Chefchaouen, Morocco: Shangri-La In The Rif
This article is the first in a series presented by Cannabis Culture featuring the international adventures of Zorro Red Eye - world traveler, connoisseur of fine cannabis, and former editor of England's Red Eye magazine. Click on the pictures to enlarge.
Where were the hustlers that used to greet you on arrival? Why wasn’t anyone scrambling to take my bag from me, or offering to get me a taxi, in the hope of making a few extra Dirhams. None of this was evident at all!
I staggered along and boarded a very clean modern train, which took me to the centre of town very comfortably in twenty minutes. Impressed? Oh yes... Morocco had definitely changed.
Jalabas had given way to leather jackets and blue jeans, and kaftans and veils, to mini skirts, makeup, permed hair and stockings. Almost European, I thought to myself as I stumbled from the train and into the station. Indeed if it hadn’t been for the filth everywhere, the smell, and the dust, let alone the humidity and heat, I might not even have realized that I was in Casablanca at all! I propped myself up on a bench and dug out my Lonely Planet Guide in a vain attempt to establish where in the city I was, and where the local hotels were situated.
A few Moroccan lads sitting at the opposite end of the bench asked me where I was from, in an effort to enter into conversation. I asked them about local hotels. They were very helpful and pointed out that on the next block over, there were several inexpensive ones. One of them asked me if I wanted any “Sheet” (shit and chocolate are two words commonly used for Hashish in Morocco). I broke my own rules once again, and tried to negotiate a price for a few joints worth just to get me through the night. Twenty Dirhams (£1.30) the lad said, but before I could take him up on his kindness, three plain-clothes police dressed in leather jackets, jeans and trainers, descended on us from out of nowhere. My three Moroccan friends were frisked on the spot, their identity cards taken, and they were marched off physically to an awaiting unmarked police car! When I tried to intercede in the matter, one of the lads said, “Better you say nothing. It’s not your problem.” On the bright side, the frisk had come up with nothing.
It was explained later that the larger cities in Morocco had laws that prevented hustlers “Les Faux Guides” (False Guides) from harassing tourists. This explained a vast number of the questions I had in the back of my mind instantly. As a direct result of so many tourists being harassed and ripped off in the past, Morocco’s tourism had slumped. The Faux Guides law made hustlers liable to arrest and even imprisonment.
I made my way by Petit Taxi (short runs only) to a hotel, which was situated, close to the CTM bus station for tomorrow’s trip north. Five pounds a night, cold and cold running water, and just follow your nose for the toilet!
After a quick walk about in the centre of Casablanca, a visit to the CTM bus station (luxury coaches), a glass of some of the best mint tea anywhere in the world, and four more un-accepted offers of hash, I made my way back to the hotel ready for an 8:30am departure the following morning.
Casablanca, on the surface, is a thriving city of some ten million people. Its centre is very modern giving the illusion of being sophisticated and almost European. Big beautiful French colonial looking buildings, five star American hotels, and four lanes of traffic jam in either direction on the main roads. The back streets however are so filthy that it sticks to you. Poor hygiene, loads of sleazy people out to take you for whatever they can, hustlers, decrepit bars, beggars, prostitutes and secret police, make Casablanca yet another boil on the butt of civilisation. My personal recommendation… If at all possible, give the place a miss.
Six a.m. started the day with a large cafe au lait in the local cafe; one of the little gems left over from colonial France. Outdoor Parisian style cafes are to be found everywhere in Morocco, and from here you can watch the world go by as you wake up.
The CTM station was only a block away, and from there you can take a luxury Volvo coach to just about everywhere in Morocco. My destination Chefchaouen (pronounced Tchefshawun), a small town in the Rif mountains, about a hundred and twenty kilometres from Ketama, and well within the hash manufacturing belt of the Rif. Chefchaouen was to be my home base for the next couple of weeks.
For ninety five dirhams (£6.20) I procured my place aboard a luxury coach for the six and a half hour, four hundred odd kilometre drive which would take us up the coast of Morocco via Rabat, then inland toward the Rif.
Had time been on my side, and had I known then what I know now, I would have flown to Malaga in Spain, and taken the ferry to Tangier where I could have caught a bus just as easily, saved money overall, and avoided Casablanca completely. But it’s the old hind thought and forethought story once again isn’t it?
The only other non-Moroccans on the coach were a hippied out Japanese guy, complete with woollen Rasta hat, and his girlfriend. They too were heading for Chefchaouen, and with all his Rasta gear on; I had no doubts as to why. They spoke little English so I sat back and watched the world go by.
About sixty kilometres further down the road, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia to find that the coach stopped for lunch at a rest stop that I had used before some twenty-three years ago. At that time, the black tobacco smoke filled rust bucket charabang type bus, full of the anti-European, constantly leering, jalaba clad Moroccans of the early seventies, together with all their live chickens, stopped only once on the way to Tangier from Casablanca, to give passengers a break from the constant, bumps, cacophony and smoke. A sandwich stop, we guessed at the time, as we descended from the bus to find a barbecue lit by the side of the road! Hanging from an adjacent balustrade were slabs of meat covered in flies, from which slices were being taken and thrown onto the barbecue for our fellow passengers. On the ground below were the four decaying hoofs, which belonged to the slaughtered animal that was now being eaten. Probably to give an indication as to how old the meat was. We decided to give dinner a miss on that occasion!
