Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold Africa

Chefchaouen, Morocco

This is my first holiday paid for from a salary and taken from a finite amount of paid leave (albeit a large finite amount). I'm visiting a friend who works for an NGO in Morocco and is on holiday with me, and another of his co-workers, for this week.

I flew into Gibraltar on Sunday afternoon and stayed there one night. On Monday morning I had just enough time to scoot up to the top of the Rock, see some monkeys, and walk back down. Meanwhile Andrew and Sid had been to Mark's and Spencer... one of the advantages of a British territory in Spain! We took the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier on Monday afternoon, which was a very rough crossing. I had to take a hurried visit to the toilet but felt much better afterwards.

This is my first time in Africa and so far it has been not at all what I expected! Tangier is a city much like ones in southern Spain or Italy: quite well organised but slightly chaotic, full of traffic driving to and from the port, and with a naval feel. We found a cheap hotel to stay in - 100 dirhams per person, which is 10 euros or 7 pounds - which promised hot water but did not deliver. On all other counts it was fine, and on Tuesday morning we shipped out to the bus station and caught the bus up here to the mountains.

Chefchaouen means "look at the peaks!" in Arabic, and that is what we've been doing. It is COLD here, dropping to near freezing at night and peaking at 12 degrees or so in the daytime. Moreover, the Moroccans haven't mastered indoor heating so it is COLD inside as well. Blankets and thermal underwear are a must to sleep! To be fair we are paying only 70 dirhams a night here in our hotel, so I can't really complain.

Today my friend and I attempted to hike up one of the peaks overlooking the town. It's a 1600m mountain, meaning about 800 vertical metres of climb. We set off quite early, but got waylaid when we took a wrong turning and had to clamber up, and then down, some rocks that we thought were the path. After wasting an hour on that we headed up, and after rising above the snowline quickly had to slow our pace. Snow was at first in the bushes, then at the side of the path, then on the path, and it got deeper and deeper until eventually we were slogging through about 6 inches of wet snow in jeans and hiking trainers!

We called it a day at 1400m when two Moroccans told us we were still 2 hours from the peak - this was at 1.30pm, and we thought it unlikely we'd make it up and back without any problems. Coming downhill on the snow was wonderful, much easier than even on a hard path, and we got back to town at 4pm and promptly crashed out for a couple of hours. Unfortunately both my pairs of shoes and my only pair of trousers are now wet, and the hostel is too cold for them to dry out! So tomorrow we're off to Fes and will be staying somewhere more expensive but warmer, which seems like a good compromise.

After 2 days in Fes we're off to Casablanca where my friends work, and I fly home on Monday. It's a quick trip (already halfway done) but I'm really enjoying Morocco so far, and seeing it with people who know their way around is very valuable. We've bumped into the backpacker circuit here, and it's reminded me what a bizarre existence it is to be a 'traveller' - always seeing new places but only ever experiencing your own culture, with other people who are exactly like you. Not quite as eye-opening as some people will tell you...

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