morocco: casablanca to tangier to chefchaouen

On the first morning with our G Adventures group, we enjoyed an impressive breakfast spread at our Casablanca hotel: an omelet with peppers, tomato and white cheese, a slice of lemon cake, coffee and juice.  We left in a spanking new van at 8:15 and headed north about 5 hours to Tangier. I sat beside Yulian, a 39-year-old Chinese-Canadian legal assistant who lived with her parents in Toronto. I was surprised to find out she grew up in Nanning, China, were I taught English for a year from 2014-2015.

The highway to Tangier was smooth and modern over a green but flat landscape. Many modern cars, Mecanes, VW Passats, Audis, Peugeots, Mercedes, Citroëns, BMWs, Nissan Jukes, and Dacia Dokkers (Moroccan cars made in Tangier) whizzed along the road, overshadowed by lumbering SUVs. Heavy gray clouds hung anchored in the sky while wispy ones drifted by.  Patches of blue peeked out.  Poppies dotted the green fields, along with derelict ruined homes with laundry hanging outdoors and satellite dishes on the roofs. Shantytowns sprawled over farm fields, goats nibbling on the grass.

We traversed the land over modern bridges.  Palm trees surrounded a pink stucco house, and more pink stucco compounds followed. The sun shone in golden layers on the fields, and between neat rows of orchards.  Garbage collectors worked along the highway in neon chartreuse vests, while birds soared over the fields. Black and white spotted cows munched on grass.

I had too much time on the drive to think and I worried about my loved one, who had quit work before Christmas, hadn’t been able to pay his rent, and had to move out of his brother’s house.  We hadn’t heard anything from him in weeks.  He had removed himself from all social media, and I felt sad and worried about him. The problems with him had been going on for so long.  I felt disheartened that I couldn’t even escape for a holiday without his issues haunting me.

We crossed a huge suspension bridge with cables.  The countryside was a glowing green, with valleys deepening and hills rising higher.  Cows and sheep dotted the fields. Horses pulled flat carts loaded with families.  A horse lay in the field beside two women picnicking under olive trees. Pale yellow flowering bushes bloomed amidst herds of sheep.


suspension bridge on the way from Casablanca to Tangier

We stopped for a bathroom break in a large village with a lot of unfinished buildings intermingled with finished apartments, reminding me of Cairo. A modern pedestrian bridge carried people across the highway.  Lavender wildflowers blossomed in the median. The Asian ladies and the German Christian chattered in the van.

We passed a banana farm covered in plastic. Aziz told us they produce fruit for 3-4 years, then new plants are planted. He told us agriculture is 40% of the Moroccan budget.  Most of the big farmers export their crops.  In the south, three kinds of oranges are grown, as well as strawberries, broad beans (fava beans), maize, barley, wheat, lentils, chickpeas, and white haricots.  Most lentils are imported from Canada.  Hummus and schwarma  are from Lebanon.

The second largest contributor to the Moroccan economy is phosphate.  Morocco has 80% of the phosphate reserves for the world, used for fertilizer.

Tourism is third, and last are silver mines in the Anti-Atlas Mountains near the Sahara to the south.  The Middle Atlas Mountains are near Fez and the High Atlas is the longest range, 700km from Algeria to the Atlantic.   The highest mountain is Toubkal, at 13,000 feet. In the north are the Rif Mountains, from Tangier to the Algerian border.  They are known for kif (cannabis).  Aziz tells us there is no petrol or oil here.  He said there are political problems in the Western Sahara.

We saw lavender and hot pink stucco houses, farmers burning brush in a field, smoke floating to the sky, horses pulling plows and hay carts, goats wandering on the dirt streets of a village, farmers irrigating fields with hoses.

A dead dog lay alongside the road.  Terra cotta buildings were surrounded by cacti.  A town stood on a hill, punctuated by a blue and white minaret. Laundry fluttered on rooftops.

Aziz told us Arabic is spoken in Tangier and Fez, while a Berber dialect, Tuareg, is spoken in Chefchaouen. French is the third language spoken. He said Morocco is made up of 60% Berbers and 40% Arabs.  The Berbers are native people in North Africa, from Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, and Tunisia.

Aziz put on some Arabic music and started singing away.  We laughed at his antics. Out the window, camels stood in a wetlands area with the Rif Mountains behind. White apartment buildings gleamed beside the sea. We were entering Tangier.

Tangier stands at the entrance to the Mediterranean, marked by the Strait of Gibraltar. The city has been settled by the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, and the Romans.  Later, rule of the city was disputed by the Vandals, Visigoths and local Amazigh tribes. Then it was taken over by the Syria-based Umayyad empire, followed by the Almoravid empire, until finally the Portuguese took it over in 1471.  Control of the city went back and forth between Portugal and Spain until 1662, when the city was given to England as a dowry for Catherine of Braganza’s marriage to Charles II. Only 22 years later, Britain gave up Tangier because it was too expensive to maintain, and it has been part of Morocco ever since.

