I have to thank my friend Topaz, how fitting of a name with regards to this particular city, for putting me on to Chefchaouen. She was originally going to venture with me to Morocco but due to work couldn’t make it (you were missed!). However, when we were first deciding on where to visit she sent along beautiful images of Morocco’s “blue city,” Chefchaouen, intricately placed in the northern region amongst the Atlas mountains. The small town is famous for its endless blue alleyways and blue buildings- all contrasting colors of vivid turquoise hues to softer tones like baby blue.
It took a few stops along a 13-hour journey to make it from Marrakech all the way to Chefchaouen but it was well worth it. I knew it would be a bit daunting when I read advice on Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor and more on how to complete the trip. The best option, based on findings, would be to take an overnight train (1o hr. ride) from Marrakech to a city called Tanger…then from Tanger, take a bus to another small city called Tetouan. And finally, a taxi from Tetouan to Chefchaouen. My train from Marrakech was to leave at 8:55 PM and, as per the advice, I had purchased a couchette (sleeper car) with a bed for 370DH (about $37) so that I could rest. It wasn’t until the return trip that I knew to ask for a couchette avec des femmes (women) ahead of time.
When I first got on the train, it seemed clean, comfortable enough and safe. I even had wi-fi at the station as I was waiting and started updating my blog. But then, two young men came into the couchette and started to put their belongings away and take off their shoes to share the car with me. My alarm signals rang…the young men seemed innocent enough but I was a young girl, traveling solo-dolo in Morocco, heading on a 10-hr, night-time train ride in a closed sleeping car with two strange men. Is it acceptable to understand how I grew uncomfortable? I left the car and found the train attendant to ask, ‘Est-ce qu’il y a, peut-etre, anotre couchette avec jusque des femmes ou un famille, s’il vous plait?’ Translation: Is there, possibly, another sleeping car with just women or a family please? He immediately understood and before long, the two young men were exchanged for a young, instantly warm and friendly, Muslim woman.
She said a prayer before the train departed and soon we sparked up a conversation. I told her about my voyage to Chefchaouen and the girl, whom I later found out was named Kari, started to give me tons of tips on how to make it from Tanger to Chefchaouen, the cost, what to say to the cab drivers, etc. She went so far as to get a cab with me when we arrived in Tanger and drop me off at the proper taxi site in order to catch a cab going up north to Chefchaouen. When we got to the taxi port (just down the street from the Gare Ville where we first arrived in Tanger) she negotiated with the cab driver and I payed double fare to have the front seat to myself (instead of sharing as cabs normally do). This first cab ride cost me 35 DH (only $3.50!).
That cab drove me about 45 minutes up to Tetouan where I waited at a new taxi port to catch a ride to Chefchaouen. While there, I met a young french guy who asked if I wanted to take tea and talk. “I’ve never met an American girl in Morocco!,” he said. And we had small talk over mint tea and snapchat (gotta love the universal connector that is social media). Here, like the growing trend I started to see up north, he offered to help me negotiate my cab and after a bit of back and forth, I agreed to pay for each seat in one whole cab for 210DH instead of waiting for 5 other passengers to come. You have to keep in mind, it is much less need for rides heading up to the small blue village than it is coming back to bigger cities like Tanger so I could have been waiting a while and I did not have much time to spare. Besides, to rent the whole cab I would only be paying $21 USD for a 2-hr cab ride and I was able to offer a ride to the innocent, young looking Muslim girl at the station who had no money for fare. She returned the favor, by snapping some pictures of me as we drove to Chefchaouen and when we arrived I discovered an amazing village of loving, genuine people, gorgeous colors and feel-good vibes.