“Mosquitoes don't like the blue; they like yellow”

We got up a little after 8 this morning.  We were still moving, and hoped we weren’t too delayed because of leaving Casablanca late, which was because of the Marrakech buses, which in large part was because of the absurdly long lunch – that would add insult to injury.  It looked like we were close to Tangier on the map on the TV channel showing the cruise map, but it was tough to tell from the scale on the map on the room’s TV.  So we caught up on the trip log and got ready for our excursion.  We arrived at the port around 9:45, but it literally took 45 minutes to dock the boat, probably because 1) we had to back in, and 2) it was really windy.

Once we were finally off the ship, we met Adnane (our guide) and Mohammed (our driver).  We were in a van, and it notably had a carpet on the floor in back seat.  We couldn’t recall having seen that on any of our travels before.  The van had great AC, almost too much, but then again, it gets to over 120F (50 C) in summer here.  We drove through Tangier, which took almost no time.  Seeing some of the dwellings and their rooftops, we kept thinking of Matt Damon in the Bourne Ultimatum running across all the roofs.  Adnane told us that there was a new TGV service – the first high-speed train in Africa – and a new train station for the high-speed trains.  He told us the time from Tangier to Casablanca on the TGV was only 2 hours. 

We thought to ourselves we should have just taken it last night and saved a bunch of time.  We also could’ve stayed in Marrakech for dinner, where apparently the whole square fills up with food stalls every night.  We asked Adnane about whether there were any plans for a bridge or tunnel to Spain (since it is so close and would cut down on boats going back and forth) and he said there were, but that they’d been scuttled because of concern over how to prevent immigrants from crossing into Europe by using the bridge.  We asked him didn’t the same concern exist for the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, and he said yes, but that the enclaves were completely walled and guarded.  That being said, there were a ton of people who entered the enclave last Christmas when the guards were otherwise indisposed.

It was a nice, well-paved road on the way out of Tangier going towards Tetouan.  It was two lanes on both sides, and hardly any vehicles on the road.  As we got close to Tetouan it got really windy.  Adnane mentioned that there are prevailing winds pretty constantly in the area, so there were some windmills around.  There are winds from both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean – today was a “Mediterranean” wind day.  At Tetouan there was a turn-off and we went south towards Chefchaouen.  Surprisingly to us, the hills around us were very green with lots of wildflowers.  There were lots of yellow flowers, purple flowers, and some red tulips as well.  The amount of rain in this area was higher than we would have expected, but it made the area look like around Lake Elsinore when it’s actually green.

Along the drive Adnane gave us some history of Morocco and Chefchaouen.  The first people to come to the area were the Berbers, and then at a later date the Arabs.  Many of the Arabs crossed into Spain, and lived there (known as the Moors) for quite some time until expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella.  Unbeknownst to us, the “Arabs” were not all Muslims, as many of them were Jewish as well.  Also, technically they weren’t expelled from Spain – they were given the choice of converting to Christianity or leaving, and nearly everyone left.  The Moors then came back to Morocco and many of them moved to the area now known as Chefchaouen.  All of the talk about the Moors just had us both thinking about Seinfeld and the Moops.

The drive from Tetouan to Chefchaouen was not as nice as the first part of the drive.  We were going up into the mountains on a windy road, so one slow car or truck in front of you and you were stuck.  We were stuck behind a slow truck for a while, finally made it past them, but then stopped at a restaurant for a bathroom break, and saw the truck go by as we were stopped there.  The restaurant was near a reservoir, and had a nice panoramic lookout over the water and the Rif mountains.  For some odd reason, the restaurant was playing the song “Tequila” on infinite repeat, which means we’ll probably think of this place every time we hear that song now.  It’s now part of the “weird song” list along with the Righteous Brothers in the Bolivian desert and Celine Dion flying in Borneo.

As we continued on, Adnane filled us in a bit on the Moroccan government.  There is a constitutional monarchy, but unlike the UK, the Moroccan king has a lot of power and influence.  Adnane mentioned the king had done a lot to advance the country, in terms of business and technology and infrastructure, and also in terms of advancing the cause for women.  The road we were on was being expanded to allow for more people to easily (and safely) get to Chefchaouen, but in the meantime we were in a long line of slow vehicles behind the slow truck.  So we just took in the scenery, with the green hills, a pine forest, the wildflowers, and lots of cows, goats, and sheep.  Overall, everything was a much better drive than yesterday.