But now, not only the coaches and the people, but the rest stop too had modernised. The barbecue had been built in to the far end of the terrace, and the meat had been moved into, and was now hanging in, what appeared to be a butchers shop complete with scales on which portions are weighed off. Once you’ve bought your meat, you then take it to the man behind the barbecue to prepare. The food here is excellent and if you ever get the chance don’t be shy.
While eating lunch, a brightly decorated dump truck full of people, all playing Arabian flute type horns, and banging on drums while dancing, went by making beautiful music. A wedding party on the move! We were now heading into the real non-European Morocco at last.
After lunch the coach continued a little way down the main road passing many stalls, all selling brightly coloured pottery. A little further, and we passed what looked like a horse drawn cart, car boot sale comprised of well over two hundred carts and about six or seven hundred people. All along the length of the road, we passed people riding donkeys to and fro. Finally a true taste of rural Morocco.
Another few kilometres down the main road, and the coach crossed a railway track and slowly started ambling up a narrow pothole ridden secondary road, and the scenery started to change dramatically. We were now entering the foothills of the Rif.
Before long I was drawing a breath at every bend in the road. The coach driver seemed oblivious to the two hundred meter drops by the side of the road, as he careered along, passing anything that got in his way, and without giving a second thought to the oncoming traffic around the next bend.
The rural life in this area was very poor indeed. From time to time you would see a goat herd on the side of the mountain, with his flock of twenty goats. One room houses, which were often shared with livestock, were scattered here and there. These people were a living example of how the people of the Rif lived prior to the upsurge of the cannabis culture in the Western world. Indeed it was our taste for cannabis that brought prosperity to the people of the Rif. This prosperity has come in two ways. First directly; The revenue brought in by hashish sales not only looks after the grower / manufacturer, but also the many people who work for him in the fields, in the production room, and in transporting and smuggling the product out of the country. From the badly paid policeman, to the government official; they all get a little piece of the action. It’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to do so.
But then there’s tourism. The amount of people who visit the Rif to enjoy the very product for which it is so famous bring prosperity to the hotels, shops, restaurants, and even the taxi drivers, giving them all an income that they can, not only survive on, but live on. Hash has brought the Rif Mountains out of the depths of poverty in which they had lived for so many years.
It was King Mohammad the Fifth who gave royal permission to the people of the Rif to carry on their age-old tradition of growing Kif (marijuana), and as he is reputed to be a direct descendant of Mohammad the Prophet, this permission cannot be revoked! But did he give his permission to grow Kif so that these people would prosper by selling hash to the west? No, this would never have entered his mind at the time because hash, at this time did not exist in the Rif. In fact it wasn’t until about 1957 that hash appeared in the Rif, when Western hippy types brought the secret of hash making to Morocco, from India! Until this time people only grew Kif for their own consumption, although it was sold very cheaply throughout Morocco. The people of the Rif were exceptionally poor people. They were on the brink of starvation, and smoking Kif seemed to help them cope with their plight.
If it wasn’t for the interference of the detestable American government and their farcical war on drugs, imposing their ideals and demands on other cultures, I’m convinced that Morocco would have no problem with the sale and consumption of both Kif and hash nation wide. American intervention has had a devastating affect on people’s lives in the Rif, where imprisonment and torture is the unjust reward for anyone caught selling the Rif’s only valuable commodity. For these atrocities, on the final day of reckoning, the American government must be held accountable.
The bus slows to a stop now. It’s a “Control”, one of the many police checkpoints in the Rif. The one outside Chefchaouen is reputed to be one of the worst. Two steel grids with eight-inch spikes pointing upward are positioned on either side of the road, forcing traffic to zigzag, one at a time, between them. Each person’s papers are checked and a search of the car undertaken. There are seven such controls between here and Ketama. A policeman boards the coach, staring everyone out individually. But what would you be smuggling into this area? Looking for wanted people I suppose. We are free to go now. Next stop Chefchaouen.
The name Chefchaouen means” looking up at the peaks”. A good name, because no matter where you are in the town, you seem to spend most of your time gazing up at the mountains. The mountain springs of Chefchaouen are also famous for producing some of the best mineral water in Morocco. No chance of illness from drinking the water here!
ARRIVAL IN CHEFCHAOUEN
I could see a patch of bright white nestled in the valley below and stretching up the side of the mountain behind. Chefchaouen is known throughout Morocco for it’s beautiful white washed houses with blue doors. Painted this colour to keep mosquitoes out during the summer season.
Bandito, who was about thirty five years old, and looked like Cheech of “Cheech And Chong” fame, made his living, as many people do, by hanging around the bus station waiting for incoming busses. When he spots a tourist, he becomes extremely helpful. He finds you a taxi, helps you with your bag, and before you realize what’s going on, he’s in the taxi with you and on his way to your hotel! I was heading for Hotel Al Hamra, a quiet, inexpensive little place in the heart of the Medina (old town).
Chefchaouen’s medina stretches out in all directions both uphill and downhill from the large open plaza or square, which forms its centre and houses the Kasbah. The streets of the medina are cobbled, about eight foot wide, with more steps to climb just about every twenty metres. The main form of transport for delivering everything from firewood, to bricks, to bottled gas used for cooking and heating water for showers etc., are donkeys that are constantly on the move up and down these cobbled streets.
At first the maze of tiny streets seems very daunting, as you feel sure that you’ll never find your hotel again once you leave it. Bandito knows this and uses it to his advantage! Before you even realize where you are, he’s taking you out on a walk-about. He’s taken you for a mint tea at his friend’s shop, got you stoned off your head, and is now trying to figure out why you are here. It is automatically presumed that you are here for the hash, which he describes using Dutch names for the various qualities. This is a total affectation, as these names are not used in Morocco at all, but rather first quality, second quality, and third quality.
