It’s mid July, full into summer, it was blazing hot. With my luggage secured, I took up my seat next to the right side windows, a favorite of mine when traveling at night. The bus was set to depart at 11PM but since no free seats were left, we departed 10 minutes earlier (from Casablanca). Destination: Fnideq, a city in northern Morocco, some 36 Km north of Tetouan. (For those of you who are wondering, the fare did cost me 80 MAD). Looking ahead to a sleepless night, I launched my voyage-customized play-list, put the ear-buds into my ears, and soon enough, against my will and fancy, I drifted off into the unknown …
A few hours later (at exactly 5AM), a faint ruckus brought me back to this world. We were in Tetouan’s bus station. Then, the city was covered in a veil of silence, it was a city of the dead except for the few early risers seeking a fare to Fnideq. Five minutes later, with the Tetouaneses off the bus and the new passengers seated, we depart again for Fnideq, the city more known to the locals by its Spanish name “Castillejos”, and to the foreigners by being the city where the “contrabando” once flourished.
The stretch separating the two cities, Tetouan and Fnideq, has a set of the most visited beaches in the kingdom: M’diq and Martil. The two beaches I dislike the most chiefly for being overly crowded. If you fancy open spaces, which I do, then I’d advise you against spending your summer there. Unless, of course, you can afford the private beaches which I’d advise you against again for there are still some otherworldly places yet to be seen. Nonetheless, although overcrowded, with their large grassed areas and ubiquitous glittering lights, these town and sea resort, M’diq being the town, should be on every traveler’s to-visit list.
5:40AM it was, at Fnideq we were. After approximately 7 hours on the road with the occasional stops and with the 30 minutes pause at “Siwana” near Souk Khmiss Sahel, I arrived at Fnideq wherefrom I did head for my ultimate destination. But not before having some breakfast. For a TAXI driver requires six clients (6 being the standard number) for a trip to be worth his while, and waiting for 5 other passengers could take up to three hours depending on many circumstances, mainly the day of the week. Luckily, the wait didn’t last long. Some 15 minutes had passed and I was on the road again in an old cranked white Mercedes-Benz sedan (The 240). Not for a long trip this time. It was only 18 kilometers to get to Belyounech (costing 12 MAD). A trip in a serpent like road where excessive speed will most likely spell your doom.
Approximately half an hour later and there it was. The vast blue. The Mediterranean sea. The sea where Atlas once stood heaving the heavenly weight, a task to which he was doomed by the Olympians. Truly a sight to behold. There meets the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. There meets Africa and Europe. And there meets beauty and legend.
With Mount Musa on our side, and Gibraltar on the other (opposite us) forming The Pillars of Heracles* as the myth is told in classic antiquity. And it goes something like this: In times long before you and me and Heracles, Perseus son of Zeus after beheading Medusa the gorgon, used her devilish head to petrify Atlas (the aforementioned titan) when the latter tried to attack him. Thus forming with the petrified titan a huge mountain separating the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Long after these events took place, Heracles had to undergo what is now known as the Twelve Labors of Heracles in atonement for slaying his sons. Come the tenth of these (obtaining the cattle of Geryon) and he had to cross that mountain. But, being the superhuman that he was, instead of climbing it he deemed it wiser to just use his mace and split it in half. And thus the pillars were formed.
Those same pillars appear in the Coat of Arms of Spain (the symbol on their flag) intertwined with a cloth on which the motto “Plus Ultra” is written. It should be mentioned that that same motto is drawn from the more ancient one “nec plus ultra” or “nothing further beyond”. It is said to have been drawn on the gate to the Atlantic that Heracles then created warning sailors from venturing into the unknown.
Right after the sea did thus unfold, the D’cher of Belyounech did follow. Numerous habitats scattered on the surrounding slopes right down to the sea level. “l7awma lka7la” (the black district) was the first to welcome us into Belyounech. We drove on until we were only some 50 meters above sea level. Right down to the borders keeping us out of Benzù (thus is called the Ceutan district near Belyounech) guarded by the Moroccan soldiers, the Spanish Guardia and a fence set on both land and water. From there we made a detour to the newly furnished TAXI station.
As I set foot outside of the TAXI, the silhouette of a lady laid on her back immediately caught my eye. Her eyes, her nose, her chin, her neck, her bosom, … all in complete congruence. She was Mujer Muerta (the dead lady) or the sleepy lady as some prefer to call her. And mount Musa with its three tips was her body. Mount Musa, by the way, was named after the Muslim governor and general “Moussa ibn Noussayr” who ruled over the Muslim provinces of North Africa. As Gibraltar was named after the general “Tariq ibn Ziyad” who served under him.
Turning right, I got to see one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid my eyes on. Punta Leona, or “Salkha”, whichever way you would rather call it, it’s a stretch of land with a vertical slope from top to bottom. It’s tail in mount Musa, and it’s lioness like head far into the Mediterranean.
Under the lee of that very stretch of land was my very destination. My uncle lived there with his wife and four children two of which are about my age cut or add some years, well, cut mostly. They had, from where they lived, a most fascinating view: in the near north was “lfoul d’djawn”, a great rock protruding from “Salkha”, approximately 25 meters high and retaining the vertical character. In the far north, was Spain. North east was Benzù, the second entry point to Ceuta (the first being near Fnideq). East and south held a panoramic view of the D’cher and mount Musa with all its grandeur. And westward was “Salkha” behind which, hid “l9assarine” and the controversial island “Perejil Isle” commonly known by the name “Leila Isle”. I’ll return to this isle later in this text.
Time quietly went by while I was still in a trance. When I finally came back to my senses I got my backpack out of the TAXI’s trunk and started my slow march home in a cement path where traces left by the previous winter could still be spotted. It was a 15 minutes walk during which I came across three running water springs. With water as cold as if just brought out from a refrigerator, all pouring straight from the rocky heart of mount Musa. I should mention here what a water rich region Belyounech is. For there are plenty others besides these three just referred to. One of them, and the most important, is the one that had always and does still provide Ceuta with a large part of its supply of water.
Towards the end of the walk, on the rocky shore under the “Salkha”, stood the ruins of the “Fabrica”. An old whale factory that ceased functioning sometime in the fifties or sixties after whale hunting was declared prohibited in the region. Its crumbly walls still bearing witness to its long lost bloody past, for a many whales were beheaded, skinned and dried of their precious oil on that very spot. Now, it’s a playground for the local kids. A place where I have played countless football matches. And where I, once, almost cost my brother a leg and certainly did cost him a summer. For as the ruins of any old factory, the place was full of stained iron, old machinery and walls that could collapse without the least of a warning.
Looking down on the “Fabrica” was the house where I were to spend the summer. Next to it was a fairly large rock that served, everynight, as an unwalled family sitting room with its naturally carved seats looking upon the old factory the sea and Spain beyond. Not farther up was the path that led to the old bunkers and fortification facilities that are now in a very deteriorated state unspeaking of their past.
That same path also led to the previously mentioned “Leila Isle”. A deserted large rock, some 200 meters offshore from an area called “Tawra”, that had triggered, in 2002, a crisis between Spain and Morocco when the latter’s soldiers were stationed on it provoking Spain into launching a special military operation to retrieve the contested rock. This resulted in the Moroccan soldiers, who didn’t resist, being captured and transferred back to mainland Morocco by the Spanish Commandos. After which events the US intervened to restore peace between the two nations. Since then Leila Isle was kept deserted except for the more than occasional drug traffickers and clandestine migrants.
What did charm me most in Belyounech were it’s beaches. They were a set of four: Rampla, Swiyekh, Mrissa and Playa. From the large stoned beach to the sandy beach. A set that can satisfy everyone’s likings. Each of the four, held for its visitors a unique experience and a unique view. With their clear and nearly still waters, natural cliffs (for those who fancy cliff jumping rather than conventional swimming and relaxing; of whom I consider myself one) and the limited number of their visitors, who are chiefly locals, for that is a place that remains unknown to a lot.
Arriving there signalled the end of the road and the inception of a very unique journey.
* : Some argue that Mount Hacho in Ceuta, not a full 30 kilometers away from Mount Musa, is the southern pillar.
Check this link for photos of the then still operating fabrica: http://www.historiasdeyomismo.com/2012/01/la-ballenera.html
and this one, for more photos of belyounech: ellipseit.tumblr.com