The Blue City

On Friday Sept. 2, we hopped on a CTM bus headed to Chefchaouen at 3pm. We were told to expect a 3 hour bus ride to the Blue City, but instead we traveled for 6 very long hours in a bus whose inside must have been at least 30C.

Our welcome at Chefchaouen was rather… interesting.

I transcribed the conversation that took place as soon as we stepped out of the bus in another post:

Apenas nos bajamos del autobús, 6 horas después de salir de Rabat, 3 horas más de lo que nos habían dicho, nos abordó un local.

-Quieren hotel? Want hotel? Vous chercher d’hôtel?

Siendo que usualmente esta gente quiere que uno le de dinero, le dije que no y lo ignoré.

-Hotel? Hotel? Taxi?

-Buscamos un petit taxi -dijo Shady

-Por aqui, por aquí. Where are you from? Honduras? Andoras? Andoras in Spain!

-No, Honduras in South America.

-Ah, taxi here. Where are you going?

-Al hotel Parador.

-Van al hotel Parador? Ok. Aquí esperar el taxi, yo lo traer el taxi grande.

-No, queremos un petit taxi.

-No no, yo traigo el taxi.

-No gracias.

-Ok, ok. Quieren hashis?

-No.

-Hashis de alta calidad! Mirad es el bueno! *Enciende un porro y le pega una buena chupada*

(El tipo este esta loco!)

-Mira toma, prueba – dice ofreciéndoselo a Glenn, luego a Rey y finalmente a mi.

-No, no queremos dijimos mientras nos envolvia el humo que el hombre exhalaba junto con ese distintivo olor nauseabundo de la marihuana.

-Pero es Hashis bueno, yo tengo conexiones. Aquí se consigue fácil, del bueno, con mis amigos.

-No queremos.

Se dio la vuelta y comenzó a caminar de regreso a los buses pero antes de cruzar el portal se dio y la vuelta y dijo:
“Ustedes son diferentes. Paranoicos. Aquí chefchaouen la gente es buena. No hay problema. Yo les consigo hashis bueno. Aquí es como amsterdam todo el mundo bueno fumando. Dejar la paranoia.”

Con razón la guía de Chefchaouen dice que aquí se consigue fácil el Hashish. No pasamos ni cinco minutos en la ciudad y ya nos lo estaban ofreciendo!

Surprised after our first encounter with the prominence of Hashish in Chefchaouen, we made our way to the “House in the Medina of Chefchaouen” as it was called in the AirBnb post. The price, $172 for two nights, seemed reasonable given the location, conditions of the house and its beauty.

 

The following morning I felt like I was in Daniela Andrade’s music video while walking through the blue alleyways of the Medina. The streets, painted fully blue when it’s a dead-end, had the charm of the streets of Antigua Guatemala with an obvious Arabic touch. The floor was constituted of adoquin, the walls of the houses made of cement, the telephone and power lines exposed (which is something I missed in Kenitra), people sat at the entrance of their houses and the laughter of children echoed all over the medina.

Apparently the blue walls of Chefchaouen date back to the occupation of the city by Jewish refugees in the 1930’s. The refugees thought that blue symbolized sky and heaven and so they painted the walls blue. In the 1960’s, a wave of tourism popularized Chaouen and the practice of painting the walls blue lived on even after the Jews left.

I found a mesmerizing beauty in the blue alleys, especially those where the locals had put plants as the contrast of green and blue alluded to a sky and earth relationship. Most beautiful of all were the fountains of course, with their multiple colors and expertly crafted zellij. It’s sad that the practice of creating zellij is dying out. The beautiful hand made patterns have been replaced by commercial tiles that are cheaper and easier to produce.

In his book “The Caliph’s House,” Tahir Shah explains that he was looking for a zellij artist to decorate his house. His Moroccan adviser told him that that the best zellij artists are the craziest men in Morocco. At first I did not understand why, but after seeing zellij up close, you really have to be crazy to sit for hours slowly hammering small pieces of ceramic into the intricate geometrical shapes that compose zellij.

Moving on, cats were roaming everywhere I looked. They almost seem like a pest, but a very cute and adorable one. The inner parts of the Medina definitely fit the romanticized views that blogs, tour guides and stories create.

After marveling at the beauty of the Medina, we made our way down to the restaurant where our taxi driver would pick us up to take us to the Akchour National Park. As he drove us down to the park he said:

-Do you see those green fields to the right? That’s all hashish.

I wondered how could these plantations could exist right there, next to the highway in plain sight. The taxi driver explained to us that the production of Hashish is illegal, but the police won’t enforce the law over here because it is a great source of income for the locals and for millions of other unemployed Moroccans.

I started to think about the people that I knew and that smoke Marijuana or consume THC and have endlessly fought my refusal to join them. I could never understand their motivation to get high. Once one of them told me that it was nice feeling like there are no worries in life. Why would you want to escape the worries of life like that? Man up. The worries are what keep us going, what push us to make the extra effort to stay up until 3AM writing blog posts. Surprisingly, people in Xaouen don’t smoke as much as you’d imagine. Walking around the medina at night we did encounter the unmistakable stench of Marijuana and we saw some men here and there sitting in the dark huffing from their kif pipes. Yet it was only at night and there were not that many. The taxi driver confirmed: Moroccans produce to sell to the Europeans. We don’t really consume it. Why would you eat away from your profits?
Regardless, given that such a great demand for Marijuana exists, I think that the Government of Morocco is doing a good job when considering the legalization of the production of Marijuana in the Rif mountains. It’s sad and disappointing that there exists such a great demand for narcotics in the world, but at the same time, perhaps its a good thing for the people of countries like Morocco. Strange how the stupidity of one person can be beneficial for another.

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Allah’s Bridge

We finally made it to the Akchour Park where we got to do some trekking. We made it to Allah’s bridge where we were joined by a group of three Moroccan men who walked all the way to the end of the river with us (at least the part that you could follow without getting wet). I was marveled by Allah’s bridge. But I was more surprised by the generosity of these three men who had joined us. When we finally sat down, they pulled out the Dates and invited us to have some. Dates are extremely popular in Islam and one of the preferred foods of the Prophet. Thus by sharing the Dates with us, these men were acknowledging us and I felt extremely honored and so I kindly accepted the offer. I wished I had something to offer him back.

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Little eating spaces like this one dotted the riverside.

Following this experience, every time I had dates I offered them to those around me. Later on Professor El-Korchi commented that refusing to accept a date was seeing as disrespectful and so I could not avoid feeling a little bad every time that one of the members of the IQP team rejected my offer.

Finally, after visiting Akchour, we decided to go shopping for a little while. We entered a shop run by and Amazigh who from the beginning seemed to me like a showman. He was dressed in typical robes and treated us “like brothers from the same branch of the tree of life.” I looked around for a while, but never found anything that really interested me. I looked at several carpets, but none really called my attention. Then Rey decided to buy some stuff and he began to bargain. The Amazigh was trying to scam rey by asking absurd prices. I could not believe what was happening and so I signaled to Rey to drop the prices. I think that the Amazigh noticed because after Rey made his purchase I offered to buy a knife and when I told him how much I wanted to pay, the Amazigh went insane. He snapped at me. He told me that I was a joke, that I was laughing at his ancestors and that I was just wasting his time and he proceeded to kick me out of his store. I told the man: “I thought that we were brothers!” And that only pissed him off some more.

He called me disrespectful for not buying anything. He was the disrespectful one for taking us for idiots and asking for ridiculous prices. Items that were clearly machine made were supposedly “hand carved.” Please. Disrespectful. I did learn my lesson though: don’t get into other people’s bargaining.

 

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