A Case of Morocco’s Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

High up in the Rif mountains of Morocco, past a succession of hairpin bends and steep cliffs dropping down to nothingness, is a town that’s entirely blue.

The reasons that led the community of Chefchaouen to paint every one of their buildings in the same colour aren’t entirely known for sure: some say it’s to hold back invading mosquitos, while others claim it’s to reflect the sky.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Regardless of their origin, wandering through the blues of Chefchaouen is a surreal experience that’s entirely unlike the rest of the country – and the Moroccans who live here know it.

“People say that we Moroccans are crazy…”

Ahmed lit a fire in the kitchen of our guesthouse and tore up a handful of mint leaves, stuffing them into three small glasses. We’d just returned from a second day of wandering through the leather souks of Fez, awestruck and bombarded with every sensory detail imaginable. My mind was racing. Above all, I had that pulsing adrenaline rush of feeling a constant need to move. “Don’t let any of them know you’re not on top of this situation,” my brain had told me all day, on repeat.

Usually, the old walled medinas of Moroccan cities are chaotic and close knit: in the souks, the smell of camel blood and sawdust mixes with piles of brightly coloured spices and heady incense; the hawkers shout and whistle constantly, vying for the attention of prospective customers in amongst the throngs that pass by.

There are stares, whistles and general attention from all sides – particularly for foreigners.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

The souk in Fez is that same hub of energy – it’s fascinating and amazing but can also sap your energy – and as we sipped on  fresh mint tea, we talked about how experiencing Morocco can differ for single travellers versus friends.

My flatmate Emi and I had already got ourselves lost on multiple occasions over our weekend in Fez – wrong turnings, forgotten directions, inadvertently following someone’s advice and trying in vain to lose the over-eager guidance of someone else – but because we were in Morocco together as a pair, every instance had been more hilarious than exhausting.

We were happy to lose ourselves occasionally in exchange for experiencing more than we otherwise would.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

An initial refusal to calm down

That sense of obligatory movement was still present when we arrived in Chefchaouen the next morning, fresh off a four hour bus journey through illicit marijuana fields and with the sounds of screaming, vomiting babies still ringing in our ears.

My mind was still active. We had less than twenty four hours in the blue city stretching out in front of us – and although I wanted to embrace the calm and quiet I knew Chefchaouen was famed for, I couldn’t quite stop myself speeding along the street and ducking inside the first blue archway we came to.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Except within minutes I’d been halted, mid-step, by the blue front door of my dreams.

And then another.

And then three of them, all at once, in a perfect colour gradient.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Soon, I’d realised just how tightly this city held me within its grasp. There’s no escaping the temptation of crumbling staircases, flaking paint, whitewashed walls dappled with sunshine, or the promise of just one more perfect photo opportunity.

Exploring Chefchaouen through its people

The next morning, at the suggestion of our guesthouse owner, we took a taxi up to Ras Al Ma where a freshwater spring gushes down the mountain just outside the walls of the medina. It’s a popular place for local women to wash clothes, blankets and carpets inside the purpose built stone washrooms on either bank of the river.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

It also seemed to be something of a social gathering space.

Apart from the washerwomen talking and laughing loudly, there were groups of teenagers hanging out in the shade of an orange tree; women offering traditional Moroccan outfits to tourists for photo opportunities; a collection of musicians playing tambourines and flutes; a young girl keeping a watchful eye on a pair of wandering peacocks and a stall selling freshly squeezed orange juice.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

If the day before had been about doors and steps and blue paint, our next morning in Chefchaouen was all about the people and seeing how life is lived in this stunning city.

We crossed a bridge in brilliant sunshine behind a group of excited Moroccans and walked into the medina through an archway – and there was that fantastical blue, all over again.

Inside the blues of Chefchaouen

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

That morning, Chefchaouen truly felt like a different world.

In the bright sunlight that streamed across the walls, all the details made themselves known: blue flecks from an overenthusiastic paintbrush user; tide marks of different blue shades from painting sessions past; a conspicuous effort to paint every single door bolt, metal grate, gas meter and section of electrical wire looping down from a light fitting.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

It almost felt like the entire city was doing it on purpose, just to make the scenes more enticing for their blue-obsessed visitors. We even found that Emi had inadvertently chosen an outfit perfect for the occasion…

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Now and then my photo-snapping fingers started to tire – it felt indulgent to keep taking more – and I tried to let the colour wash over me in a blue-tinged haze. Except then we’d turn a corner to be confronted by another stunning scene, and suddenly out came the camera once again.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A heads up: tourism in Chefchaouen is wonderfully casual

Morocco is known for its shopping opportunities and Chefchaouen has its fair share of magnets, keyrings, ornate mirrors and colourful scarves for sale. But in direct opposition to every Moroccan souk I’ve been into, Chefchaouen simply presents its goods and then steps quietly away.

