I may just be a little bit in love with the Moroccan countryside.
The foothills of the Middle Atlas outside Meknes is a lush patchwork of green and gold fields of olives, wheat, onions, chickpeas, broad beans and orange groves, boughs laden with plump fruit. Olive groves cover hillsides alongside figs and almonds. There are wildflowers of red poppy, orange marigold, blue thistle and white fennel. Flowering gums, acacias and melaluecas are everywhere. They plant our gum trees here to prevent erosion. Eucalpyt plantations are also cultivated for firewood and timber roofing battens because they are fast growing and require minimal maintenance. The landscape is drop-dead gorgeous.
On our way to Chefchaouen we visited Volubilis, a magnificently preserved Roman town from the 2nd and 3rd century, now listed with Unesco, but still being excavated. We strolled through remains of stately villas with beautifully preserved mosaics including Diana, Hercules, Baccus and Medusa. We also found the original 8-person spa! Other highlights include the Arch of Truimph, and the remains of the Basilica and the Temple.
In the afternoon we reached the Middle Atlas proper - The Rif. We passed through a forest of debarked cork trees with blood red trunks left like open wounds. A spectacular cloud wrapped itself over one ridge like a breaking wave, swallowing everything in its wake.
Chefchaouen is a revelation! The medina is a mountainside maze of buildings painted in every hue of blue imaginable. It is a delight to wander aimlessly here taking winding steps that lead to anywhere and everywhere. Soooo many doors to photograph. Shopping here is so much nicer than Egypt, there is a chance to stop and look with minimal hassle, and there is an array of leather goods, pottery, jewellery, metalwork, rugs and clothes rather than trashy souveniers.
Our second day in Chefchaouen began with a surprise Mohamed had planned. He said it was a short detour from the beach at Martil, on the other side of the mountains, which was our actual destination. After a half hour or so of climbing into the mountains it was clear we were going somewhere remote. The road became a goat-track off the side of the mountain and we came to a stop at a dead end next to a river. Time for a walk. Twenty minutes each way, Mohamed says. Not many people come here he says. After an hour of walking through a beautiful valley, with no food or water, we were getting a little restless. We were meant to be going to see a waterfall but we were still some way from it. We were also getting swallowed up by groups of teenagers out for a bit of Sunday fun. The day wad getting on and we were keen to get to the beach so we headed back. I swear we were met head-on by several hundred people on the tiny track!! By the time we got back to the van the entire road was covered in cars for a good couple of hundred metres!!! SURPRISE!!
An hour later we reached the coast. As luck would have it, the wind was howling and it was overcast. The ocean was really rough and churning sand. There would be no swimming in The Med today. The corniche runs for kilometres with hundreds of cafes and restaurants, all shut! We found one open and were blown inside. Michael Jackson's greatest hits were playing! Im not sure what any of us had could pass for food. We saw some interesting interpretations on fish croquettes and pizza.
Good food has still been hard to come by, and it has me totally perplexed. Harira (Moroccan soup) is a hero, and one I will be wanting to try when I get home. I did also enjoy a Kefta tagine which was meatballs and tomato sauce with an egg in the middle. The chicken and lemon tagine is also a winner. But thats it so far.
Today we attempted another walk to a mosque halfway up the mountain, but we were totally rained out. First real rain of the entire holiday!! So we came back to the hotel and had our picnic lunch in the lobby instead.
I may not be painting the most pleasant picture of our time here, but food and weather aside, Chefchaouen is a gorgeous town and I love strolling around the Medina and main square. Now, if only I can get a break in the rain to rock the Kasbah!
Next up, Fez.