A Day In Chefchaouen : Getting Lost in the Blue City
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A Day In Chefchaouen : Getting Lost in the Blue City

Part 1. RIP Camera. It’s been real.

July 1, 2018. This week I’ve learned that I don’t actually have athletes’ foot on my hands. I have pompholyx! Which basically means that I’ve stressed myself to the point that I’ve given myself warts. Why was I so distressed that my body decided to foster new forms of eczema? We’d just arrived to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and my brand spankin’ new camera decided to shit itself. No impact. No water damage. No warning. Just dead.

Thnakfully, I knew the camera was under a year old, so the repair would be covered by Fuji’s limited warranty. While I wouldn’t have a camera to photograph the stunning blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco – at least I’d have a replacement on the way soon. Fuji would could to my rescue. They’d be my white knight.

Wrong.

So indescribably wrong.

Never buy a Fujifilm camera. Never, ever. Their customer service is a complete dumpster fire, manned by a team of utterly incompetent twonks. I called to report that my camera was now a $1,000 paperweight and began reading my serial number so they could get this replacement rollin’, only to be interrupted midway through my recitation.

“Oh, no no. That’s not necessary. We have no way of tracking your equipment via the serial number,” he says condescendingly. The pompousness oozed through the phone; like the little shit was high on his employee-of-the-month status.

 

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“Are you kidding me? Then why the fuck is it serialized?,” I replied totally dumbfounded.

The cocksmoke says, “Our system doesn’t work like that. I need a copy of your original receipt. Without the original receipt, I can’t help you. It’ll be $475 for the repair and we don’t ship to Europe….so…I can’t really help you.”

It’s like saying, “Officer! Officer, this guy! This guy shot my wife!! We’ve got him though! We’ve got his fingerprints all over the place! The bastard even admits he did it!”

Then the cop is staring at you like you have three heads and goes, “…But do you have his birth certificate with you? No? No birth certificate? Ah. Sorry, man. Better luck next wife.”

I’d bought the camera on eBay only 2 months prior;  told it was practically new and still within warranty. Mr. Fuji then goes on to explain that even if I had the original receipt, the warranty doesn’t follow the camera, it follows the owner. So, unless I was the original owner I was SOL.

 

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Following suggestions of some friends online, I created a GoFundMe page in attempt to raise the $950 for a replacement camera. I hate asking for money; I feel like I’m Oliver Twisting all over everyone’s virtual doorsteps. Facebook; my soup kitchen. But, it was unbelievable the way people came through. The $950 goal was met in under 8 hours, and the encouraging comments made go full Sally Fields.

 

 

So, tomorrow, a new camera is on the way! But, in the meantime, let be get back to the story of Chefchaouen, cell phone photos, and my bumpy hands.

Part 2. The Blue Pearl.

I’d been to Morocco before, but never to Chefchaouen. Of course I’d seen it before, the legendary “Blue Pearl of Morocco.” The infamous blue-washed city that looked like a magical Smurf precinct; the perfect set for a live action cartoon. It was always in the social media spotlight. Insta, Insta, Snapchat, Facebook, hashtag BLUETIFUL.

 

 

OMG giiiiirls, Chefchaouen totally BLUUUUUE me away!

We’d seen the photos. We’d seen the azure alleyways and cobalt corridors. Yes, internet, you got our attention. We’re captivated, we’re curious. Is the whole city really that blue? Or is there just a picturesque back street with a two hour queue of tourists with selfie sticks eagerly awaiting their time to shine?

 

 

Truth is, it’s really really blue.

 

 

Chefchaouen is a charming small city tucked away in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. Many Jews settled into the town after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times. It wasn’t until 1492 that Chefchaouen received it’s famous blue hue, when Jewish refugees first painted the city after fleeing Hitler. The Jews evading the Spanish Inquisition painted the city blue to represent the sky and heaven; a constant reminder to live a spiritual life.  If you ask some people here, they’ll tell you the city is covered in blue to prevent mosquitos. That answer didn’t sound as deep, so I’m going to stick with the more ethereal explanation. Regardless of the account you chose to believe, the tradition lives on, and over half a century later, and the city continues to receiving a fresh coat of blue paint every year.

 

 

Chefchaouen is calm town; a pocket of serenity after arriving from the remarkably hectic city of Fes. I didn’t even bother writing about Morocco’s second largest city, mainly because I stayed in the riad for most our time there. Fes, a city that has long been fermenting in it’s own frenzy, smells like a concoction of motor oil, mint, and donkey shit. Already bent out of shape about the camera incident, I wasn’t really in the mood for the sensory explosion, nor the aggressive beggar boys who are a stain to their own society.

