Friday, October 30, 2015

INTREPIDLY, MADRID TO MARRAKECH (Part 1): Chefchaouen - Blue, Blue and Blue

(I joined Intrepid Travel's Madrid to Marrakech tour during Sept. - Oct. 2015, and will be doing a series of posts about the trip. As usual, posts will be rather haphazard - not chronological, and some stops will be skipped altogether :-D)


Chefchaouen probably does not ring a bell when one talks about different tourist spots in Morocco, since it is off the beaten path. Located in the Rif Mountains (where, incidentally, most of Morocco's hashish is grown), the first adjective that comes to mind to describe this small town is "picturesque". 

And truth be told, it was this stop of our tour that i was looking forward to the most. Why? Having seen photos online of its predominant blue color motif, it was extremely pleasing to the eyes, and i wondered how the town would look like, in real life. 

We took a tour around with our guide, the venerable Abdul Salaam, who proved to be quite loquacious and game to answer all sorts of queries we had. (He did have the rather unfortunate tendency to pull your elbow forcefully, and growl "Listen to me!")

Gate of a hammam (spa)

An obvious question was, why was the town painted blue? He  informed me that it was for practical reasons - it kept the weather cool, and kept the mosquitoes away (imagine that, blue insect repellant!).

During the previous centuries until 1945, natural indigo pigment was used for the blue color. Since then, synthetic pigments have been used.  

Blue walls and path to a blue-gated residence
However, Abdul Salaam also mentioned that the locals repaint three times per year, on auspicious dates: One week before end of Ramadan; during the Haj; and on Prophet Mohammed's birthday. So it seems logical that there is religious significance to this practice. 

I also checked online, and one other theory was that Jewish refugees started the practice back in the 1930s, as they considered the color blue to symbolize the sky and heaven.

Hotel entrance

Our tour leader, Anki, posing on the street

Wandering around the narrow streets of the Medina (Old Town)

Check out this particular corridor below. The walls, the steps on the pavement, the doors - all in blue! ;-D

As you can see, the blue color comes in different shades and degrees of intensity. Here's a particularly vivid blue door below. I was strolling around and chanced upon this Taiwanese tourist having her photo taken by her friend.

Ni hao? :D 

Some of the doors have intricate designs, too.

Entrance to a mosque

Entrance to a hotel
This one below is my favorite, located right at the main plaza of Chefchaouen, very near the Kasbah (fortress). It used to be the gate of old hammam:

Here's a close-up. Lovely as can be!

Here's a view of the town, from the topmost level of the kasbah:

There are many shops selling souvenir items, and leather goods in particular. Do be forewarned, though, that Moroccan shop keepers tend to have aggressive sales tactics; and that bargaining is the way of life here. (In my case, i have to thank one of my tour mates, Steve, who is very adept at pulling me away from the clutches of said shop keepers)

Genuine leather goods for you, if the price is right!

Going back to the doors, there is an odd green one or two, like this one. Green being the color of Islam, Abdul Salaam mentioned that this signifies members of a 'holy' family live inside. 

One thing our tour leader, Anki, repeatedly mentioned was that unlike in Spain and Portugal, taking candid photographs of people in Morocco was generally frowned upon. You have to ask permission first. 

I was aiming to shoot this narrow alleyway, with a blue wall lined with quite colourful fabrics and clothing. Whoosh! Mr. Photobomber appeared on the scene at the exact same moment that i pressed my mobile camera button.

 Somehow it was only fitting that he was wearing a vivid blue shirt!!! ;-D