For all my longing to visit Morocco, in truth I have known nothing at all about its reality, drawn instead to imaginings conjured by words: desert wind, Aladdin, magic carpets, Sheherezade, Bedouin, dates, mint, storytellers.
When an image of Chefchaouen popped onto my computer screen I knew immediately this would be the starting place of my week’s adventure in Morocco.
And even having pictured Chefchaouen on the screen, I was still unprepared for its beauty – and its peace.
Chefchaouen is blue.
Blue blue blue.
Jewish refugees painted it blue and tides of humanity have kept it so since.
It is smaller than I expected, nestled into the Rif Mountains east of Tangier.
As I wandered up the steep hill from the bus station, following a scrawled map on a piece of paper I’d copied from Google Maps, sweat pouring into my clothes from the afternoon sun, there was nothing blue about Chefchaouen at all. Just dusty streets, concrete and people going about their business: the usual for just about anywhere on earth.
I had checked my bearings with a man at the bus station. He had told me to head ‘up up up’ to the (gestured the roundabout) and ‘go through door’, gesturing to indicate it was a very big door.
So I did. The door was massive indeed, a giant paired archway the colour of mustard. My little hand drawn map told me to turn right. I ummed and ahhed, went with the map. Soon, I was out of my depth, mine and Google’s both. I asked a policeman standing on the street looking important.
He told me to head back to the roundabout and pointed to go straight, the same direction as ‘the door’.
I turned on my heels, made it back to the roundabout and looked around for the giant paired archway the colour of mustard. There was no ‘door’. The massive gateway had vanished.
I allowed confusion to have its way for only a few moments, and walked on as if the door was indeed there. I walked on and on, putting my head inside the beautiful blue office of a travel agent. I asked him for ‘Hotel Chams’.
‘Oooooo,’ he said. ‘Very confusing.’
Then he led me outside and pointed to a stone stairway in a wall.
‘Go up and up and up – then ask,’ he said.
I laughed. Bounded up the stone stairway, curiosity overcoming the heat. And entered a world of labrynthine stone pathways and blue walls, blue doors, blue blue blue blue blue.
I scrunched up my little map and gave thanks that Google had botched this one. For I was in the heart of beauty and I was happy to be lost among it.
Eventually I asked a man outside a shop for ‘Hotel Chams’. He pointed. I laughed. I was just three doors away from my sweet little blue hotel in the heart of blue.
I showered and walked into the early evening, armed with the name of the best, most expensive restaurant in town: Aladdin, as it happens. I’ll scrimp on everything, except my food.
I wandered about the square, photographed a pair of blue Berber men in front of an irresistible blue mural, one of whom then insisted I look at his wares, beautiful silver trinkets on a blue mat; in the end I told him my sister, who loved to shop would be by soon and I would insist she buy only from Marbur the Berber; I chuckled at the old old gum tree at the centre of the square, sentry to the imposing pair of mountains staring down the town; I drank mint tea, sat around the fountain, played a smiling game with a little boy and watched Chefchaouen go about its business.
There are only two words that come to mind to describe Chefchaouen, Blue and Beauty. If there is a third, it would be Peace.
Dinner was divine. My first tangine. The restaurant was not blue, but beautiful nonetheless. I ate on the verandah, from where I could look into the sunset as the cool breeze of night whispered around me, dueling muezzins cried out from the mosques, the old castle tower of the Alkazabar and the minaret of the new mosque beaming through an Aladdin shaped ‘window’ of wrought iron, proclaiming ‘time’.
My ‘most expensive meal in Chefchaouen’ cost me 95 dirham, with mint tea – about ten bucks.
I wandered home, lost the bearings I was so sure of in the maze of the medina, found them again and fell into the deep deep sleep of a woman content with the world around her – and so very pleased she came to Morocco.