There was a tangible and audible wave of excitement, as the winding roads of our five hour bus ride through northern Morocco finally gave way to a sprawl of blue, white, and brown buildings nestled between the Rif Mountains. This was our group’s first glimpse into the city of Chefchaouen, a place that we had all been eagerly waiting to explore. Having the opportunity to travel within Morocco has been a really valuable part of our experience here because it has given us a better sense of the country as a whole.
Chefchaouen is known as the “blue city” or “blue pearl” because of its iconic blue walls and painted streets. According to one theory, the walls were originally painted blue as part of a Jewish tradition dating back to the late 15th century. The color was intended to remind onlookers of the sky and the heavens, thus strengthening their connection with God. The tradition is a testament to the religious, historical, and cultural diversity which melds together and makes Morocco a truly fascinating country to visit and study.
During the excursion, we had the opportunity to participate in workshops with local shopkeepers who helped us understand the processes behind their artisan goods. Collectively, we learned about weaving carpets, crafting leather, distilling herbs, cooking, and hammering brass. I was especially inspired by the brass workshop, as it gave me a greater appreciation for the meticulous detail of the lanterns, plates, teapots, and jewelry displayed throughout the Medina.
Another treasure that I was inspired by in Chefchaouen was the food. We all shared one especially memorable multi course meal on the rooftop of an organic restaurant called Beldi Bab Ssour. The servers brought out dish after dish, all of which were incredibly tasty. We sampled cactus juice, marinated olives, fresh salad, zucchini and eggplant dishes, couscous, spiced lamb, seafood, kefta, fig yogurt, and mint tea. It was easily one the best meals I have ever had, and I loved how everything was served family style.
We spent the following day hiking through the gorgeous mountains of Akchour, where we meandered up the river past stalls offering fresh squeezed orange juice, prickly pears, and steaming tajines. We even glimpsed a few monkeys jumping through the trees and dove in the ice- cold, clear-blue waterfall at the end of the trail. It was so beautiful and refreshing to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty that Morocco has to offer.
This same appreciation for nature carried me up a hill just outside the city on our first night in Chefchaouen. I joined the trickle of people making their way toward a Spanish mosque at the top, and as it turned out, that graveled, cacti-lined path led me to one of the most magical sunsets of my life. There I was, overlooking a city I had only dreamed of before, beside new friends, listening to the ethereal call to prayer rise from different quarters of the dusk lit city below and echo off the surrounding mountains. I realized that all of my planning and preparations had brought me to this moment, and I had this rare, special feeling of awareness and utter contentment, knowing I was exactly where I needed to be.