Wednesday, March 12, 2014

seeing blue - morocco, part three

after a few days in fez, we moved on to our final moroccan stop – a beautiful town called chefchaouen, tucked into the mountains in the north of the country. it is most known for one unique, unifying trait common among the buildings in the old medina – back in the 30’s, jewish refugees painted most of the medina  crisp, clear powder blue. in addition to creating a calming, cool atmosphere in the heat of summer, the combination of whitewash, blue accents, and orange-tiled roofs makes for some absolutely wonderful photography. our two days in chefchaouen were spent hiking up the surrounding mountains, wandering through the streets, taking photos every six seconds, and generally relaxing. since there isn’t very much to do in the tourism department, we took advantage of the atmosphere and had a wonderfully laid-back few days. we also ate – a lot. food in morocco is really good, and really cheap, so we didn’t skimp! the final tajine we had ended up being my favourite; something about the roasted chicken and veggies, swimming in spiced oils just begging to be mopped up with the bread… and all for less than 4 euro. drool.

chefchaouen also reemphasized another observation i’d made a few times throughout my travels in morocco – as a culture, moroccans are exceptionally kind and hospitable. having remarked upon that to a few different people (our friend zakaria, the bus driver for our excursion, the hostel workers, etc), each person responded with the same explanation: it’s part of the muslim faith to be welcoming to strangers. now, as someone who makes a very conscious effort to be globally minded and accepting, i have to confess that the circumstances of my american upbringing had not instilled that preconceived notion into my mindset. consciously, i had no worries about going to morocco, but i did recognize that it was my first foray outside of the mainly judeo-christian world i’d been immersed in up until then. i could not have been more unfounded in my expectations – no matter where we went, we were immediately offered a place to sit, or at least some tea. locals were friendly and liked to chat when possible, and i never, not even once, felt any kind of hostility towards me – not based on race, religion, or even sex. (note: getting harassed in the medina is a different story – that’s part of the market culture, and not, i believe, indicative of moroccan culture as a whole.) we had conversations about religious differences that i would have paid dearly to record and show to certain people back home – i’ve heard much worse come out of the mouths of self-proclaimed christians. but that’s a whole different issue, and i’ll go ahead and step down off my soap box…

after chefchaouen, it was time to head back to europe. during the planning of this trip, the history nerd in me had developed a sort of fixation on crossing the strait of gibraltar in a boat. i just couldn’t get over the amount of history – real, literary, mythological. that 8 mile stretch of water could be argued as the most significant water passage in the world, and i wanted to cross it! so, we took another (very, very uncomfortable and unpleasant 4 hour long) bus ride from chefchaouen to tangier, where we boarded the ferry and bobbed our way between continents. it’s amazing to realize just how close spain and morocco are at that point – you can see one continent from the other, even on a hazy day. the crossing was uneventful (except for my nerding out), and we arrived back in europe without much fanfare… except i could feel my wallet shriveling back up after the wonderful dirham. alas. with great luck, we made it from the port to the bus station exactly one minute before the bus we needed to be on was scheduled to depart, and so there was pretty much no waiting around in between modes of transportation! another 3 hours saw us pulling into sevilla, our “post-africa, reacclimation to europe” spot. 

all in all, we were in sevilla for about 36 hours – not nearly enough to really even count having been there, but a nice treat on the back end of our trip! after the insanely long and complex travel day we had on friday, it was all we could muster to meet a few people on our hostel rooftop, eat some paella, and have a little night cap before crashing into bed.  our full day on saturday was a lovely example of what a “spanish day” should be. first, we appreciated the monuments and visited the cathedral and the alcazar in the morning – i loved seeing the amount of detailing in the stone carving and tile so present throughout the city. after our historical touring, we enjoyed a nice, laid-back lunch of tapas and sangria, followed by some gelato in the early afternoon. then, we followed the spanish example and took our siesta in the mid-afternoon… a much-needed and welcomed pause. our big treat on saturday was a visit to the “world’s only” flamenco museum, located just down the street from our hostel. we got a private tour through the museum, and then had the opportunity to see two professional dancers do an hour performance in the museum. my thighs were burning just watching all the tiny, intricate movements – it’s no wonder those dancers were 100% muscle! such an incredibly passionate and emotive dance; we loved it! we finished the night with some pasta in the hostel and some hang-out-time with some of the other travelers. but it was early to bed again – no rest for the weary!

first thing sunday morning, we made our way to the airport, for an 8am flight to toulouse. originally, we had planned on staying in toulouse with a friend of lauren’s… but the moment i stepped foot back on french soil, i just wanted to be home. so, i did a little impromptu train research and ended up heading home a day early! what’s another 5 hours on the train, really. my guardian angel friend mathilde came to pick me up from the train station in perigueux, and i was home in time for a late dinner and my beeeed! in keeping with my previous travels, i was happy to be home, so i could finally relax after all that vacation! :) aaand that’s the end of my moroccan adventure – in a word, wonderful. pictures from chefchaouen and sevilla are here (starting at 148)!

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