Chefchaouen is a picturesque blue-painted town in the Rif mountains about 80km south of Tangier, in an area where they manufacture most of the hashish which is smuggled to Europe for street sale. Cannabis is more or less decriminalized in and around the town because it’s Morocco’s number one cash crop (money talks), they don’t mind the tourism (money talks), and smoking kif is an ancient Berber tradition (so it’s old news). But a handful of tourists have been arrested and imprisoned, so no one is quite sure where the line is. End result, there are boatloads of Spaniards and Italians in this town getting high and trekking in the hills. The whole joint smells like a Neil Young concert.
But of course, this sort of scene takes the tout routine to an even skeezier level. After the opening greeting and the language identification, it goes straight to “Smoke?, Hashish?, Good Stuff!” Eventually, I learned to say “no fumo” and wait for them to back off.
My first night there, I woke up with a bout of Moroccan food poisoning complete with shaking chills. I think I saw it referred to as “Sheherazade’s Revenge.” The perpetrator went unidentified, but it could have been the roadside kefta, that horrible shrimp tajine, or my first taste of the tap water (which is supposed to be okay in the mountains).
And so this is how I rang in the Islamic New Year. It is now the year 1430.
Two days later, the shell of my former self emerged from the hotel, and to try to shake it off, I walked up to the ruins of a mosque which sits atop a nearby hillside. As I approached the summit, I noticed a man standing there, you know, loitering, and I verified that I was from Canada, because that’s what he guessed fourth. (I like to wait until after the first three to see what their fourth guess is. It’s usually Italian, Dutch, Australian, or Canadian [English and American might as well be the same thing].) He showed me to the stairs which take you to the top of the ancient minaret. The opening at the top was so small, I barely made it through. Once, not so long ago, we were midgets. As I was standing there enjoying my first breath of fresh air in a few days, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a ball of uncompressed hashish the size of a newborn baby’s head. He insisted I smell it, and I did. Then he showed me the route to the top of the nearby mountain peak. I went about halfway up before a rain cloud settled at its peak and I turned around.
The protests over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue. There were leaflets posted in the internet cafe in Chefchaouen with pictures of dead babies on them with the words “Brought to You By Israeli Terrorists” printed on them.
If you are ever in Chefchaouen stay at the Italian-owned Dar Terrae B&B. There are three terraces, the rooms have beds and daybeds, copious hot water (you don’t miss it till it’s gone), and a fireplace which is reloaded daily with firewood. It’s a nice, cozy place to spend two days in bed with food poisoning.
One night, the staff and I watched Barcelona play Athletico Madrid, and Messi had a nice finish in a 3-1 Barca victory.
Afterward, we watched about a half-an-hour of an epic late-1970s biopic on the life of the Prophet Mohammed – a peculiar pelicula in that you never see the star of the picture because it is, of course, a fatwa on your head if you portray his likeness. There were lots of shots of the lower half of a white camel and actors talking into the camera as if the story were being told from the P.P.O.V. (Prophet’s Point of View).