For two more days we gave her the tourist experience: we walked around the narrow cobbled streets of Chefchaouen, showing Picassina a peek of the human world she never got to see. She loved the broad top of my hat: it was one perfect place to sink her claws comfortably, switching to a greener color, and becoming more and more invisible to any passersby. Truth be told, nobody really seemed to notice her: of course, the stoners at our guesthouse were too high to look beyond their stash, let alone realize I had a chameleon perched on top of my head. But even the people on the street seemed oblivious to Picassina. The Moroccans didn't care. We only overheard one foreign white tourist say to his companion that my hat was "so cool, with that fake lizard stuck on top of it. Where can we buy one of those?" We agreed that that's what too much Instagram does to people.
So we kept walking our invisible monster around town, sitting on Chefchaouen's blue corners and staircases, and wondering if the light shade of brown on her spine was her way to show appreciation for our care. Our game ended on the second day at a kebab place, where a young Korean traveler spotted her, almost chocked on his chicken and fries, and then reached forward to grab her off my hat. I pushed him back into his seat, setting him back right next to the girl he was trying to impress.
"Where did you find her?" he asked, again getting closer to me, tip-toeing to check Picassina out. We walked out of the shop quickly, realizing that we had probably gone a bit too far. We had to face reality that the time to part ways had come.
The next afternoon, as we lazed around in our guesthouse, Picassina decided for herself: clinging to my wife's left foot, she started turning color… until she became almost as black as the day Kike had landed her onto my shoulder. In that moment, she gave a reprimanding stare to us all, with her sad downward smile forever painted on her mouth. "People, it's time you let me go." She didn't say it, but she really meant it.
And so off we went, but Kike and Belen decided not to follow. "We found her, but you guys will be the ones to release her. I don't want to see her go," said Kike. Fair enough: as I and my wife Kit hiked out of Chefchaouen, we passed a sad ostrich that stuck out like a sore thumb on the side of the road. Next to it was a Moroccan man holding a sign that said "Pictures 50 Dirham." Picassina was in for a different ending: still on top of my head, her color changed slightly to a shade of green. We were doing the right thing.
We hiked up to the Spanish Mosque, dodging groups of selfie-stick-toting European and Chinese tourists. After we had left the mosque and the hordes behind, we continued along a deserted path flanked by beautiful shrubs, bushes, and thorny trees that jutted against a blue sky overcast with heavy clouds.
"That tree overthere," Kit pointed out. It looked perfect, far removed from the main road, and yet in the proximity of other trees. A sweet spot for Picassina the chameleon to regain her steps into her real world.
I lifted her from my hat and put her into my hand, caressing her for one last time. Then I got on my toes and placed her as high as I could on a tree branch. All started to make sense once again: Picassina was glowing now, shades of light green coming up all across her back, as beautiful as we had ever seen her. She moved quickly, regaining her confidence in her natural environment, away from all humans—including us.
Then something happened.
"Look at that," said my wife, pointing at Picassina's tail. It was fast, strange, and a bit disheartening too: a thin horizontal line opened just above the animal's tail, a tiny black hole we had never seen before. A quick dropping of thin chameleon dung poured out of it, falling down the tree, making Picassina look less of a princess than we ever thought she was.
An unappreciative trickle of chameleon shit: could that be the way Picassina thanked us for keeping her alive and well for the best part of a week? It was too late to ask, as she had already blended with the foliage, up in the tree.
Marco Ferrarese is a book author, freelance travel and culture writer, and metalpunk guitar-slinger based in Southeast Asia. He toured most hellholes of Europe and North America, hung out with Kurt Cobain's alleged murderer, and rode with truck drivers from Singapore to his native Italy. He shares his Penang knowledge at penang-insider.com, blogs about overlanding in Asia as a couple on monkeyrockworld.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @monkeyrockworld.
Three Walnuts, Three Pomegranates in Morocco - Zora O'Neill
Clear and Prescient Danger in Morocco - Luke Armstrong
Common Ground in the Kasbah - James Michael Dorsey
A Hedgehog Hospital in Italian Wine Country - Claudia Flisi
See other Africa travel stories from the archives
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