The blue city of Chefchaouen in Spanish Morocco is about six hours outside of Casablanca by bus, and a glorious and colorful city to experience. When I took this pre-trip with OverseasAdventure Travel on their Morocco Sahara Odyssey trip, we saw many colorful sights along the way. I never thought I’d be taken by the sight of casaba melons, but as with everything else in Morocco, it was a unique and colorful sight.
The blue buildings that grace Chefchaouen get their color from the indigo plant, and it’s a most extraordinary looking city built in the 1400s, but not the only blue city in Morocco. We stopped in others along the way, but none as magnificent and unique a labyrinth. We were told also, that because of the large Jewish population that was once there, they honor of the Jews with the color blue; the Jews were the right hand to royalty, both in terms of their education and knowledge, as well as their business acumen. However, in spite of this friendly sounding history, over 300,000 were driven out after World War Two and basically told to go to Israel. I was taken aback by the irony of this “honor.”
Our group walked around this awe-inspiring Blue City in the morning, saw signs of everyday life, and while staying there enjoyed our nights at the guest houses, also known as a riad. They are a unique regional experience in any county, especially in Morocco. One day in Chefchaouen was satisfactory for me in terms of sightseeing; but to take in the true spirit of the city, its surroundings, and its people, I found the three nights there to be perfect.
We drove to a rural area as part of those three days, where the houses are also all blue, and had lunch with a local family. I recognized their round outdoor bread stove as we were entering, since I have seen something nearly identical used by the Hopi tribes in Arizona. Clearly, many different cultures use them. I could not believe how many large loaves they made of the bread, and for a small family, they said that’s just for two days of food. It might have also been a source of income for the family, as was their production of honey. We were also told this part of Morocco is known for the large amount of marijuana grown there, so for this family it might have also been a cash crop.
The community has a shared marijuana plants, and marijuana production and consumption is very high. People in this area support their families by selling marijuana. We were told that part of the country is like the Medellin or Morocco when It comes to drugs. The family we visited also makes some income from having home hosted meals.
Chefchaouen is in between Tangiers and Tetouan, the latter of which is about an hour away. The drive to Tetouan showcases lovely vistas of the Moroccan Mediterranean coast as well as a drive through the Rif Mountains with its spectacular gorges and even large herds of mountain goats with their attendant shepherds.
The city of Tetouan is modern, with many remnants of ancient times and Roman ruins nearby. We saw one of the King’s palaces, although he was in residence at the time at one of his summer beach homes. We walked through the old Medina, which was at one time primarily Jewish. We stopped into the old synagogue which still has a tiny congregation. I left a donation in the tzadaka box (which means charity in both Hebrew and Arabic). The main school of the city still has Stars of David on it, with Arabic lettering in between. Truly a sign that things were once so much more harmonious between the cultures.
Morocco is in the midst of transition. We saw new construction in many places along the way including shopping malls, McDonald’s and KFC. But so much tradition remains, and women it seems, are caught in the middle. They are very often still veiled in black, and on top of the black veil they often wear a hat. I saw some women sweating underneath all that gear in the oppressive heat of summer. I finally asked my Trip Leader to ask one woman about how hot she was. Yes, she said, it’s too hot for all that clothing. I got the impression this was something she could tell the safety of a tour group passing by, but probably not at home. Women have a long way to go there.
A real eye opener came for me when chatting with a local woman in her 40s who came to talk to us about women’s issues in Morocco. We were told no topic was off limits. I asked about the state of women’s health care, and she really wasn’t sure what I meant, so I just shifted the question to health care in general. She said it’s all pretty good there, most people don’t have any type of health insurance, but women get the health care they need. She started fanning herself quite a bit, even though it wasn’t really hot where we were at the moment. She and I had made a good connection, so I spoke to her after.
I told her laughingly not to worry, the hot flashes get better. Then she started complaining about them and said she didn’t know what to do. I asked her if she had spoken to her doctor, and she asked, what kind of doctor would she even see about the hot flashes? I explained how such things are handled in America for women’s health, and she was completely stunned. She knew absolutely nothing about getting physical checkups, and the health education women are taught at an early age in America. I found it ironic that it’s been her job to help women in Morocco, but in this most personal of conversations, in some small way, I had helped her.