A Map of Morocco’s Blue City, Chefchaouen; Hotels, Weather, Restaurants and Waterfall
Chefchaouen is the blue gem in the heart of Morocco’s countryside. It is known as the “Paradise of the Mountain” because it is a city built beneath the Rif mountain ranges. At first glance, it’s like walking in the middle of the ocean but on land. A literal heaven on earth because the surroundings mirror the beautiful blue skyline, a point where the land and clouds merge. The feeling is as surreal as dancing in a daydream.
Chaouen, as it is locally known as, is a small village where you can easily get lost because it all looks alike. Everywhere and everything is blue. From the walls to the floors to the doors to the buildings and the streets too. Steps and stairs rule the city. The narrow streets are compactly full of people and vendors that sell traditional clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, artworks, food and musical instruments. Tourists were taking photos at all corners. It’s different here because there isn’t that normal Moroccan money hungry nature that I’d grown accustomed to. This is a place where no child can ever beg for money, they don’t have the heart to. Instead, they are play their own games. They ask you for your name and nationality because they are genuinely curious about where you came from not because they want to gain something from you.
I was exploring the city with my friends Sue and Nihad. We were simply in awe of how magnificent the place was. The town was home to old men dressed in Jelabas (traditional Moroccan dress) who walked around with so many creases and lines mapped across their faces. Their skin sagged guided by walking sticks. I wondered how they found their way up the steep staircases that occupied the city? Sue is a shopaholic. She would step into every shop, enquiring about prices. We would have to take constant breaks between our walk just to wait for her. Nihad, on the other hand, is a grouch. She was accompanying us because she didn’t want to stay alone at the hotel. She would only nag and complain taking breaks to sit which made the tour slower. I was marveling at beauty of this giant crystal ball.
In the nighttime, I sat on the roof of my hotel. The lights were neon blue which made the night time resemble the blue city. I was alone enjoying the cool air. Chefchaouen at night was as calm in the evening as it was in the day. I met a bunch of foreign wanderers. In the world of a traveler, it is important not to get too attached to anybody because everybody has their own journey. I encountered musicians from England and New Zealand who were touring with their band, a German couple who owned a psychedelic bookshop in Berlin and a trio of two brother backpackers travelling with their grandfather. All these people came from different walks of life and we could sit on this small rooftop and marvel about each other.
The next day, more of my companions felt energized to sight-see. We set ourselves on a tedious task to trek to the top of the mosque at the knee of the mountain range that overlooked Chaouen. We had to start by getting to the edge of the town. Here lies a stream that seeps out of the bottom of the mountain. There are stones that create a small waterfall located next to a restaurant which is overpriced, charging 50 Dirhams for one plate of Tangine (a traditional dish). It is aesthetic to the area and prompts a lot of visitor’s curiosity despite the fact that the water is as cold as ice. This is the same water that’s used as supply for rest of the city. It was very clean and didn’t need any purification. It bore a more refined taste than any other bottled water. I was famished and opted instead for the kiosks next to the mountain which charged me 6 dirhams for one sandwich and faster service. I bought two.
I was touring the town with a couple consisting of a Turkish girl, Basak and a Moroccan boy, Youness. Their relationship was explosive and dynamic as they were both as individuals. Turkish and Arab people are naturally very loud and expressive so when you mix this combination they’re animated. Constantly shouting at each other a range of curse words that changed according to the language. They argued and insulted each other so much that a stranger would doubt if they were really in love. We began our ascent up the hill. It wasn’t steep and was an easy climb because it was flat surfacing rather than rocks aligning themselves upwards.
We reached the Mosque and saw the Blue Pearl for what it was. Chefchaouen is much bigger than it seems. It feels like a small village was but is actually a small city. Buildings of blue stretched out across the horizon past what the eyes could see. There was a wall that paved its way around the city reminding me of the Great Wall of China. Its border are the Rif mountain ranges. They consist of huge rocks that act as giants watching over this beautiful environment. On the grasslands are goat herders who would take their goats to graze upon the evergreen grass. I could see everything from up here leaving me feeling at one with the blue crystal ball. We sat on the wall that is built as a boundary of the mosque and simply stared at the beauty of of this creation. The couple held each other and looked on, the air was filled with silence. It felt so loving and warm to be in this city of such good vibrations and energy.