I decided to tell him that I was interested in the weaving that this town is famous for. Wrong move on my part because I spent the rest of the afternoon touring the carpet factories all of which are famous for their hard sell approach. Anything that I bought, Bandito would make a commission on. One of Bandito’s friends also practiced his hard sell approach on me in an effort to sell me hash at an inflated price. I haggled him down a little letting them all know, that I was aware that the price was well inflated, but bought it anyway to be sure of a smoke for the night. There is no malice involved in attempting to rip off first day visitors, and Bandito joined me in laughing at his own situation when I bestowed him with his new nickname. It’s a way of life for many people here, and everyone needs to make a living. You can never begrudge them that.
Bandito wanted to hook up with me again the next morning! I had to put him off without insulting him. He was after all, a really nice guy. I decided to waste a good portion of his day, so that I could get on with what I was here to do.
When I finally got back to my hotel, well stoned, shattered from the constant uphill walking, and fed up to the teeth with carpets, I found a small group had gathered in the foyer and a joint was being passed around! I joined the group in the hope of finding out some of the local gossip. The hash being smoked was similar to what I had been sold earlier in the day as being Sputnik Moroccan. In these parts however the hash is all the same. Always first quality, browny-black, gummy and pliable. When heated it fluffs up really nicely, and smoking it sends you into orbit. Five grams will cost you about fifty dirhams (about $5). Some people charge more.
I heard that one of the town guides had been caught early that morning selling hash to a tourist in the main square. They had both been grabbed and led off handcuffed to one another by the secret police. The fifty grams that the guide had been caught with, would land him in jail for around six months. No one knew what would happen to the tourists. I was warned not to ever smoke in the plaza as it invites trouble. The plaza is often patrolled by the secret police. Although it is not their wish to go out of their way to bust you, if you flaunt hash in front of them they have to be seen to be doing something about it. Never carry smoke on you if you can at all avoid it, as a very small lump can land you in jail. You can smoke in the shops, if invited to do so. You can smoke in your hotel room with no problem at all, or even in the foyer of the hotel with the manager’s permission.
There was an underlying fear that this bust might have been the beginning of a purge, because people had been taking the piss for far too long. What a great time to be doing a Zorro special, in the midst of a purge on smoke sellers I thought to myself, while trying to avoid that old familiar paranoid feeling! It was definitely time for a change of atmosphere, so I decided to go and have a wonder ‘round the plaza that Bandito had been avoiding all day long.
As I walked down to the plaza from my hotel, I must have been approached seven or eight times by people who all wanted to know what country I came from. I would reply in French, as this is a more widely used language in Morocco, than English. The Rif’s first language is Spanish. On each occasion the response was the same. “Welcome to my country.” This continued every day throughout my stay in Chefchaouen, at least twenty times a day, and these people were sincere in their welcome.
As I strolled around the lit up plaza filled with outdoor cafes, all playing a wide assortment of Reggae music by the likes of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, let alone some really fine Arabic Reggae musicians, with the moonlit mountains beaming from above, I couldn’t help but feel that I had truly found Shangri-La in the Rif. The people are genuinely friendly. There is no violence, theft or aggressive behaviour of any sort here. There is no place for this type of behaviour in a town populated by heads. I picked the cafe playing Peter Tosh, sat down and ordered a mint tea. No wonder Rita Marley hangs out here I thought to myself, as I watched a couple of locals skinning up at the next table.
“Can I join you?”, I heard from over my left shoulder!
I turned to find one of the guys that I had met earlier that evening. I had pinned him for a smuggler, and it seemed that I was right. For the purposes of this story we’ll call him Bob. We sat and laughed about how people like me with long hair were always being torn apart by customs, while people like him with short hair, suits, and briefcases shot through effortlessly with the hash! He showed off his best English for me. “My tailor is rich, and my fazer is in jail!” is what I thought he said! (What he meant to say was, “My father is an engineer!)
Bob invited me to join him for a drink (which led to several) in one of the three local bars, and later for supper where he told me many stories of his encounters in Morocco. The best advice he ever gave me was “If you get caught with even a gram in Morocco, give the cop five hundred Dirhams ($60) instantly and say nothing. We quickly built a strong friendship and soon after became known in town as “Los Borrachos”, (The wreck-heads!).
After supper I returned to the hotel to find that I had a visitor! For this story I will call him Abdul. I had met Abdul earlier that evening, but only briefly. He was concerned that I might not have anything to smoke and had come to give me a few joints worth of his personal. This was his way of introducing himself and welcoming me to his country. He told me that he was busy with his family tonight but that he would try and come and see me tomorrow. And with that, he left.
I woke early to the sound of the donkeys clambering, fully laden, up the cobbled street below. Off to the plaza for coffee and breakfast. Again I was welcomed to Chefchaouen by at least three more people en route.
Sitting in my favourite cafe, listening this time to Arabic Reggae, the smell of hash already in the air. Looking up at the mountains with a large glass of orange juice (squeezed to order), and a large cafe au lait in front of me, I was sorely tempted to tear up my return ticket and stay forever.
A FLYING LESSON WITH BANDITO
A couple more welcomes later and I found myself back at the hotel with Bandito sitting waiting for me.
