As Time Goes By.... in Casablanca
Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
84Trip End Mar 24, 2011
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Yesterday and today have been very..... interesting. I flew out of Gatwick airport yesterday morning and had an easy 3 hour direct flight to Casablanca in Morocco via Royal Air Maroc airlines. We flew over mountainous areas which were likely in France or Portugal I would think (no flags on the mountain tops to guide me and I am geographically challenged) and then at one point, we flew over two land masses very close together but separated by water, which I am guessing was the end of Europe and the start of Africa. We flew along the Atlantic coast of Africa, which was quite beautiful, and then came down around what seemed like farmland into Casablanca. The flight was on time, my luggage came immediately and customs was very quick - they didn't look at me or even talk to me, just processed my passport and away I went
I grabbed some Moroccan Dirhams from the ATM in the airport (approximately 8 Dirhams to a Canadian Dollar) and checked at the tourist information desk for taxis etc. There were a couple of older men working there in suits, smoking to beat the band. It was obvious right from the start that there was going to be a language barrier - most people here in Casablanca speak Arabic and French, but very little English. I relied on my high school French as well as gestures and pantomime to get my ideas across.
I caught a 'grand taxi' at the airport to the downtown area - these are larger cars that have a fixed rate to the downtown (smaller red 'petite taxis' are available in the city). It cost approximately $30 which is a fair fare. My hotel is very centrally located and is a newer establishment but is still quite basic when it comes to rooms. My room is small but has a balcony, a private bathroom and a flat screen TV as well as free wireless internet. It doesn't have an in-room safe, a shower curtain or a hairdryer. The bed is comfortable though and the hotel is extremely clean.
This morning, I went out to explore my area and due to communication difficulties, the front desk personnel pointed me in the wrong direction to the city centre. They also do not have city maps available so as I walked, I concentrated on trying to establish a sense of direction and some landmarks so that I could make my way back. The city streets are chaotic and close together, all running amok, with no grid pattern to help with orientation. The traffic is something else - lots of cars and noisy old motorbikes beeping and zooming around and grid-locked - very nasty
Something that is very apparent and somewhat disconcerting is that there are very few women out and about and because this is a predominantly Muslim culture, women are covered head to toe when they are seen at all. All of the shopkeepers, waiters, hotel workers etc. are men and the only people that sit out in cafes and outdoor restaurants are men. I felt very obvious walking about without a head covering and in western clothes but I wasn't harrassed or targeted in any way.
This afternoon, I met a tour guide for a city tour. He and a driver took me on a 3 hour tour of the city which included the New Medina and Old Medina (shopping areas and markets) as well as the famous Hassan II Mosque which has the tallest minaret in the world, the ritzy Anfa area, the beach resorts and the city centre as well as giving lots of information about the French and Spanish history, Muslim religion and culture and Morocco's industry and economy. I was glad to have an escort, especially in the Old Medina, which is a traditional marketplace within thick city walls and is a mish-mash of little alleys and streets. It can be a dangerous area to be on your own.
This evening, I ventured out to find a restaurant serving familiar food - there was one on a nearby street featuring pasta, pizza etc. The service was slow but the food was decent. I wanted to be back at my hotel before dark as Casablanca is not necessarily a city I would want to wander around at night, particularly on my own. I will watch one of my 2 English TV channels and catch up with the world tonight and then tomorrow, I head to a beach resort hotel in the north of the city to meet with my organized tour group to start my 9 day tour of Morocco. I am hoping that my group speaks English!
Can you believe I'm in Africa??? How did this happen :)