The nighttime had a beautiful ambiance to it. Sue and I had just finished our dinner and began walking down the thin streets not knowing where we were going but just heading on an adventure. Chaouen was so safe. You can walk with your phone and purse in your hands and never feel the need to protect them because you are assured that nobody would steal them from you. This was the one place that I felt completely free in Morocco. I had never seen so many cats in one city in my life. This was a cat haven. Black, white, grey and brown cats with brown, blue and green eyes are also inhabitants of the city. It’s like William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the creators of “Tom and Jerry” came here in the 1930’s to get inspiration.
We wandered our way into an organic soap and perfume store. There were different colors of soaps and natural perfumes hanging from the ceiling in colorful African traditional print bags. They spiraled their way from the roof of the shop till the bottom like a vine interweaving its way around branches. I’d never seen so many soaps and perfumes in my life. In every corner, they were there. They smelt edible like a person could taste them. After leaving this shop, we walked into the night and came across a homeless man who called me “Mama Africa!” He asked me if I listened to Bob Marley and I said yes. He was an old man, probably in his sixties but he bore one of the happiest faces that I had ever seen. I could tell that he had no ill intentions towards us. He offered some of his goods to us to buy but we politely refused. He wore an old dusty red shirt, ashy grey jeans, torn white sneakers and a grey hat. He then unleashed on us something completely unexpected when we declined his offer,” As Bob Marley say, today you have money and tomorrow you don’t. Nothing is certain. Today you won’t buy from me but tomorrow you will.” In these words, I smiled in the way of respect for the man, a pleasant surprise. As we ventured on, we found a shop with beautiful Jellabas and bags inside. I fell in love with one multicolored bag that caught my eye. I was unsure about buying it and the seller told me “If it’s in your destiny you’ll buy the bag and if not then you won’t. “There is something so philosophical about Chaouen dwellers. An ambiance of peace and tranquility reigns here.
Taking nightly excursions on the well-lit streets and observing Moroccan culture felt so serene. This was a form of culture shock for me because in Kenya, you can’t go for walks out in the middle of the night. The lights that illuminated the roof tops were all glowing in blue and red to highlight the pristine blue paint that layered over the city. A place all art lovers would enjoy. We had gotten lost on our stroll for almost half an hour, but it didn’t matter. It was like walking in a maze. Eventually we re-emerged at the city square that had an array of restaurants with rainbow colored umbrellas and souvenir shops. It was the centre of all activity during the day but at night the atmosphere was Zen. It was 11:30pm and there were street performers bellowing soft notes of indie music, women asking tourists for henna. There was a large spruce tree growing in the middle of the square sprinkled with blue Christmas lights. I was in a state of halcyon.
The city was founded in 1471 as a Kasbah (fortress) by Moulay Ali Ibrahim Rashid al-Alami who was a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He founded this city to fight off Portuguese invasions in North Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of the region who are natives of these parts, Jews and Moriscos settled here after Spanish Reconquista in medieval times. In 1920, the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form Spanish Morocco. Spain returned the city after the independence of Morocco in 1956. There are many rumors and folklore as to why the city is blue. One example is to keep away mosquitos, another is to positively impact tourism and furthermore, blue gives off a calming effect. All suggestions can be a possibility but help the city maintain its mystery. Chefchaouen is also known as a prolific source of Kief in the countryside around it. It is one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco. A nearby attraction is the Kef Toghobelt Cave, the deepest caves in Africa. It offers many native items only found in these parts such as woven blankets and oil garments. The goat cheese here is also very popular with tourists.
Chefchaouen is one of the most exotic tourist destinations that I’ve visited in my life. There are few places that one travels to that has good energy of the people and the good atmosphere around the place. Nobody is constantly begging for money from you, everybody is concerned with helping others and is inquisitive on where you’re from. This place is an oasis in the middle of a desert. I would recommend that everybody makes their way to Chefchaouen at least at one point in their life.
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