Saturday, July 31, 2010

The second leg of Morocco: Casablanca, Chefchaouen and Fez

Casablanca: everyday life

Even though Casablanca doesn't offer much by way of sights and lovely ambiance, we came because it's the least touristy city in Morocco. I like to get a feel for normal everyday life. Here the city runs on its own and tourists are merely spectators.

Sharlene and I reunited in the late afternoon at our hotel (yes, a hotel, albeit a budget one!) which was on the border of the grittier part of town. I was grateful to have my travel buddy back. Then we embarked on Lonely Planet's self-guided walking tour of the city at night. Casablanca has a rich architectural heritage. Most of these buildings were erected in the 1930s.

Movie anyone?

Hotel Lincoln was never restored. It was my favorite building, although somewhat spooky.
You would find beautifully restored hotels next to dilapidated ghettos.

The next morning, we had time for more exploration thanks to the fact that there is only one bus to our next destination, and it left in the afternoon.

Waiting oceanside to tour the main attraction of Casablanca...

The famous Hassan II Mosque completed in 1993.

No wonder why it had modern technology including retractable roofs and heated floors. We got to tour inside too.

Let me in!
These doors could weigh tons and were opened electronically.

Men chilling at a local cafe.
Cafes are men only which is a shame because I do like cafes. Oh well. On the upside, we didn't get harassed on the street all the much.

At the central market.
I had lots of delicious fruit smoothies and Moroccan salads.

Our 24 hours in Casablanca was plenty. We got a glimpse of this real city. We walked through some grittier parts (though not the shanty towns), wealthier parts, near the ocean and ate some good seafood.

Now for our next destination...

Chefchaouen: secluded high in the Rif mountains

We were excited to explore this artsy town painted blue and nestled up in the mountainside bordering a national park.

After an all day 8 hour bus ride, we arrived after 10 pm. Then after a good night sleep, we were off wandering.

On a hilltop overlooking Chefchaouen.

One of the many brilliantly painted blue alley ways.

It was fun to meander this town's medina. Unlike Marrakech, we didn't really have to worry about truly getting lost as it is smaller and more manageable.

Can I go in this door maybe?

The local watering hole.
Children cooled off in the icy water while women did laundry. We of course joined the children.

Local boys (age 11 and 16) selling art in their family store.

I bought a small drawing from their older brother who was at class at the moment. We conversed and bartered in Spanish since Chefchaouen was established by Andalucian Spaniards. It was a relief to be able to communicate a little in this town as most shop owners knew basic Spanish. Later, the little brother helped us find our way back to the center (we tipped him a Dirham).

Another conversation we had in Spanish was with a store owner who insisted that Muslims did not commit 9-11 (we said we know), and that the Americans did 9-11 to ourselves. Interesting ... we had no comment.

Eating, again? Enjoying a smoothie and pastries at the local bakery.

Did I mention that Morocco surprisingly had awesome pastries? It must be the French influence. And if there are yummy pastries to consume, I will indeed find them!

Arabian nights!
Palm trees and all. We even had live music from the streets too.

Our second day, we wanted to go out trekking. Our Scottish runned B&B arranged to have their son, Liam, and a driver, Rashid, take us to the gorge.

The Bridge of God in Ackchour in Talassamtane National Park

We hopped stones and hugged walls for about an hour to make it here. This park was beautiful, though a lot more populated than I expected. It's the place to be for the locals.

I really wanted to jump in the water, but only saw men, and definitely did not want to go in my swimsuit. Do women go in and how? Finally, I saw a few women go in fully dressed, so I joined them!

Me and the local woman swimming fully clothed.
Thank goodness for Northface quick dry gear.

Marijuana anyone?
Chefchaouen is infamous for pot (Moroccans call it kif). That is the appeal for most backpackers, but it's not my cup of tea so I politely passed several times. I was amazed at how many cigarette/marijuana combos were consumed by Liam who was only 18, and his parents. Probably about 2 dozen per person per a day! I think I lost at least a few days off of my life from second hand smoke here. It does add something to the laid back culture though.

Our homemade meal by the Moroccan neighbor. By far the best ever. Traditional couscous with vegetables, and dates and caramelized onions.

Last destination: Fez

We had just an afternoon here. We only wanted to meander the medina, but not get too lost since we needed to catch our flight in the evening.

The entrance to the medina.
The tile work in this city is exquisite.

Working or maybe just pondering in the metal section of the medina.

I can't get enough Moroccan tea!

Beatifully and brightly colored woven linen

Good-bye Morocco!

We caught our $33 flight back to London along with our newly made English friends. By the way, the backpack above contained all the stuff I carried for the entire trip. It had to fit my purse and food I lugged around too because of restrictions on budget airlines.

My Moroccan travel route

Although I was only here for 9 days, I felt like I got a good feel for the whole country. I spent 18 hours on busses, 18 hours in a car, 3 hours on camel, 3 hours on train and many on foot jetting everywhere to reach all terrains: cities traditional and new, towns coastal and in the mountain, dessert terrain, and national park.

I am going to miss the scrumptuous cheap food (including the pastries) and OJ of Morocco, the local culture (though not the friendly men) and the experiences.

What next? London baby.


caroline said...

The night photo is gorgeous, and the homemade dinner looks awesome! :)

sharock said...

only 9 days, huh? how about 5? :) great traveling with you as always.

shinta said...

Hey, nice story written here. Help me a lot, thanks! I'm going to Morocco from Dec 11-18, 2010: Casablanca - Marrakesh - Erg Chigaga - Marrakesh - Fez - Chefchaouen - Casablanca :) Too optimistic plan. Still haven't found night bus from Chaouen to Casablanca :(

Kristian Cani said...

I very much enjoy your posts - especially those on Morocco. I was there for two months in 2007. I fully agree on your thoughts. Morocco is beautiful, but it should stop occupying Western Sahara (see link) and the men are too rough/nasty towards women. Keep on posting!

Zaynoun Yassin said...

wonderful posts and titles thanks for sharing:)

@ Kristian Cani: next time when you hear Morocco it means from Tangier to Guerguerat, there had never been a country south Morocco other than Mauritania to be Occupied!