After World War II, the city was an international zone that attracted many eccentric foreigners, artists, hippies, and spies. The city fell into neglect with the arrival of sleazy elements. Morocco gained independence in 1956, and now Tangier is more Moroccan, with influences from Spain and France.


Fatima hands on a wall in Tangier

Aziz handed us over to a local guide, Hamid, who led us to the Kasbah, the ancient fortification that once served as the city’s defenses and that towers over the Strait of Gibraltar.  Hamid told us that Moroccans dream of emigrating and working in Europe.  If they could swim, they’d all escape to Spain.  It’s 12km from Morocco to Gibraltar.


The Kasbah looking over the Strait of Gibraltar

As we walked through the town, I got a text from my loved one, who has suffered numerous setbacks in his life resulting from bad decisions.  He was in St. Louis, Missouri with a high school friend, and he said things were getting worse for him, he knew he chose this, but he just needed to send some words.  I chatted with him for a while and then called my husband, asking him to reach out. He had no idea I was in Morocco because he hadn’t been in touch since he’d left his brother’s apartment, for nearly three weeks.

I was distraught and couldn’t concentrate on the tour.  I tailed behind the group, barely keeping up. Like several times on the Camino, when his problems were in my face, the experience was ruined for me.  Tangier went by in a blur.  I felt hopeless that his problems would ever be sorted out.

We headed toward the Grand Socco, encountering a wedding in progress.  I walked in a daze, preoccupied and unable to be present.


frames over frames


Pharmacie & café


Moroccan men in a wedding party


streets of Tangier


aqua dome on a mosque in Tangier

The palm-ringed Grand Socco, or the main plaza, is the romantic entrance to the medina. It has a fountain, the keyhole gate Bab el-Fahs, and a large police station.  At its southernmost edge is the roundabout, Place du 9 Avril 1947. The newly remodeled Cinema Rif is an arthouse cinema and cafe.


fountain at The Grand Socco


The Grand Socco


Cinema Rif

In the Mendoubia Gardens, we found a 750-year-old banyan tree, which is said to be the oldest tree in North Africa.

We passed through the Bab el-Fahs to stroll the famous Tangier medina, a labyrinth of alleyways inside the walls of the 15th-century Portuguese fortress. Locals still lived there, although it was partly touristed.


Grand Socco




Tangier medina


Tangier medina


carrots at the medina


paintings in the Tangier medina


rugs in the medina

As we sat at a café waiting for our van to take us onward to Chefchaouen, I talked with Father Anthony about my loved one. He listened thoughtfully.  Later, on the bus, he handed me his business card with this written on the back: “Cathy, suggest you text your son with something like: ‘Please be mindful that you are precious to us, and we love you deeply.'” I sent the text and heard back that it meant so much to him to know this and that he loved us too.  I so appreciated Anthony’s words, which were so loving.

We left Tangier around 5:00, climbing into the Rif Mountains on a curvy road. The mountains were beautiful as the sun was going down.


drive from Tangier to Chefchaouen


village on the way from from Tangier to Chefchaouen


drive from from Tangier to Chefchaouen


drive from from Tangier to Chefchaouen


drive from from Tangier to Chefchaouen


drive from from Tangier to Chefchaouen

We arrived in Chefchaouen by 8:00, where we checked into the Hotel Madrid. We had only one plug in the room, so Aziz asked the hotel to give us a power strip.

After settling in, we climbed upward into the town to a restaurant, Bab Sour, where I got a mango juice and a bowl of bean soup that was lukewarm, very thick, and not good.  The others in the group ordered a huge multi-course meal with vegetables, beef, goat, lamb, and chicken.  I didn’t have the appetite to eat that much food.  Already the young foursome seemed to be congealing into a group, one of the things I hate about group tours – the clique-forming. Aziz thought I didn’t want to spend the money.  He said, “It’s not about the money; it’s about the experience!”  But for me, it wasn’t about the money or the experience.  It was a matter of not wanting to eat all those different kinds of meat, not being much of a meat eater, and simply not wanted to stuff myself with so much food.


Bab Sour

As I learned on the Camino, just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you can leave yourself or your problems behind. You and your problems come along wherever you go. My loved one hadn’t been heard from in three weeks, and then he chose to contact me while I was in Africa, having no idea I was there. Our connections remained, our lives still went on, whether we were home or elsewhere.

The next day, we wouldn’t travel but would have a free day in Chefchaouen. I looked forward to exploring the blue city.

*Steps, 8,940, or 3.79 miles*

*Tuesday, April 9, 2019*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

I had a number of intentions for my photography in Morocco, but in this case, I simply tried to capture details that revealed the essence of Tangier.  I was weighed down by family problems, but this is what captured my eye in my distracted state.

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-25 photos (I have a LOT more here!) and to write less than 1,500 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, January 29 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, January 30, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first, second, and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation.