The Great Moroccan Goodbye Tour, Part 6: Chefchaouen
We departed from Fez in the afternoon and drove through the season’s first torrential downpour to get to the small town of Chefchaouen, about four hours to the north. It was my first time driving in Morocco. The traffic was nonexistent compared to the chaos of Casablanca, but the narrow, country roads curved tightly around the mountains, and they seemed in danger of flooding in some places. As darkness fell, the driving grew more stressful still, but, hamdullah, we arrived safely at our destination in Chefchaouen.
While our hostel claimed online to have parking, our GPS revealed upon arrival that the building was located well within the pedestrian-only medina. At a larger hotel nearby, a parking attendant assured us we could use his lot, provided we paid 20 dirhams (about $2) per day. I tried to speak to him in French, but he answered in Spanish, reminding us that we were now in the north of Morocco, a former colony of Spain, instead of Casablanca and the center of the country, which had been a colony of France. We called repeatedly but could not get through to the hostel, so we paid a young man a few dirhams to guide us there, hurrying along the cobbled streets with our suitcases in the rain.
Besides the parking issue, our hostel turned out to be pleasant, if not extravagant like the riad in Fez. We had booked a two-bedroom apartment, so we had a small kitchen and some privacy from the rest of the guests, and there would be breakfast served on the rooftop terrace in the morning. Like the rest of the town, everything was painted blue. My nerves had been stretched taut for the duration of the drive, so now I collapsed onto my bed. That turned out to be a mistake, because Moroccan mattresses are very firm, and this one in particular was like flopping onto a table. So, as a note to future Morocco travelers: if you’re used to a pillow-soft bed, you might have a hard time sleeping well (pun very much intended). We braved the downpour once more to find some dinner, but left the rest of the exploring for the next day.
The following morning, I pulled my boots on over my pajamas and found my way up to the rooftop for breakfast. The dark clouds were receding, and as I looked out over the city, I fell in love with Chefchaouen immediately. I sipped coffee and read a book until my friends emerged. A woman served us breakfast, but we soon had to flee indoors with armloads of food because the entirety of the local bee population decided to consume our marmalade.
Located at about 2000 ft. of elevation in the Rif mountains, Chefchaouen was colder than the coast or the desert, but the sun finally came out and provided a beautiful day for exploring. We wandered through the sky-blue streets, crossed a bridge, and followed a walking trail up to the Spanish Mosque on the opposite side of the valley. From there, we had an excellent view of the town and the surrounding mountains. We took copious photos, enjoyed pizza for lunch, then explored the Casbah, or fortress in the middle of town. Hundreds of cats live in Chefchaouen, and the tourists and locals keep them well-fed and maintained compared to the strays in Casablanca. The streets are full of shops selling wool jelabas and coats, art, trinkets, goat cheese, and other products. The town is also known for marijuana, and we were offered hashish a few times, which we politely declined.
After living in Casablanca for a year and a half, I really enjoyed the laid-back feel and fresh mountain air of Chefchaouen. I would love to go back and spend a week or two there, exploring the nearby hiking trails, waterfalls, and caves. On Friday morning, we enjoyed one more coffee in a rooftop café, and then returned to our rental car. It was bright and sunny, and although the drive back to Casablanca was longer than the drive from Fez, it was much more relaxing. We stopped in Rabat for a late lunch at the scenic restaurant Le Dhow, overlooking the Casbah Oudaias and the Atlantic. After that, it was about an hour left in the car to Casablanca. Driving in Casa traffic for the first time was a little nerve-racking, but my apartment was not far from the main highway into the city, so we encountered no problems.
The following day, my visitors returned to the airport and headed home to the U.S. Our whirlwind tour of six different locations across Morocco (Casa, Marrakesh, Dades Gorge, Sahara, Fez, Chefchaouen) in eight days had been exhausting and stressful at times, but it was so much fun to see new and beautiful places with my friends before heading home. I was so thankful they had chosen to come, and it was hard to say goodbye knowing I too would soon be boarding a plane and bidding farewell to the country that had been my home for a year and a half.
Back at the apartment, I had four days to pack up my life into a suitcase and say goodbye to my friends. Looking back at photos from Chefchaouen, I’m happy that the lovely blue city was the grand finale to both our trip and my stay in Morocco.