Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 6° 27' North- Lagos, Nigeria

Morocco Girl’s Trip-Casablanca and Chefchaouen

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I live a charmed life. I have made the best of friends here in Lagos. When we first arrived many other people were also coming to post. I heard that there was over 60% change over that summer. I became friends with a lovely group of women. We got to enjoy exploring Lagos together and were able to spend even more time together than we anticipated as there was a delay in most people getting jobs. The head of the state department at the time had put a hiring freeze in place for all EFM(eligible family members). This meant that many spouses who would like to work at the consulate were not allowed to apply. Sad for them but great for me as we had a wonderful 6+ months getting to know each other.

About six months into our post many of us were starting to get a bit stir crazy. We watched our husbands go on different trips for work(not so fun) and on trips for fun to places to do amazing things like hike Kilimanjaro and we felt green with envy. We decided a girls trip was in order. Morocco is one of the few short flights coming out of Lagos and someplace many of us had never been. At first our trip was going to be a bigger group of women but R and R’s, work and other obligations fell in the way until is was just LeAnn and I able and willing to go. I will be honest, I almost canceled. Ben was thoughtful as ever and insisted that despite a larger then anticipated cost and a much smaller group, that I really needed to go. I know LeAnn went back and forth as well but in the end we were both on board.

LeAnn is great but with me working at the clinic and she teaching we hadn’t been able to spend as much time together as we had hoped coming up to our travel date. I have big kids, she has little kids. She lived in the building across the compound so we didn’t see each other in the elevators etc. There was some small concern about whether or not we were close enough friends to spend 8 DAYS together exploring another country. I am so so glad we didn’t cancel the trip. It was breathtaking and a complete blast and LeAnn has firmly planted her feet in my heart as one of my favorite people. We were well matched she has boundless energy and a let’s do it attitude that is infectious and I have the travel savvy to keep expectations reasonable and keep us safe while having plenty of freedom.

After a 3 am start time, several hours at the VIP lounge at the Lagos airport, and a 4 hour flight we arrived safely in Casablanca. We had lunch by the sea with fresh juices, French bread and amazing coffee. A brief walk along the beach showcased all of the swimming resorts along the shore which include pools and private cabanas. I imagine it is a lovely place to visit in the summer.

We had a Mercedes van, driver and guide Bouchab, pronounced Boo-shaw-bee, all to ourselves.
This is the Hassan II Mosque. It was built in 1993 and is the largest mosque in Africa and the 5th largest in the world. 25,000 worshiper can meet in the indoor hall with an additional 80,000 in prayer on the outside grounds for a total of 105,000 people. The mosaic was breathtaking and the fog just added to the effect.
We drove about 30 minutes out of Casablanca and then encountered something we thought we had left in Lagos, traffic. It turns out there was a huge football game happening in Rabat. People were traveling to attend and the road was full of rambunctious fans.
Our four hour drive to Chefchaouen really was more like 7 thanks to traffic and construction but it was ok because our guide Bouchab had the driver pull over and buy us this case of strawberries for about $5 USD. We were so stoked.
We wound the coast then moved up into the foothills. So much beautiful open space. We finally arrived in Chefchaouen around 8 pm.

According to Wikopedia Chefchaouen The Blue Pearl of Morocco  is a city in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. It’s known for the striking, blue-washed buildings of its old town. Cars and busses are not permitted leading to a wandering maze of beautiful buildings. Leather and weaving workshops line its steep cobbled lanes. In the shady main square of Place Outa el Hammam is the red-walled Kasbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon. The city was founded in 1471 as a small fortress by Moulay Ali ibn Rashid al-Alami, a descendant of Abd as-Salam al-Alami and Idris I, and through them, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Al-Alami founded the city to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of the region, many Moriscos and Jews settled here after the Spanish Reconquista in medieval times. In 1920, the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco. We very much witnessed to Spanish and Jewish influence as we explored the town.

Chefchaouen’s blue walls are a popular subject of interest. There are several theories as to why the walls were painted blue. One popular theory is that the blue keeps mosquitos way, another is that Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge from Hitler in the 1930s. The blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven, and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life. However, according to some locals, the walls were mandated to be painted blue simply to attract tourists at some point in the 1970s.

As we arrived our van was suddenly surrounded by foot traffic. There was no getting through. Police traffic guards kept sending us driving one way then another trying to get to our riad but it was no use we were stuck. Finally our guide discovered that we were in the middle of an ongoing march by local teachers to increase pay and services. We would have to wait until it was over. Our guide went to one of the mosques to pray and LeAnn and I walked through the streets stretching our legs after our long flight and car ride.

Finally around 9 pm our driver got a tip that we could access our riad the long way around and proceeded to drive us up a long winding hill. We scrambled with our wheeled suitcases across a bridge and into the night of the winding blue houses. We followed for about 15 minutes, I was sure if we got lost we could never find our way out when finally Buchabe pointed to a door and stated we had arrived , Dar Baibou Riad.

Unassuming from the outside, with no sign, I was not optimistic. However I was about to be very surprised.
The door to our room.
Front lobby
View from the roof garden
Breakfast was a lovely buffet with multiple types of hot cereal, fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs and various Moroccan breads and crepes. The fresh orange juice and marmalades and jams were the stars of the show combined with unglazed less sweet Moroccan doughnuts called Sfenj. I think this was the best of all the breakfasts we had.

After breakfast we were off with Bouchab to explore the winding labyrinth in the day light. LeAnn was ZERO excited about posing for pictures but I got a couple, and then razzed her for the rest of the trip about her grumpy face very time I wanted to take a photo. 🙂 In general we just enjoyed the hundreds of shades of blue to be found. I really never knew there could be so many colors. None of these photos have been edited or brightened. They were just taken with my Iphone 7 and early morning light. I am sure someone who is an actual photographer could make them magical but I wanted to show the true variance of the colors.

The Berber people still wear traditional clothing including these straw hats with pompom’s.
You have enough pictures, thank you very much.
Moroccan wool rugs are well known. They claim you can just take them outside and spray them clean. These women washing their rugs at the river highlighted the truth in that statement.
I kept pointing and saying “Mountains!” And LeAnn would laugh and reply “How in the world did you end up in Lagos?!”
The doors are often decorated with local materials, this ones columns were covered by local pumice stone.
There were cats everywhere(but no rats). Cats fighting woke us up in the middle of the night and evidently I sprang from my bed ready to take on the monsters. I am always sound sensitive at night. Blame it on mothering 4 children, being a napping midwife ever listening for the sounds of a mother pushing, or being the only one in our family who ever actually gets up when the smoke alarms go off.
Yeah I was a little obsessed with the flowers. I have missed living in a temperate climate.

Everyone should visit Chefchaouen, yes it is a little bit touristy but it is just so lovely. Clean air, polite people (non pushy sales people), mazes of streets to stretch our compound bound legs, cool breezes. Truly a highlight of our trip and it was just the beginning.

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