Tan Wee Cheng's Journey Through  Morocco, Land of the Furthest West

2 Mar: Chefchaouen - Marijuana Country Africa

The Alpes, Beggars And All

Armed with Chef written in Arabic, I bought the ticket without any problem.  I must confess that the adventurous side of me did hope that the bus would end up in a place with a similar name in either Algeria or Mauritania.

It was a five-hour journey northwards, into the wild Rif Mountains, where courageous Berbers fought against the invading Spanish who declared a protectorate in 1912.  The Riffian Republic declared by Abd el-Krim nearly defeated the Spanish, but independence hopes were crashed when the French came to the rescue of the Spanish five years later.

Map of the Riffian Republic

The bus passed many towns and villages, with people boarding and alighting from the bus all the time.  I was getting a little impatient.  Not so much by the journey per se, but everytime the bus stops somewhere, hawkers and beggars of various categories boarded the bus.  The former sold anything from overpriced and half-melted chocolates to crumbled tissue paper.  It would be alright if they merely announce their presence and walk pass me.  However, most of them are anxious that the supposedly all-wealthy foreigner buys something.  Most seemed to spend a few moments more with me, uttering strange messages.  Who knows, something like "bloody rich foreigner, buy something ! buy something !"  I wished they gave me some lucky numbers for the National Lottery.  The same goes for the beggars.  In fact, it was worse, for some of them would even pull my sleeves, hoping for sympathy.  Very irritating indeed.  Some beggars do provide "entertainment", by quoting from the Quran, or sing on the bus.  But most are just plain boring.  At a twenty minute stop in the mountain (and formerly Jewish) town of Ouazzane, at least four beggars, one aspiring singer and five hawkers boarded the bus.  In fact, at one stage, a hawker, the singer and one other beggar was on the bus at the same time.  The bus was literally turned into a circus.

The scenery was great.  Snow-capped mountains and little green meadows.  Parts of it reminded me of the Swiss Alps, and most places were green.  I began to see many women wearing the traditional Riffian headdress I saw in Tangier.  Reached Chefchaouen, also known as Chaouen, at 2 pm.

Boy: "Quick, I must hide before that weird stranger kidnap me !"
From the courtyard of the Pension
Taking a break in the Square (Castle behind)

Marijuana Country Africa

Cool Chefchaouen - populated by expelled Spanish Muslims, who, amazed by the beautiful surroundings and mountain peaks, named the place "Look at the peaks".  Given its isolation, its inhabitants spoke an ancient variety of Castilian until the 20th century, and not surprisingly (given their earlier nasty experiences with Spanish Christians), banned non-Muslims from entering the town until 1920, when their ancient enemies occupied it.  Today, the town is famous for its Andalusian "white house" architecture - whitewashed houses, narrow blue-painted lanes, blue doors and windows, little iron-cast balconies, and its very Spanish-like plaza.  But people also come here for another reason - Chefchaouen is Marijuana Country Africa.  Located in the Rif Mountains, Africa's main marijuana or kif production area, "Chef" has a reputation among hippies and junkies as the place to go for cheap supply of drugs.

The bus dumped me at the new bus station located outside the town centre.  The town has apparently expanded a fair bit, with four to six storey (and many half-built) buildings in the suburbs.  Many of these actually looked like urban slumps, with lots of rubbish.  I wasn't impressed.  The walk uphill towards the town centre was tough, and I half-regretted coming.  No ladies in traditional Mexican-style hats in sight yet.  My clothes had also become wet with perspire, and my spectacles a little blurred.  Suddenly, I entered the Medina and was soon a lost kid in its maze-like alleys.  And then I began to see locals in traditional headdresses, white houses and blue streets.  Wow, cool place !  A few enquiries soon brought me to the pension listed in the Lonely Planet, Pension La Castellana (DH 30).  A nice place with its Andalusian courtyard in the middle.  Amazing !  I had fallen in love with this place !

Dumped my backpack in the room and off I was to explore the town.  The central square, Plaza Uta-Hammam, was a nice place with a number of cafes and the Kashbah where Riffian national hero, Abd el-Krim once held out against the Spanish.  Chef is  also a pretty laid-back place and tourists here appeared to be younger compared to tourists in other parts of Morocco.  Many hippies and people with long hair, pale complexion and piercings around too.  The streets are pretty quaint and kids running everywhere shouting "Hola ! Hola !"  This place is amazingly Spanish.

