Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Study Abroad: Post 11 [The North, Part 1]

This weekend, we went to the north of Morocco, specifically Fnideq (pronounced Fuh-nE-duh-k) and Ceuta (also referred to as Septa, and Theuta).  The purpose was to show us the contrasting environment of northern and southern Morocco.

Once again, we woke up and got to the bus at 8am, enjoying our packed breakfast (this time: chocolate biscuits, yogurt and fruit juice), while we left Rabat behind.  The differences between the north and south of Morocco?  So many.  But the one I noticed immediately was how area seemed greener and lusher.  Northern Morocco receives the most rainfall in the country, especially the Rif Mountains. 

The Rif Mountains are notable for the fact that they sell hash.  In fact, Chefchaouen is considered the Moroccan haven for marijuana.  While there, I saw three Germans, with massive dreads, and guages, waving around a joint.  The cafe where I stopped to have an avocado juice was right by the city's water source, a small waterfall, and the proprietors were enjoying their own blunts when I went to pay.

But I digress.

The drive seemed so long and we even had music playing through our bus.  There was mist for quite a long time.  I swear it was about 10am before the sun started to shine.

We reached Chefchaouen shortly before 1pm.  The city was a visible blur as we came around the hills: blinding whitewash and azure paints against dark brown and green.  The colors were vibrant, the medina was hilly, and the general atmosphere reminded me of Greece (not that I've ever been to Greece, I've just seen pictures).

Lunch was served at this beautiful restaurant, with stained glass windows, colorful plates and comfy couches.  The vegetarian meal was harira (chickpea soup), vegetable tagine with raisins and tart au citron (lemon tart) for dessert. A specialty in Chefchaouen is their bread, made the traditional way in a wood oven.  I also tried this type of cheese that might have been goat cheese.  It was sour and crumbly like feta, but when paired with the bread?  It was phenomenal!

The restaurant's sign definitely looks like something out of Greece, especially with the grapevine.

Remember the thing about TripAdvisor? Still a mark of quality.

The lemon tart was crumbly, with sweet lemon-y goodness on top, complete with a plum.
After lunch, we had about two hours to wander by ourselves.  Though I stayed mostly inside of the medina, I found this all girls school, where the girls shrieked and laughed when I tried to take their picture.  I taught a shopkeeper how to say hello in Mandarin (nihao).  Several men tried to get me to have tea with them in their homes (which is just not a good idea). I saw an old man organizing bundles of wood for the hamam (local bathhouse).
Souad, the one girl who let me take her picture.

The vibrant blue of the hamam stands out, but also matches its surroundings.
At the end, I walked with a few friends to the water-fall, and sat watching people for a bit.  We left Chefchaouen at 4pm.
People hang rugs out to dry, do laundry, and swim at the water source.
If you're feeling a bit hot or thirsty, there are bottles of water and cold oranges for sale.
As we left, I was still struck by the colors of Chefchaouen.
That night, we arrived in Fnideq in time for the Barcelona versus Madrid football game.  It's not soccer, it's football.  Our hotel had a cafe right underneath it.  From my third floor balcony, I could hear the cheers and cries of fans.  Our program assistant, Badr, is "Madrid 'til death" and was a bit disappointed by the draw.  We had to leave for dinner though, so the food may have calmed him down.
Fnideq is interesting because it is right next to Ceuta, which is "officially" Spanish territory.  However, Moroccans will say that it is Moroccan Ceuta and that they are waiting for its return.  Instead of dirhams, it's Euros in Ceuta.  Instead of mosques, it's churches in Ceuta.  Instead of tea, it's sangrias in Ceuta.
Fnideq's proximity to Ceuta means that  many illegal goods are smuggled and sold in Fnideq's medina.  Two friends and I went on a search for fabled "red balls of cheese" or queso edam, bolero tierno.  In between fake Nikes, scuffed Crocs, dates and Kinder chocolate, we found it at a stall run by a very enterprising kid, who couldn't have been more than thirteen.  We tried to bargain with him, but we definitely got the short end of the stick.  This kid knew how to run a business!
Dinner was at the restuarant La Corniche.  There was Moroccan salad of beets, potatoes, carrots and salad dressing (with tuna for non-vegetarians).  Vegetarians dined on spaghetti and tomato sauce, while omnivores enjoyed chicken steaks with potatoes and french fries.  Dessert was a delicious fruit salad, complete with sugared glass rim.
Bananas, apples and the ever present SUGAR, all served in a classy glass.

At the end of the night, we gathered around (on a megabed, which is two beds pushed together, with all of the pillows we could lay our hands on) to watch Rules of Attraction, with Jessica Biel and Ian Somerhalder.  The movie, though artsy, was very weird.  Look it up if you have time and don't mind wondering 'WTF' throughout.  Halfway through, we heard a constant honking.  Investigation revealed a wedding procession.
After confusion about the ending of the movie, we went to bed, ready for Ceuta in the morning (to be continued)...

The sunset on our way to Fnideq was beautiful.

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