It leaves any prospective tourists free to spend a good five minutes deciding if they really need that canvas painting of a curved blue archway, or that temptingly orange rag rug.

(Spoiler alert: you most definitely do need that rug. Always, always buy the rug.)

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

At some point, while wandering amongst the souvenirs that were conspicuously missing their sellers, I realised that it must be somewhat annoying to live in an environment that’s so beautiful, so small and so popular with photo-happy tourists.

Surely they’re a bit sick of the constant flurry of visitors?

“Welcome to Chaouen!”

We’d already walked past a pair of tiny blue wooden shutters when I heard the thin reedy voice. It took me a moment to find the source – and the little old man who sat balanced on a plastic stool just inside the shutters. He was grinning happily behind his rack of cigarette packets, phone cards and chewing gum.

“You are tired? You are going to a party?”

I told him we were just walking – and how beautiful his town was. He nodded agreeably and, when we both realised our language skills were spent, gave me a packet of gum and waved goodbye.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Not long afterwards, standing beside a row of canvas sacks filled with coloured dyes (which may have been the most photogenic scene I think I’ve ever seen), I popped my head into the attached shop to ask what the dye was used for and discovered to my utter joy that the Moroccan men inside understood me speaking Spanish.

They briefly explained that the dye is mixed with powder to make paint, but were clearly more intrigued about the fact that we could actually communicate. We ended up engaged in a conversation about the myriad of different languages you can find people speaking in Morocco – and I left feeling a strange pride in how easily you can strike up communication, no matter where in the world you are.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Happy and relaxed in the Chefchaouen blues

Of course, when I thought about it properly, it was clear that Chefchaouen is just like any other place. People live normally here: they hang their washing out to dry, leave their pets sleeping in the sun, bake their own bread and buy supplies from the shop around the corner.

It’s just that people in Chefchaouen get to do these things in an absolutely jaw dropping environment.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Maybe it’s because Chefchaouen is so relaxed and laid back – or maybe it’s purely because blue itself is such a calming colour – but less than twenty four hours in the city left me strolling slowly, smiling and happy. Absorbing, taking everything in, stopping to look from time to time. No rushing.

For once, I even relaxed my travel-appropriate ‘I totally know what I’m doing’ face and wandered around grinning with my mouth hanging open. It was too beautiful not to.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

While places like Marrakesh and Fez are clearly the most popular destinations in Morocco, the tourists who flock to Chefchaouen are romantic, photo-hungry and above all, looking for some calm amongst the Moroccan intensities.

And unless they have a serious problem with the colour blue, they’ll find it.

Either that, or an allergy to paint.

A Case of the Chefchaouen Blues

Have you ever been to a place as colourful as Chefchaouen? Would you like to explore Morocco? 

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A Case of Morocco's Chefchaouen Blues

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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10 Responses to A Case of Morocco’s Chefchaouen Blues

  1. Edward February 4, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    Great writing – Great pics xx

    • Flora February 5, 2016 at 10:28 am #

      Thanks Edward – glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Laura February 4, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    Thanks for sharing Flora, I really felt like I was in Chefchaoeun as I read it. I really love you could have a chat in Spanish with locals! And that rogue cat in the first photo is such a cutie x

    • Flora February 5, 2016 at 10:41 am #

      Isn’t he adorable?! And that Spanish conversation was definitely an unexpected highlight 🙂

  3. Kyle Bell February 4, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

    Beautiful photos. Reminds me of any number of towns in central Mexico, Taxco or Guanajuato, for example. For one, Taxco has decided that all buildings in town will be whitewashed. The style, narrow roads, staircases, and even some of the souvenirs and elements of daily life are very similar.

    • Flora February 5, 2016 at 10:42 am #

      That’s fantastic, Kyle! I haven’t made it to Mexico yet but if there are places like Chefchaouen I think I’ll love it even more than I first thought :p

  4. leigh423 February 9, 2016 at 2:29 am #

    What a photogenic village! Although I don’t even have this year finalized, I’m already debating between Morocco and Jordan for my “big trip” of 2017….these photos are very tempting…

    • Flora February 17, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      It’s a seriously tempting place, Leigh! I’d definitely suggest working it into your itinerary if you’re already planning to visit Morocco 🙂

  5. Rebecca March 6, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    Love this story! I feel like I’m there with you. And beautiful photos!

  6. Flora March 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    Thanks so much for reading Rebecca 🙂

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