For a decade now, I’ve had this inexplicable love affair with Morocco. I thought about going there many times but I never had the courage to make it happen. I could never understand why but whenever I had a chance to travel, I’d choose other destinations instead, yet Morocco had been in my top travel bucket list. Perhaps I was saving it for a special time, just as I did with Italy when I was still single. I went everywhere in Europe but purposely skipped Italy, thinking someday when I get married, I’d honeymoon there. I’m not sure what special occasion I was saving Morocco for but when my son suggested for us to go there, I figured why wait, life is short. There is no reason not to go after what sets your soul on fire.
It may have taken ten long years of dreaming and longing (at times obsessing), but I finally went to Morocco!!!
When we landed in Tangier airport, I didn’t know how to feel. You know that feeling when you go on a blind date—although you’ve heard good things about that person, yet you’re scared that you may be expecting too much? Okay, I’m hardly an expert on blind dates (I’ve only been on one but that’s another conversation for later ;D). You get the gist. The immigration officer welcomed us with a smile (which was unusual for an immigration officer). He asked my son if I was his wife. Son wasn’t amused. He curtly said, “no, she’s my mother!” Then the officer asked him another question, “She your sister?” Ha! I can tell my son didn’t really like the idea that we can look almost the same age! He then proceeded to ask where in Morocco we were staying and I gave him the riad in Chefchaouen. A riad is a hotel but translated as a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. As soon as we exited the immigration area, I immediately spotted our driver holding up a sign with our names. His name is Said. I wanted to ask him a lot of questions about Morocco but his English isn’t as good as I wished it to be and I’m afraid everything will just get lost in translation.
The drive to Chefchaouen was roughly two hours and I was surprised that it is located up in the mountains. I was also amazed at how green the scenery was, not the Morocco I had in mind. I expected the landscape to be in golden hues, like the desert. But what do I know? Although I bought a guidebook, I left it almost untouched. I’m usually a researcher at heart but subconsciously didn’t want to know everything. I wanted it to be a surprise, to learn and experience Morocco in real-time, and not from a book.
With that said, I knew little about Chefchaouen. My only introduction to the city was looking at those amazing pictures on Instagram. When our driver announced our arrival in Chefchaouen, I saw disarrayed markets, people littered in the streets, and homeless cats everywhere (lots of them). I started to worry. Damn, where are those pretty blue alleys and steps I saw on Instagram? They’re nowhere in sight! How am I going to find them amidst all these chaos! (my shallowness is starting to show)….
Well, all those Insta-worthy places happen to be in the old medina, where our riad is located. But since no cars can go up there, Said left his car in a parking lot and told us to follow him. We walked up towards a hilly and steep cobble lanes. Then I began to feel relief. I can now spot beauty before my eyes! Said asked if we were hungry. He must have read my mind because I was dreaming of chicken tagine and Moroccan mint tea at that moment. He took us to a restaurant, cozily decorated with Moroccan furnishings.
Moroccan breads are thick similar to a pizza dough
My first taste of chicken tagine in Morocco
Our young server spoke fluent English (also heard him speak fluent Spanish). I realized because of the close proximity to Spain, people here are likely to speak Spanish than the people in the south (such as Marrakech or Casablanca where they speak more French), besides of course Arabic and Berber languages. Morocco is not only multicultural but also a multilingual country. I ordered chicken tagine with lemon and olives and of course Moroccan mint tea—the first of many in all my six days in Morocco (I had chicken tagine and Moroccan tea every. single. day and yet I left Morocco with a feeling I didn’t get enough).
Riad Lina and Spa
Our riad was only a step away from the restaurant. Riad Lina and Spa is probably one of the best riads in Chefchaouen. We were welcomed with a pot of Moroccan tea and cookies upon arrival.
My room was quite large and had my own private balcony. The riad’s rooftop has a spectacular view of the city that took my breath away. I stood there, taking it all in, still in disbelief that I am finally in Morocco! I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming.
Oh my god, I am really here….in Morocco!!!! If this is a dream, don’t wake me up!
I was anxious to start exploring the city but my son was taking his sweet time in his room. I told him I was going for a walk and to call me when he’s ready. Traversing in the old medina, I couldn’t contain my excitement. All I wanted to do was to get lost in the old town’s ridiculously beautiful blue–washed buildings and alleyways.
The alleys were lined with shops of colorful baskets, blankets, rugs, and ceramics. The locals I met were warm and charming. I also noticed that the standard attire for the older people were the traditional Moroccan clothing: kaftans (both men and women), headscarves (for women), and fezzes (for men). A young gentleman stopped me to ask where I came from. He was surprised to hear I live in Texas. Looking at me from head to toe, he mentioned I look more Moroccan than Texan. 😊 We had a great conversation about life in Chefchaouen and his country’s colorful history but I was beginning to get antsy, eager to explore some more. It was perfect timing when my son called to find out where I was. We met up and the adventure of taking cheesy pictures, mimicking all those ridiculously pretty photos on Instagram began.
We saw bus loads of Chinese tourists going to the same places we were, strutting exactly similar poses. It was only a day trip for them, staying for a few hours to take pictures and then move on to another destination. Chefchaouen was once Morocco’s best kept secret but thanks to social media’s exposure, it is now one of the most instagrammable places in the world. This explains the flock of day–trippers who only come for the perfect–picture backdrops to post on their social accounts. (umm….kinda like I did? Don’t judge, hey at least I spent the night there okay! lol)
After taking a million photos, we felt it was time to go back to the riad. We spent the rest of the evening in the terrace drinking our second pot of Moroccan tea, mesmerized by the stunning aerial view. What a great place to spend our first day in Morocco!
The next morning, I came down to have breakfast (included in all the riads in Morocco). My son was running late so I started without him. The awesome breakfast spread consisted of different breads, jam, honey, feta cheese, omelet, apple slices in syrup, and of course, Moroccan tea.
While eating, I overheard a French lady asking the reception where to find a place she saw on Instagram. The receptionist told her it won’t be open until 11am. A woman (who was traveling solo) sitting at the table across me immediately got up to ask the French lady if she could take a look at the picture. I became curious and also got up to see what the fuss was all about. It turned out this place is a room that’s intentionally decorated for tourists. For a small fee of 5 dirhams, anyone can access it to take their pictures. Aruna, the female solo traveler, told me she’s already been there and showed me her pictures. I was starting to feel a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). How on earth did I miss this one?
While talking to Aruna, I learned she was just in Tunisia and was going to Oman next. I was admiring her energy, thinking I might have just found my ideal travel companion. We seem to have similar views and ideas on how one should travel. I jokingly told her we should travel together, perhaps to Iran someday (another bucket list for me) and surprisingly, she too, had been contemplating on going to Iran. Yay! I found my travel partner!
My first day in Morocco was absolutely unforgettable. From the breathtaking panoramic vistas to the delicious chicken tagine, Chefchaouen has far exceeded my expectations. It was absolutely the perfect place to begin my Moroccan adventure. I was emotionally and visually captivated by its beauty. I wish I had spent more time there but fortunately there are more adventures to be had in Morocco.