expectations. Thus, I was left for the ride to watch the hills and the people on them. Much like the night before everyone was out and about and the majority of them were accompanied by some sort of animal. There were men and women leading cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, lambs etc. There were even people herding chickens like cattle, which did not look like an easy task. Chickens were everywhere. Just wondering on the street, cooped up in fences or my favorite, just tied together by their feet and laying on the sidewalk. (I’ll elaborate on this later.) There were also lots of huge billboards with a picture of the king of Morocco. His name is Mohammed VI (I didn’t even have to google it because it has been imprinted in my mind for the number of times I saw it.) The only thing that out-numbered the pictures of the king was the Moroccan flag. You would have thought it was a national holiday with how many flags I saw. They were flying everywhere! In all honesty though, we did learn that King Mohammed had been to this area only the day before so this might have played a role in how many we saw, but I tend to think they just always have Moroccan pride. More importantly, I couldn’t believe we had just missed the king!

Bathroom break at a beautiful view

There's our Beanie Baby :)

View from the bus. That would be a typical type home

Beautiful mountainside


As we started pulling into the city the frequency in Moroccan flags flying on flagpoles was growing and our big busses started maneuvering the somewhat narrow streets. The travel company we came with had hired a woman to basically be on the trip with us and to talk to us on the way, explaining certain things about Morocco etc but we were supposed to be meeting some guides to actually show us around Chefchaouen. So when the bus slowed and our woman guide (clearly I have forgotten her name or I would insert it here, my apologies) opened the bus doors and let a Moroccan man on I thought he had just scrambled aboard. This guy was quite old and was missing quite a few teeth. I immediately thought oh no, how did this guy get on the bus? What is he trying to do? When I tore my eyes away to look out the window I realized that everyone on the street had stopped to stare at us. Children were pointing, and craning their necks to see what was going on with these two giant blue busses. It was weird to realize that having tourists might be an exciting thing for them, considering I’ve felt like a nuisance everywhere else. Then the bus started moving again and I too wanted to know what was going on because the toothless man was still on our bus. If only I could understand Arabic.

When we stopped and were directed to get out we all followed orders and bunched together with the woman guide. She then explained that we would split into smaller groups for the tours and somewhat divided us off. The group we were all in was standing there, waiting for further instructions when she started to usher over the toothless man. He then introduced himself in English and welcomed us to Chefchaouen with a big jack-o-lantern smile. I literally could not believe it. How could I be so completely sure this man was of no importance to our group based purely on his appearance? That bitter taste of shame was becoming stronger and I can’t tell you how much I hated it this time. Why could I not believe that this man, although he may be missing a few teeth, could be not only completely literate but also clearly, highly intelligent to have conquered another language? I myself can barely stumble through the few Spanish sentences I’ve learned.

Our guide there on the right

As the tour started I slunk to the back of the group realizing that I had already broken the very promise I had made to myself only hours before. So, I vowed with new vengeance that I would be completely open to every person, place and thing here and soak up every bit of it while sending up a little prayer for help that I could keep it this time. Not really being able to hear most of what was being explained I started to look around at the little streets we were walking through and noticed one very common thread. Every building here had blue painted somewhere on it. If these buildings were canvases, which they pretty much were, then the main color would be white with accents only done in shades of blue. Since blue is my favorite color, and my grandma’s, I immediately loved it! Everything looked pretty and antique.

So pretty!

I like the different shades of blue on the different walls.

Inside the bakery

On top of the bakery

The most famous picture in Chefchaouen.

Learning about the spa/baths

Men and women aren't allowed to enter at the same time

More blue doors

We meandered through the city for awhile poking our heads in here and there whenever there was a little store. We even got to peak into a bakery which smelt like delicious fresh bread. Our fearless leader chattered on and on about this and that until we finally arrived at a “weaving store.” This is definitely not the correct terminology but I’m not sure what is so that is what I’ve assigned to it. We got to go all the way up some super steep stairs to the top where some of the hand weaving takes place on the loom. The room was small and seemed impossible to work in but apparently work was done because back downstairs we got to see a complete show of all of the work that they do. I don’t really know how else to describe it other than I felt like I was watching some sort of terrible infomercial. While the rugs, tapestries, scarves and table runners were quite beautiful the whole presentation went on far too long (much like infomercials) and they showed us just about every variation possible from patterns and sizes to fabrics and uses. Afterwards they informed us that there was no pressure to make a purchase but they then pressured quite a few people to make one. I was lucky enough to squirm on out of there while I could and boy was I glad! The work they did was definitely very impressive and I had a lot of respect for the craft that they have so clearly built their lives upon but I don’t think my mom needed a rug, nor would I be able to pack it in my suitcase home. Plus, some of the stories I heard later about the prices that people spent on their table runners for Aunt Brenda were ridiculous.

On the roof in the weaving room

The Loom

Waiting for the infomercial to commence!


Silk rugs?

