After 2 months of traveling around a bit in France, Italia and Deutschland (my first ever summer spent in EUROPE/ #summerofAriana) I packed my things and had an emotional goodbye in Roma, but the best consolation was waiting for me in Malaga’s Airport when I touched down: THE SISTER! That’s Right! Two del Ríos were together again, finally, after months of hoping/planning our reunion with a trip just south of España. I ran full of giddiness past the baggage conveyor belts towards that tiny woman, the other half of las princesas del Río, a term of endearment for us two since the 90s. I couldn’t wait any longer to jump on her and squeeze her in my sister-grip.
Nothing can manifest without first planting the seed. . . and then watering that seed (which in this case meant whispering the words ‘Morocco with the Sister’) often. With time the seed sprouted a stem, then leaves and months later grew into a beautiful Living gift from Universe. This blessing from Universe, two weeks of traveling together, began with us crossing sea & then the border of Ceuta (a Spanish city on the African continent) into a new and exciting country, our first in Africa: AS-SALĀM ‘ALAYKUM MOROCCO!
Reunited with the Sister after 6 months apart; First Stop “The Blue City”
There are only a few places that I have visited in the world that I have been WARNED TO NOT PHOTOGRAPH THE PEOPLE. One place was deep in the mountains of Chiapas, México, the town called San Juan Chamula, an indigenous community living quite apart from the rest, with their own set of traditions and rules. Although tourism is allowed more now in their community, the people of Chamula don’t like being photographed, and actually don’t allow it. Chefchaouen, our first stop in Morocco, was another place I experienced this. We were warned early on not to photograph the people out of respect, especially during our visit which coincided with a very important religious celebration of Muslims called Eid-al-Adha. Of all the holy days for Muslims, this is one of the biggest days to celebrate with family by sacrificing a ram, remembering the sacrifice by Abraham in their Quran.
This explains why so many of my photos here in this dreamy city are of empty streets, an endless labyrinth of winding blue walls and arches, without glimpses of the people of Chefchaouen.
But don’t feel bad for me, because a friend reminded me recently that although pictures are nice to take, memories live on in the mind. If I close my eyes, I can see images of the locals walking those streets in the early morning, or gathering in the neighborhood courtyard to greet neighbors/friends and wish them well. In no way is this city one where you feel like putting your camera down, but quite the opposite. This city is a treat for any artist, photographer, any curious traveler. Our first time in AFRICA and also our first time in a predominantly MUSLIM culture, I felt at times like I had stepped into a time-warp. The streets were full of local Moroccan’s in traditional garb, the men in long cloaks which they call djellaba, a traditional garment with a pointed hood worn by men. And the shoes, well the men accompanied their djellaba with pointed bright yellow shoes, or other shades of browns and tans. But my personal favorite combination was the white/beige garment worn with yellow shoes bright as the sun. The women wore traditional dresses too, beautiful and brightly colored or adorned, and of course, a scarf covering their hair. I was happy to have gotten a glimpse of their world. Sometimes I smiled at strangers as I walked the streets of Chefchaouen, not expecting anything back in return. It was just the joy in me that needed to be released, the excitement of the new. Though I was also fully aware I was an outsider in their city, a young woman just passing through. For this reason, I made an effort to dress more covered up, not exposing shoulders or legs in town (except when we went hiking a bit outside the city) and I left my big camera at the hostel sometimes, to better connect with this place in the present.
The stray cats of Chefchaouen accepted joy from me and my sister daily. At restaurants, my sister couldn’t help but share her love and our dinner with them. Whatever delicious Moroccan meals we had like KEFTA (meatballs in sauce with spices and egg pictured below) and CHICKEN COUSCOUS, the cats always got a taste too. I am grateful for never knowing true hunger and grateful that we could eat and share our abundance with others. Other favorite moments included a trip to the street market to buy from the locals. We couldn’t fully communicate with the women selling their precious goods: figs, cactus fruit, grapes, etc. . . and we even GOT HAD by a man selling tomatoes who overcharged us. They are used to selling in bulk at the markets, so the man initially gave us the price for a Kilo of tomatoes. When he realized we only wanted 5 or so tomatoes, he handed us the tomatoes and didn’t lower his price. We paid in Dirhams (Moroccan currency) for the 5 tomatoes and then realized only after we saw the women vendors scolding him for his dishonesty. We didn’t argue or demand our Dirhams back, as the prices in the market were all very reasonable/affordable for us. Really was nice to have those little moments of interaction with locals in a natural setting, and I can attest the figs and grapes were great, just delicious.
When we see mountains, they call to us. When we are in Nature, we are HOME! Off-route is often best.
My sister and I are true Nature lovers. We can’t visit a magical city surrounded by mountains and not at least try to see/climb said mountains. After asking others in our hostel the best routes for hiking, we took off with a tentative plan and completely failed. We failed at picking the easy path and were completely in over our heads when we started the hike, but as luck would have it, we came upon a Moroccan who knew the mountains well and didn’t mind going off the route and following goats with us. He was hiking in sandals, as was my sister this day, and he kindly assisted a few times when the climb was difficult. It got really steep in some parts, and though we weren’t scared, I think we were a bit out of shape. Or maybe it was just me, or maybe it was the giant backpack on my back with the heavy camera, bottle of water, and other must haves I was carrying around on the hike. We watched a local goat herder with a dozen goats and baby goats in those cliffs. They make it look so easy jumping from rock to rock. Our Moroccan friend affectionately kept telling me YALLA YALLA (meaning Let’s Go or Come On in Arabic); I felt like the young/slow goat in the group. The views were worth the climb and the atmosphere away from the city was blissful. Exhausted after two or so hours of hiking we turned and started back down. YALLA YALLA!!
After this epic sisters’ hike we crossed over to the opposite side of the Medina (a walled city in Morocco is known as a Medina), all uphill. We pushed through the pain because we were determined to find a cafe in the woods, recommended to us by the homie Brother Tom from our hostel. It was here in a lovely and Magical Setting in the woods that I had the best Avocado smoothie of the entire Morocco Trip, made with fresh avocados, milk and banana. SATISFACTION! Celi had the Mint Tea, a local drink we learned to love as soon as we began requesting it WITHOUT SUGAR. The Mint Tea with sugar will melt your teeth right off. The afternoon ended surrounded once again by goats and sheep as local herders walked their animals for feeding time. I sneaked a picture of the woman herding the goats, but she didn’t seem to mind. She smiled and talked to other locals while her goats wandered and ate. The sheep of another local stole the show as a tiny little lamb walked followed his gang. I had never been so close before to a young lamb and I enjoyed these little moments where we could just observe daily life. If you come to Morocco, you should see CHEFCHAOUEN. It’s an absolute gem. And if you come to Chefchaouen, don’t forget to appreciate the beauty just outside the Medina’s walls. Follow a goat or two if you have to. All my LOVE! Yalla Yalla!
**Our Hostel in CHEFCHAOUEN was one of the best we stayed in during our entire Morocco stay, so check it out for yourself: DAR DADICILEF is the name
We visited many cities in Morocco, traveling for over two weeks throughout the country. This is just the first installment of the #delriostakeMorocco posts. My writing intends to provide my insights/advice as a well-traveled female, but of course I do it from a very personal perspective. To hear strange/personal/magical travel tales once a week: SUBSCRIBE TO QU-EEN BLOG!