Being that Chefchaouen is up in the midst of kif growing country, and that many tourists do just come here to get stoned, it'll be no surprise that a major annoyance is guys offering you drugs. We were offered everything from hash to opium while here. By the end of our stay, many of the familiar faces had finally understood that we didn't want any, and I had taken to simply saying that I didn't smoke - although one guy did quip back with 'Then what are you doing in Chefchaouen?'. Only on a couple of rare occasions were the dealers really persistent, but just keep on walking and they'll move on. To the next tourist no doubt.
If you are tempted to buy some hash, bear in mind that drugs are illegal in Morocco. Buying from a dealer here will put you in a very difficult position regards blackmail or generally being shopped to the police by an informer. If someone offers you a smoke, be very careful about taking up the offer. Moroccan prisons don't have a nice reputation and can you honestly tell the guy robbing you that you'll report him to the police when he's just sold you some hash?
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Begging and general hassles
The thing I found most difficult in Morocco was the number of times that we were stopped and offered everything from carpets to sex. In comparison, Chefchaouen has fewer hassles than other Medinas. I think this is partly because people's homes are intermingled more clearly with shops. If you stop for a moment outside most shops, sure you'll end up being coaxed inside unless you make quick excuses and move off, while other shop owners take a more disinterested approach and leave you to it.
What I found here though was that with it being such a small, lived in Medina there were more children. On one occasion a small child offered to show us the way to the Spanish built mosque above town and when we declined he became quite stubborn that he wouldn't leave us unless we gave him money. Another child took a much simpler approach by repeating 'Cinco dhiram, cinco dhiram' over and over. I have to admit that overall I think the kids here were more opportunists than desparate, but it's still a feeling that makes you very uncomfortable when you know that local wages are going to be extremely low.
I am a cynical traveller, but the person I was travelling with was not; therefore when a man asked if we wouldn't mind going to his shop t pick up a business card to give to our friends we did.
Surprise , Surprise (not), when we arrived there there were lots of men sitting around doing nothing, who suddenly pounced on us showing us virtually the whole stock of the shop. There was no sign of any business card either. We made a quick sharp 'harp' as they were completely wasting their time as we didn't have any money to buy a sample let alone a whole rug!
What's more, I saw other shops with nice rugs, but I really wasn't impressed by this one. So if a guy stops you in the Medina asking to go to his shop for a business card, DON'T GO, it is just a scam to get you into his shop and try and sell you something.
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Arriving here in the Petit Taxi from the bus station you're left off at Place el-Majzen. We were immediately surrounded by faux guides offering us hotels or when we said we already had a place to go, they offered to take us there. This is completely unnecessary. One guy offered to take us to our hostal for 20 dhiram, another simply followed us all the way to the hostal and then waited outside hoping that we'd give him some money.
The place really is so small that you should be able to find your way to your hostal or hotel without any trouble, try not to tell them which one you're going to, just say you know where it is but can't remember the name.
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Nothing Uncooked or from a Tap!
Although those who live here don't get ill every time they eat a salad or drink the tap water you just may find that you do. It is highly likely that you aren't used to what is in the water as in your country it is purified etc.. Just like Travellers to Southern Spain were told 20 years ago; You shouldn't drink the tap water here!
This also means Salads as the vegetables will have been washed in the tap water. There is also a risk of catching diseases like Hepatitis. It is a pity as the vegetables are fresh and not covered in fertilisers. Maybe if you fancy a salad, buy the vegetables from the market, wash it in mineral water and make it yourself. I imagine it would be well worth it.
Remember that when buying water in a bottle you must make sure it is actually mineral water and not just a bottle filled with tap water. Check the seal before you buy/open it.
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Defective roads and pavements
This month, on my evening stroll up to the bar at Hotel Chaouen Atlas, I was appalled at the condition of the road and pavements, this road Calle Sidi Abdelhamid is the only paved access road to the Azilan camping site and the Hotel Atlas and Alcazar night club, one large section of tarmac had subsided and pavements were in a similar damaged condition.
This problem, after a winter of heavy rainfall in the Rif area, is not exclusive to Chefchaouen, I noticed when travelling on the bus to Tangier, some parts of the main road had also subsided.
On the Chaouen broken road there were no warning signs, and a driver unfamiliar with the locality could lose control of the vehicle, if colliding with the deep crevice at speed. Similarly, pedestrians could suffer severe injury by falling on the dangerous pavements.
Accordingly, when walking at night, I always carry a working torch, because there are often power cuts, and the street lighting fails!
Recently, on my way back to my hotel along Avenue Sidi Abdelhamid, I had to pass close to Bab el Souk where on several occasions I was approached by some local junkie types wanting to catch my attention and sell me drugs to finance their heroin habit. I normally just ignored them and walked on, whereupon they would start swearing at me, from a safe distance........
One evening, on my way back from the Medina, one persistent junkie stood in front of me barring my way, I lost all patience and grabbed him by the shirt collar and started swearing at him, he immediately panicked and screamed "Not with the hand!"
A small crowd started to assemble, so I deemed it prudent to release my grip on him in case the situation turned ugly, he then quickly scuttled away into the shadows like a frightened rat.
These addicts are more of a nuisance than a threat, but bearing in mind that intravenous drug users sharing needles can carry and transmit Hepatitis B and C, close contact should be avoided, which in my case was not entirely possible........
Thankfully, my aggressive stance ensured that I didn't see any more junkies during the remainder of my stay in Chaouen, the bad news must have travelled fast!
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Beware Chez Abdul
This guy is very clever. I am a fairly cynical person, having told my mother off for trusting the kindness of strangers. And then I fell off my high horse.
Abdul El Kholtei of Chez Abdul Carpets appeared to be a friendly carpet merchant with an amusingly effective sales technique. I happily bought two small carpets from him because I liked this clever family-oriented man. He invited my friend and I to his home for lunch where we met his family. When we told him we were off to Fes in a couple of days, he told us he had business there, too.
Abdul took the time to learn about our interests. He introduced us to his friends in Fes who could help us. They used the guise of friendship and hospitality to operate a very clever scam in which we naively bought more carpets, paying way too much. They made arrangements for us so that we were busy and under their watch the entire time we were in Fes. This extended to touring us around the countryside, introducing us to people, their (supposed) faith, and making sure I got sick and couldn't leave my hotel room for a few days. It was only once we were leaving Morocco that we realised we had been scammed. (The carpet merchant involved is Dar Zarbia, Fes.)
Please feel free to spread this info far and wide.
Abdul El Kholtei also working with Alberto the Spaniard and Mohammed the historian.
Rue Hassan I Chefchaouen
(Quass El Hadri no 183)
06 62 11 40 52 and 05 39 98 92 28
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