Chefchaouen, and we’re freaking out, a bit

Medina, if you look carefully, someone will be staring at Charlie

Ad hoc note: we usually take it in turns to write our wee blog posts, but Ju’s got medina fever and is laid up in bed so I’m doubling up.

We’re here: N35.17567 W5.26715. It’s a campsite sat on the hillside above the small town of Chefchaouen.

Weather: sunny all day, cooling off quickly now the sun’s gone down. We’re going to fire up our halogen heater soon, risking taking the whole campsite offline.

About 5:50am this morning, the loudspeaker on the local mosques announces the call to prayer. Final score:

Jay’s Earplugs 0; Call to Prayer 1

We laid in bed, awake for a while, then I got up. I was too excited to stay in bed. And some of the French guys were already leaving the site, presumably to get the best places at the next set of campsites away from the port. Time to leave!

We programmed our satnav with the campsite at Chefchaoen, and headed off. The journey was pretty uneventful to start off, apart from me accidentally straying off onto the toll motorway back to M’Diq, incurring a 12Dh (about £1) charge (6Dh for the 10Km there, and 6 for the 10Km back). We then filled up on diesel (7Dh/litre – about 60p a litre!) and got onto the good roads. The little single track fellas winding their way through valleys, through towns and along hillsides. It was like a hazard perception test on acid:

  • Amazing sights and sounds at the sides of the road – people using a donkey to pull a plough made with a tree trunk, goat and sheep herders, people stood along the road everywhere, people trying to flag us down for a lift or to sell us stuff, you name it.
  • Grand taxis seemingly randomly stopping in the road to fill up empty seats.
  • Lorries parked up in the middle of a market town, requiring me to get over the other side of the road and make the cars on the other side give way, which they did uncomplainingly.
  • Hugely overloaded lorries flashing their lights incessenatly at narrow sections where they were forced to wait.

Marocco is as they say ‘an assult on the senses’, and we now know what people mean when they say their first instinct is to head back to Spain. One minute we’re loving it, the next we’re terrified, and then back again. We were ‘kissed’ by a lorry on a hairpin bend (no damage done) then a minute later pulled over by a car which had overtaken us. He just wanted to sell us some ‘chocolate’ and was happy to let us on our way when we said we needed none.

We were mightily relieved to get to the rough piece of walled in, gated and guarded land which makes for a Moroccan campsite. It’s sat in quite a spectacular location looking down over the new and old town (old town = the medina). After sitting around for a while breathing, having a quick kip and some food, I had a chat with Alan and Brenda parked up next door. They live in France, have a French registered van and I assumed they were French. Nope. This also apparently caused great confusion and delay at the border crossing too. They’d been down into the medina and showed me some photos. Looked great, so we got up some courage, leashed up Charlie and headed off.

About 200 meters later, the hassling started: kids asking for sweets and locals wanting to sell us ‘chocolate’. All good humoured, although it took us (well me, for some reason they all went for me) a while to get used to issuing a friendly ‘La Shukran’ (no thanks), which after a few repeats generally worked. A good set of steps took us through the local graveyard (graves randomly strewn down the hill), and into the multi-hewed blue medina.

Another assault. Everyone is fascinated by Charlie (we understand dogs are seen as unclean to Muslims, we’re not arguing!). We think this may be the first King Charles Cav to make it here. People stare, some point, the braver kids go for a leg grab or stroke. Charlie takes it in his stride. Today is apparently a holiday so many of the medina shops are closed, with wooden shutters and metal clasps. Some are open, selling leather goods, spices, fruit, woven wool clothes, carpets (of course), drinks, shoe shining, small carved and blue painted doorways and probably a lot more stuff I’ve missed.

On the other side of the medina, the river flows, and the women work. They wash clothes by hand, or by foot, in the cold water of the river. Just as amazing to see as the guys ploughing by hand. I’m so naive. I did’t expect to see this in northern Africa. I’m a little shocked, but the people here seem to be very happy with their lot, and who am I to argue. We come back into the medina, let a tout grab us and see off a couple of mint teas opposite the Kasbah. A man arrives with a violin and makes such a racket we have to leave. I give him a couple of dirhams (a whole 15p); I felt sorry for the fella.

We’re back in Dave now. I’ve researched campsites and a possible route, which takes in a hulluvalot more driving so I’m going to have to man up. A cheeky beer is being seen off (non-Muslims are OK to drink alcohol here, as long as you’re not too blatant about it – I don’t know what blatant is so the curtains are shut, I feel dirty).

We’re planning on staying put tomorrow to mentally regroup. We hear there’s a market on in town, so will probably venture to that, maybe without Charlie this time though.

Cheers, Jay


  1. Reading your account I’m glad we took the route we did which broke us in slowly… it sounds like up there is even more mental then Marrakesh!

    1dh = 7.5p so 7dh is 52p a litre for fuel, happy days! :)

  2. Glad u’ve been able to cope with day 1, it’ll only get better and when u think u’ve got the hang of it, something will happen to confirm that u don’t!
    Call to prayer – hopefully u’ll come to love it. I grew up hearing it from the mosque aacross the road where we lived in the UAE. And now when I hear it I get all nostaglic. U’ll start to recognise who’s really very good and who isn’t!
    Charlie amazement – probably not so much that dogs are ‘unclean’ (which depends on where u are n I’d be surprised in morocco) but more that 1) u treat him as a pet and 2) that u’d bother to keep a dog so small cos he has no obvious use as a guard dog, which is the main reason anyone would keep one, and probably chained up for it;s whole life outdoors
    Don’t forget, flashing light and indicators can mean both “I’m turning” or “u can overtake” so always assume the worst case
    Sales technique – you don’t necessarily have to say anything, just dip ure head to one side and make a “I’m sorry luv” face and that should do it.
    Great pics- hope the experience is as much fun as it is challenging

    • Hi Shiriin

      We’re slowly getting there I think. Ju has a better grasp of dealing with people than I do – she’s a much better haggler and tougher at getting rid of hangers on. We had some good practice today – I’ll stick something on the blog later on. I need a beer first after 6 hours of driving to find an open campsite. The biggest problem we have at the moment is working out who’s genuinely saying ‘hi’ and who’s trying to sell kif, carpet, bread, their amazing guide knowledge, the directions to somewhere etc. We got a fair few people just waving at us today, as well as those asking for a lift. Felt good, especially the little football match on the main road which split like the red sea when we pulled up, and cheered us on why I gave them a ‘peep peep’ on Dave’s horn in appreciation.

      I like the call to prayer and we already know what you mean about some guys being better than others. The chap today in Moulay Idriss sounded like his throat was about to go, while the Chefchaouen guys were much smoother, and had loads of passion.

      As for Charlie; that makes sense. Only the odd person seems to pull themselves or their clothing away form him. Most just laugh at him/me. I try to walk along looking all tough, which more likely makes them laugh all the more! Most of the kids want to stroke him, or pretend they have food to get him to follow them. Looking at how many people have next to nothing here, I can appreciate why they would see keeping a small pet dog as plain weird.

      Keep the comments coming; it’s great to here from you and get your advice. I’m making sure I steer clear of cows, sheep, donkeys and goats.


  3. Sorry you poorly Ju ((hugs)) Sounds like you having fun still, visions of Mr B hiding in the camper… did one turn the lights off too!! x

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