We reached Chefchaouen around noon, to begin a whirlwind 24-hour visit of the “blue city” on the eve of Ramadan. You enter by crossing over a small waterfall where women and men wash clothes with buckets and washboards. There are many myths throughout Morocco about why Chefchaouen is painted blue and white. The reality is that at one point in its medieval past, the Jews of the area were ordered to relocate within the walls of Chefchaouen for their own protection. They decorated their new town with colors that are still used worldwide in traditional Jewish décor. The Jews are gone (to Israel, mostly) but the tradition remains.
Chefchaouen is a photographer’s dream. Surrounded by the Rif mountains, every blue alley and decorative door competed for our camera’s attention, and they all got it; but the residents, even the children, are especially sensitive to having their photos taken. The one exception was my little friend Mohamed, a four-year-old boy who sat in my lap playing with me and my camera while we talked to his older sisters for a half hour.
Later in the afternoon, we looked for coffee. All of the 5 or 6 cafes along the main square have young men trying to pull you in, claiming that their establishment has the best coffee in town. We picked one to the chagrin of their competitors, got excellent café au lait, and struck up a conversation with the hawkers.
We expressed our admiration at how they could smoothly switch from Spanish to Chinese to English depending on the real or imagined nationality of the tourists walking by. Yvonne said that it was like a game, and they agreed. But when she said it was like fishing for tourists, they disagreed. Yes, they have fun with it; they are doing their job but visitors have to be treated with respect. Too bad the visitors don’t feel the love!
We decided to have fun and join the game. Yvonne called out to the tourists from our table: “The coffee is good here, come have some!” The proprietor offered us free coffee or tea if Yvonne succeeded in bringing in business, but no luck. We’d try to size them up; this couple had suitcases and wanted to get to their hotel, while those two were backpackers and didn’t have any money. It was late, and there weren’t many tourists left. So we paid, and then visited the kasbah (now a museum) across the street. Looking down from the top of the fortress tower, we saw 2 men unrolling huge carpets to cover the sprawling roof of the mosque below. They were expecting a lot of people that night.
When the sun set, we had dinner in a little restaurant where I enjoyed the most delicious tagine I’ve had thus far: Goat meat with prunes, perfectly flavored. Yvonne stuck to beef. Unfortunately, they were out of ox penis (I’m serious, it was on the menu). We sat with a couple of young travelers: He is 23 from Alberta, Canada and has been traveling the world for 9 months. She is only 18, from Wellington, New Zealand and 2 months into her one-year adventure. Despite the age difference between them and us, we spent hours hanging out and talking. At some point during the evening, we heard a siren blast in the distance and soon afterward, a large group of children began singing in the street.
Tomorrow afternoon we head to Fes, but tonight is the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan and somehow, there is something magical in the air.