Welcome to the second part of the Moroccan Travel Logs.
Last time I went through the first days of my trip to Morocco and how I actually came to do that trip in general. The memorable first days in Marakkech with Yassine and Mounir. In this part, I will go through my stay in Casablanca and my arrival in Rabat.
27 December 2012
I woke up early and quickly packed, ready to head off to my next destination – the city of Casablanca. The last night in Marakkech I stayed with Mounir, I had a last breakfast with him and discussion on the topic of Islam then went to the bus station. What a bus station! It felt more like the Souks where people were screaming and waving tickets around. People were trying to get you on a bus even though that might not be your bus. A complete chaos in which, without the Arabic translation of my friend, I couldn’t have got the right one. In addition, you always have to haggle and bargain about everything in Morocco in order to get the best price. A good thing and a bad thing as it teaches you to sustain your own, but at the same time it is time-consuming and takes off your energy. It took us 30 minutes to get out of the city as different food vendors were hoping on the bus for a minute or two trying to sell you their merchandise. In Morocco, everybody has something to sell and everybody is a salesman. The drive took a few hours going through a rocky desert scene where small farms with irrigations systems were popping out through the window here and there.
The journey to “Casa” took longer than expected and I arrived late in the afternoon just before the sun was setting behind the Atlantic Ocean. This was a big city and the industrial centre of Morocco. People weren’t that friendly as in Marakkech and you had to be more cautious. To be honest, Casablanca is not a real tourist spot rather a business place, the economic capital of the country. Upon my arrival, I found out that the couch surfer who was supposed to host me didn’t really answer my messages anymore so I was left hanging in the big foreign city without a place to sleep. Moreover, I wasn’t even in the city centre which was hard and a bit dangerous to get to from where I was at this moment. I set off looking for the centre in the cover of the night as I needed to get wi-fi and figure something out. After wandering for a couple of hours and trying to use my broken French asking the police and bystanders for the city centre, I finally got to an Ibis Hotel. The situation was a bit dangerous, to be honest as I definitely didn’t look like a local rather a perfect target for a mugging in some of the neighbourhoods I was casually walking around in the middle of the night. So I got to the 5-star hotel which was incredibly expensive and way out of my league. Although I was a white English speaker in an Arab country so I simply winged it pretending that I stay in the hotel. None of the staff questioned me hanging out in the lobby and provided me with the wi-fi passwords and service of amenities. Immediately after I got access to the internet I started looking for a place to stay or alternative host on Couchsurfing. Unfortunately, Casablanca was no backpackers place and there was not many hostels or budget accommodation rather crazy expensive last minute 4 & 5-star hotels. I couldn’t afford any of those so I simply decided that I will sleep in the Hotel’s toilet and head off early in the morning. Just about the time I was accepting the rough night that was expecting me ahead, a host called Ayoub offered to help me at the last minute. Looks like I am not sleeping in a toilet tonight. I got to Ayoub’s place late in the night, I even managed to get skinned off by a “petit” taxi driver that overcharged me incredibly. Once I got to my host’s place, he greeted me and heard about the long day I had been having. His wife had loads of freshly prepared food for me, I had a normal shower and a proper bed to sleep on. Moroccan hospitality at its best didn’t disappoint. Falling asleep in bed I realised how we shouldn’t really overthink or attach ourselves to situations and places. The contrast between the welcoming and friendly Marakkech and the cold and busy big city of Casablanca demonstrated that there is both good and bad type of people. Although you never know how would things turn out exactly, and you should never go without a plan, but always know that the plan might not work out.
28 December 2012
Despite the turbulent day of travelling and finding accommodation, I slept well and I felt fresh and ready to explore Casablanca. I thanked and bid my farewell with Ayoub, then hopped on a grand taxi. This was basically a big old Mercedes shuttle taxi service where 7-8 random people hopped on and off. This was the cheapest means of transportation around costing 20 times less than a normal taxi. Once I got to the centre, I realised why it is called Casablanca. From Spanish, this means White House hence most buildings had white facades.
