We love the independent travel that a rental car offers. Rolling down the road, we get lost numerous times. Many people, lots of them dressed in long robes with pointed hoods, wander along the roadside. We ask for directions often, cannot understand a word, but head out to where the person points us.
The road narrows when we start our climb into the Rif Mountains. With no shoulder, donkeys, sheep, cows and people often dart from out of nowhere, making for cautious, slower driving, often with an impatient tailgater behind. We dodge pedestrians while driving through several small towns full of men standing road side. There is not a woman in sight, we get whistled at, waved at, and wonder why we stand out so bright.
Finally, we see the town which clings onto a mountainside. One disadvantage of a rental car is that we must drive into the heart of the village. We are hopelessly lost, even in the relatively small town of Chefchaouen, looking for the “Rif,”a budget hotel. The darkness of the evening makes the going tougher. Groups of men, dressed in long robes with pointed hoods, make a silhouette of grim reapers in the distance. Mare and I again realize how Ahmed tried to hustle us by advising us to dress in that manner. We would indeed look pretty, pretty ridiculous. At the very least, would feel like impostors.
I make U-turn after U-turn, and some kid asks if I’d like some marijuana. I reply, “Yes.” (Bad mistake) He tries to sell us kif, (marijuana/hash) even as I drive away. Because the going is slow in the crowded street, I end up running in to him over and over, as we are driving in circles looking for the hotel. He gives us the hard sale, but getting stoned right now is the last thing I need…or is it? Looking back, perhaps it would have mellowed me out some.
Eventually, we find the “Rif” and take a room. ($30US) The bathroom smells so bad that even I won’t take a shower. The hand-held shower sits next to the toilet, by a drain, where the toilet paper would normally be. I understand that this is a cultural thing, but the smell grosses us out.
We need a beer. The one and only bar in town is a “man” bar. I purchase six, small bottles of beer to go, ($16US) while Mare waits outside. Kif is much easier to obtain than beer. The hotel owner will not allow us to sit with the men around the tables on the sidewalk. We either drink beer in our smelly room, or on the rooftop terrace, out of view.
We sit on the rooftop terrace and enjoy expansive views of the Rif Mountains. Mare sees the kid who wants to sell us kif, camping by our car. We are too exhausted to search much for food in the darkness, so we settle for decent pizza at a pastry shop.
In the morning we hike one of the Rif’s peaks to a small, stone church. We welcome the heart pumping exercise, our first since walking the beach back in Tarifa. The beauty of Chefchaouen reveals itself to us in the morning light. We enjoy stupendous views of the town and the valleys hidden in these mountains. The descent of our hike glides us through fluorescent passageways that open up into the Medina’s market square.
An artist that works at the Rif Hotel stares at Mare’s eye. I tell him that “It wasn’t from me.” He laughs, and gives us a brief history lesson. He tells us that every April, at least 1,000 Jews come to the city to visit one of the original Temples, a First House of David, which sits on the other side of the peak we just hiked. This town is the only one where the Muslim symbol of two horns respects one horn as Jewish. Muslims and Jews respect each other’s traditions, as most Muslims in Morocco understand that Judaism’s roots were here prior to Islam. In fact, the blue color of the city was introduced by Jewish refugees in the 1930’s. Christians were not allowed in the city until the Spanish invaded in 1920, but a Jewish leader successfully fought them off. Of course, this is all based on the stoned artist’s interpretation.
Soon, Mare and I hit the road en route to Fes…now a story of its own.