It’s hard to believe I’ve been here over a month already. Sometimes I feel like I just arrived, and other times I feel as if I’ve been here for years. A strange feeling, like making a new friend who becomes close so quickly that you forget there was ever a time when you didn’t know each other. Hunker down, kids, because these are my notes for this blog post. Front and back.1
My workweek was action-packed, and by “action-packed” I mean “hours in front of the computer preparing a pretty exciting edtech project”. More on that soon.2 I mostly remembered to eat food: I made harira again,3 ate liver by accident for the second time, and probably devoured my weight in homemade Moroccan treats.4
The weekend was delightful, and a perfect antidote to my hectic week. I took off to Chefchaouen with a couple of friends on Saturday afternoon. We ran into traffic leaving the city, since the king was visiting (again) for the holiday weekend, but once we broke free of Tangier the drive was leisurely and beautiful. We passed hillsides with row upon row of enormous wind turbines, which dwarfed everything else in the nearby countryside.5 Next we passed a few men walking down the road with live chickens in their arms. If you happen to be driving down the highway in Morocco and fancy chicken for dinner, this is a good way to get it.6 The scenery changed as we drove. Brown, shrub-covered hillsides transformed into thick forests, which in turn gave way to gorgeous mountains and deep valleys.
We arrived at Chefchaouen just before sundown and sat in a covered garden–accompanied by several cats–to wait for dinner. As soon as the call to prayer rang out across the town, dinner arrived. Dates, harira, fruit juice, cookies, followed by a mountain of couscous7 with five spoons embedded in it. Really. The plate itself was exceptionally large, and it was piled seven or eight inches high. At the very top was a delicious mix of caramelized onions, raisins, and meat. I felt a bit like an archaeologist, scraping away at the couscous mountain with my very large spoon.8 The cats watched us eat, feigning indifference.
After dinner, we wandered out through shadowed blue streets, lit by the occasional lamp or open doorway. I watched people coming and going up the long road to the mosque9 and found the spot in the river where residents come to wash their carpets and clothes.10 We ended the evening with late-night shawarma on the hotel rooftop and a screening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s La Cité des enfants perdus. Fell asleep with the window open, mosque twinkling in the distance, while faraway music drifted in and one of my companions snored peacefully across the room.
Abandoning earlier plans to arise at dawn and watch the sunrise from the mosque, we slept until a very civilized 8:30am. Packed up, said goodbye to a group of cats dutifully guarding their local clothesline, hopped into the car, and zoomed off into the mountains for a day of hiking. The picturesque Rif Mountains were more even more beautiful than I expected, and each curve of the road11 revealed a new vista. Rocky cliffs with orange, pink, and brown striations. Tree-covered hillsides. Mist drifting between mountains and rising from sun-stained lakes. Tangier isn’t a dry wasteland by any stretch of the imagination, but I was astonished by how green everything was in the mountains.12
Upon arriving at the trail head, I bounded out of the car and set off down the path.13 The trail followed a stream all the way up through the mountains, and was lined with mint, rosemary, and wildflowers. Butterflies flitted through the treetops and tiny blue lizards sunned themselves on warm rocks. I even startled a frog, which splashed back into the water and bobbed there, gawking at me with grouchy, sleepy frog eyes. The view improved each time I rounded a corner or climbed up a hill, until I had a hard time believing how beautiful everything was.
After four miles or so,14 I arrived at my destination: a gigantic waterfall. So gigantic, in fact, that I was unable to get it all in one photo. It crashed and tumbled down over the cliff face, across moss-covered rock, into a beautiful turquoise pool. I think I spent about a minute and a half looking at the view before I abandoned my pack and leapt in. I spent the better part of the next hour in the pool, under the waterfalls, climbing the moss-covered rock behind the cascade, and trying to coax my friends into the frigid water.15 After my swim, I relaxed on a cushioned bench under the trees and thought for a while about how Moroccans really seem to have the important things in life all figured out. Waterfalls, great napping spots, little blue lizards, you name it.16
On the way back I gathered handfuls of wild rosemary and mint.17 I watched boys dive thirty feet over a smaller waterfall. Had a staring contest with a frog. Saw a bee burrowing into the ground. At one point we heard a strange noised and paused to look up, discovering a group of wild monkeys on the hill above the trail. I attempted to communicate with them, using only hand gestures and the most monkey-like facial expressions I could muster. One monkey clambered out onto a low-hanging branch to get a better look at me, but soon scrambled back to continue grooming his orange friend.18
We drove back toward the setting sun, past children selling melons, garlic, and onions, on the side of the road. We passed the prime minister and his escort, and paused for a woman leading two reluctant sheep across the road.
- If I look concerned, it’s because it is already 1:30 in the morning. [↩]
- Among my other accomplishments: obtaining couches for the library, labeling shelves, and similarly exciting things. [↩]
- And made some small changes to the recipe I posted. [↩]
- On a tangentially related note, I think I figured out why it was so difficult to find a basil plant. Moroccans use basil as a mosquito repellant, so it’s no surprise that I received blank looks when describing it as a cooking herb. [↩]
- Apparently, they’re owned by the Spanish, who then keep most of the energy and sell the rest back to Morocco. Doesn’t exactly seem fair. [↩]
- But I imagine you’d have to be okay with a) transporting a live chicken in your trunk, and b) killing it when you get home. [↩]
- More like a cinder cone, for you geology nerds. [↩]
- Those who know me well will remember that I occasionally have difficulties with large spoons, and often select child-sized spoons for use in my own home. [↩]
- The mosque in Chefchaouen is perched at the top of a big hill, overlooking the city. [↩]
- Fun fact: inhabitants of Chefchaouen don’t have to pay for water, since it’s so plentiful. It’s also pure enough to be piped in, untreated. [↩]
- Not a road for the faint-hearted, by the way. [↩]
- The region is also known for its cannabis production, and we noticed fields of it growing wild by the side of the road. [↩]
- I eventually remembered my companions and waited for them at various points along the trail. My hiking speed, though not quite what you’d describe as “breakneck”, is often fast enough that I find it difficult to stay with groups. [↩]
- We still haven’t mastered the art of kilometer-to-mile conversion. [↩]
- I met a German woman who was hiking alone and convinced her to swim a few laps with me. [↩]
- I mean, just look at traditional Moroccan houses. Everything is piled high with cushions and pillows, which says to me that–as a society–they’re on the right track. [↩]
- I cooked potatoes with some of the rosemary for breakfast this morning. Delicious. [↩]
- It’s a terrible blow to one’s ego to be deemed uninteresting by wild monkeys. I mean, I was even making faces for them! [↩]