Ok.. enough of these. I won't put you through any more :)

We still had a bit of time before lunch so we got to see the center of town, which was full of little touristy shops that were all calling my name, but I refused to venture into them yet. I needed some food in my stomach before I started attempting to make a bargain with these people. So we nosed around and noticed that the locals call Chefchaouen “Chaouen” pronounced chow-in for short, or like a slang word, much like we call Columbia “Como” or at least this is what I assumed. We also took some pictures of some cats (this has become a favorite pastime of ours since we have a friend that we call Kitty). When it came time to part with our guide I thanked him in Arabic which we learned was “Shukran,” pronounced shoe-cran, and I waved goodbye to the toothless man and I was truly sad to see him go.

Kitty picking through some stale bread (I'll save you the horror of the pictures of kitty eating fishies..)



Walking to lunch

When it was finally time to settle in for some chow time in “Chaouen” (you can imagine how long I’ve been waiting to make that joke) we were all ready to eat. We were handed a menu which consisted of 4 options all of which I believe were listed in a combination of Arabic and Spanish which left me basically looking at scribbles. In times like these I have come to realize how important it is to take note of what your friends like to eat. It is usually pretty safe to order whatever Laura is ordering since she’s kinda a picky eater but she also could barely decide what these meals consisted of so I next turned to Tricia who told me she was going out on a limb and ordering “blah blah blah.” All I needed to hear was that she was going out on a limb. I wasn’t up for any “limb-traveling” so, although I was weary, I still asked Katrina, who is our bravest eater, what she was ordering. She said she was going to play it safe with some lemon chicken. Perfect. I was sold. So when they asked for Katrina’s order I just held up a peace sign, which many forget originally stood for the number 2, and my order was placed.

We were joined at lunch by Nick’s roommate for the trip, Matt or “Matao” as he likes to be called. He was a lovely guy who was absolutely hilarious and would have fit right in working at Beauty Brands with me. The previous night the two hadn’t really spoken due to the late hour so it was fun to watch Nick get to know his bunk-mate.

Matao, Nick, Laura and Lisa

Our side of the table

The lemon chicken proved to be a bad choice but in true “poor-student” fashion I managed to take down enough of a portion to get my brain working again. The meal was actually really fun because the restaurant was very eccentric. There were bright colors, drapes, tile work, tapestries and lots of shiny glittery things. Probably not the best place to eat if you have ADD. It very much encompassed what I envisioned a restaurant in India might look like and yet again I became absolutely certain that I know nothing of the world. This has been a repeatedly sad realization in my life with some excitement though because I’m learning right?


In true foreign fashion lunch lasted about two hours and when we finally escaped to the outdoors we were happy to learn that we had some free time. Free time always makes me a bit nervous because I don’t necessarily know if I want to be running around “free” in Africa with no supervision. Then I remember that I am going to be 22 years old this summer and I’m old enough to handle this. (Yes, I have to give myself such pep-talks periodically.) So, we wandered off into the winding blue streets in hopes that we could find the center where the stores were. This proved to be no walk in the park but I’m not complaining. Honestly, even if we were completely lost I still don’t think I would have anything to complain about.

Getting lost

Such cool doorways

I'm blue a-ba-de-a-ba-di... (yes I've been waiting to post that comment as well)

Another cool doorway

Still walkin

We finally found the center of town and nosed around in a bunch of different shops. I was surprised that when I tried to speak to the shop owners in Spanish they would respond in English. However, this proved to be confusing when it came time to bargain. We were told to try to talk down the prices but I felt bad doing so. This is these people’s livelihood, who am I to deny them one extra euro? Tricia and I made a valiant effort and put on our game faces when it came to some jewelry though. She wanted a blue bangle with elephants and I wanted a string of turquoise beads. Together, we wanted a deal and after a little bit of talking we managed to knock down about 50 cents. This somehow seemed victorious at the time though so we walked away happy with our accessories.

Center of town

Happy shoppers!

The sky had matched the pretty blue city at various times during the day but it also had periods of dark gray. It was pretty overcast as we were all congregating in the center of town for our meeting place before further instructions and just as our guides were explaining we were going to head back to the bus it started to sprinkle a little. So we started making our way through the streets and I was doing some serious people watching. It was so cool to see the traditional clothing that they wear. As I somewhat described earlier, the men wear a dress-type covering that reminded me of what alter boys at church wear. The women too can wear a dress but most just wore a wrap over the heads.

Blurry woman

The busses were trying to pull around to pick us up but the policemen who were in the street were making it difficult. The rain had somewhat subsided but was spiting down on us periodically so I was pretty ready to just get on the bus. When we were finally able to board I scrambled on up to grab a window seat and settled in for some more people watching. Yet again I was amazed at how many people were just staring at us. It was a bit unsettling because I kept wanting to look behind me like maybe a celebrity is on our bus or something but nope, it was just us weird American students. The policemen were really unhappy with the busses and were trying to get us to move by yelling and blowing their whistles but apparently we were waiting for someone so they were trying to stall. We weren’t blocking traffic by any means so I was confused as to why it was such a big deal but for whatever reason, it was.

