Chefchaouen/Xaouen, Morocco (Maroc)

March 13-15, 2000

The drive from Ceuta was extended by a few stops by our driver to pickup some cigarettes and hash from a friend in one town and then for him to change his clothes in another. I figure he generally doesnīt get to head out this far much and he was making the most of it.

At least it gave us a peek of Tetouan, which really didnīt seem amazing at a surface scratch; however, the palace within Iīm sure is worth taking a look at if your taxi driver decides to take a long bath.

In Chefchaouen, Paco didnīt seem to mind having a "guide" show us to a different hotel than what we were looking for. I didnīt like the idea of not having to a chance to peek in our guidebook again before getting whisked away and knew this guy would stick to us. He agreed to take no money from us and wanted to show us his home town.

The plan was to find a place, eat, and then get some sleep to recover from party crazed Spain. Our guide was waiting for us in the hotel lobby with his friend, promising to take us to a good restaurant after a quick tour of the town.

One of the stops was his "house" which also serves as a textile shop. We were served mint tea (the stuff is fantastic... a ton of sugar, tea and fresh mint leaves) and then given a heavy duty Arabian carpet sales pitch.

Eventually we grew tired and left. The Argentinians went back to the hotel (Julia got sick) and Paco and I had a fantastic Moroccan meal of tajin and couscous.

Our guide, sat down with us and explained how he was very angry that we didnīt purchase a carpet. We explained that we didnīt come here to buy carpets and we would take care of him tomorrow for showing us around then. He still had an attitude, so Paco gave him more Durhams than he deserved and then I gave him a buck if he promised he would leave us.

Anyway, this didnīt surprise me... I had read all the travel warnings and this stuff happens all the time. Much worse the closer you are to the Northern boarders. I consider it part of the adventure.

Learn this now: la means no in arabic, so find a tune you like and just la la la through the medina like a crazy person and youīll save yourself a little money and a headache.

Chefchaouen as a town is a whole different world that might very well be one of the most intense sights of this trip. Itīs at the base of the Rif mountains which provide a stunning back drop looking across any of the uphill streets. We came at a time where most of the walls (and floors) were freshly painted indigo (to keep away flies somehow) and white (to reflect out the sun). It made the narrow alleys look like igloo tunnels just like in the snow bear cage at the zoo. All of this was in preparation for the festival about to happen where every family buys a live lamb or goat for a feast.

We hit the sack at a reasonable hour, but I awoke just before dawn. I heard a strange animal sound coming from different locations. No wait, thatīs so... itīs almost human, it... it is human!

It was prayer time for the town and it is an eerie, yet somehow beautiful chant. This was definitely a highlight, but Iīll tell you again, it was creepy hearing it in the dark and I was glad to be behind a locked door and barred window.

This day Paco and I climbed more than half way up the Rif. There is apparently a large "hash factory" over the other side. Hashish is illegal in this country, but itīs everywhere in this town. I heard of a good scam. A tourist buys some hash, the dealer rats him out, the police arrest him and give him the option of jail or confiscation of the hash. Of course, the hash is always given up. The police then give the drugs back to the dealer and they split the cash between them and look for another pawn to come by!

I have no proof of this, as I have no intent to go near the stuff and all of the police appear to be honest and helpful. In the larger cities, the police will chase away guides so you can take a look at your guide book.

Anyway, back to the dayīs adventures. We strolled through the medina (a market area that is very small in this city) and into the kahsbah. At our hotel, we also met a cool family from Portugal (the husband was from France, the wife was from Germany and they had a young child too).

Before our evening meal, we took a hike up another hill to an old mosque and climbed the remains of staircase as I sung, Stairway to Heaven in the echoing upwards spiral.

After dinner, we waited until the womenīs turn in the hammam was complete so the three of us guys could go. A hammam is a public bath and another memorable experience.

These places have three wet rooms. One a tad warm, the other warmer and the other a comfortable sauna temperature. Itīs all heated by water over a cedar fire in another room.

The three of us were definitely learning this for the first time. I almost walked in before the womenīs session was over (they have them during the day and the men at night after 8pm), then Juan stepped on the carpet in the dressing room (no shoes are to ever touch these carpets) and Paco didnīt wear any underwear, not expecting to need any for a bath. He ran home and got a pair of boxers.

We grabbed our empty buckets and a guy made a swishing motion in a bucket to me. I nodded and proceeded to swish my hand in a few buckets nodding that the temperature was fine. He looked a bit aggrivated and dumped all the buckets out... he was asking me to help clean them out.

So now imagine a bunch of guys, most sitting on a dirty floor (actually it only looks dirty), washing themselves in their underwear together. You can also get a massage (Juan and Paco did) where a guy will spread your legs and dump hot water over your head.

I have to say it felt great. I later asked a taxi driver how often he goes and he said every five days. Some homes donīt even have showers because of this and it seems to do the trick in this climate; however, New York City cab drivers should take note that every five days doesnīt cut it in a Yonkers summer.

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