Chefchaouen, or شفشاون/الشاون

June 17 & 18, 2012

We spend a day exploring the town.  It is a maze of very narrow winding streets, and is set between 2 towering mountains.  In fact, a rough translation of the name is “goat’s horns” in reference to these sharp peaks.  A small river runs down the ravine between the peaks and supplies the town with its drinking water.  Because they are very narrow and often contain multiple flights of stairs, few streets are accessible by vehicle and we see donkeys bringing in wares in baskets.  At one point we hear clattering hooves and a herd of goats comes down the stairs ahead of us and wanders by us.  I point out that we’re walking down the street with a herd of goats and we all have a good giggle.  Spain is certainly very different than the U.S., but Morocco is a foreign country in almost every sense of the word.  We’ve read about the cultural differences but now they hit home: Islam is the dominant religion, and the call to prayer comes from the local mosques many times a day.  It is surprisingly soothing.  Other differences are less soothing.  Men should not touch women they are not related to, and there are sometimes noticeable course alterations to avoid contact.  Everywhere we go, Teresa and I are asked “is this your husband?”  In fact, we all had to sign forms when we checked in at the hotel with our passport numbers, addresses, etc.  The hotel filled them out for us, with the exception of the “occupation” block on Eric & Sterling’s forms, which they were asked to fill in.  However, the occupation block was  already filled in for Teresa & I.  I didn’t recognize the word, but am assuming it was something flattering like “wife” or “chattel.”  It is very clearly a man’s world and they are rarely observed doing menial labor.  Worst of all the differences for us, we can only find alcohol for sale at one place in town, and it’s not our hotel!!  It’s the hotel Parador, which is near the center of town.  After wandering and working up a good thirst, we’d pop in for a rejuvenating beverage – aaah.  Not so relaxing was the traditional mint tea.  Mint tea is served hot and is very sweet.  So sweet in fact that honey bees home in on it like they have missile tracking (I think the heat somehow makes it more aromatic to them).  The cafe proprietor brought us small plates to put on top of our glasses when we weren’t sipping, but drinking still involved a lot of coordinated choreography.

All in all, we spend a delightful couple of days wandering in this beautiful town.  The kasbah and minaret spires, the smell of spices from vendors in the winding streets, the calls to prayer, the bleating of goats, and the beautiful blues and periwinkles of the walls and doorways all combine to create an unforgettable sensory experience.  Nearly every doorway is a unique shape, and most are reinforced with metal studs, with substantial handles and knockers.  I must have taken 50 pictures of doors alone.  The food is fantastic and our hotel (Dar Echchaouen) is very comfortable.


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