After a quick walk about in town, I suggested that we get a case of beer and find somewhere quiet to sit and let the day drift by. We ended up at Bandito’s house, where I was introduced to his dog “Rasta”. He lived in a nice flat overlooking the valley below, which he had bought outright, in the new part of town.
We had had to buy beer from the bar, which was expensive, at $1.50 for a 240ml bottle, because the bootlegger had gone out for lunch. Bootleg beer from Spain costs just over $19.50 a case of twenty-four cans in Morocco.
As the beers started flowing I heard the story of Bandito’s life. He was once upon a time, a fairly hefty dealer. He had lived for many years with a French girl, but she had deserted him during the year that he spent in jail for selling two kilos to a Westerner.
I mentioned that I had a friend who had once been caught smuggling hash out of Morocco and had undergone torture by the police in an attempt to extract the identity of the dealer who sold it to him, but he had not cracked. When I described the form of torture he replied. Ah! “Flying”. I too have flown... For six days, but I said nothing. He then went about telling me all about what it is like to be busted in Morocco!
In England, when you get arrested you are taken into an interview room after sweating it out in a cell complete with bed, mattress, and flushing toilet, for a few hours. A tape recorder is put on and you are informed of your rights and offered a solicitor’s services even if you can’t afford one. Then, and only then, are you questioned.
In Morocco this is not at all the case. First of all, a Moroccan can be arrested with as little evidence as one single rolling paper, or on the say-so of an informant. The “beyond a reasonable doubt” rule has no place here whatsoever. So much as being found sitting in the same house as a piece of hash, (whether you know it is there or not) implicates you in the crime. The questioning process in Morocco is also totally different to our own. No tape recorder, no rights, no lawyer; just a damp dark room in the back of the police station. The prisoner is stripped to his underwear and shackled hand and foot. He is then placed on the ground so that his knees protrude up through the loop made by his shackled arms. A metal bar is slotted through the gap underneath his kneecaps, and over the tops of his forearms. A chain is attached to either end of the metal bar and he is hoisted up into the air. Hence the term “Flying”. The natural weight of the body leaves you upside down, with the soles of your feet pointing upwards. Your head is upside down, but at the same time, slightly facing the ceiling. To ensure that you enjoy the full impact of your interrogation, a cord is tied to the big toe of your left foot, pulled tightly around the back of your neck, and then tied to the big toe of your right foot. A piece of loosely woven cloth is then put over your face. Then the interrogation begins. The soles of your feet are beaten severely with a long cane while the other interrogator pours water over your face. With each scream the body contorts, pulling on the cord around your neck, which stretches the tendons in the bottom of your feet, hence making them ready for the next lash of the cane. Meanwhile the water which is poured on your face half drowns you each time you draw a breath after screaming. This treatment continues for between half an hour to forty-five minutes before you are lowered to the ground, dragged off to your cell and thrown down on the floor. There is no bed or blanket, so you sleep where you drop, only to be woken and dragged back to the interrogation room a few hours later for another session of flying!
This interrogation continues every few hours, twenty-four hours a day, for as many days as your interrogator chooses to continue. After only a couple of sessions the soles of your feet are swollen by three to four inches, and you are incapable of walking. After only a few sessions you lose all concept of time and your torture seems perpetual. And all this to find out who you bought the hash from. God bless America!
Westerners do not seem to be able to endure flying for much more than one or two sessions before cracking. But by giving your Moroccan friend’s name, you have sentenced him to days of this treatment.
Once your interrogator has decided that interrogation is no longer worth pursuing, you have the good fortune of being thrown into prison to await trial. This can take anything up to a few weeks from the time of arrest!
While in prison, you get to share a cell, and one “squat pot” (toilet), with about two hundred people! The floor of the cell is tiled, and at night your sleeping space comprises of one and a half tiles precisely (about 12 inches wide by the length of your body). If you’re busting for a pee in the middle of the night, you hold it, because a visit to the squat pot could well leave you having to sleep on it, as everyone may have moved a centimetre or two during your absence, hence no more sleeping space for you! The food that you receive is barely enough to sustain life, and comprises often of soup made from rotting vegetables, and a bit of bread. There is no time off for good behaviour, but rather a damn good beating if you do miss-behave, and a cell the size of a small box for a few days. Without the help of friends and family on the outside, who can provide you with food packages and cigarettes, doing time in Morocco can be hard to say the least!
Bandito had done six days of “flying”, and a year in prison for supposedly selling two kilos of hash to a Westerner. I was later to find out that Abdul had done five days of flying and two years in prison for supposedly selling fifteen kilos to a Westerner. Both were tortured and imprisoned after being named or described by Westerners who had been caught trying to leave the country with the hash. Both said nothing during their torture, although Abdul did confess to screaming out the name of “Allah” continuously during his five days of torture.
It is well worth noting that there are in excess of two hundred Brits serving time in Moroccan prisons for hash related offences.
After finishing the case of beer and a few joints, I accompanied Bandito to a cafe not far from the bus station, where he kept a watchful eye out for new tourist punters, before I finally returned to my hotel.
On arrival at my hotel I noticed that a small group had yet again gathered in the foyer. This time for a few joints and a game of cards. I decided to introduce them to the game of Jenga, a game that requires a good sense of balance, co-ordination, and steadiness of hand.
Should the British government be interested in my observations on the effect of cannabis on the above, for their (delay tactic) research into the possible detrimental effects of medical marijuana, I would have to say that I have never before seen a Jenga tower being built so high without falling down in my life, as I saw done by a bunch of stone-heads in the back streets of Chefchaouen!
