Rif, Kif and Fez, September 2009

For my final travelogue in Morocco I think I have saved the best till last. From Tangier I headed to the Rif mountains to the village of Chefchaouen.  This town must be on your list of 101 places to see before you die! I can honestly say that I have never been struck with a scene more picturesque as this little town – from Switzerland to the Andes this wins my vote. The medina is sprawled up a steep hillside, with winding alleyways, stairs and walls all made from mudbrick covered in limestone plaster and dotted with heavy carved wooden doors – but the whole surreal scene is painted from head to toe in various shades of blue.  Quaint signs swing above shop fronts lit by lanterns, grapevines climb lazily over archways and jasmine hangs from walls and around window shutters.  But everything is blue – like an entire Greek island that went through the wash with a trucker’s singlet – I have never seen a prettier, nor bluer village.

I was also taken to gastronomy heaven there having worked my way quickly through the local offerings of roasted pigeon, stuffed with nuts and date sauce, roasted rabbit with figs and spiced chicken and almond pastries (pastilla or bisteeya) – all with change from $10 – it certainly made a novel change from tajine and couscous for a few days.

Some travel trivia though – the Rif mountains have a darker side as this region is the world’s single biggest producer of marijuana (called Kif here) accounting for a quarter of the world’s supply.

And so from Rif to Fez.  I have spent the last few days of my journey exploring the laneways of the Fez medina – a commercial site that has existed for over a millenium now.  It is quite amazing to still see artisans in full creative flight in their workshops, painting, weaving, carving, hammering – the ingenuity and beauty of human invention that brings to life wonderful and practical objects – without a Made In China sticker in sight. My backpack is coming home a little heavier than when I left, but the haggling in Fez is not for the fainthearted. I accord great respect to these merchants with centuries of trading experience, and while I think I may have come away with a few bargains it’s probably fairer to say that in my negotiations I only narrowly avoided being completely fleeced by crafty salesman.

I have also washed off the last of the Moroccan dirt in a hammam, or traditional bathhouse in Fez. For many Moroccans this is a way of life as the mudbrick foundations of dwellings in the medina don’t lend themselves to plumbing (or to being sodden) and families still go to communal fountains attached to the mosques to collect water daily, and to the communal bathhouses when it’s time for a shower.  So for $15 I had the foreigner’s ‘scrub and rub’ – you get over your inhibitions and get your kit off to join in the fun. Next thing you know a fat, wet, naked Moroccan woman was bent over me scrubbing me raw, then massaging emollients into my skin;  I was left in the steam room to cook for a bit and then finally bucketed down with copious amounts of warm water like a toddler at bathtime.  It is an interesting insight to this lifestyle – especially given the general difficulty with meeting any women amongst Islamic cultures. The contrast between the modest shrouded figures of women in the street and the boisterous communal nakedness in the hammam was a fascination for me.

And so ends another adventure for me, but I hope that it has opened the door a little for you on the wonders of Morocco. Perhaps I’ll be back some day .. in’shallah!


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