My name is Raquel, I’m 24 years old and I live in Barcelona. I’m graphic designer and I also teach English to preschool kids. When traveling I love the feeling that you’re learning something new each second. Time stops and your head becomes like a child’s head that is observing their surroundings since everything is new for them. I believe traveling is the best way to open your mind.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Photography makes me look at any given place with a renewed perspective. I slow down to care for the details and pay more attention to everything that happens around me. I guess it’s safe to say that when I’m traveling, my sensations are endless.
What sparked your interest to travel to Morocco? What drew you to explore Chefchaouen specifically?
Apart from the aesthetic, architecture and the variety of landscape in the country, some of my friends told me that the locals were hospitable and grateful. Unfortunately though, that impression is not the case in Spain. Due to the high index of Moroccan immigration from many years ago, the integration has been a very slow process in Spain. But when I saw a picture of Chefchaouen, I knew it was love at first sight because of the blue washed walls and the old stacked houses. It seemed the perfect city to wander all the day with no direction. And so it was!
What was your favorite approach to photography while there? Did you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How did people react to being photographed?
Chefchaouen is a really photogenic city. While there, I saw several tourists happily astonished because of its beauty and peculiarity. It’s impossible not to stop every two steps to take a picture; which I found quite funny. I usually prefer to capture the moment since I feel it is more special and any element can be interrupted by your presence. I find that talking with locals is one of the best ways to learn about the country and when it happens I always prefer to enjoy that moment. Most of the times, if you ask first, they will accept being photographed - although children are always open to be photographed.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
While strolling Barcelona old streets, my boyfriend and I passed through a spice shop. That sudden smell reminded us of Marrakech and we realized how much we missed the travel and adventure of Morocco. The problem was neither of us had more holiday time from work. Lucky for us, Morocco is close to our country it was really easy and cheap to get to and explore around for a few days. At same time their culture is starkly different from ours, so the experience is much more interesting. We took a plane from Barcelona to Tangier, one of the northern cities. Once there, we grabbed a taxi to Chefchaouen - which took us 3 or 4 hours. Though the driver was in the taxi with a friend, he stopped to have dinner with us and recommended some incredible and authentic specialties, which made the meal unforgettable.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way the culture actually was?
Last year when I went to Marrakech I immediately realized that most of time (but not always) sellers are intent on selling you anything and everything. To my surprise people from Chefchaouen weren’t like this. They greeted you when you bumped into them like you were just one more local. It really was a warm welcome.
What were some of your experiences while exploring The Blue City?
We stayed at Casa Perleta, which I would highly recommend. I think the manager, Mohammed, is the gentlest person I ever met. In fact all employees were incredibly helpful. Casa Perleta is a little riad with 8 rooms and an amazing terrace where you can have your breakfast every morning while contemplating the Blue City. Then there was Casa Hassan, which was a very good place to eat. It’s hidden in a tiny street and they serve typical food from Morocco. I recommend you the meat Tajin with sweet sauce (made with almonds and plums and). Outside the Medina, there’s a river where you can spot Moroccan women hand-washing their clothes in the old way.
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the city?
Well maybe this is the shortest trip I’ve ever taken and when you know your days are limited you get ready to enjoy it intensely. Chefchaouen is the perfect city to spend 2 or 3 days. You’ll get lost many of the times, which is the funniest thing, but at the end, most of the streets and doors will look familiar (and the people as well). My recommendation is to wander with no direction and if you like hiking there’s a route to incredible waterfalls which is a perfect spot to take a bath on warm days.
What would you like people to know about your experience within the country that is little known?
The other side of the story is that Chefchaouen is also known by hashish dealers. Since agriculture is not an easy way of life, young people choose the other way so they make money faster. It’s common to see how they try to sell you some herb to smoke or a trip to visit the plantations. Also there are shops that are kind of a hashish business cover where they’re not supposed to haggle with you.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
I'm eager to visit Sri Lanka! Asia has something magical and mystic that I’m hooked to, so I can’t wait to be there again. My advice is to keep exploring and learning as much as you can because learning is a triumph. As somebody said once, “travelling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
Images Courtesy of Raquel Grigelmo
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