After a few rounds of Jenga, I left my friends to continue the game while I went out in search of Bob.
I found him sitting on the sidewalk out of the way of passer-by donkeys, soaking up the late afternoon sun outside a shop, drinking mint tea, which had been bought for him by the shopkeeper. Bob joined me at one of the local bars for a beer, before the day’s hunger signalled the dinner bell and it was time to pick a restaurant.
We opted for seafood.
One would automatically presume that seafood in the Rif would be far from fresh, but the truth is to the contrary. Fresh seafood is shipped in daily to Chefchaouen from the Mediterreanian, and is some of the best I have ever tasted!
After dinner we did a tour of the plaza for a few more “Welcome to my country’s”, and visited a few of the local bars, before retiring to my hotel for a few joints and a bottle of bootleg whisky. Yes, the Jenga game was still in full swing!
A VISIT TO MUSTAFA’S HASH FACTORY
During the previous evening I had been approached by a man who I will call Mustafa. Mustafa, a grower/manufacturer, had pinned me for a Western mafia style smuggler (guilt by association I guess!), and had extended to me an invitation to visit his home, some sixty five kilometres up the road toward Ketama, for lunch the next day. What Gonzo Cannabis Reporter could refuse this invitation?! Needless to say I accepted. After breakfast in the plaza the following day, I was met outside my hotel by one of Mustafa’s sidekicks who was to escort me to his house in the mountains.
As we ventured, by Mercedes taxi, past the first “Control” on the road to Ketama, I commented on how difficult it must be to get hash out of the mountains. I was then explained all about the movement of hash within Morocco.
It was suggested that some of the control guards were on the payroll of the various grower/producers of hash, to look the other way when shipments came through. However when all else failed, the age-old tradition of walking the hash down through the mountains, past the controls by donkey, was always the safest means of transportation available.
As we drove along, chain-smoking my cigarettes, I couldn’t help but notice how the clouds seemed to be hovering, just below the peaks of the mountains giving them an air of sombre mysticism. This, I was told, was typical of this part of the Rif. If you venture even further up the road to Ketama from Mustafa’s house, you suddenly find yourself driving through the clouds. That could be an adventure in itself, I thought to myself, given that the road leading into Ketama is regarded as being rather treacherous at the best of times.
Finally we arrived at Mustafa’s house. It was only a few hundred meters off the main road, and looked like a fairly average sized home for the area.
On arrival, I was greeted by Mustafa and two other people that I had met earlier that week, Ibrahim and Mohammad. I felt sure that it was they, who had mentioned to Mustafa that I might be a potential large-scale buyer, and hence caused his interest in me!
We sat down to a lunch of tajine (a form of meat stew); salad, bread and Spanish bootleg beer. In the centre of the table was a large, half-kilo bag of unpressed number one quality trichomes, which was used to build the several spliffs that we smoked continuously throughout my visit. Wrecked again! What a surprise!
After lunch was over Mustafa wanted to talk business. He explained that out of a hundred kilos of marijuana, you would only extract three hundred grams of the first quality hash that we were smoking. He showed how good the quality was by having one of the lads that worked for him, rub up a piece between two boards. This he did by wrapping about a three ounce chunk of this greeny-gold trichomes in plastic, then rolling it between two boards at a considerable speed. After only minutes the hash came out black and gummy, and could be bent and twisted easily. From a tacky, sticky, sweet smelling kif to this, in one easy step!
Mustafa then took out a 125 gram bar of first quality hash that had been pressed earlier that week. Taking my hotel key in one hand, he warmed it with a lighter. Then, holding the bar in his other hand, he pressed the key into it with his thumb. The warmth from the key brought the oily resin to the surface leaving a perfect, dark imprint of the key in the hash under it’s cellophane wrapper. This was done to show me two things. First to show that the hash was of a very high quality as the warmth of the key was sufficient to bring it’s heavy resin content to the surface instantly, although under a cold press the hash retains it’s original greeny-gold colour, and secondly that if I ordered any hash from him, he would emboss it with my own seal free of charge. The rather humorous concept of a “Zorro” Seal of Approval struck me immediately and still lives with me to this very day.
We then got down to brass tacks. A ton of good second quality hash, gummy but not as pliable as first quality, (first quality doesn’t come in tons), would cost me about four dirhams (39¢) a gram, (or $390,000.00 a ton), in Morocco. The same ton would cost double that on the beach, (meaning from boat to boat or boat to beach), off the coast of France, Spain, or Portugal. Delivery direct to a house of your choice anywhere in Spain would cost you between twelve and fifteen dirhams a gram for the same hash. He offered me a good deal for an on the spot purchase. He had two homeless tons sitting in Madrid. If I gave him the address of the house that I wanted it delivered to now, I could have the lower price. Not only that, but I would not have to pay a penny until I had telephone confirmation of the delivery, quantity, and quality from my imaginary people in Spain! Now you can’t get a fairer deal than that, can you?
I explained to Mustafa that I wasn’t in a position to make deals now, and that I would have to get back to him at another time later in the year. I asked if he would mind me taking a few pictures to show the people back home. Suddenly he started talking very fast and loud in Arabic. The only word I could make out was “Interpol”. Mustafa thought that I might well be an Interpol agent, here to stir up shit for him! I froze for a second wondering how serious he was being and whether he was going to make a dive for the pistol that was protruding from behind the picture on the wall. Then I came out with, “Tell him that if it makes him paranoid, I won’t bother”.
