Excursion number one: Chefchouen, the blue city and Fnideq, the border town. Both were absolutely stunning! We left early in the morning on Saturday and after a four hour bus ride interspersed with stops to admire the flowers (and stretch our legs) and group presentations (my group talked about the history and culture of Northern Morocco), we reached Chefchouen just in time for lunch! Lunch was an amazing sweet couscous with almonds, caramelized onions, ginger, cinnamon, garbanzo beans, and based on how tender the meat was, I believe it was lamb. After that it was time to explore!
Chefchouen literally translates to “look at the peaks” and refers to the two mountains that the city is built between. Keeping with that, the medina is filled with steep, narrow streets and lined with buildings of all shades of blue. WARNING: VERY SPECIFIC DESCRIPTIONS AND SHADES AHEAD. Periwinkle blue was by far the most common shade around at the bottoms of the hill. However, as we climbed we saw variations from aquamarine to marine, sky blue to cerulean and even a few buildings that were a beautiful hue reminiscent of the Caribbean. Apparently, the region had once thrived on exporting wool and purple and indigo dies.
During our exploration, I decided to try out my non-existent bargaining skills! To my vast surprise, I was successful. I found a gorgeous black and gold caftan that the shop owner was asking 150 Dirhams for (that’s just under $20 US in today’s exchange rate). I then asked if he would be willing to go a bit lower. In orientation, we were told to make a counter offer at a quarter of the original price but naturally in the heat of the moment I completely forgot this, so instead I asked if I could have it for 100 DH. Of course, the next offer I received was 125 DH to split the difference. I knew that the natural step would be to increase my offer a little bit, but fool I am, I had told him the maximum I’d want to pay as my first offer. So instead I told him that as much as I loved the caftan, I couldn’t pay more for a present for my sister than I had paid for a present for my mom. He thought that was hilarious and promptly let me have the caftan for 100 DH. Apparently, I can bargain… go figure!
The hotel we stayed at in Chefchouen was a wonderful break from all of the blue everywhere; it was all shades of pink. All of the rooms were identical which means everyone (including the only guy in our program group of 13) slept in pink princess beds with white canopies. Breakfast was yummy Moroccan mint tea with various pastries, cereals, and juice in a hotel lobby decorated in shades of pink and then we headed off across the north of the country for two hours to Fnideq, a small town on the border of Sebta (or Ceuta if you ask the Spanish). Sebta is one of the two Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco. They are both city states that answer to the Spanish government though Morocco has asked to have them turned over to the Moroccan government as they are on soil otherwise claimed by Morocco. There is actually a lot of enterprise between Sebta and Fnideq though the fences surrounding the Spanish enclave are very impressive! This is one of the main points of entry for undocumented migrants to Europe, hence the heightened security.
After watching the border for a while (and having the police watch us to be sure we didn’t pull out cameras or make a dash for the gate) we went to lunch.
At lunch, I was laughed at for my reaction to the main entrée! I was fine with the calamari; in fact, calamari is one of my favorite foods. I was also fine with needing to pull the legs of the shrimp and having the sol fish looking at me while I deboned it. What I had a problem with was the eel. It had teeth. And it was very obviously showing them off. I was uncomfortable with this and I squealed. The program coordinator laughed. The eel tasted wonderful. One last four hour drive later, and we were back in Rabat and so exhausted that after greeting my host family I fell into bed and only woke up for dinner!