Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Chefchaouen - An African Amsterdam?

When locals asked where else we were planning to visit in Morocco they'd nod politely at our list Meknes, Fez, Chefchauen, Tangier 

"Chefchauen? Ahhh." 

There would be nods and knowing smiles, and then the universal hand signal of a pinched finger and thumb being raised to pursed lips as the gesturer inhales. It got old pretty quickly, especially when our insistence that we weren't visiting with the intention of getting stoned out of our eyeballs was met with sheer disbelief. At one point I was informed visiting Chefchauen and not getting high is like going to Amsterdam and not trying a spliff, what else is there to do? (My response of "the Van Gogh Museum, the Anne Frank house" was met with blank stares.)

The attitude wasn't entirely unexplainable, Chefchauen is in the heart of the Rif Mountains and smack bang in the middle of the cannabis growing capital of North Africa. At some point one of Morocco's kings (depending on who's telling the story it was King Mohammad V, Sultan Moulay Hassen or King Moulay II) granted Chefchauen permission to grow and sell cannabis, as the Moroccan Royal family trace their ancestry directly back to the Prophet their permission is not only gilt edged but a holy law which  cannot be revoked. So although marijuana is technically illegal to grow, sell or smoke in Chefchauen saying that it is tolerated is an understatement.
The green things at the back are trees. Probably.
*Let's all bear in mind I'm not a solicitor, have no expertise in international or Moroccan law and I'm only talking about my own experiences in which I was offered weed every time I spoke to anyone and observed a cloud of fumes around every hostel in the city. If you go, get stoned, get arrested and end up in a squalid Moroccan jail on drug related offences don't come crying to me*

I've said all this because everything we read about Chefchauen mentioned cannabis stimulated the local economy, but as an afterthought. In Morocco it is not an afterthought you say "Chefchauen" and they think "stoner". Which isn't why we were visiting at all, the current Mr Harpy is asthmatic and I hardly even drink, if it had been pitched to us as a weed capital we'd have probably avoided it and missed out on a great time in the mountains.
If you think I look terrified, you'd be right, I'm clinging to the edge here.

To get there you have to take a CTM bus through the mountains, if you're prone to travel sickness you will not enjoy this journey but the destination is worth it. Everyone was  really friendly, the entire place was laid back and relaxed (gee, I wonder why?) we had some great food, went on some wonderful hikes and bought some beautiful wool jumpers. The only fly in the ointment was how the natural amphitheatre shape of the valley amplified the calls to prayer from the mosques, particularly the 4am call. It did force us out of bed while the sun was still down and let us star gaze though. Also I'm not sure how much of a problem this would be if you just picked a hostel (and there are plenty to choose from) that was not right next door to a mosque.

Rooftop rooms have the best views.

We never did get a straight answer about why the village was painted blue, perhaps to reflect how close it is to the sky or maybe symbolic of the waterfall they built it next to, in the end it doesn't really matter I'm just glad they did.

Joy xx 
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  1. I wonder what the drugs prosecution rate in the area is like. Hmm.. Super interesting! Regardless of the mystery of why the town is painted blue, I think it looks beautiful! x

  2. It looks so funny. Maybe they all just got high and decided they liked blue?
    Water Painted Dreams xo

  3. Ooh interesting, I hadn't even heard of this place. It does look beautiful!
    (And one of the main reasons that I want to visit Amsterdam is for Anne Frank's house!)

  4. How beautiful! When I was in India I visited several villages in Rajastan which are all painted one colour (blue, pink, and yellow) - it's certainly a bold look but I absolutely love it! I'd be the same as you about Amsterdam - adding in riding a bike and photographing lots of tulips :) xxx