 

 

So yes, after that, Chefchaouen came across as even more of a gem. While it’s only a 3.5 hour bus ride from Tangier or a 4.5 hour bus ride from Fes, only a fraction of the tourists make the journey. The CTM bus was comfortable, and cost a mere 75 Dh ($7.50). It’s also very affordable to take a local taxi in Morocco, so there’s really no reason not to. A cab ride pretty much anywhere within the blue city won’t cost you more than 10-15 Dh ($1 or so).

 

 

It’s not just transportation, everything is cheap here. Our private room in Hotel Souika was 140 Dh, or $14 per night. It had a double bed along with a twin bed and was more than enough room for 3 people. We spent the next 3 days just getting lost around the city – that’s what you do here, because there isn’t actually a lot “to do.” You eat, you shop, and you wander around the beautiful blue labyrinth. It’s a photographer’s dream – around every corner is another maze, a pretty blue staircase, or flowerpot lined alleyway. Tiny tunnels and miniature doors scattered along the walls look like they’re made for hunchbacked grannies. You can spend a full day photographing the scenery, but unless you’re armed with a zoom lens, you’re going to have a very hard time capturing photos of people.

 

 

Photography Tips in Chefchaouen

 

 

People here do NOT want their picture taken. If they see you with a camera, they will walk past you with a hand over their face. If you point your camera towards a shop window, they’ll all do the same. If you do photograph someone, you’re expected to pay. Instead of photographing without consent, I tried to ask a photogenic shop owner if I could take a picture of him and offered him the 5 Dh coin I had in my pocket (50 cents US, but that’s what I had available). He coarsely replied, “You think I will sell my body for 50 cents?” Get away from here. You insult me.” Since I’d literally just purchased a delicious sandwich for 4 Dh (40 cents), I figured that was a pretty decent offer for standing still for 5 seconds and doing nothing. But okay dude, clearly you don’t eat the same sandwiches I do. I moved on.

 

 

In some of the most beautiful spots, where you’ll often find people in queue to snap a selfie, groups of young children will stand behind you, sure to be in your image. If you wriggle around and try to shoot from a different angle, they’ll follow and make every effort to be in your photo. Once you give up, and snap the picture anyway, they’ll bombard you and demand money because you took photos of them without their consent. They’ll reach for your camera, telling you to show them your screen and demand you either pay them or delete the photos. No worries, don’t delete anything, just shake them off. They’ll only follow you for so long. I was patiently ignoring one of them that was shouting at me for quite some time, until  I very unexpectedly turned around and stomped my foot. The kid ran away so fast that he lost his shoe and was scared to come back for it; then proceeded to yelled “Fuck you” from down the stairway he’d retreated to. With one shoe on.

 

 

Like I said, with a zoom lens, if you can go unnoticed, you’ll capture some great shots of folks in traditional garb amidst the most eye-catching city you can imagine. These are probably some of the most incredible street photography opportunities in the world for the patient, stealthy photographer. The best shots will come early in the morning (between 6:30am and 8am was when I had the best luck), because the streets are desolate of any tourists. No restaurants are serving, no businesses have opened up shop, there’s really no reason to be up unless you’re a photographer on a mission. Later in the afternoon, we overheard multiple tourists with DSLR cameras upset about how “their shots weren’t turning out.” It was because the bright sun peaking over the buildings was creating harsh, overexposed sections in their beautiful blue images. Welp. Early bird catches the worm.

 

 

What to Eat

 

I’ll always recommend street food over eating at a restaurant. You can find good street food for a tenth of the price of dining in a restaurant. The key is always to follow the locals. They obviously know their city’s best eats. Around the corner from our hotel, we noticed a flash mob of locals at one man’s food booth. Their arms were flailing wildly the air, waving their coins in hopes to receive the next sandwich. The guy couldn’t make them fast enough. I wasn’t even hungry but I had to know what all the hype was about; why did his stall look like doorbuster deals on Black Friday? He only served one thing, but whatever it was, people were buying three and four of them. Those who were lucky enough to be near the front of the crowd would stand there devouring their sandwich, then buy another before giving up their spot. Beautiful women in hijabs were carnivorously gorging on these sammies, like wild lions that had just caught a long-awaited gazelle.

