After the crazy ordeal of getting into Morocco and getting to the town, it was so nice to arrive in Chefchaouen (pronounced Chef-showen). Chefchaouen is about two hours from the coastal town of Ceuta along the straight of Gibraltar and it is on the outskirts of the Rif Mountains. Interesting facts: The town was closed to foreigners until 1920 and it is a dry town with no alcohol.
The main attraction of the city is the medina, which is the old quarter and is completely walled, which is common for many North African cities. It’s full of narrow, cobblestone maze-like streets. And, the distinguishing feature of this particular medina is that everything is painted blue. The whole town is white and blue…blue walls, blue tiles, blue streets. The shades vary making the city into a blue ombre work of art. The predominant blue color is the most amazing shade of periwinkle. Talk about a photographer’s dream!
When we arrived at our hotel, Casa Perleta, it was like an oasis. Especially since we were still unnerved by the day’s events with the border crossing and taxi ride. We were welcomed by a very helpful but chill hotel employee. The hotel was gorgeous. Blue, as well, with the amazing horseshoe arches, Moroccan lanterns, beautiful red-patterned fabrics, a rooftop terrace and a charming and big room. We had a vaulted wood ceiling with the most detailed craftsmanship. They sent up fruit and juice to our room, which we really appreciated. Once we got settled, we ventured out.
I was stunned at how pretty every little nook and cranny of this town was. As we walked the streets, I was still waiting for touts to jump out and harass us, but this did not happen at all. In fact, the adults totally ignored us.
However, the children would greet us by saying “hola” which we found to be so cute.
After being there for about an hour, the mosques started ringing out in unison the call to prayer. We’re not in Kansas any more. It was a neat experience.
The town was cultural shock in the best kind of way. First time on the continent of Africa. First time in a Muslim country. First time in a medina. First time hearing the call to prayer in person.
Even though this town is off the beaten path, it also is not a secret any more and has a fair bit of tourism. Mostly of the solo backpacker variety. We actually saw a few Americans here, though we never ran into one single fellow countryman while in Spain (except for the airport).
We sat down at a cafe in the main plaza to rest and have a drink. I decided to try the mint tea, which is the most common beverage here. And, Erick got a Coke (with the label in Arabic!) My mint tea came and I picked up the glass and immediately recoiled because it was like 1000 degrees. Serving hot drinks in glassware in the smartest in my opinion. I wanted to love it…I love mint…but it was way too sweet for me, which is typical of how they serve it.
Later, as we were wandering around, suddenly an empty street became dotted with people. We saw the people streaming out of a doorway and realized they were leaving the mosque. They were all singing in unison, which was quite beautiful to see.
We walked down to the nearby river to check it out. This is where people come to swim, cool off from the oppressive heat and do their laundry.
We went back to our room to rest for a while. Realizing we didn’t eat lunch, suddenly we were very hungry and decided to head out to dinner. But first, we enjoyed the view from the hotel terrace of the sunset over the town.
Our hotel suggested Casa Hassan for dinner and so we went there. (I had also read it was good.) We got there and they told us they were closed. Not knowing where else to go, we went back to the hotel to ask. He says, “Oh yea, it’s Ramadan. Everything is closed.” I’m thinking, uh-oh. But he says they should open up later after it’s dark and after they’ve had a chance to break their fast. So, we went out and found one small street vendor and bought Pringles, yogurt and Coke. I was afraid this might be our only meal and was terribly disappointed as I’d been looking forward to Moroccan food. We gobbled down our snacks, played on the internet and later went back out again. Success! They’re open this time.
The inside of the restaurant is really pretty with massive lanterns, wood and tile tables and pretty arches. The waiters wear the typical harem pants, which I love. You can see the kitchen through a huge arch and you see the women wearing white headscarves scurrying around preparing the food. First, they brought bread out to the table and a bowl of olives.
I had the Moroccan salad – tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers – and it was delicious. I also ordered the Lemon Chicken Tagine with a side of couscous. I was fully expecting to love it, but sadly I did not. The chicken was like rubber. Seriously. Rubber. It took an inordinate amount of time to chew one bite. Never, ever have I tasted chicken like this. It’s a shame too because the sauce and seasonings were great. So, I don’t know what happened with this dish. Erick has the chicken kebabs and vegetables, which were really good. Also, my side of couscous — delicious! So, all in all, we enjoyed most of the food, and enjoyed the ambiance and experience.
On our way back to the hotel, we saw people carrying large trays of uncooked baked goods. What they do here is make their bread or whatever and then take it to the town oven to be cooked. Pretty neat.