Thursday, July 30, Chefchaouen, Morocco

2015-07-28 16.14.44
The temple at Volubilis, outpost of the Roman Empire.

I’m in a beautiful small city on a hillside in Northern Morocco. This should be my last day in this country as my plan is to ferry over to Algeciras, Spain, tomorrow. This place is another gem, friendly, relatively cool after the suffering of Fez, small enough to be manageable but big enough to contain lots of interesting little alleyways and places.

I spent one day at Fez transporting myself to Volubilis, above. I’d hoped to hook up with other travelers but was surprised to learn that there is very little tourist interest in the Roman ruins (abandoned by Rome in 285 A.D. for unknown reasons). My only option was to hop a train to the nearby city of Meknes where I’d hire a “big” taxi for the 45 minute drive to the site. But even in Meknes I was disappointed. No one else was there (I waited over an hour in  105 degree heat) to share the cab. I ended up paying the entire 30 bucks myself. Once we got there the driver waited for me.

I can check this one off my list of Roman/Greek sites:  Corinth, the Parthenon, Troy, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Antioch, Carthage, Buthrotum (Albania), Evora, Mertola, and one ephemeral trip to Rome. That’s the positive side. The negative side is the penetrating heat that I endured for 90 minutes–which was all I could abide–for the pleasure of boasting one more bit of history ingested.

The place is large and the foundations of the entire city are still there:  manufacturing areas (mostly weaving and crushing olive oil), plebian and patrician housing (with several nice mosaics), the forum, the basilica (where laws were developed and enforced), a bit of the aqueduct. Much to see. My guide (another 25 bucks) sped through the place either to avoid being fried alive or to get back for one more paying customer.

I staggered back to the cab for the trip back to the train station, thence to Fez. Under better conditions it would have been a pleasure; this was pedantic masochism.

I was happy to get out of Fez, which seemed fetid, miserably hot, of course, and lacking in the charms of other Moroccan cities. But much of my reaction, detailed previously, had little to do with the city and more to do with my lack of planning and basic caution.

Wednesday I screwed up again, costing myself $3.50 needless taxi cost. I assumed I could get a train to Chefchaouen, but found out after I got to the station, that I should have gone to the bus station. The bus to Chefchaouen was sold out, I was told, upon my arrival. Try the place next door; they go there, too. But they were sold out for the entire day. Now I was envisioning another day in Fez, something akin to another day of Common Core Training. But it turned out the first bus company had seats at 2:30, three hours hence. I found a place to park myself and waited.

Ten minutes later a guy offered me a seat on a 12:15 bus for another $13. I was tempted. Save three hours? But my cheapskate heart won out; I passed. Later I saw him talking with two other tourists who, apparently took his offer. Who knew there would be ticket scalpers at the Fez bus station?

At 1:30 a guy approached me.

“You have ticket to Chefchaouen?” he inquired as I finished off my bottle of Sprite. On the chair next to me was my multi-kilo backpack and the painting I’ve been hauling all over Morocco. Every time I thought about actually going somewhere I glowered over at that blue-black bag and squirmed a bit, thinking about the struggle to get it on my back and weave through the crowded aisles of the station.

But this guy was offering me an immediate seat on a bus to my destination. I dug my ticket out of my wallet and showed it to him, holding on firmly lest he decide to take off and run with it.

“Come, there is bus,” he told me. I bolted out of my chair, donned my backpack and warily followed this guy to a bus. They stowed my backpack and I was on my way. The air conditioning cut the heat, but did not entirely allay its affects, but the seat was soft and, most important, I was on my way out of this crummy conurbation.

It was too hot to do much reading but I did get a partial nap.

About four hours into our trip we stopped at a fork in the road. To the right I could see a city smashed against then side of a mountain. I leaned over and asked the guy sitting across the aisle, “Chefchaouen”. He nodded and gestured towards the front of the bus. My destination was directly ahead, he indicated.

Two minutes later we were on our way again. A guy approached me.

“Ticket?” he asked.

I gave him a quizzical look. I pulled out my ticket and showed it to him.j

“This bus not going to Chefchaouen,” he told me.

My face dropped. A young guy had just occupied the seat next to me.

“You should have gotten off there,” he said. “They make announcement but it is in Arabic and you don’t understand.”

“Don’t worry,” he added. “You can get out ahead and get ride to Chefchaouen.”

OK, I thought, just another adventure. It was getting toward 6pm, a welcome development since the temperature was dropping. And the montane locale helped, too. At least I wasn’t going to boil when I ultimately got off the bus.

Five minutes later we came to another fork in the road and the bus stopped to evict me and my bag/painting. A nice big bus was just passing through the intersection, too late for me, but a hopeful sign. My destination was easily visible from the road, but it was at least 1,000 ft. above where we were parked, a long, arduous hike if that turned out to be necessary

“I can catch bus here?” I asked to bus guy who was unloading my worldly goods. He nodded. This meant either 1)he had no idea what I was talking about in this strange accented English; or b)there was a bus.

At the fork in the road was a dusty little swath of land that apparently formed a sort of informal bus stop/hitchhiking spot. There were about four young men standing, peering at oncoming traffic. Several taxis passed, all loaded to the gunnels. Two elderly men sat in the shade of a purposeless brick wall, seemingly headed for Chefchaouen but unwilling to devote much energy to getting there.

They said there would be a bus, I told myself. I waited. Memories of my hitchhiking days came to mind, especially the time I spent a half day in the broiling sun trying to get a ride in some middle California burg in the early 70’s.

A Puegout van appeared in the distance. The driver seemed to be checking us out, me and the guy standing next to me. (The other guys had all gotten lifts from passing drivers). He slowed. The other guy hopped in. I stealthily edged myself toward his back door, trying to be inquisitive without being pushy. Would he consider me as a worthy passenger?

He did. I hopped in. Off we went up the mountain. And 30 minutes later I was walking into the medina, seeking my lodging. I got lost for a while. Some guy, looking to make a dinar, tried to lead me along, but it became quickly apparent that he didn’t know where my place was.

But eventually I found it and here I am. I had a delightful evening wandering through the medina, which seems like one of the best ones I’ve trod.

Tomorrow I’ll try to ferry over to Europe.

2015-07-28 16.04.34
A piece of a mosaic from the dining room floor of a patrician home in Volubilis.
2015-07-28 16.02.09
What’s left of the aqueduct, which linked a mountainside spring with the city.
2015-07-28 16.08.32
The roman road makers knew their craft. This is the drainage at the center of the road (which you can see to the left and right). The road stands as it did two thousand years ago except for a little bit of erosion around the main paving stones.

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Jerry Heverly

I'm a high school English teacher from San Leandro High School in California.

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