Thursday, December 4, 2014

Morocco part two: kittens, flooding, and magical camel poo

Laura: So, during our month in Rabat, we took a couple brief trips to other cities. A notably photogenic one was Chefchaoun, in the northern mountains. The city is located in the shadow of two large mountains. "Chef," apparently means "look" and "chaoun" means "goat horns" referring to twin mountains. Most Moroccans tend to just call it Chaoun, I would assume because "Goat Horns" is an awesome name, and "Hey, look at those goat horns," sounds kind of weird.

Jerry: Chaoun is a very chill tourist town known for its blue walls. During the Spanish Reconquista, when both Muslims and Jews were driven out of Spain, a large number of Jews settled in Chefchaoun. It’s not a Jewish ghetto in the typical medieval sense of the word—Muslims in the middle ages were the notably open-minded and liberal ones—it’s the whole city. As a result, the whole city is blue:

And really photogenic.

Jerry: It’s a vertical, terraced city in the mountains with a waterfall running through it. Obviously, goats are a main agricultural thing here, and the local AOC-equivalent goat cheese is amazing. The other major thing is marijuana—the mountains around Chaoun supply most of Europe’s hashish.

Laura: There's also a ton of really cute stray cats everywhere. Though every city in Morocco is packed with stray cats, there seemed to be a disproportionate number of kittens in Chaoun.

If you google image search "Chefchaoun," "cat" is one of the auto-completes.

Jerry: I also took a day trip to Casablanca. Apparently there’s a rivalry of sorts – people from Rabat don’t care much for Casablanca, and vice versa. Notably, Casablanca is a lot more industrial and Rabat is the capitol and therefore full of embassies and diplomats. Casablanca thinks Rabat is stuck up and Rabat thinks Casablanca is dirty and less cultured. I haven’t spent enough time in Casa to have my own opinion, although I will say the air is gross.

Laura: I still haven't checked out Casa, but I'm pretty in love with Rabat, so I imagine my team is pretty much chosen in the Casa v. Rabat feud. Also, outside the medina walls in Rabat, just facing the ocean, is a gigantic cemetery. It was big enough to be its own city. We sort of got lost wandering around in there at sunset a couple days before Halloween, so that was cool.

Taken from the highway. To the left, a whole freakin' city of the dead all the way up the hill.
To the right a new gigantic city of the dead starting all the way down to the beach.

Jerry: We came to Morocco purposely for the winter as a relief from the -30 Chicago extremes, but the trade-off is winter rain. We actually both quite like rain, but like most deserts, the infrastructure is not really in place to handle flooding.

Preparedness decreases from north to south: Chaoun is the furthest north, and in the mountains they simply expect rain all winter. Rabat can handle it, although it’s mildly inconvenient, especially in traditional buildings like where we lived in the medina: riad-style houses are structured around an open courtyard, so when it rains, the house just gets wet. The floors are all tile and fitted with drains, and everyone owns a squeegee, so most mild sprinkles simply ensure the floor stays fastidiously clean. The occasional week of winter downpour, however, tends to flood the house, and laundry starts getting mouldy on the line.

Where they’re really unprepared, though, is the desert.

It doesn't help that the roads are basically made of packed earth.

Laura: Apparently no one has been able to get in or out of Zagora for two weeks, because all the country roads are totally destroyed. It was by sheer luck that we happened to be on the only bus to get through, and that was just barely. At one point on our drive from Marrakech, the road in front of us had collapsed in a mud slide and been carried away by flood. It was dark and we were on a mountain road, so backing up would've been a bad idea, but when we noticed that construction crews had moved in and started repairing collapsed road behind us as well as ahead of us, we realized that we were penned in.

The construction crews were pretty impressive, though, and managed to get the road ahead of us driveable after little more than two hours. So yeah, we somehow made it into the desert in the middle of the night, where our patient host still came out to meet us at the bus stop.

Um, we might be a bit late...

Jerry: I had this silly notion that the Sahara would probably be really beautiful after the rain, but they haven’t seen rain like this since the 1960s, so things looked a little more… post hurricane. Mud and wrecked buildings and fallen palms. The river was flooded over the bridges, to the point where one couldn’t get to the neighbouring town.

It’s drying out at last, so this week is being spent helping them put the place back together. We’ll leave you with a little anecdote from our first night at riad. After roads crumbling in the flood and other disasters, we have just arrived at like 1 am and finally gotten into our room:

Laura: *reaches for end table* *delirious* OMG

Jerry: *feels tiny cold object poking him in the side of the head* Huh?


Jerry: *rolls over, small cold object still poking him all over head and face* What on earth...?

Laura: REEEEEEEEEEEEE! *pokes Jerry with object more* REEEEEEEEEE!

Jerry: Is that a ... tiny camel?

Laura: Or horse or llama. REEEEEEEEE! *pokes camel nose in Jerry's face, makes camel "trot" all over his shoulders*

Jerry: We're in the Sahara. I somehow suspect camel is more likely than llama.

Laura: I dunno, it also kinda looks like a little lump of poo. *trots camel / poo up Jerry's arm, makes it rear and whinny* REEEEEEE!

Jerry: I don't know if I should be more alarmed if you think that is the noise a camel makes or the noise a poo makes.


This is our life.

Magical poo camel, y’all.


  1. BRB Painting everything in my neighborhood blue and planning a kitten heist.

  2. I would like to know why there were not MORE KITTEN PICTURES in this post. Shame on you :P

    Ironically I was reading an article which referenced this blue city earlier today and then I read this and I was like wow, nice coincidence :)

    And the camel/poo story still makes me laugh :) xx

  3. I'm with Catherine. NEED MORE KITTENS!

    Chaoun is beautiful.