I am a firm believer that when people travel, they have this subconscious desire to find a genuine utopia. However, they always come up short because their idea of utopia is flawed, not the place. For some reason, utopia has become synonymous with the “cookie-cutter idea.” Thanks to many of the sci-fi films, we now know many of the inherent flaws in this dissatisfying place. However, I would like to propose a place, a town actually named Chefchaouen, that is a utopia for a much more genuine reason.
Chefchaouen is a town located 110 kilometers southeast of Tanger. The reason I went there is a bit of an interesting story. First, on the bus from the port of Tanger to the city, a man was trying to hustle me into joining him at this party “full of cocaine and girls” and stay at his house for the night, free of charge (I really wanted to believe him).
I knew he was lying, as with anything that is way to good to be true. When I got off the bus, two men came and shouted at the hustler “Don’t trust him! He rips off tourist!” When I heard this, I thought these guys were safe and could help me out (first mistake). Anyways, he went with me to grab food and ordered twenty plates of appetizers before I could even speak (he makes me pay for the bill in the end). At the end of the dinner, two of his friends show up and sit down at the same table.
HE then suddenly brings up the topic of hash and how much I want. I reply “Uh..what? I don’t want any drugs man I just got here” and am shocked. He acts equally surprised (fooling nobody) and said that he did me a favor and called up his friend (a dealer) for some hash.
He continues “The dealer is upset he had to come here. What are we going to do with this?” in the kind of tone suggesting that he doesn’t like problems and prefers my money. They all sit back down, leaning in, trying to surround me, and the fear of what these guys would do, as well as the foreign country got to me and I gave them the money, left the drugs, and booked it to a hostel. The next morning I was looking for a place to go and found Chefchaouen on the destination list of the bus station. I thought “Why not? I like being spontaneous.” Little did I know how much this random decision had in store.
At first, Chefchaouen seems pretty plain and routine. These outskirts consist of the white, three to four story apartment buildings that are common in Tetouan. Once you make the climb up the hill, the beauty starts unfolding before you. You come upon an open square decorated with a few murals. This square is the entry point to the real beauty of Chefchaouen. After passing the square, you immediately become distracted by the Moor castle standing on your right. The left side of the street is adorned with unique storefront each coming from a different time period. Despite the urge to stop, the real beauty is still further up ahead. Once you enter the old town of Chefchaouen, your senses become so satisfied there is no need for an imagination.
There are kids running around, laughing and playing tag, seamlessly dodging the other pedestrians walking. People from an older tradition slowly trudge up the hill wearing their old traditions. Vendors sell small bites at every couple turns. All the while, you are caught in this peaceful atmospheric calm created by the sapphire walls of Chefchaouen. The walk further upward brings you to the old town square. This area was my least favorite because it was the only bit of the town that had a touristic feel. However, this can easily be escaped with a climb up to the Mosque. The panorama up here is quality, with a dome of mountains to the back of you and the wonderful gem of Chefchaouen beneath your feet.
As you walk down from the Mosque, back down the blue alleys of Chefchaouen, you start to feel like you are floating downstream a river as the downhill sweeps up your feet in a calm pace. Your thoughts quiet, and you you just simply observe everything that is happening in this utopia of a river. Then by chance, you get washed up aside into a side alley, away from the current. The silence wakes you from the peaceful meditation you were in earlier. In these alleys you find mothers peeling nuts, kids passing the soccer ball, or a man smoking a lonely cigarette.
In one of these side alleys I met a painter with his own gallery who offered me to some sweet tea and a discussion. We got to talking about Chefchaouen. Turns out, they painted these walls blue because it makes the suns reflection off the building much easier. Some other locals I met prefer a much more interesting story behind these mysterious walls. In the end, my words do not do justice to the magnificence of this true gem of a town. I strongly urge you to travel there for yourself and experience the harmonic beauty that will silence your mind and light up your face in blissful awe.