Making my way through the souks next to the centre, I headed to the Hassan II Mosque nearby the sealine. This Mosque is the largest one in Morocco and one of the biggest ones in the whole world. Towering at 210m it has the world’s tallest minaret. This incredible piece of architecture was stunning with its size and decorative geometric elements and patterns on the outside. The Arabs had perfected the geometric decorative craft, and their religious structures were a great example.
At lunchtime in the Old Medina, I had a delicious chicken burger. In the Medina, you could find almost anything you need for the basics, food, clothes of daily life as far as brand imitations of Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. Wandering around the Medina was interesting enough though I had to get to the train station at Casa Voyager. The mix of Spanish, French and Arabic influences of street names and architecture would catch your attention when walking through the streets. Although I had to hurry up as I was going to miss the train and the sun was setting down. I got on the last train to Rabat, which is the Capital of Morocco and only a short 1-hour trip away from Casa. Rabat is the political capital of Morocco, Casablanca the Business and Marakkech the Cultural. That was my impression so far. The train system was excellent, it was operated by a French company and the service was on par. There was one issue though. It was incredibly overcrowded, as I experienced being pushed in and squeezed in like a sardine. You couldn’t move or even turn around to see who’s behind you. A one hour trip turned into 3 as the train was stopping at random points in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. Despite the fact, I managed to keep up a conversation in French with one of the Arabs on the train who ended up inviting me to stay with his family in Fez. Here again, there was this incredible Arab hospitality that was unrivalled. On the train, I was also exchanging glances with a girl that was smiling and looking at me through the journey. She had a friend as well which got off at the same stop in Rabat I was getting off. I stopped her and asked her what’s her name and why was her friend looking at me all the way. Fatima Zahra was her name, which meant flower in Arabic, or so she told me. Her friend simply liked me and this was the reason that she stared at me this whole time. I invited Fatima for coffee. We spoke about different things ranging from her interest in the European culture and way of life, the gap between the European and Moroccan lifestyle and the Machista way of treating women with inferiority in her country. By the time my couch surfing host arrived to pick me up from the train station. Fatima had offered me a place to stay, though I had to politely reject as I was picked up by another Moroccan girl hosting me for the period in Rabat. My host in Rabat was a group of girls that worked in Finance which were great fun and super intelligent.
29 December 2012
This morning I woke up early fresh and ready to explore. The girls I was staying with had prepared a breakfast made up from a mix of typical Moroccan nuts and dried fruit such as dates. As I found out later reading a health magazine, some of the healthiest pieces of food in the world. A quick coffee and a lift from one of the girls in the flat took me to the Mausoleum of Hassan II – one of the most important spots in Rabat. As Morocco is a monarchy Hassan II was one of the leaders of the country and the beautiful structure was built in his honour. The ruler was placed in a golden coffin in the middle of the building surrounded by opulent Marmor ornaments and beautiful red carpets. Next, to the Mausoleum there was the Hassan Tower, again perfectly build with geometric ornaments and proportions.
Subsequently, I visited the Kasbah and the beach of Rabat. The Kasbah was an ancient fortress by the sea which was meant to protect the capital from maritime invasions. In addition, to the interesting architectural explorations, the weather was amazing. It was 29 December and the sun was shining high above the sky while the temperature was more than 20 degrees. Inside the fortress hanging above the cliffs was a hidden neighbourhood protected by the walls where houses were painted in blue and white and small gardens were the place to stop and take your breath.
I was getting hungry along the way so it was time to go to the Medina of the city to grab a bite. The Medinas in the Arab world are a place of trade and commerce situated in a comfortable location in the city centre of the city. While eating my sandwich, I couldn’t stop to notice that Rabat was particularly well ordered and cleaner than the other cities I had visited. Another surprise was that the closest thing to an Apple store they had in the city was the street vendors of stolen and fake Apple iPhones for cheap. I finished off the day with a visit to the Chellah of Rabat. The Chellah was an ancient fortified Muslim necropolis with gardens situated just outside the city. The lush gardens, fountains and old tower created a unique atmosphere in this picturesque place. I was feeling good and comfortable in this place as I found out how quickly I started adapting to this new environment. The sun was setting down, so I made my way to the apartment with the Couchsurfing girls I was staying with. After walking all day around the city I was shattered and quickly fell asleep.