The others are woken by the first call to prayer around six am. As my windows face the courtyard, I sleep through it but am still up early enough to go onto the roof and write before breakfast. Its a tranquil place with pot plants, and a view of blue houses clinging to the hills above. Anne is up there checking her emails on her cumbersome Mackbook pro. Theres a lavish breakfast in the Riad; bananas, melon, dates, apples and peaches. Cornbread is provided for the two gluten free diets on the tour, it is delicious with apricot jam spread on it. In addition to ordinary Moroccan bread there are deep fried doughy rings, pastries, teas and coffee. Mary asks if she can get up early in the morning to watch the women make the bread. The answer is no and in our briefing meeting hastily called after breakfast, theres a lecture on how this is not a cookery tour at all, but a history and culture experience. We ought to have understood that from the phrase saviours of morocco in the blurb. Well, I always understood that savours refers to taste, but perhaps were being metaphorical here. Garry brings up his complaint to the travel firm about the sub standard hotel in southern Spain which was a casino with buffet meals of low standard food and where they had to spend two days of free time with nothing interesting to see or do in the area. Simo makes some excuse but as its not my business and as Im determined to enjoy Morocco, I take little interest. It all seems inappropriate and embarrassing.
Were on a walking tour through the blue streets this morning and our guide is the elderly and erudite Ahmed, who is apparently world famous. He wears his traditional garments, voluminous pants, a shift and outer tunic or Jalaba. He lifts the layers to demonstrate claiming that they work as air conditioning. His outfit is completed with a red Fez and yellow pointed leather slippers. He claims to be face-book friends with Obama and Prince Charles and is full of wit and wisdom but not much information. We walk though the old part of this blue-painted town.
The area was originally a Jewish quarter but they have long gone leaving a great variety of people here with a range of skin colours. The Berbers here seem to be pale and sometimes with blue eyes and blond hair contrasting with the darker Arabs. Mary notes that it is a town with attitude, most embracing the oncoming tourist industry, though we are warned that some people dont like being photographed, especially the women. The walls of the houses here are all lime-washed and Ahmed tells us that they put indigo in it to create the blue shades. He says that blue deters mosquitoes and the heat. It is cool in these streets and there are indeed no mosquitoes around. I wonder why more towns and cities arent painted blue. Winnipeg in the summer springs to mind. Chefchouen is on a steep hill with fast flowing streams, not ideal breading grounds for Mosquitoes who require stagnant pools of water to breed.
Ahmed points out that all no exit streets and alleyways have the path painted blue so you dont waste your time going down them and having to turn back. Jennifer comments that this is ideal for people who cant read No Exit signs.
Many of the doors are also painted blue, very reminiscent of Tunisia. We pass artists studios which are predictably turning out blue paintings of the blue streets. Brightly coloured fabrics and carpets are for sale, camel and goat hair jackets & Jalabas. Some rooms have looms set up and weavers are working away.
Brightly cloured cotton harem pants are on sale, which Ahmed explains, allow the women to sit on a low stool with modesty. Theres the occasional offer of a good price, but none of the usual pressure to buy, buy, buy. I look longingly as some of the wall hangings, but there is no way I can fit anything else on the walls of my house in London.
The women here wear bright colours with matching head scarves and Jalabas. Older Berber women typically wear a red and white striped wrap around their waist tied in a knot at the front. There are women from the hills who wear strange shaped raffia hats with plaited woollen tassels in deep blue. Theyve put on their traditional costume to come to town. One woman stands out in a black Jalaba simply and elegantly decorated with a single diamante Yves Saint Laurent logo on the front and back with a circle of the smaller ones around the cuffs. What style in the mountains.
We pass through the city gate and Ahmed tells us that there were two gates, one to enter using the right foot and another to leave using the left foot. He doesnt have an answer for people like me who are left footed. Beyond is a stream which has been dammed and local people are washing their rugs and mats, spreading them out to dry in the emerging sunshine.
There is an outdoor laundry here and the Berber washer -women, wearing the red and white striped wraps, are hard at work pounding fabric in a series of wooden tubs fed by the stream but they ask not to be photographed. The water is clear and clean looking and Ahmed tries to persuade us to drink it. Were all reluctant and will throw away the water bottles hes filled later. I have a close inspection and find the bottom of the stream and pond covered in litter; tin cans, plastic, a broken doll and the detritus of modern life. There seems to be quite a problem with rubbish from plastic carrier bags which cover the landscape and cling to branches and rocks in the now dried riverbeds.
Ahmed says his goodbyes and suddenly without warning, we are collected up by our minibus and, departing from the schedule, taken over the Mountains to a village market place in a place called Tanakoub. Simo says its only once a week and no tourists come here. Everything is for sale; brightly coloured nylon ropes of different diameters, hard-wear, electrical, all kinds of pulses and grains. There is meat hanging and in unobtrusive piles in the gutter, freshly pulled animal skins can be bought to cure. We walk through the market having difficulty keeping sight of each other. Simo is in a panic keeping us all together for our safety, so some of us help to keep an eye out for the others. Mary and Sue are in heaven, investigating and photographing everything. We are warned that these people dont like to be photographed but Gary finds that the young men are happy to oblige and hes developed a technique of holding his camera at waist level and shooting into the crowd, taking pot luck. This is where you can buy all your vegetables and fruit for the week: Tomatoes, beans, cucumber and melons – the list is endless. Halfway down there is a barber shaving a customer with a cutthroat razor and there is a litter of shiny dark black hair on the floor, hes had a good day. On the way back through the crowds, I stop at a stall selling cashew and pistachio nuts. I indicate that I would like some of both and the Stall holder grabs a piece of newspaper, twirls it into a cone and fills it up. I later pass it round the mini bus. On our way here we had stopped at a butcher to buy lamb for lunch which Simo says he has designed. Although hes a chef, he doesnt do any cooking on this tour. We are retracing our route to Tanakoub, passing hillsides of olive trees, some planted – others grow wild. There are drifts of cork trees with their scarred trunks from harvesting. At this time of year, everything has dried off and the bare earth shows through. Suddenly we turn off onto a track in the middle of nowhere, climb out of the minibus and walk one hundred meters to a delightful house, home of Hassan and his wife.
This is where lunch is to be cooked. Hassan says he has built the house himself. He used to make a living installing solar panels in remote areas but now that the Kings programme of building hydroelectric dams is bringing electricity to these areas, he is out of a job. They show us five rooms which, they tell us are for guests and theres a dining area set up for our lunch. In the seeming arid surroundings there is a vegetable garden some way off with tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, capsicums, chillies and herbs.
We go out to gather for the lunch. By the house water melons and beans are growing. We sit and wait under a pergola enjoying a small breeze until the food is ready.
Sue is helping to make the Kofta from minced lamb while cuts of meat which had been marinating are now grilling on a make-shift barbecue. We start with salads which are cold cooked dishes: Aubergines, courgettes and, best off all, beans. Theres bread to go with this and the barbecued meat follows. We hardly have room for the Kofta which has had to wait its turn on the barbecue. Fruit and mint tea as usual complete the meal. This has been a delightful and unexpected excursion which wasnt on the schedule. Hopefully more surprises are in store.
We seem to get back to Chefchouen quite quickly and have time to ourselves before dinner at 8.30, this time in the Riad. At this rate Im going to get fat. Its a mountain of green salad, olives and bread and yet more meat followed by Yoghurt with walnut and honey. Its time for a late night stroll in the square with Sue to buy postcards and then to find the tobacconist for stamps. A young man tires to entice us to a bar for beer or wine if only wed known about that earlier, Ive been longing for beer, but its too late to start drinking now.