After a quick meeting, we all headed to the very large Marjane Supermarket for food and money changing and the fuel station for last minute top-ups.
We headed out independently following a road that took us higher and higher into the Rif Mountains. Green farms and white villages climb the mountainsides and wild flowers, especially masses of red poppies, line the roads and cover the fields. Along the way, pottery stalls sell terracotta and decorated tagines, garden pots and rounded roof tiles, with their wares spilling out over the dusty road verges.
After only a couple of hours we found the campsite on the side of a mountain. We perched ourselves and the van on the edge with a lovely view into the valley - if you can ignore the rubble left behind by a dozer at our feet!
With some of the others we decided to spend the afternoon walking up the road that wound up the mountain behind us. Higher and higher we went, and we were rewarded with stunning views over the valley and of a large lake in the distance. We passed men digging boulders out of the ground, hard work in the heat. A family with a couple of young girls were tending a flock of sheep and goats on the precipitous slopes and we were passed by donkeys loaded up with freshly harvested hay.
Next day was a day to explore the blue town of Chefchaouen just around the hill from us and a short walk away. We entered by one of the gates in the city walls near the top and soon discovered a map, any map, would not help find a path through the maze of lanes and steps. So we generally kept heading downhill, occasionally backtracking from dead-ends. The houses are all washed in a blue or blue-white paint with occasional swathes of a brighter blue. In high summer it must be almost blinding. The town was repainted blue in the 1930s when the Jews arrived replacing the traditional Muslim green and it has remained that way. Tiny shops are tucked into holes in walls with the shopkeeper sitting on a step outside; glimpses of cool courtyards can be seen through open doors; cats laze on blue doorsteps; tangles of wires weave overhead the narrow passages; heavy wooden doors with defensive studs hark back to a time when the doors were built to repel invaders.
Without any clue where we were, we chanced upon a bustling vegetable market. The street was only a couple of metres wide but with sellers spreading their goods out, space to move became somewhat limited. Many of the women sellers were dressed in traditional garb, colourful outfits with a red and white striped cloth tied around the waist and with woven straw hats decorated with multi-coloured fluffy bobbles. Many men still wear traditional Arab dress. A large number, whom we believe are Sufis, wear a robe with pointy hoods pulled up over their heads. We bought tomatoes, onions and the sweetest peaches we have ever tasted.
Further wandering brought us to the central square, quite small but appropriate for this small town, which was lined with small cafes and restaurants and bordered on one side by the main mosque (no entry for us non-Muslims alas) and the Kasbah.
We paid our 10 Dh each for entry and entered a cool garden full of roses, rosemary and other heavily scented plants. A climb to the tower gave us a great view looking up to the mountain top with the blue washed houses clinging to the slopes. In the Kasbah was also the old prison with chains and manacles still attached to the walls. Only one small window gave any light or ventilation. Not, I think, a happy place in the past. A tiny museum with old photographs of people in local costumes lined the walls and an odd selection of painted chests rotting at their bases, musical instruments, some very long barrelled guns, 2 strange shaped water vessels and assorted decorated pottery, and some embroidered silks completed the displays. Eclectic.
Lunch in the square - tagines of course - completed the day's wandering. The waiter was the nicest, politest and helpful young man - we couldn't help comparing him to our experience with the manic waiter in Cáceres. And then rather than walk back up that very steep hill, we hopped in a 'petite taxi' which delivered us all the way to the campsite for a pittance.
Later in the evening the whole group walked down to town again to meet up for a meal in Casa Aladin. We dined on traditional Moroccan food high up on a terrace with a fine view over the main square. A final wander through the souk and we again took a petit taxi home.