Chefchaouen to Fes

Often, the friction I felt on the way into a new places tended to be unidirectional. Once I had spent a night and acclimatised I felt much more relaxed and could take in what was on offer and remember that I was finally on the trip I had always dreamed of. But by the same token my mind would find new and creative ways to be anxious about the inevitable next move.

Already feeling at home in my little Tangier tower after a thoughtfully presented breakfast I prepared myself to head to Chefchaouen (via Tétouan) where I'd originally planned to be on the first night in Morocco if it hadn't been for the delays at the port. I set a comfortable target with only about 130 km of riding for the day, planning to head further south past Fes towards the southeastern corner of the country—where I'd heard the riding was good—over the coming days.

Being too early in the morning for the touts to be out, I loaded up the bike and gave 20 Dirham to the quiet and relatively toothless gentleman in the high-viz vest who had diligently kept watch over the car park all night. I felt much better about giving my money to this humble person who had not tried to trick or pressure me into any spurious transactions. His parting offer to sell me hash was a little problematic to my narrative.

TĂŠtouan was a relatively clean and pretty town of mostly whitewashed buildings, bustling on its weekly "market day" with residents throughout the region heading there to buy, sell and bargain and the explanation for the many well-laden donkeys that I had to share the roads with coming in and out of the town.

I arrived in Chefchaouen without much prior knowledge of it (a common mistake of mine arriving anywhere and a regrettable, constant side effect of having limited time to get to Cape Town). I was welcomed by this picturesque mountain city bathed in blue paint and well stocked with European hash enthusiasts here to sample the best that the Rif mountains had to offer.

Thankfully, this time I'd researched my accommodation a little better and I knew I'd likely be able to park in front of the hostel I'd booked. This was on the beat of car guard Lunez, a youngish but wizened man of the streets who I drove a hard bargain with, agreeing to pay 20 Dirham up front and another 20 on my departure in the morning. As the trip progressed I realised how pleased some of those on the receiving ends of my transactions would have been. I still had a lot of adjusting down to do when it came to price. Lunez was a lot more enthusiastic about his hash dealing than his car guarding so he took some to convince that I wasn't interested.

The accommodation was (like many hostels around the world) a vestige of extended adolescence. My room felt like a modern-day opium den with 5 unmade beds buried under dirty clothes, empty water bottles and half-smoked joints. I was sharing with a Spaniard, an Argentine, a Belgian and a Brazilian and the building was full of characters—some quite bizarre and others bizarrely normal. One of the guests was a 50-something Danish marijuana enthusiast who had come to follow his dream of volunteering on the illegal plantations in the mountains, uninvited.

After a wander around the old city and a light and delicious dinner of a kind of savoury pancake I joined my hostel-mates under the moon in the front courtyard for a fun night developing new and highly effective in-jokes. I was one of the first to retire but had a very unsatisfactory sleep thanks to a mattress which I'm convinced was made from an amalgamate of hay and carbon-fibre off cuts.

The next morning I picked my way over the snoring carcasses and got packed up to leave. After a quick breakfast and not-half-bad coffee down the road I said goodbye to the more entertaining of the hostel dwellers and we ratified our friendship by connecting on Facebook.

They had emerged while I was out and were busying themselves with the construction a day's worth of joints.

Lunez was nowhere to be seen, so his 20 Dirham went unclaimed.

My confidence was returning and I happily picked my way from Chefchaouen to Fès, enjoying the quiet, easy roads skirting the feet of the Rif mountains. The landscape grew drier and harsher as I went south.

I'd found some GPS coordinates for a parking area just outside the Medina, and imagined a stressful scene similar to what I'd found in Tangier. Thankfully it was a little more spacious and less hectic, and the guard kindly led me to a fenced off area that my bike could share with some homing pigeons and a few rabid dogs.

It was a very long walk in hot and heavy gear into the depths of the old city to my hostel, but it was well worth it. What I thought was just going to be a basic hostel based on the price turned out to be a newly refurbished guest house with a huge internal courtyard, beautifully done and with staff who gave me a very warm welcome along with my obligatory sweet mint tea. They had a variety of rooms (some very luxurious) but even the dorms were very well appointed and it was a different class of tourist staying here compared to my last digs in Chef.

I shared a dorm room with 2 brits (Ami and Josh, siblings), a Texan (Michelle), a French-Canadian (Nicola) and a mysterious Filipino who never materialised and whose name I never learned.

Fès is highly touristed and everything in the old city centre is geared toward extracting the maximum number of Dirhams from foreigners. Despite knowing better I fell prey to a wily young tour guide who spoke great English and knew his way around the back streets. Sitting on the ruins atop the hill overlooking Fès we bonded over a shared cigarette and the speculative, positive effects of camel milk on the male libido—all part of establishing a relationship from which to leverage a donation from me later on.

A guide wasn't strictly necessary but given that I only had an hour or so to spare before sundown it turned out to be worthwhile and I got to enjoy some interesting sites, such as visiting a working tannery and a stereotypical rug factory, as well as being fed into the clutches of a snake/argan oil salesman.

Š David Baskind ¡ 2022