Maybe he was joking, maybe he was just testing, but for some reason this seemed to have somewhat settled him, and he reluctantly went into the back room of the house and brought out about thirty kilos of hash for me to photograph. Now, suddenly I was having a hard time trying to convince everyone that it was a “bad idea” for them to jump into the picture with the hash, but they soon came round to my way of thinking, with a little help from Mustafa.
Shortly after the picture taking ceremonies were over, my taxi arrived.
I went to bid farewell to Mustafa, but instead of shaking my hand goodbye, he beckoned me into one of his outbuildings. “Maybe this is where he’s planning on shooting me”, I thought to myself, as I entered hesitantly!
Mustafa went over to the far end of the room, and drew back a tarpaulin from what I expected to be a car parked in the corner. To my astonishment, he revealed a bail of marijuana weighing at least three hundred kilos, maybe four, stacked in the corner. This was the raw material, or what is referred to as “Branche”. In late August the marijuana crop is harvested. All leaves are removed from the stems. Then each branch is cut from the plant and bound into bunches. These bunches are then sun dried, and later stored in this fashion while awaiting processing on the hash table. I pulled out my camera and started taking shots, without even asking Mustafa’s permission first! When I had finished Mustafa just grinned a sarcastic grin. He ushered me away from the door that I was leaning against to take my pictures. He opened the door and the contents of the room made my jaw drop. The room which measured about twenty foot long, by about twelve foot wide, and about eight foot high, was stuffed full of marijuana to a height of about seven and a half feet, leaving only about a six inch gap below the ceiling. There was easily three, to four tons in there!
I think Mustafa must have had one too many lunchtime beers, as he was clearly starting to show off now!
Next, he took me out of that outbuilding, and into another.
As we went through the door, I noticed six large fifty-kilo bags of marijuana just lying about the place. Two structures covered by tarpaulins stood in the middle of the room. Mustafa removed the tarpaulin from one, revealing one of the two hash making tables!
Mustafa explained how a hundred kilos of branche is brought in and the flowers removed from the stem onto the black cloth that covers the table. The marijuana is just moved around the table gently to remove the first quality trichomes, which fall through the screen and onto the shelf below. The marijuana is then bagged up awaiting the process for second quality trichomes. This process is continued until the whole hundred kilos of branche have been completed. Once the process for first quality trichomes is complete on the full hundred kilos of branche, you should have about three hundred grams of first quality trichomes on the shelf to be bagged up.
Next the marijuana is taken from the bags and put on the table yet again. This time it is not handled quite so gently. The marijuana is lightly tapped with a stick, which dislodges the second quality trichomes, allowing them to fall through the cloth and onto the shelf below. Again, once the entire hundred kilos have been worked, and re-bagged for third quality processing, the hundred kilos of grass will have produced some five hundred to eight hundred grams of second quality trichomes. Last but not least, the hundred kilos of marijuana is put back on the table and beaten, this time with the stick. This produces some eight hundred to twelve hundred grams of third quality trichomes, which fall through the screen onto the shelf below. The hash production on that batch of a hundred kilos is now complete. The left over, well-beaten grass is then sold off. For what purpose exactly, I’m not quite sure.
Once the process on one hundred kilos of branche is complete, another hundred kilos is brought in, and the entire process is repeated all over again.
DINNER WITH THE “FAUX GUIDES”
I was heading back to the hotel through a maze of “Welcome to my country’s”, when I bumped into Bob and Abdul. It seemed that we had been invited for a meal, by some of the town “Faux Guides”. Bob had obviously let slip to one of them that I was writing an article, and it seemed that there were things that they wanted to tell me.
Bob invited me to join him in a quick few pipes of Kif before dinner at a friend’s shop. As I was still bollocksed from my afternoon session at Mustafa’s house, it made no difference, so I accepted Bob’s invitation. Kif for some reason has a way of waking you up, and I was starting to feel dozy.
At dinner I was welcomed by some familiar faces and some new ones as well. The restaurant was unlicensed, but a couple of cases of bootleg beer were placed under one end of the table for us to serve ourselves from.
During dinner I was told that over the last five years or so things had got a little ridiculous in Chaouen (short for Chefchaouen). Because of the laid-back attitude of the town in general, visitors had started smoking in the plaza, and were flaunting too much in the eyes of the police, which in the long run could lead the demise of the town. They felt that it was important that I explain in my article that discretion is the key to the town’s success. Both dealers and faux guides have been promoting this more positive attitude with visitors over the last few months.
The other tid-bit of information that I picked up, was the town’s negative attitude towards heroin. As with most hash-producing areas throughout the world, opium poppy production often follows. The reason for this is down to American intervention yet again! If hash trafficking is treated as a criminal activity, then what’s the difference between hash and opium in the eyes of the law? Some two years ago, growers from the Ketama area tried to introduce heroin into Chefchaouen, and a few people became addicted. The town’s hash culture became both alarmed and concerned by this, and completely eradicated heroin sales from the town. Now there are only a few addicts left. Far less indeed, than in my own sleepy one horse town back in England!
One such heroin addict was one of the faux guides sitting at my table. He was weaning himself off heroin by making a tea of dried opium poppies twice a day. The opium poppies can be purchased quite legally from any one of three shops in the town, for about $75.00 a kilo. They are used for one purpose, and one purpose only in Morocco. “For putting babies who are up all night, crying, to sleep!!! One very weak cup of opium tea does the trick”! These dried opium poppies have not been slashed in the usual fashion of extracting opium sap. The opium has not been processed, and therefore the tea that is made from these dried poppies contains all 54(?) alkaloids (Codeine, etc. etc.etc.) produced by the poppy, and has an extremely mongey affect. A warning to anyone reading this article; “Junkies are not welcome here”. In the same way that sores come with syphilis, trouble comes with junkies. Attempting to purchase poppies from the legal source will lead to severe police trouble. No faux guides or dealers will help a junkie purchase poppies or any other opiate, and they are more likely to turn you in, than to befriend you. Chefchaouen is a zero tolerance, Smack Free Zone!
