Nestled into Morocco’s Rif Mountains and originally a fortress to fight off the invading Portugese, Chefchaouen dates all the way back to the 15th-century. Although seized in 1920 to form part of Spanish Morocco, Spain eventually returned the city in 1956, but obvious signs of their influence still remain today. Most of Chaouen’s population speak Spanish, which came as a little bit of a surprise to us at first. After spending months learning to use the little French we knew, it was a great opportunity for me and Anita to test out our newly learnt but very limited Spanish.
We foolishly chose to walk with our backpacks from the bus station, a steep 1.5km full of crowded streets and windy bends, until finally arriving at our hostel covered in sweat and puffing. As we entered we were hit with the strong smell of hash smoke which to be honest came as no surprise. Morocco is responsible for producing close to 50% of the world’s hash, a large proportion of which is grown and exported out of the mountains that surround Chaouen. It is near impossible to walk down the street without dealers pestering you to buy or farmers offering to show you their crops. They weren’t at all aggressive or initimidating, just annoying. After our so obviously stoned hostel manager checked us in, we dropped our bags and went for a bite to eat, exploring the beautiful blue-washed buildings of Chaouen and getting lost down it’s maze of cobblestone alleyways.
That night we caught up with Benny, an Australian who we’d met in Fes and who was also staying in our hostel. After some research into surrounding hikes, we agreed to tackle the hike to the Grand Cascade d’Akchour and God’s Bridge the following day, then spent the remainder of the evening playing cards on the terrace. Just before going to bed, who should I bump into on the way to the bathroom but Jimmy, an old housemate of ours from Ho Chi Minh. What are the chances that seven months down the track we’d all be in Morocco, visiting Chefchaouen, and staying in the same hostel! We agreed to grab dinner the following night and returned to our dorms to retire for the evening.
As the sun rose the next morning we packed our bags and set out for our full-day hike. The taxi drive to the starting point was spectacular in itself. Beautifully green mountains and rocky cliff faces towered over us as we drove past small white villages along the way. When we finally arrived we tightened our laces and hit the track to our first destination, God’s Bridge, a huge natural rock formation which was the result of centuries of water erosion. Although only a short distance the climb was quite steep, meaning that we were well and truly puffed by the time we got there. After a quick bite of morning tea we turned back around and walked to the second part of our hike, the Grand Cascade d’Akchour.
This section of the hike was the opposite to God’s Bridge in that it was relatively flat but felt much further. It took us just under two hours of crossing rivers and scaling rocks to finally arrive at the waterfall, and what an impressive sight it was. The water had shaped the rocks behind to almost look like melted wax, and the water fell so perfectly straight into the turquoise pool below. We relaxed for a bit before turning right back around and making the trek back in order to beat nightfall.
When we finally got back to our hostel and had our catch up dinner with Jimmy, friends of ours from Taghazout, Marlee and Alex, met us at our hostel as they too were in Chaouen for the next few days. We spent a bit of time catching up before all deciding to call it a night. After a long day of hiking and staying up with the girls, we were out before our heads hit the pillow.
Since Anita had a week before she could re-enter the Schengen Area and we really liked the vibe of Chaouen, we ended up extending our time there. We filled our time with hikes around the mountains, cards at the hostel, and a routine I’d grown fond of which was grabbing a vegetable-stuffed baguette from the local sandwhich shop and following it with a fruit smoothie crammed with fruit and topped with cream and peanut butter. How much was all this, you ask? An unbelievable 2AUD. Now you understand why we didn’t want to leave!
And then the day had come. Alex had left for her flight to Lisbon and Marlee decided to join us to our next destination, so we bought our tickets, packed our bags, and headed to the station to catch our bus to the final stop on our Morrocan tour, the so-called “gateway to Africa” – Tangier.