When we finally started pulling out I waved goodbye to this beautiful antique town and could not believe that people actually lived there. I thought about this all the way home. Yes it was beautiful and quaint etc but I did not see one house, apartment or any type of housing that looked like somewhere I would want to live. Everything seemed behind in the times but I maybe that was because we didn’t see that part of the town? Doubtful. It is just amazing to me how I am beyond blessed.

Darkness was falling on the ride home and I got to see somewhat of the nightlife I spoke about earlier. People were out walking around or sitting in doorways. It is just such a different lifestyle. I also was amazed at how many animal carcasses I saw hanging outside. There were quite large ones too that I won’t go into detail with. (Paige, I don’t think you would life Africa ☺)

When we got back to our hotel we were all hungry again but more than that, I needed a shower. However, we didn’t have time for a shower because as Katrina and I were trying to get into our room we realized the door was stuck. We were trying to unlock it but it was like another lock was in place or something. We had to go back to the desk to ask for help and the owner of the hotel brought his keys to try. Those weren’t working either so he called for backup. Backup proved to be a little old woman in a basically a robe and slippers who appeared out of the night like a panther. When she tried her keys and they didn’t work she tried the room next to ours, which was apparently a storage room with a door connected to our room (comforting). When that didn’t work either (I somewhat sighed in relief knowing someone couldn’t come get us through the storage room) she disappeared back into the night and I had no idea where she had gone. The man was pointing to a window or something and before I knew it the wiley panther was letting us in the door. She pointed to our sliding door that let out to our balcony. We thanked them both repeatedly and I went straight to the back door to lock it. As glad as I was to get into our room, I wasn’t going to have there be another option in.

We barely had enough time to look ourselves in the mirror (not pretty) before we had to head back to the main hotel lobby for dinner. Dinner was going to be exciting tonight because rumor had it we were going to get to see some traditional Moroccan performances. Matao had dubbed us cool enough and decided to join us again for a meal. He had some very entertaining stories about gay guys in Spain and we all listened intently. However, my favorite thing to watch was Nick’s face at the exchange of all the details of Matao’s life and I could literally watch Nick's brain thinking “I’m sleeping next to him tonight” haha. We were served family style again and when I looked at the bowl I realized that cuscus with meat and veggies on top were a favorite meal here. We were all hungry enough that we weren’t complaining though and it was good!

Shortly into the meal there was a large explosion of noise coming from the lobby and within seconds a group of about five teenage-boys processed in playing various instruments. There were two that were playing long horns that I thought were going to snap in half any minute. It was so cool and the music was incredibly loud. Next came a group of men playing, singing and dancing and then an old man came out with a tray of lit candles. He proceeded to do everything under the sun with this tray including spinning it on his head and just about anything dangerous. There were times I closed my eyes fearing when I opened them this little man would be on fire. He was incredibly limber and could contort his arms around so he could squeeze his whole body through them. (I know that doesn’t make sense but just go with it.) It was so cool but I couldn’t help but think that this old man should be retired by now, not risking his life for some stupid American tourists. For the finale, all the Moroccan boys and men joined together in a big song and they even brought out a cake for one of the American guys on our trip. He was turning 21 in Africa. How cool!? The performers were pulling people up to dance in the middle but I thankfully, was against a wall and unable to be forced to join the group. Matao didn’t need any prompting though and was up and dancing before I even noticed he was gone.

Once eating and dancing had worn everyone out we decided to head back to our rooms. Nick decided to accompany Katrina and I and hang out in our room for awhile due largely to the fact that he wasn’t up for lots of bonding time in his room. This was quite lucky for Katrina and I because when we tried yet again to get into our room, the door would not open. We tried to get help from the front desk and once again they called the black panther. While we were waiting for her to emerge from the darkness Nick decided we could boost him up through the little window above our shower which he found to be unlocked. (Why were there so many entrances into our room that were available?) During this discussion however, the panther appeared and started working through the very steps she had tried earlier. When she disappeared Nick was confused but Katrina and I knew she was trying the back door. I was crossing my fingers she would open the door but instead she reappeared with apparently no luck. (Oops, I had locked the back door. Well at least we knew no one was getting in that way to steal us!) Then, through a serious of hand motions and sign language we explained that we were thinking about boosting Nick through the window. She apparently concurred with this idea so Trina and I “cheer-leader-lifted” Nick up and then watched him contort his body, much like the little fire dancing man, until he slipped into the window. He then had to maneuver through the room in darkness and find the lock to let us in. I have no idea how he managed to do this but he did and was our hero!

Up he goes!

Almost in!

We decided we weren’t going to leave our room for the rest of the night after that fiasco. So I showered and Trina and I put our PJ’s on to settle in for the night. I started reading “Dear John” and after reading for a bit we both turned out our bedside table lamps, whispered a good night and fell asleep in moments, much like an old married couple

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