On our last morning in Fez, we set off for the bus station, determined this time to take a CTM bus to our next destination (these are air conditioned, more spacious, and more likely to be on time). However, our efforts were once again stymied; the bus was full. Though we were forced to accede to one of the many touts competing for our business, we had still upgraded from our last bus journey: this one had air conditioning and a bit more leg and head room. For the first time on a Moroccan bus or train journey, we were able to muster up the energy to do more than talk, sleep, or sit miserably-- we even played cards as we watched the scenery piddle by at a snail's pace.
Four hours later we arrived in Chefchaouen, a small town in the Rif mountains. Its higher altitude meant a cooler climate and some key differences in architecture: most notably, almost all of the buildings were made of the same smooth plaster and washed in the same dusty sky blue. The lighter color of the buildings, when added to the relatively small number of people wandering the streets, completely eliminated the slight claustrophobia I'd occasionally felt in other medinas. However, the tourist industry pervaded the town. Though Chefchaouen is reputed to be an artisan center, one couldn't help but feel like most of the shops were selling mass-produced junk (indeed, several times while browsing I came across items that looked like Moroccan treasures but were stamped with ''India'' or ''China''). Chefchaouen is also famous for the easy availability of kif, or marijuana-- I kept count, and we were offered hash or some variant nine times in less than 24 hours. I can't blame the dealers for assuming we were there to buy drugs, considering the average travelers we met; almost all of them had come to the little town for that reason. The non-Moroccan composition of the town, given its reputation, is like something you'd see out of California in the 70s: think dreadlocks, long skirts, and vacant eyes.
Though we weren't there to smoke, we managed to meet some interesting travelers anyway. We rode into town crammed into a taxi with three girls on holiday from Granada, Spain: Elionora from Italy, Róisín from England (pronounced ro-SHEEN), and Caoilfhionn from Ireland (pronounced KWEE-lin. yeah, I know. I have no idea what all those letters are doing in there either). The five of us searched out a cheap hotel, which was relatively easy as things are MUCH cheaper in Chefchaouen-- we secured places at the fairly neat and clean Hotel Andaluz for 50Dh per night per person (about $6 each). Side note: Chefchaouen was also distinct from our previous travels in that we were far enough to the north for Spanish to become useful. This provoked from me a sigh of relief as Ryan, Elionora, Róisín, and Caoilfhionn (yeah, I just wanted to type that name again) were more than able to converse with everyone, leaving me with English or blessed silence.
Next task: food. Lonely Planet helped us out once again, pointing the way to a place that had a great set menu for 40Dh each, including salad, a tajine or couscous, and the most delicious watermelon I'd ever eaten. At the time, the salad aroused no suspicion at all. Ha.
Ryan and I, determined to secure a place at last on the next day's CTM bus to Tangier, trudged down to the bus station to buy tickets. Though it was less than a mile from the medina, the steep streets made it a bit of a hike... and to make matters worse, it was threatening to storm. Climbing the seemingly vertical hills on the way back, we were caught in a veritable tornado of dust and small rocks, blowing up from the streets around us into our clothes, hair, eyes, and mouths. Squinting so narrowly we could barely see, we tried to make our way to the main town. At one point there was so much dust in my eyes that I could no longer keep them open, trusting blindly that Ryan's hand was guiding me in the right direction until the welcoming blue walls of the medina closed out the swirling dirt and debris.
At this point, the girls (being typical Chefchaouen backpackers) had gone off to smoke, while we searched out a good vantage point for the World Cup semifinal between the Netherlands and Uruguay. Soccer has become more and more interesting to me over the course of the World Cup-- I'd love to learn to play, or even just watch a few more games. Afterward, we went for a bit of a walk through the medina, wandering through shops crammed with the aforementioned junk and occasionally coming across an unidentifiable but unquestionably authentic antique. At this point, Ryan began to feel a bit sick, so we returned to the hotel for the night.
He would spend most of the night feeling nauseous and throwing up; Caoilfhionn would wake with a frighteningly painful headache, which would soon be shared by the other two girls. We had all eaten the same thing the preceding day, and the likely culprit was the salad of tomatoes and cucumbers (which we had eaten against all common sense and traveller's advice). That morning, Ryan made a good-faith effort to walk around the medina, but spent most of the time sitting with his back against a wall, sapped of energy by the heat and by sickness. We managed to make it down to the bus station on time to leave Chefchaouen, and finally boarded the CTM bus (which was indeed nicer, more spacious, and air conditioned). This was key as I don't think Ryan would have fared too well on the typical crowded and overheated bus; he remained ill for the entire 3+ hour trip. I somewhat apprehensively waited to suffer the same fate, since I'd eaten exactly the same thing. However, either I have a stomach of steel, or it wasn't the food: I never felt anything.
At this point, very little remains to tell of the epic Morocco story. We got to Tangier in the early evening, checked into a large, fairly industrial budget hotel, and stayed there until late that night as Ryan slept and sweated his way through a high fever and I listened to the city roar in response to various plays of the Spain-Germany semifinal. After a few mishaps being led astray by some Moroccan guy, we found a pizza place (both of us were sick to death of tajine) and collapsed in bed-- me from exhaustion and worry, and Ryan from continuing illness. The next morning, we halfheartedly toured the medina for about twenty minutes before packing up our things. I packed a grumpy and still-slightly-delirious Ryan into a taxi bound for the airport, where he would fly to Madrid and then Miami and then San Francisco to begin his life as a Real Person with a Real Job. I, on the other hand, killed time in overpriced shops and internet cafes for a few hours before hopping on the ferry to Tarifa to begin the next adventure: three weeks as a live-in English coach for a Spanish/German family I'd found on the internet.
Though the end of the Grand Moroccan Tour was slightly anticlimactic, the experience as a whole was unlike any I'd ever had. I wished for an adventure, and got far more than I had bargained for (pun intended). I wanted to be outside my comfort zone, and that's where I went. Travelling from the beaches of Essaouira to the mazelike medinas of Marrakech and Fez to the breathtaking grandeur of Toubkal; meeting and interacting with people as varied as the feisty and adorable 8-year-old Fatim-Selah, the protective and eager Mustafa, and the fiery and independent Róisín; and above all experiencing, fighting through, and thoroughly enjoying these travels with one of my very best friends. I'm profoundly grateful for him and for the incredible memories I'll carry with me from this particular voyage.
HOWEVER... my summer's not over yet! Stay tuned for tales from sunny southern Spain, where I've been for the past week and will remain for two more.