When dinner was over, I did the polite thing and picked up the tab for the beer (about $42.00), thanked all my new friends for an entertaining evening, and left for a quick game of Jenga and bed at my hotel.
The next morning I awoke as usual to the sound of donkeys in the street below. A shower would have been a great idea to shake out the cobwebs from the night before, but the water pressure here is such that your water supply could be cut off mid shower if, elsewhere in the hotel, a tap was turned on or a toilet flushed. I waited ‘til after breakfast.
As usual it was a bright sunny day. The rainy season was due to start any day now, but so far no sign. By now I felt that I knew the whole town. There were less “Welcome to my country"s, and more “How are you today, my friend?” I took my usual table in the cafe at the far end of the plaza.
As I sipped freshly squeezed orange juice, listening to Bob Marley’s “Jamming”, and looked out over the Plaza, with it’s back-drop of whitewashed, blue-doored houses, the mountains beyond, and the moon still visible above them all, I felt that you could live here for a million years and never grow tired of the sheer beauty of the place.
ON A MISSION FOR KIF
I decided that today was a good day for Kif. So far I had not purchased any, but had had a couple of drags from other people’s pipes, whenever it was offered. I only had two more days to go in Chefchaouen, so it was about time that we had a good session on Kif. Bob, who had a real thing for Kif, was in full agreement.
Kif is one of the most difficult things to buy in Chefchaouen, and is considered more dangerous to be caught with than hash, even though it is the historical national smoke of Morocco. This has nothing to do with the marijuana itself. It is the mountain-grown Black Tobacco, which is mixed with the marijuana to make the Kif ready for smoking that causes all the problems! The word Kif of course actually means marijuana, but no one in Morocco smokes the marijuana by itself (something I’ve never quite figured out).
Morocco is a land of indirect taxes, more so than direct taxes. This is due, for the most part, to large-scale unemployment. You can’t tax an unemployed person’s income, as there would be no record of any money that he has managed to hustle. But you can make masses of money from things such as the taxation on tobacco, as everyone in Morocco seems to smoke. The black tobacco that is sold in order to be mixed with the Kif is grown wild in the mountains and has had no tax paid on it. That is where the problem is. Being caught with even the dust from the black tobacco in the bottom of a bag of Kif is good for a four thousand dirham ($435) fine, or a jail sentence if you can’t pay!
To buy Kif, you have to go to the outlying villages, which for a westerner would draw too much attention. Abdul on the other hand would have no problem, so he volunteered to come with us.
We took another Mercedes Taxi known as a “Grand Taxi” some ten kilometres out of town to a little village comprising of two cafes, a bus stop, and three other buildings. The taxi dropped us off and agreed to return later to pick us up. One of the faux guides from the night before had decided to join us as he was on a mission for a bottle of bootleg gin, which was also sold in that village. Ironic really! The western world governments preach to us about the unproven dangers of cannabis, forcing their own self righteous ideals on the Moroccan people, while with the other hand, bestowing them with the best from the western world, “Marlboro cigarettes and alcoholism”! Nice one!
Abdul busied himself flitting back and forth between the cafes, looking for a Kif dealer, while our alcoholic friend easily purchased his gin. Bob and I played the tourist, and sat outside the grubbier of the two cafes drinking mint tea. Soon Abdul was back. He had paid twenty dirhams for the Kif. A bag about the size of my fist, containing one bag of Kif and one bag of the dreaded black tobacco. The taxi wasn’t due to return to pick us up for about an hour, so we ventured up the side of the mountain to drink gin and smoke Kif.
Bob was rolling a European joint, while a single glass was being repeatedly filled with gin and passed around. Abdul, meanwhile, was walking around flicking rocks over with his hands. When I asked him what he was doing, he answered; “Looking for scorpions”! I’ve never jumped to my feet so fast before in my life! There are scorpions here whose stings can kill you in an hour; others that will make you severely ill for about three days after receiving the anti-venom injections (in the stomach!).
Our taxi arrived and soon we were back at Bob’s hotel mixing, (as the locals do), the Kif to taste. We decided on a one quarter black tobacco mix. I had on many occasions had a pipe or two of Kif, but I had never had a session on the stuff before in my life. It had to be done!
I had heard many stories of people almost having coronary attacks after smoking Kif, but wrote those smokers off as being lightweights. After all, how could marijuana do that to you?
When the mixing was complete, Bob reached for a “sibsee”*, (Kif pipe), and filled the “chef” (clay bowl) with Kif.
The first pipe was his.
There is an art to smoking a sibsee, in that one must know when the Kif is almost completely burned through, at which point you turn the pipe away from yourself (and others) and blow a sharp burst of air through the pipe, expelling the cinders and clearing the bowl ready for the next person to use.
The black tobacco, which has not been treated in any way other than drying, is some of the strongest tobacco in the world. Smoking an entire pipe to yourself can, for a novice Kif smoker, make you cough ‘til you’re blue in the face! Almost immediately your heart starts pounding. Not from the marijuana, but from the sheer strength of the black tobacco!
