June 16, 2012
On the morning of the 16th, we caught a taxi to the Ceuta/Moroccan border, changed some Euros for dirham, and headed across the border. It is Sterling’s birthday, which is noticed on his passport by the border guard who wishes him a “Happy New Year!” Close enough! The border is incredibly chaotic: signage is almost non-existent and the little there is is in Arabic. There are lanes for cars and people, so we get into a people lane only to be told we’re not in the right one. Touts are agressively trying to get you to pay for the short document you must fill out, even though they are free from officials. Even though we firmly told him no numerous times, a gentleman named Mostafa attached himself to us and tried to talk us into going to his hometown instead of to Chefchaouen. Gave us his cell phone number and told us to call him if we changed our minds! We eventually make it through and hire a grand taxi for the roughly hour and ½ trip to Chefchaouen, nestled in the Rif mountains. Grand in this sense refers to a “large” taxi, not to its make or model. There’s a sea of taxis waiting on the Moroccan side of the border, and the grand taxis are almost exclusively 1980’s era Mercedes diesels. Ours had no air conditioning and only one window crank, which we all passed around (“Eric, could you please pass the window crank?”)! Our driver was friendly and pointed out things as best he could, including the Stork Tree.
Arabic, Berber and French are the main languages of Morocco, but while English and Spanish are encountered more frequently with increased tourist trade, they aren’t common by any means. Although Sterling and Teresa have been immersed in Spanish and can communicate well (Teresa especially as she has been taking advanced lessons in Olvera), language will now become challenging for us all. [The universal language in Morocco, understood by all with unimpaired hearing, is “horn.” I have never been in a place where the car horn is used so liberally and to such great effect. We suspect that turn signals never wear out on Moroccan vehicles as they are seldom used, but horns must need to be replaced on a regular basis. They are used to communicate “hello”, “coming by”, “speed up”, “get your ass (2- or 4-legged) out of the road”, “turning”, “are you crazy??!!” and a wealth of other information. All easily understandable, even to non-natives.] The terrain and vegetation are very similar to southern Spain (oleandar & all), but infrastructure is less modern and tasks done by machine in Spain (such as baling hay with a combine) are done by hand on these steep Moroccan slopes and we observe hay being cut by hand, tied into sheaves and stacked.
Just a few minutes outside of Chefchaouen, the left rear tire of the taxi has lost enough air that other taxi drivers communicate (via horn and pointing, of course) that we have a flat. We stop & determine that it’s low, but the driver thinks he can get to Chefchaouen if we all squish over to the opposite side of the cab. I am on the opposite side from the tire, so spend the rest of the trip pressed up against the door with Sterling & Teresa squished against me, hoping that the door lock mechanism is in better shape than the window cranks! We arrive unscathed, but the driver won’t take us all the way to our hotel and instead dumps us just inside the town limits. And we don’t have a map. There followed some tense exploration to find the hotel. We did, but only after we climbed all the way to the top of the hill and then ½ back down to the hotel. Oh well, we’re getting good exercise and besides, it’s not a Barcelona hill.