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Stoned in Chefchaouen

Stoned in the Rif MountainsWe decided to head out of town and do some walking in the nearby mountains to find some peace, and the Lonely Planet recommended a trek to the top of a nearby peak. Much of Chefchaouen itself is built on the mountainside, and we gradually climbed up through the narrow, blue-painted streets until we were in scrubland outside of the old town walls.

The track from there gradually zigzagged upwards, passing first through a rubbish dump of burning refuse, and plastic bags blowing across the mountainside, and then disappearing into the shade of a cedar forest. We rested out of the sun, looking down at the view of the town, as two boys sat above us on the hill, watching over their goats. It was mid-afternoon, we'd already climbed quite high, and the sun was at it's hottest as we continued further and higher along the track.

The solitude couldn't last much longer, however, and soon we passed a couple of guys, who decided to follow us, attempting to talk us into coming back to their village. We tried everything we could to get them to leave, but each time they just replied that everything was cool (with the implication that things might become uncool if we didn't co-operate. They were pretty big guys, and the track now clung to the side of the mountain with a sheer drop next to it into the valley far below. No-one would ever find our bodies here. Their pitch, of course, soon turned from friendliness to hash selling, and, whilst making it quite clear that we weren't interested, Colin, in a sudden turn of extreme diplomacy, asked them to respect our wish to be left alone, and somehow persuaded them to leave without anyone being thrown down the mountainside.

Shortly afterwards we passed the 2000m height marker, and turned off the road towards the peak. Although there appeared to be a path twisting it's way to the summit, once we'd begun climbing we just couldn't find it. The side of the mountain was, unusually, cultivated and had recently been ploughed by hand - the incline was too steep to do it any other way. The soil was really dark, like terrific earth for growing crops, but our progress was slow as we trudged through it, slowly climbing higher and higher.

I was walking in front, and I soon noticed someone further up the mountain, close to the summit. As we continued upwards, he seemed to be paying more and more attention to us - I wasn't sure if he was alone or if there were others, but he appeared to have something slung across his back, like a rifle, which raised my suspicions. Finally, we found the path we'd seen from down at the road, and our progress towards the top improved. The summit was at 2800m, and already our view across the mountains was stunning, with Chefchaouen sitting almost vertically below us. The sun was beginning to lose it's heat now, sinking slowly towards the distant hills, but catching our breath was becoming difficult as the air was getting thin.

The guy near the summit now seemed to be getting agitated, running along the ridge, stopping every so often to stand and stare at us. I started to get the feeling that something wasn't right, but Colin assured me that I just, "had the paranoia", and, not wanting to stop so close to the top, we pushed on. At this, the guy above us began totally freaking out, shouting, screaming, and waving his arms. We hoped he was shouting at one of his friends, but it became clear he was screaming at us to stop when the first rock flew into the air towards us. Realising our lives would probably be at risk if we continued, we quickly decided we didn't really need to climb to the top of the mountain, and instantly turned to get away from him. He still seemed pretty freaked out, however, and suspecting that he was armed, our descent soon became something of a scramble as we expected shots to ring out at any time, something like the chase scene in The Beach. We were, of course, trekking through one of the world's main marijuana growing regions; we'd strayed across the line, they of course didn't want visitors, and naturally the crops were going to be guarded.

Further down we stopped, looking back up at the mountain. The rock-throwing guy was lying down on his stomach on a ledge, but unable to see if he was looking through binoculars or aiming a rifle at us we decided to just keep moving! As we approached the road another figure on the hill opposite began screaming at us too, but thankfully he soon disappeared back into the scenery and we didn't see him again. A bit shaken, we made it back down to the track and began the long walk back to Chefchaouen - the touts in town were probably a lot less life-threatening than the drug mafia in the mountains.

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