Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Chefchaouen, Morocco June 2012

Morocco - I had no plans to visit it when I began planning the trip in April.  Of course, I wasn't planning on going to Spain or hiking the Camino either.  But I saw a city in Morocco, Chefchaouen, and was mesmerized to say the least.  The pictures make it look like a city made of adobe/plaster and painted blue with a backdrop of Sedona's red rocks.  Well part of that is true.

     To get to Chef was a trip - figuratively and literally.  The bus stopped several times and gave us a chance to have freshly made ground beef/sheep/goat burgers.  The flies were extra!  It was amazing to see the passengers run off the bus to the butcher/cook, who would slice pieces of meat off of a hanging animal, grind it in the meat grinder, give it to a griller who would grill it for you while you waited.

Welcome to Morocco.  I wish I was more adventurous and could try such things, but not when I have to sit on a bus for four hours.  If I had my own bathroom and four days to get over whatever bug may come my way, but I don't.
  Chef, as it is called amongst shoestring travelers and lazy folk... is usually the favorite city of all in Morocco. It's small - 40,000 people.  It's not crazy hectic like Fez or Marrakesh.  It has decent food and extremely cheap.  The same dinner and dirt in Marrakesh may cost 100 d, but only 40 d in Chef.  There are mountains and in winter it is very cold.  In the summer, it's only warm, not baking, save the odd week's hot front that may sweep across a country.
    Lot's of people like Chef because it has very cheap and very accessible Kif, which is a mixture of weed and tobacco.  According to my landlord at Scotlandia Riad, who, believe me, is an expert in smoking Kif, says that the weed in Morocco is way too strong and the tobacco knocks it down a level.  I'll have to take his word on that.  The guy in the picture is from Mississippi and has been working in the Middle East for awhile.  He didn't know that he was standing in front of a marijuana plant.    He and his girl friend were in Morocco for a visit and stayed with me at the Riad.
    The owner of the Riad needed some help building a patio cover and I helped him.  He gave me a cut on my rent, which wasn't necessary, but accepted none the less.   You can see two patio/terraces.  We covered the lower level one with bamboo to be like the top one.  He and his wife and son were from Scotland, bought a house there when the market was at the bottom and then for the next seven years or so, vacationed in southern Morocco.  When the market was at it's height, they sold everything, made a bundle and moved to northern Morocco.  They now have this Riad you see in the photo above, aptly named, "Scotlandia".  The owner was about as easy going as you can get, for very "natural" reasons, I'm sure, but he would get mad when the taxi cab drivers would ask, "Where do you go?" and "he'd reply, "Scotlandia!" and they would look at him like he was crazy.  "Where?" they'd ask, and he'd repeat, "Scotlandia!   You know the Riad on the hill!"  "Ohhh...." they'd say, "Englaterra!"  Word to the wise cabbie... I you are looking for a tip, don't tell refer to someone from Scotland as being from England!"  (really bad form! Think William Wallace- Braveheart). 

      The view from his terraces was awesome.  We could see the mountains with the firebreaks cut into them.  The owner said that the king of Morocco used that for his hunting wild pigs.

It must be really beautiful in the winter when the surrounding mountains, which completely surround Chefchaouen, are covered in snow.

   We could also see surrounding homes and it amazed me how beautiful they are.  Most are even prettier inside than out.

Not a great neighborhood if you have bad knees as most of the homes are four stories high.

    I didn't know whether to congratulate this little guys mom and dad for ingenuity or call CPS.  I guess you do what you gotta do to survive.  He looks like a prisoner but that's what Moroccans must think when they see our playpenalpens...I mean our playpens.
So many times I've seen what I thought was insane in countries like Morocco - like a baby, yes a baby sitting on the top of a cormorant fishing boat on the Li River in China.  That's bad enough, but the boat was moving at about 30 mph.
   Of course, my brother and I use to stand on the back of a pickup truck to keep watermelons from falling off as my Dad drove home for the market.  It was fun... until you got a "pis" chill from going over the Wolf River!!

     As I'm hanging off of his terrace, forty feet in the air, I'm thinking, "Really?  Fall in Morocco!?  Is this something I should be doing??"  I looked down and saw huge piles of sand, gravel, and 100 bags of cement.
    They were lying next to a home that had a foundation poured.  When I asked the owner what was going on he told me that the next day there'd be 10 guys working like worker bees mixing concrete, wheelbarrowing it up to the foundation and repeating the process 1000 times.  No cement mixer - just human mixers!  They started at sun up and didn't stop till sundown.  In the South, we call that working from "Can to Can't" in reference to working from the time you CAN see, to the time you CAN'T see!  Brother!  That is a lonnnnnngggg day!
   These guys didn't stop for any smokes or drinks.  They had a couple of breaks for lunch and snack and back at it again.  Wonder what their union would say?  The next picture shows a boy watching, only he's doing more than that.  The owner said that the boys learned that the fish market needs paper to wrap their fish.  Paper that won't crumble when it gets wet.  So when the guys tear open cement, they cut it at the end, dump it out and throw it aside.  The boys run over take the bags (think crows or rats stealing something shiny, only they aren't stealing!) wash them out and sell them to the fish market.  Clever entrepreneurial spirit!!  I love it!

at first, the homes look, a bit blue, as if they were hesitant about painting their house the same color as someone else.

     The walk to the city from the Riad is about 2 miles and fun.  I passed thru a mini village and saw enough sheep and goats to start a Armenian dating service.  It was a good walk, and finally, a view of the valley and the town below!  From a distance, you can see that the entire city isn't painted blue... but when you get down to the city, via a steep path, it explodes with color.

