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Sep 29, 2012

Chefchaouen, Morocco...

(Pictured: What we christened as the Chefchaouen "Bridge of Sighs". It is right out our door and the only way for us to find our home.)

After a long day of travel we finally made it to Chefchaouen. Got up in Granada at 5:30 in the morning, got packed by 6:00, got out the door and into the car by 6:30. We had to, the express ferry that crosses the Mediterranean at Gibraltar departed at noon and we bought our tickets weeks before and were faced with a three hour drive to get to the boat. Getting down and out of Granada's Albayzin (the Muslim spelling) was crazy hairy* – made more so by the darkness and Google maps being useless. At one point Google's directions had us driving down stone steps in our rental and we didn't feel like recreating a scene out of "The French Connection" in the dark. So we backed our way out of a side street/goat path into a square. If it hadn't been for a passing Albacinian coming home from a late night we'd still be up there right now, probably wedged between some other car and the old city wall.

Once we got off the hill and pointed south towards the coast we thought we were in gravy. That is, until a massive thunderstorm hit us in the Sierra Nevadas. There were sheets of rain with lightening flashes directly overhead, while driving at 120 kilometers on wet asphalt. And it followed over us the entire way to the sea. Again, had to keep on schedule to make the ferry. Couldn't wait it out.

We made it on time -- after we wound our way around a traffic circle many many times trying to phone the rental car drop (It wasn't where google maps said it was.) Once we were free of the car we had to hoof it toots-sweet to the terminal carrying two bags each. We still had yet to confirm our ferry reservations, or make contact with the rental in Morocco on the borrowed phone. But we made it with a little time to spare. Nice

The ferry ride over was quick and uneventful and Gibraltar was awesome to see for the first time from the waterline. We blew right past it at high speed because the ferry was a catamaran. Britain still controls the rock and so for hundreds of years they have been able to shut down the entire Mediterranean with just a few high placed canons. Which kept the other European nations in line until WWII when Rommel managed to ship a few tanks over to Africa and make some trouble.

But I digress.

Once we made it onto the African continent things REALY got interesting. If there is one thing I've learned over the past three years is that if you are going to travel (and paint) you must to learn to deal with the unexpected. At this point we no longer were on a tight schedule and were just trying to cross from Spain's outpost of Ceatus, over la Frontiera, and into Morocco, which meant schlepping our gear again over the line where our taxi dropped us. (The taxi wasn't going to cross the border. No way. Too complicated.)

Just as we crossed – and I was expecting a scene straight out of "Midnight Express" for attempting to bring a huge bottle of turpentine and various alkyds across the border – a large fellow stops us. He was wearing a full on kaftan and an official-looking lanyard. He helped get us across by assisting us with our paperwork and money-changing, and finally bargaining on our behalf with a Grand Taxi, which was to take us to our destination. (At one point he actually encouraged our drivers to keep bidding against us. Wasn't sure who's side he was on in that moment but I am pretty sure we ended up with one of his cousins. Ha!) Chefchaouen was two hours up into the Tif Mountains. We settled on 220 Dinar for the driver and 10 for our helpful friend and got into the taxi.

As anticipated, the ride into the mountains was nerve wracking. I got the front seat and once we started I discovered the car didn't have seat belts available. Well, not entirely true. The car had seat belts, they just didn't work. ("Oh you no worry sir, this is a Morocco taxi. You're okay safe. You don't need no seat belts..."). Everyone in the car, including me, pretended to be asleep because that way we had an excuse to keep our eyes closed as the driver would pass anything and everything on a blind curve – cars, lorries, donkeys, old men shuffling off to prayer. When we were within five minutes of our destination we had to slowly circle around a cargo truck which had crashed head on with a oncoming Mercedes. Across both lanes. Not looking forward to the return trip.

But oh man, Chefchaouen is stunning. Everything I dreamed it would be and more. I haven't painted anything yet but it is incredible just to walk around. The blue walls, the mysterious alleyways, the people who seem to waft above the cobble stones all remind me of Sargent's Venice night paintings. Very mysterioso, Made more so by the twilight.

So hopefully, if it doesn't rain to harshly tomorrow I will have something to post. Assuming I can find an internet hook up.

It is now 1:00 am Morocco time, 2:00 am Spanish time, and 5:00 pm PST as I write this. What I really mean is it's my bedtime and I can hear it calling out for me right now. I'm beat.

So good night all.


*So if I put together a painting workshop in Granda's Albicin, and I think I will, I am not going to let anyone drive up onto the hill. My recommendation will be to train into the city and take taxis from there. Leave the driving to the Spainards.

- Posted from the road on my iPad

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