I Am A Good Man…

In the narrow alleys, I bumped into a man who had earlier showed me the way to Pension La Castellana.  Hussein asked if I wanted to see local crafts.  As he had earlier helped me, I decided to be nice by visiting his shop.  I didn't buy anything and although he appeared a little disappointed, he insisted showing me other interesting parts of the town.  He wanted to bring me to the town's spring higher up the hill.  I followed him for a while through picturesque little streets, until I reached what seemed to be the edge of town.  He pointed to a little building which he claimed to be the spring source, but I saw a group of strange-behaving young men around there, about a hundred meters from where I was standing.  Hmm, I was suspicious - what if those were robbers ?  I quickly told Hussein I had to leave right away, and then ran downhill towards the Plaza.  My heart beat rapidly, while Hussein shouted "Hey ! Where are you going ?  Where are you going ?"

I felt safer when I was not far from the Plaza, at a lane full of people.  Finally, Hussein caught up with me.  He said, "I am a good man.  You may meet some bad people, and so you need my help.  What are you worried about ?"

I felt a little embarrassed.  Maybe I had over-reacted.  Before I could say anything, Hussein continued, "Maybe you are not interested in the springs.  But do you want to smoke ?  I can help you with this, and it's safe with me…"

"No thanks," I interrupted, "I'm sure now that I don't need your help."  Thereupon, I ignored him, and walked towards the Plaza in large strides.

Is this Spain ?  The Spanish-style square in the newer part of Chef

More Tales Of Kif & Patio Chats

This is a real budget town - you can't expect a junkie to pay huge sums for a meal, right ?  I had a wonderful dinner at a LP-recommended restaurant for a small sum, and a hair cut which cost DH 15, 50% more than what the locals normally pay.  One  thing about Chef is that it's small, and that means boredom for a big city kid like me.  I have seen most of what's worth seeing and decided to leave the next day.

Took a bath at the hotel and wandered round the Plaza again.  It's nightfall now, but the cafes of Chef closes late.  I had delightful mint tea at a café, having small talk with locals, one of whom asked me whether I want to join a "smoking fiesta".  When I said no, he followed up with "So, do you want women instead ?"  Memories of Tangier returned.  Well, I was less than 100 km from that city of sin.  I was not surprised.  Few come here for Andalusian architecture and cool weather.  A pity for a town with something real to offer.

Back at the hotel, I can't escape kif either.  Sat down with a friendly hotel worker - let's call him Hassan - to have an orange, and he asked if I wanted to join him "smoking".  I declined politely, but stayed to watch him carefully unrolling a small tube of kif, and then indulging with great pleasure.  So, it's not just a foreigner's kick, but one enjoyed by locals as well. The burden on this country must be tremendous.

A young Swede soon checked into the pension.  After he had settled down, we had the usual traveller's small talk.  Once again, Hassan offered the Swede kif.  The Viking kid looked at me, wondering if he should accept it.  Hassan couldn't understand English and so I advised Lars the Swede to be careful, for I had heard stories of kif-related blackmails.  Lars was obviously at a dilemma - here's some free stuff that cost hell of a bomb at home, and should he refuse it ?  Well, confused but wanting to play safe, he turned down Hassan's offer.

Lars had just arrived from Spain and crossed the Straits of Gibraltar today.  When  he was in Tetouan, he got into trouble by accepting "free" kif.  Thereupon, the conmen promptly threatened to "create trouble" - in his own words - if he doesn't pay  US$100.  And so Lars' wallet was US$100 lighter on the first day of his trip.

Soon, an Aussie and his French-Canadian friend ("We are not related," they insisted, and then gave each other a naughty look) joined us.  Lars promptly asked them about Hassan's offer.

"Hassan's a nice guy - it's just local hospitality he's offering you, although you'd better not accept the stuff they offer in the streets.  Those will get you into trouble," Mike advised.  He added, "If you want more of these, I can bring you to my regular supplier for high quality and reasonably priced ones."

Lars was delighted.  He had met just the "right" guy.  "Wow ! Cool !  I'm going to stay here longer !"

"I have stayed here four weeks, but Sussanne over there on the 2nd floor had been here for 3 months.  You know, it's a cool town, cheap food and kif… it's the best place on earth."  Mike said.

At this point, Mike and his companion decided to go out for dinner, and promised to tell Lars more about the town later.  Lars, delighted with the advice, approached Hassan, and was soon puffing away at the other end of the patio.  Well, the plague of drugs upon the western civilisation… Have old virtues and values faded away ?

It was about full moon and the skies were cloudless and full of stars.  I was admiring  the stars, when suddenly, my peace was interrupted by movement at another end of the patio.  A German hippy couple had just emerged together from the small bathroom.  The hot water shower had not worked well when I used it earlier, but this couple had obviously enjoyed themselves, their eyes remained stuck with each other as they walked across the patio.  I could imagine how cold the water must had been in such freezing temperature, but it was clear that the heat of bathroom passion had conquered all.  For the lone, non-smoking traveller, however, winter temperature wasn't the exactly the most motivating thing for late nights in the open.  I decided to  retire for the day.

3 Mar: Rabat - Graceful Capital

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