 

 

When I eventually had one in my hand, I finally figured out what it was. It was curried potato cakes on fresh bread, topped with a chickpea omelette and chili sauce. It was by far the least attractive and most delicious thing I’d eaten in the country. And it was 40 cents. 4Dh. I talked about this sandwich for like 2 days. I went back for seconds, then thirds. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having one right now as I write this.

 

 

If you are in the mood for a nice dinner at a sit-down restaurant, you’ll find quite a few places with great couscous or tajine. You’re going to see a lot of tajine in Morocco. Tajine is is a Berber dish named after the earthenware pot in which it’s cooked. It’s got a circular base with low sides, and a large cone that sits overtop while the food simmers inside. The cone-shaped lid traps steam, then returns the condensed liquid back down into the dish. 

You’ll find all types of slow-cooked savory goodness in these tajines. Lamb, Chicken, Fish, Veggies – all heavily spiced with cinnamon, saffron, paprika, ginger, and more. My favorite came from Cafe Restaurant Sofia . It was a dish of fall-off-the-bone lamb, spiced plums, topped with slivered almonds. We were given a big bowl of bread to sop up every last bit of the tasty stew. Feral cats waited anxiously at my ankles for me to throw them the bones. I peeked around and made sure Sofia wasn’t looking, then fed the fur babies all the fatty bits. 

Good, memorable tajine like this won’t run you more than 40-50 Dh ($4 – 5). Be careful, because there’s also a bunch of bullshit tajine hanging around too, so if you’re going to sit down at a restaurant don’t just pick one willy-nilly. Do your research on the restaurant so you don’t wind up lifting the lid only to be let down by a pile of sad potatoes. 

 

What to Drink

 

First and foremost, I’ll note that Chefchaouen is a dry town. No ice cold beer. No minty fresh mojitos. No alcohol whatsoever. It’s old fashioned, it’s Muslim, they think alcohol consumption is distasteful.  I get it, I respect it, but I don’t like it. Apparently there’s two places that serve alcohol outside of the old city – one bar ten minutes downhill and one hotel at pretty much the highest peak overlooking the city. I heard not to go to the bar as single women because it’s basically a smokey basement full of sketchy prostitutes. We all know I’m down for a night on the town with fun hookers, but I opt to pass on sketchy prostitutes. Certainly not climbing a mountain for a severely overpriced watery lager….so that other option is out of the question. I stick to juice. 

Hands down, the best part about the culinary experience in Chefchaouen is the 10 Dh ($1) fresh juice. Any kind of juice you want. $1. Made right in front of you. Kiwi, mango, papaya, orange, apple, peach, nectarine, banana, avocado! Yes! $1 avocado smoothies!!! And yes, you can mix whatever flavors you want and it STILL costs $1 ! I was losing my mind. You’ll have to get used to the fact that none of the juice is cold (ice seems to be impossible to find) – but who cares. It’s delicious and its $1. 

Then, just when you think you’ve tried it all, there’s ZaaZaa. It sounds like the latest in gay slang, but in reality it is Chefchaouen’s famous drink. The word ‘ZaaZaa’ is just another way to say  ‘crazy,’ simply because the drink is like a weird magic potion found in every pastry shop or cafe window. Every place does it slightly differently, adding their own special touches. At it’s core, a ZaaZaa is half avocado smoothie, and half mixed fruit smoothie. At the bottom of the cup there is a layer of custard along with chunks of mixed fruit (peaches, kiwi, bananas, etc). It’s topped with another layer of mixed fruit, dressed with a big helping of whipped cream, then sprinkled with almond chips & raisins. Then, for the hell of it, they throw in a swizzle stick cookie straw thing. 

 

 

It’s smart. Everyone’s buying fresh juices, so when there’s leftover juice that didn’t fit in the cup, they mix all of the juices in a big blender. Extra fruit pieces? Throw them in a big bowl. It’s an efficient and delicious way to utilize all your leftovers and create some weird piece of liquid abstract art that could should be serving at Art Basel for $7.49 per cup. 

Here? You guessed it. 10 Dh. $1. 

All in all, the visit to Morocco lasted 7 days, in which I spent under $200. We leave happily, with both full bellies and wallets. 

 

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Welcome to the adventures & misadventures of a solo female traveler. Detailed itineraries, fresh discoveries, photo recaps, and all the storytime so you can live vicariously thru my journals as I weasel my way across the world.

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