When we could see Chefchaouen in the distance, Adnane pointed to the mountains and told us that Chefchaouen means “between two horns” or something along those lines.  There are two peaks nearby, and Chefchaouen is a bit downhill and collects the water runoff from those mountains.  We asked Adnane why the city was painted all blue.  He said it was for two main reasons, 1) because the Moorish Jews really liked the blue color, and 2) blue supposedly is unpopular with mosquitoes, which are around because of water.  We had no idea mosquitoes cared about color; Adnane told us “Mosquitoes don’t like the blue; they like yellow.”  [Yes, this made us think of Zack Galafanakis.]

We got to town around 1pm.  Adnane mentioned traffic was a little worse than normal, because it was the last weekend before Ramadan and so more people were doing things for the weekend.  We thanked him profusely for rescheduling our visit for today on such short notice, and were sorry we picked a bad day traffic-wise.  We stopped on the outskirts of town to take a couple photos from afar.  We could definitely make out the blue, but it was not as prominent as we thought it was going to be.  Adnane mentioned the bluest parts are in the Medina, and so tightly packed that you can’t really see from afar.  He pointed us to the city walls (behind the city in this photo) and told us we’d start in the upper part and work our way down.  We took a short drive and got to the spot where we hopped out – we’d walk through town and meet Mohammed down at the bottom in a bit.

We started near a “waterfall” which wasn’t really a waterfall, but rather a fairly nominal drop in the river coming through town.  It had rained the past two days, so there was more water than usual.  Today it was nice and sunny, almost perfect weather.  There were lots of people out, a lot of them just enjoying the weather and good company.  Adnane showed us the top gate of the old city.  The old city started with the Casbah, worked its way out to the various neighborhoods, and then at some point the Medina walls enclosed everything.  From the gate we went up to the uppermost city wall portion.  Here, inside the city walls, everything was as crazy blue as expected.  There were a couple shades of blue used the most, a lighter blue more like the color of sky, and then a very deep royal blue.  The sky blue seemed to be more prominent.  There weren’t too many people up in this part of town – apparently no one wanted to walk so far uphill.

From the top, we slowly meandered our way down, going through several little neighborhoods, with neighborhoods having a main square and occasionally multiple neighborhoods sharing a larger square.  As an example, the Al-Qenitra Square seemed a little bigger than others, and actually had a placard indicating the square “is the main square in the neighborhood of Rif Al-Analus.”  There were not many windows in the buildings, instead Adnane told us the usual practice was to have everything open into central courtyards.  Nearly everything we saw was incredibly photogenic, including the laundry and cats just milling around.  Adnane told us that in Muslim culture – not Muslim religion – dogs are considered filthy, whereas cats are not, so there are lots of cats and very few dogs.  In some places the street itself was painted blue.  Adnane told us that the painted streets signified that they were dead-ends.  We thought this was a good idea, and it would have been nice to have something similar to that in the Souq in Marrakech yesterday.

After a bit we made it out into the main square, where it was lunch time and everyone was packed into the area.  We told Adnane we were fine skipping lunch, as we wanted to spend as much time walking around and seeing the sites.  [This was becoming a habit.]  We walked across the main square into the original fortress/Casbah, and then went up the main tower to get a view of the Old Town.  We didn’t stay too long, coming back down, walking around the grounds of the fortress for just a minute or two, then heading back out into the main square.  Adnane showed us one of the local hotels, a converted apartment complex, to show us how the various rooms opened out into the courtyard.  In the hotel there was a tall tree growing in the interior courtyard – that’s something you don’t see every day.

We next walked through a commercial neighborhood and came to another city gate (the Bab El-Ain Gate).  Adnane mentioned that each neighborhood kind of had its own specialty, and then people from the various neighborhoods would just barter and trade with one another for what they needed.  We still had some time, so we walked up northwest, towards the third gate.   We walked through Plaza El Hauta, another large neighborhood square.  We got a gift for our nephew Levi, and when we paid in US dollars we got some small bills back in Moroccan dirham, so we had a little something for ourselves as well.  We headed outside the medina at the Bab Suk Gate, and headed back to the second gate area, but on the outside part of the medina.  Once to the second gate area we waited for Mohammed.  We’d spent only about 90 minutes actually out of the car, walking around the Old Town, but it seemed like 3-4 hours easy.  It was more than worth the drive out here.  We thought it’d be a great place to spend 1-2 nights, where you could see things in the morning and evening light and also enjoy the quieter nightlife.

