Zagan the motorhome is following in the tyre tracks of our previous motorhome Dave, parked up at Camping Azilan, the only campsite in the ‘blue city’ of Chefchaouen (N35.175603, W5.267009). This is our last stop before we head to the ferry back to Europe, so we’re staying here for a few days to make the most of it. It costs 110Dh a night for the twp of us to stay here with electricity, about €11.
After a couple of days in Azrou, a cycle into the town and a meal out in an alleyway, we left the campsite on Tuesday morning and headed for the town’s huge souk. This was a treat which I missed on our visit in January because I was poorly. I have to admit, I wasn’t fussed about going, but I am so glad I did. We found a place on a bit of wasteland to park up the vans and followed the smell of animals.
Walking past numerous vans with roof-mounted cages, and through the archway that marked the start of the souk, and the scene that hit me was unlike anything I had ever seen before. A vast sloping field full of men, each of them surrounded by a ‘clump’ of sheep tied together at the heads. The clumps varied in size from single sheep to tens, all packed together looking disfigured, as their heads looked to be facing the wrong way.
Picking our way through the field, careful not to tread on any of the tiny lambs huddled next to their mothers, we then entered the goat section which in turn led to the food stalls. As it was a bit too early to eat we carried on into what was effectively a car boot sale. The ground under our feet was dry mud with the remnants of previous souks caked into it. It reminded me of images I’ve seen in newspapers or on TV showing the aftermath of some sort of a disaster.
We wandered around for a couple of hours, taking in the animal grain section, clothing, kitchen items, fruit and veg and even a small area where women gathered with either a single live chicken or turkey, or a basket holding just a few eggs for sale.
Entering the material section I was inspired by the richly-patterned material, and we were invited to sit and discuss which fabrics we wanted to reupholster our home. After a bit of confusion and some attempted discussion they realised we only wanted a metre, well we thought they did. Turns out they thought we wanted to cover something a metre long, so they cut us off 1.5 metres so we could cover the edges too. My plan is to recover the scatter cushions in Zagan as a souvenir of our trip here, and who knows what else with the extra bit.
Finally we arrived back at the food stalls, where Jurg and Margot had already met up with Phil. We joined them at a table in the biggest tent, a red canopy protecting us from the sun, while billowing plumes of smoke were ushered away from us with a huge fan placed by the BBQ. Our table was next to where the food was prepared. Hanging up beside us were three huge chunks of beef, which looked like legs, and well, errr shall we say, maybe something else that let us know it was from a bull and not a cow.
We ordered a beef sandwich each and a pot of tea between us, and while the tea brewed I sat and watched the meat cut off the bone. It was then mixed with onion, spices and a little bit of fat and put through a mincer. The mince was then made into small balls which were cooked on the BBQ and several of them served in a large piece of bread. This all took place right in front of me, while to my right several cows stood tied to a lamp post and flocks of sheep either walked by or were lifted up and loaded onto the roofs of vans. I hate to say it, but it was the best (and undoubtedly freshest) burger I have ever had. After watching the animal market for about half an hour, we paid up (10Dh, €1, for the pot of tea, and 10Dh each for the burgers) and picked our way back through the remaining livestock to our vans. The most unusual thing about the whole souk experience, was that the food stall experience didn’t feel all that unusual, and probably not as weird as it sounds reading it at home.
After such a fantastic experience in the souk, we were riding high as we faced down a personal demon of ours – Meknes. On our first visit to Morocco in 2012 we drove around Meknes several times trying to find the campsite, only to discover it was closed, so despite being shattered from a long days driving we had to hit the motorway to Fes instead. When we passed through again earlier this year, we had a rather unpleasant encounter with a fella begging at the traffic lights, so our track record wasn’t looking good.
After a quick stop and shop in Marjane to stock up on spices, harissa paste and other bits that we only get at the supermarkets, we headed into the city. As far as we know the campsite is still closed, so we aimed for one of the guarded parking areas in the middle of the town. We found ourselves unable to reach the one that looked the nicest in our database (it was tarmacked) because our approach route needed us to squeeze through a small arch in the city walls. Jurg’s adventure truck would destroy the arches too, so we circled around the city and stopped at the gravel-mud parking just outside the walls and opposite the bus station (N33.889871,W5.565713). The guardian greeted us with a friendly smile and showed us into two spaces among the other vans and after collecting 50Dh for the night, pointed out where the toilet emptying was and left us to enjoy the city.
We took Charlie on a walk to see the outside of the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, the man who is considered to be one of the greatest figures in Moroccan history, and who made Meknes the capital of Morocco in the seventeenth century. His resting place is undergoing major refurbishment so is closed to the public at the moment. Once Charlie was happy he’d done the main sights, we grabbed a glass of sugar cane juice from one of the street vendors (delicious it was) before heading off into the medina with Phil, Jules, Jurg and Margot.
We walked for ages, but only seemed to cover a bit of the medina. Sadly the bit we did cover was mainly selling new trainers, jeans and jackets, miles of tiny shop all selling the same thing. Dotted amongst them we found some babouche sellers, but after visiting Tafroute we’re all good for footwear. As we finally found a more traditional part of the medina, the haberdashery souk, the call the prayer sang out and the metal doors to the shops closed as the store keepers headed to the mosques. A bit more wandering, and a bit more getting lost, and we emerged back out of one of the gates, thankfully on a road we recognised.
In the evening we headed out for a bite to eat. Firstly taking in a ‘non-alcoholic’ drink (there isn’t any other kind in the medina) in a roof terrace cafe, watching the sun set and the square below us come alive with people gathering to listen to story tellers. Once it was dark we made our way back down and found a restaurant, or rather the restaurant owner found us – that’s how it works here, but the place looked clean, there were locals in it and most importantly it had lights on so you could see what you were eating. The local harira soup (a bit like minestrone) starter was 8Dh (€0.80), followed by plates of chicken or beef with chips and salad for 40Dh (€4), the owner threw in a couple of bottles of water, so for a grand total of €11 per couple we all are until were stuffed. Spain is going to seem so expensive when we go back.
This morning we said our farewells to Jurg and Margot over breakfast in their adventure truck, before going our separate ways. We’ve headed straight to Chefchaouen, which took a few hours, so we can relax here for a few days and visit the souk taking place tomorrow before catching the ferry back over the weekend.
I have very mixed feelings at the moment about leaving Morocco. Part of me can’t wait to get away, that’s the part that is now growing sick of being asked the following : (you can fill in my side of the conversation as all Moroccans seem to follow a script) ‘Hello. Where do you come from? London? Manchester? Manchester United! I have a shop/cafe/house….’ But there is a huge part of me that will sorely miss this place. It is so different from anywhere else I have been and I think that it has make me look at myself once again, my values and my beliefs and maybe, just maybe it has made me a more appreciative, more grounded and hopefully a better, and if not, a slightly different person.