"Navigating Without Cellular Data, a Modern Iliad" by Jaycee Miller
Recently, I visited the “Blue Pearl” of Morocco, Chefchaouen. To some, it’s known simply as ‘Chaouen, but to me, it’s the city that stole my heart (and made for great Instagram photos). A group of other students from AMIDEAST and I all agreed on a weekend to take our visit and from there I became the designated tour guide. One of the beautiful things about Morocco is that getting around to most major cities is so simple. Unlike many cities, Chefchaouen isn’t directly connected to the rest of the country via train, but the bus network we used was incorporated with the national passenger rail company, which made transporting 11 of my friends into the northern mountains of Morocco a piece of cake. One of the more challenging tasks of being in Morocco, or any foreign country, has been navigating without cellular data on my smartphone. I’ll admit it. I usually depend on Google while traveling throughout the US, but here I’ve been forced to get creative.
Our first full day in Chefchaouen, we decided to do exactly what the talented artists of TLC told us not to do: we went chasing waterfalls. The small town of Akchour is located about 35 minutes outside of ‘Chaouen so first thing in the morning, a smaller group of us found a grand-taxi (for inter-city travel) and started the hike. The entire way up was breathtaking, and I’m still not over the beauty of the Atlas Mountains. The region of Chefchaouen is very lush and green compared to the Toubkal/Marrakech region we had visited previously, which made for a nice change of scenery. When we finally arrived at the waterfall and swimming hole about 2 hours later, I couldn’t believe it! The water was as green as I had seen in photos. After swimming for a bit in the freezing cold spring water, we headed back to Chefchaouen.
The rest of the time in this city was spent wandering and being mesmerized by the winding, bright blue alleys. Of course, ‘Chaouen is packed with tourists. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s one of Morocco’s most well known cities despite its relatively small size, and it is very ‘gram-able. Even besides the beauty of the city, there are so many other things that distinguish it from others I’ve been to. The most notable example to me was that most people who speak a second language don’t speak French, they speak Spanish. This had never occurred to me before! The history of the north of Morocco is so different from where I live in Rabat, because of the contextual implications of European occupation. The North was occupied by Spain, not France, and being in the French immersion program, I never even thought twice about what that would mean for the linguistic complexities of Chefchaouen. “What would it be like to live here?” I wondered aloud to my friend Kate. Even after living in Morocco for almost two months, there are still so many questions I have. It both frustrates and inspires me that no number of semesters here could paint an exact picture of life for the average Moroccan person because the country is so diverse and every city is so different from the last.