THE mountain town of Chefchaouen is renowned for its beautiful blue and white-painted houses and as the hash capital of Morocco.
And while we saw enough of the blue houses exploring the enchanting, narrow confines of the old town and were offered enough hash to keep an army of hippies happy for weeks, the abiding memory from our visit was of one thing – rain.
Our arrival in Morocco has coincided perfectly with the start of the rainy season which, our guide in Fes explained, only began after a special open-air prayer session but has made its mark on us and our laundry.
Downpour number one arrived overnight just outside Casablanca, turning part of our campsite into a lake, but that was outdone by the torrent which marked the end of our long day waiting for visas in Rabat.
Our bush camp was rather more compact that night as tents were set up under the tarpaulin erected off the truck and carried into position, while we took refuge on Nala for the bulk of the evening.
Thankfully, the tents remained dry – more than can be said for a lot of our clothes, which has made laundry and, in particular, drying something of an issue. Our current campsite in Fes has wet clothes hanging everywhere as the sun beats down on our first full free day of the trip.
But neither of those downpours could match the all-day cloudburst which took in our one full day in Chefchaouen.
No sooner had we packed up breakfast, showered and gathered for the walk down the hill into town than the heavens opened and did not relent until after dinner 12 hours earlier.
But has all this rain dampened spirits? Certainly not as it has been interspersed with the types of moments and places which will live long in the memory.
We arrived in Chef – let’s settle on the shortened version, getting all those vowels in the right order is a real pain – via a stop at the Roman ruins of Volubilis.
A lovely spot and a fascinating tour from our guide Abdul really should have been highly educational and informative. But what most of us will remember is the phallus emerging from a lump of stone in what used to be the town’s brothel.
Much hilarity and photo opportunities followed.
But the highlight of Volubulis came as we set up camp on the side of a hill among the olive trees with a spectacular view down and across the valley.
As we set about the task of collecting firewood, the landowner appeared from within the trees and welcomed us to “his mountain”, proceeding to help us get the fire going, chatting in a variety of languages and enjoying the spectacular sunset.
He was joined by another local, who also joined us for dinner – obviously not put off by my presence within the cook group – and voted in our first “Numpty of the Week” selection.
Awarded to the person who has made their mark in less than complimentary fashion throughout the week, the first (clear) winner was our Scottish traveller Martyn – not so much for getting locked in a supermarket toilet, but the gusto with which he recounted the tale and admitted he had simply not slid the lock across the door.
His prize was to be the first wearer of Malcolm the monkey, which must be worn at all times in public for 24 hours. Suggest we all may get acquainted with Malcolm at some point (although Martyn appears to be again leading the way for the next vote).
Spirits were high as we headed out of camp in the morning – complete with a big bag of olives our new friend had emerged from amid the trees to sell us – and off on the long drive to Chef.
Our first really long day on the truck was enlivened, with both sides rolled up, by some fabulous views as we wound our way through the mountains and a succession of small settlements – the arrival of a big yellow truck prompting amusement, surprise and plenty of waving from the locals.
And spirits remained high on discovery that our new campsite had the holy grail double of wi-fi and hot (well, sort of) showers. They got even higher among those who trekked down the hill after dinner to join in some form of festival and seek out a few beers (not all that easy to find in a Muslim country).
Those spirits, however, took a blow as the heavens opened the next morning, but undeterred we headed off into Chef to explore.
And, despite the conditions, it was a thoroughly enjoyable few hours, getting lost among the narrow, winding streets amid the locals going about their daily business – large chunks of which involved trying to sell us something.
But highlight of our exploration was a stop-off at Restaurant La Granada.
To call it a restaurant was being a little optimistic. It was essentially, three tables squeezed into two small rooms which also had to accommodate a kitchen and the one smiling gentleman who took our orders, cooked up some fabulous tagines for six of us, posed for pictures and even managed to stop for prayers behind his counter as we ate.
Congratulating ourselves on our find, our next move was not so clever (and may involve a group nomination to wear Malcolm) as we brushed aside the suggestion of getting a taxi back to camp and opted to walk back up the hill in the pouring rain, an idea we spent the afternoon regretting as the truck gradually filled up with returning explorers trying to get warm and dry.
In some cases, neither state was achieved until after dinner as those of us who had not turned in for an early night headed to a hotel along the roadside from the campsite and sought refuge in their very welcoming bar – complete with a singer and Botswana v Tunisia on the TV, although there was little in that to grab the attention.
The evening continued for some in the adjoining nightclub, while the rest of us took the plunge to find out if our tents had survived the downpour.
Warmer climes (much warmer), we are assured, are just days away…