From the grey and rain of Paris we flew into blue skies and palm trees at Ibn Battuta airport, Tangier. We were met by Mr. Otman, our driver, a friendly and charming man who spoke fluent Arabic, Spanish and French but no English. Despite his complete kindness and our ability to communicate a little with laughs, hand motions and my pathetic French, Mary and I felt (and not for the last time) totally ashamed at our complete lack of language. Being elsewhere truly reminds one of how small their bubble of the world can be.

Even so, the three of us had a wonderful time together over the 2 hour drive southeast to Chefchaouen, our first stop in Morocco.

Driving through the Rif mountains of Morocco is a little like driving the Cochahalla highway: twisty, turny, high-up and fast. Only this ride was in a 35 year old Mercedes. With no seatbelts. And a broken door handle. And only two lanes, undivided. And various construction, bicyclists, pedestrians, fruit hawkers, donkeys, sheep, and families promanading, picknicking, working & attempting to hail our cab.

Mr. Otman's car is known as a 'grande taxi', as opposed to the 'petit taxis' that operate within city limits. Grande taxis usually transport 5-6 passengers (plus the driver) between towns so we felt a bit like spoiled western tourists as we whizzed past people motioning to catch a ride while we luxuriated in our car all by ourselves. I kept wanting to say it was okay to stop for others.

The northern Moroccan countryside that we enjoyed from our windows was fascinating. Similar in ways to the Canadian landscape, we were reminded of the area around Kamloops - hills of tan, green and brush which gave way to trees and lush growth as we traveled higher up. Aloe varieties taller than a man and large, wild bushes of magnolia and jasmine (with delightful corresponding smells) lined the highway. Great swaths of prickly pear cactus served as natural fences and barbed wire for grazing animals. And everywhere, people. Men in long djellabas over their clothes and women in straw hats with colourful pom poms. We were truly surprised at the life one could see from the windows of a car in such a rural, seemingly sparsely populated area. Occasionally we'd see a roadside ceramics stall selling brightly glazed bowls, plates and all sizes of tagines. Sometimes a woman would be selling bottles of water alongside baskets of fruit while a donkey cart lugged earth nearby. And amidst this idyllic country scene, all manner of modern cars, commuters and construction were ever-present. On a high hill to the north of us sat hundreds of white windmills as far as the eye could see. I know Mary snapped some photos from the car but I was too busy looking in every direction at once to do the same.

As we drove through small communities along the way the smell of roasting lamb and smoky chestnuts from roadside restaurants made me want to eat and eat and eat.

Mr Otman told us that Morocco consists of three parts: Rif, Atlantic, Sahara. I truly hope I get a chance to see more of this beautiful country in years to come.

As we approached Chefchaouen we beheld tiers of flat-roofed white buildings, a mess of ancient construction nestled at the foot of those mighty mountains. Driving into the city we saw buildings rinsed a pale cobalt blue which Mr. Otman told us was the colour of Chefchaouen. We drove up and up towards the old part of the city and parked just before the medina, which cars are not allowed to drive in. We pulled our bags over narrow cobblestone streets and into busy noisy squares, full of music and talk and the ever-present scent of mint.

And then we were there, happy and comfortable at Casa Hassan, our home for the next few days. Ready to take in the sights, the smells, the warmth, the colour, ready to navigate the lively streets. Certainly ready to eat something after our long trip. I'm so glad we decided to visit.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I had to laugh at your description of the 35 year old Mercedes taxi...

When I was is Marrakech, I was just as surprised at how there were no seatbelts, door handles, etc. I also noted there wasn't a handle to roll down the window with. Counting myself lucky that the next taxi I rode in had one , I tried to open my window, only to have the handle fall off! Imagine trying to discreetly put it back on without the driver knowing...

Your posts make me want to re-visit Europe and Morocco. It looks like you had a great time! I hope you have some food pics from Morocco...I couldn't get enough of the lamb tagine with prunes. Yum.