Thursday morning dawned dry and sunny. It promised to be the perfect day for us to accomplish our two remaining “goals” of this trip to Chefchaouen.
We strategized our day, while sipping coffee at our favorite cafe. Tomas and I each had a place that we felt we MUST see before we left and both required strenuous hikes up the sides of mountains!
WHAT WERE WE THINKING? TWO HIKES IN ONE DAY?
Had the inactivity of our rainy day left us with a false sense of athletic prowess? Had the small coffees we were drinking left us devoid of brain power, unable to make simple, “rational” decisions? It didn’t matter: each of us was unwilling to give up our heart’s desire; fortunately, both of us were willing to support the other to have his/hers.
Chefchaouen is nestled among mountains. It’s no wonder that the city remained impenetrable until the 20th Century – no one could get in there!
The steep hills within the Blue City continue right on up to incredible craggy heights just outside the Old Wall. The mountains make a majestic backdrop to the north and the east of Chefchaouen. There is a another mountain range, farther away to the west; and in the southern direction, rolling hills ripple out for as far as one can see. It is an exquisitely beautiful setting.
Tomas had a keen interest in exploring the upper part of the Medina. In spite of our steep climbs in the morning to reach the road to get our coffee, we were only making it to the median level of the Medina – above that lay an equal number of streets and passageways waiting to be explored. Did I tell you that my husband has an obsession for exploring the “old medina” parts of cities? The things you learn about someone after 10 years together!
I, on the other hand, was drawn to hike to a distant mosque atop a hill on the opposite side of the canyon.
We had watched people trekking up and down the mountains on both sides of The Water Garden, so we were pretty sure there were trails that led to where each of us wished to go. However, as we could only see the people and not the trails, we had no idea what the climbing conditions were like but we decided to go for it anyway.
After breakfast we proceeded up the first mountain trail toward the northeast tower of the Old Wall to access the upper regions of the Medina. The trail was either cobbled or smoothly graded; often there were gentle stairs. It was about three feet wide all the way and switch-backed us right up to the tower. At one of the turns we met a Berber woman tending her chickens and taking the morning air. Just before we made the final bend toward the tower, another trail – this one trodden only by goats and villagers for generations — beckoned Tomas toward a sub-adventure. He succumbed for a short ways, until the trail began to take him around the mountain and then we returned to Plan A.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we reached the tower, expecting to re-enter the Medina and proceed with our exploration of the upper levels, only to find a weaver at work in a small room with no access into the city. So we began to walk along the part of the wall that borders the north side of Chefchaouen. We came to the first opening and found ourselves on a ledge with a 15-foot drop onto hard ground. Not the way to go, so we continued along the wall, peeking through the openings originally intended for lookout and defense purposes. The views across the canyon were magnificent, as we had expected: same mountains, higher perspective.
Eventually, about three quarters of the way across the wall, we came to a portal that did allow us to re-enter the Medina and found ourselves in what I would describe as the “suburbs of Chefchaouen.” We saw villas on much larger plots of land where dogs were allowed out during the day (albeit tied to a tree) chickens ran about freely and even goats were kept. This section was at the very top of the upper level, which quickly returned to the labyrinth of shops, streets and passageways we had grown accustomed to.
As we descended the steep hillside within the Medina, we stopped to photograph a particularly wide and private (painted) entrance to what appeared to be a fairly large home. Then we discovered the sign for “Dar Onsar, Guest House,” and walked up the lovely blue pathway to inquire about the accommodations there for a future stay.
The owner greeted us at the door. A Frenchman, who just happened to be in Chefchaouen that week, had been discussing business matters with his Moroccan manager, when we “barged in on them, unannounced.” The two cordially walked us through the three story home, apologizing for not having the place in proper order to show, and as we made our way up the very narrow and steep staircases to the terrace on the roof, our prospects began to look better and better. It seemed that several options were available: single rooms, priced per person per night; a combination of rooms for small groups; or the whole place for a party of 8 -10 persons. As we talked, even more options became available; Would we like breakfast included? Perhaps a Moroccan dinner cooked by the manager’s mother? A BBQ on the roof? No problem. We took business cards and filed the information for future reference, thinking especially of our group in Aouchtam who were already their own trip to Chefchaouen.
In this instance, the painted staircase, leading to the front door of Dar Onsar, turned out to be “semi-private.” Dar Onsar Guest House was one of our happy discoveries that resulted in following Tomas’s heart’s desire into the upper regions of the Medina. We descended into our more familiar territory and went off to one of those “little hole-in-the-wall sandwich shops to fortify ourselves for our afternoon program – hiking to the Mosque on the Hill.
But before we do that, please enjoy a few more photos of the grand views from the Medina side of the canyon.