After four pipes of Kif, I had to go to the bank to cash travellers cheques. It was a down hill walk to the bank which was no problem at all. The marijuana in North Africa is not half as strong as the skunk from back home. But the walk back up the hill made me feel like I was going to die! My heart was pounding, almost out of my chest! I was sweating buckets! My mouth had dried out to the point that my tongue was stuck to the roof of it, and I was hyperventilating to the point of seeing stars! I had to stop for a beer and a ten minute sit down, only three hundred meters from my destination, for fear of not making it back alive! My personal recommendation; When smoking Kif, leave out the black tobacco. It’s a killer!
Muslim women don’t smoke. It is not considered to be the done thing. So does that mean that they do not get to enjoy the occasional bit of hash or Kif when they get together? That would be silly to even contemplate! Moroccan women make “Majoun”. A dish using chocolate, aniseed, sugar, almonds, and of course either hash or Kif. The later of the two being most popular. It’s kind of like a coffee morning back home, only with space cake as the main course! I asked Abdul, who considered himself to be an expert in the art of making Majoun, if he would do me the honour of preparing some for my last night in Chefchaouen. He agreed. As we had not yet mixed all the Kif that we had bought that day, we had about eight (black tobacco free) grams left which would do nicely for the Majoun.
For some reason, that night turned into a beer-fest for myself and all my newfound friends. The following morning the word was all over town that “Los Borrachos” had been on a bender the night before! All small towns, both here and at home, have their own internal grapevine telegraph, and Chefchaouen is no exception! If you don’t want the whole town to know your business, keep out of the public eye. If not, even your toilet habits could become public news, and always with a few embellishments to add a little sensationalism to the story!
After loads of fresh orange juice, coffee, and fresh mountain air, all telltale signs of a hangover were gone. Today was the day for shopping, bus tickets back to Casablanca (or Casa as the Moroccans say), packing, and preparing to say goodbye to friends who had become so close, so quickly. Abdul was busy today, taking a group up the mountain to the “Bridge of Heaven”, made up of two very large rocks that had somehow fallen and joined in the middle, creating a bridge at the top of one of the local peaks. He prided himself on the fact that he could drink and smoke hash all day, and still sprint up that mountain, leaving all others behind!
Bob and I enjoyed a super seafood lunch, to which we treated Abdul’s younger brother, and then spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beer and smoking until Abdul returned from his tour.
That evening, it seemed that everyone and his brother wanted to buy me a drink. These friends were true friends, and it would be impossible to ever forget them.
We had to break away from the crowd in order to go back and cook Majoun. It was difficult, but we managed in the end despite the persistent offers of more drinks!
Abdul turned up with all the ingredients and started to work at once. First he boiled a little water in a shallow pan and mixed in about a cup of sugar. Then he mixed about a hundred grams of cooking chocolate into the sugar and water mix. When the chocolate had melted, he mixed in the Kif and finally the aniseed. We had to use an aniseed sweet as none of us has remembered to buy aniseed that day! Last but not least, about a hundred grams of almonds were crushed. Half the almonds were mixed in, and the other half sprinkled over the top before the Majoun was left to cool before eating. A few of the people present were frightened of eating it. They likened its effect to that of tripping! This I had to try! In the end there were only five of us eating Majoun; taking it with a spoon, making a ball with it in our hands, and swallowing the ball. It wasn’t quite like tripping, but it was very strong! If I was ever to make it myself, I would probably use melted butter, rather than boiling water as the base.
It was now midnight, and after a couple more joints, everyone shook hands, hugged, and even kissed goodbye, and one by one they all went home, even though Bob wanted to make an all night binge of it!
With a five o’clock start in the morning, I went to bed.
By six am the following morning I was sitting on my bag, in the early morning darkness, at an empty taxi rank near the Plaza, wishing that I could stay forever in this wonderful town. The people, the mountains, the laid back approach to life, and of course the hash, made it an extremely hard place to leave.
In Casa I was yet to meet “Canadian Jack”. He would invite me to his room for a drink. A welcome break from the sleaziness and filth known as Casablanca.
In his room I would watch him swallow two hundred or so packages, forming the kilo of hash that he had spent over two weeks preparing, prior to his departure for Montreal. Canadians have got a big reputation for smuggling in Morocco, and make up a large percentage of the westerner prison population. Every swallow was washed down with a mouth full of water and the occasional Bourbon! Just watching him made me feel like puking! This hash was not for sale back home, but was his own personal stash until such time as he would return! Wouldn’t it be so much simpler if America ceased this money motivated conspiracy to maintain prohibition, and stopped inflicting their own special brand of madness on the rest of the world.
A selfish streak crossed my mind, and I thought of simply not writing this article out of fear that other people will come to Chefchaouen and somehow ruin it for others, including myself on future visits, by misbehaving. I consoled myself however, in the realisation that any indiscreet behaviour would be rewarded with a “flying” lesson and a month or two at least, of sleeping on one and a half tiles. Not to mention learning the true meaning of “eat shit”. Perhaps the Moroccan secret police, in their own sadistic way, have found the only answer to maintaining the tranquillity of this tiny pinprick on the map of the world.
Chefchaouen is not a rowdy place, but extremely laid back. “Shweeya shweeya”* (little by little), “Beletie beletie”* (gently gently), is the way of life here. Respect this, and the people of this hidden away smoker’s paradise in the Rif Mountains, will “welcome you to their country” with open arms, as a friend, time and time again. And I promise you. You won’t want to leave either!