The drive back towards Tangier was a little faster because more people were coming into town (because it was Saturday) than going back (which they would be doing tomorrow).  Since it seemed like we might get back sufficiently early (we’d left ourselves a good buffer), Justin asked about whether there were any Starbucks in Tangier, to which Adnane said there were, but he didn’t think they’d be open.  Justin saw him open Google Maps, however, and do a search, and Adnane found a second one in the new train station, one that should be open.  We were happy when the road got back to being two lanes, at which point we could really speed up.

We stopped at the train station, which definitely looked and felt brand new.  It actually made us think of a smaller version of the main train station we’d seen in Vienna a few months back.  At the Starbucks, they didn’t have Tangier or Chefchaouen mugs, but they did have Marrakech and Casablanca, so Crystal got those.  We got back on the ship just before 6 (deadline was 6:30), and with a tour of 7.5 hours, only 2 or so were in Chefchaouen itself, but they were awesome.

Because we had dressed modestly for Chefchaouen, we didn’t have to change for the evening.  We went up to the Patio Bar on 8 and had Caipirinhas with Matheus (who was from Brazil).  He headed out shortly after we got there, and then Matias showed up.  We caught up a bit with Matias, who we’d missed last night because we’d been on the bus forever.  We talked about his 11 year old boy and his 8 year old girl, and how he was saving his wages from the cruise for their university.  He told us he’d also played semi-pro football in Peru back in the day.  We also talked with Bernard and Rita for a while, as they were sitting by us at the bar. 

We had to eventually bail because of our reservations at The Grill at 7:45, which we’d changed about 3 times.  It was originally going to be the night we were at sea from Fuerteventura to Casablanca, but when the itinerary shifted that became the day we’d be in Casablanca, and coming back so late (too late, as it turned out), we changed to today.  But then we weren’t sure if we’d be back by 6, so we had to change again to 7:45.  They had been very easy going in helping us keep changing things.  They were less easy going tonight, however, as they told Justin he needed to change from his slippers into some shoes.  So he went downstairs to change into his all-black running shoes (and Crystal changed into heels out of camaraderie), and then we came back up to sit down at a table with a long tablecloth that hid our feet under the table.

The food was pretty good, but nothing was better (and arguably not even as good) as Earth and Ocean.  Also, the service was also not as good, but maybe its just because it wasn’t Jose.  We realized at dinner that we hadn’t eaten a proper meal in forever, since we’d skipped lunch again and hadn’t had dinner the night before.  We wrapped up dinner around 9:30, the went up to the Observation Bar on 10.  There was only one patron there, and he was quickly scared off by our conversation about something Adnane had told us earlier, which is that in Morocco a husband can have two wives, but one of the preconditions is that the first wife must give her permission (which, as you can guess, is not common).  We were discussing whether the husband has to get permission for either 1) any second wife or 2) a specific second wife (Jenny from down the street).  Or it could have just been coincidence that caused the other patron to leave.

Not long thereafter, though, a lot of people showed up.  We talked with Ross and Ruth and one other Canadian couple.  We also talked with Helder quite a bit.  We were a little tipsy, so decided to stick to one tonight.  Justin asked about a Mai Tai, but when Justin made sure they were on the same page about the proper ingredients, they were not.  Helder had no orgeat, and pineapple and orange juice did not need to be in there.  We tentatively decided to workshop on a proper Mai Tai the next day, after our day trip in Cadiz.  Helder was flummoxed by the idea of no pineapple, that it wouldn’t be a Mai Tai with no pineapple.  Justin responded by stating that if Helder didn’t want to call it a Mai Tai, he could call it a “shut up your face.”  This actually got Helder to finally laugh, so Justin considered that a win.  We went back to the room just before 11, or what was effectively now 12 with the time change that was going to occur over night.  We caught up on the trip log, did some laundry, and then went to sleep.

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