Then.... blue....



Some of the kids are playing in a drinking fountain.  Being a keen disciple of Sherlock Holmes I deduct that his feet are blue from playing in the water... or he has a blue pair of Crocs on.

       They sell the paint, and it looks like the old Tempura paint that teachers use to get to mix paint.  Yes, that was before schools fell into money and teachers actually use to mix their own paint.  It probably was cheaper in the long run to buy premixed paint, because people like me, got too creative and ended up painting a life size blue whale on the parking lot pavement.  It was great - it taught kids about how to transfer from a graph, however, there were two problems: 1. every time someone drove in the parking lot, they tracked blue throughout the neighborhood, and 2. the whale eventually washed through the entire neighborhood when it rained!  It's okay, now... save for old man McGunty's driveway, which serves him right for being grumpy all the time... even before I dyed his driveway blue!!

        Whatever is not painted blue, is painted a khaki/orange color and provides a wonderful contrast to the blue.  This picture was taken from my outdoor terrace and is looking at the kasbah across the way.

You have to admit, khaki/orange is an apt description!!  Call Mr. Crayola!  I want dibs on the name!
By the way, the man who named/invented most of the Crayola crayons ... was blind... and now you know the rest of the story!

    If you don't duck, you'll join the blue parade and have a shiner on your noggin'.   I.. know first hand.  Bad habit, not looking up.

But really, was the guy who built this walk way 4 feet tall and angry at the world??

Maybe use balsa wood if you are going to build a ceiling so low!


  There was one section of town that was nothing short of Ridiculous Blue... (I made that color up!!)  But really, it looked like the neighbors got together and said, "Fine!  If the HOA is going to make us all have blue...when we really want cherry red, then let's make a .... a... Ridiculous Blue!!

   Can you say, Ice Blue Velva?  It was like being in a Disneyland ride.  I kept waiting on a luge to come screaming around the corner and knock me into Palookaville.



     This neighborhood needed signs posted that said, "We do Blue!" It's amazing how your brain works.  The brain said that it should be so cold that it was hot, like hot ice, but it was just plain ol' warm plaster.  

      I would have liked to have gone in some of the homes, but the ones I did go in were amazingly organized and well kept.  I say that, because some of them had goats running all over the front yard or broken buckets.  The inside person is doing there job, but the outside person is slacking!

    Apparently, exceptionally cute kids are exempt from wearing blue.  This lady saw that we were about to take a picture.  She had been gently tapping on the door and then when she saw us with the cameras, she began banging on the door. Either she got the runs and had to get to the toilet pronto or she was afraid I was going to steal her soul.   One's as bad as the other at the moment!

     However, there are kids who are exceptionally cute that do wear blue!  Another grumpy lady.  I wanted  to scream, "Would you PLEASE direct me to the person who told you that a camera can steal your soul!  I want to congratulate him for being the salesman of the year!"

    We headed up the street toward a cafe that I had heard about and the directions given to me were classic..."You head up a street that's blue..."  I always want to say, "Wow, that's really clear.  Thank you for giving me such focused directions.  Perhaps next time someone asks you for directions you could use that crazy new inventions... street names!!'   No, we never did find the restaurant.
   But we did come across a guy I had met the day before when I went into the city alone.  He, too, was a classic.  Here's the conversation:
local -  Hello!  Step into my shop.  No pressure.
me - uhhh no, I'm good!
local - I tell you my friend.  No pressure.  Just come look at rugs.
me - uhhh, noooo..... I don't have a house.  Rugs are heavy.  Thanks though.
local - Where are you from?
me - (okay, I'll bite)  USA and you?
local - Chefchaouen.  Where in these United States?
me - Arizona.
local - I have been there.  My brother has a restaurant.  I know Arizona.
me - Excellent.  you have a great day... bye
local -my wife has made beautiful rugs.
and so it went.   And the next day when walking with the Mississippi couple, he went ahead and she was with me in a shop.  We came out and we saw her boyfriend with the man and I said, "Watch, here comes the Moroccan Shuffle!"  and sure enough, he went right into the routine.  He bought a rug.  Fishing was good that day!
     Later that day, I decided to get a haircut and when leaving the Riad, I don't know what happened, but I must have stepped on some blue ice or something, and slipped and before I knew it, I had called on the marble stairs, landing on my left arm three inches south of my elbow.

 I thought it was broken and visions of going to a doctor/hospital didn't seem very enticing.  It swoll up and looked like my calf, with a huge knot on it.  Kinda like a goose egg a kid gets when he hits his head on the monkey bars...oh right...lawyers - we don't have monkey bars anymore.  But thank goodness we still have goose eggs!  This is a picture on day four.


      Anyway, in the best way I know how to deal with a problem - to ignore it!- I went and got a haircut.

There is nothing quite so relaxing as a haircut...okay, that's not exactly true, but it is very relaxing.  This  barber was funny.  He knew just enough English to make jokes, but well, jokes yes, good jokes, not so good.  He was fun though.

     After the haircut I met a guy from New Zealand and a guy from New York... and me from New Arizona... yes, that's typical of the barber's jokes!

    We decided to go watch the European finals between Italy and Spain.  Spain demolished them which was good because they played excellent team ball and Italy relied on a ball hog, and a hot dog.
The night before I watched the Italy/Germany game - which you can see on the TV.  Not sure that the restaurant would have passed the health inspection....anywhere.  

This was the last straw.  The last blue straw.  When you start painting trees, it's time to leave the country!!!  I was on a plane to Spain the next day!! 

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