Tiny Planes And Smelly Trains! Morocco

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Hotel du Pacha

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

11.1.09                  Tiny Planes And Smelly Trains – Lisbon To Casablanca To Marrakesh (Morocco)!

We were up at 6am in Lisbon this morning in order to make our 9:30am flight to Casablanca, Morocco.  After checking our bags, getting through customs, grabbing some breakfast, and waiting for a while at the gate, we were ushered on to a bus outside for a (very, unusually) long trip past all the gates and around what seemed to be the entirety of the tarmac.  When the bus finally rounded the corner, there our airplane stood: a tiny, 18-seater, twin-propeller jet for our international, intercontinental flight to Morocco!  Oh, my.

I thought I would be a little white-knuckled the whole flight to Morocco, but I said a few prayers along the way and it (obviously) turned out just fine.  (Both pilots did quite well through the bits of turbulence we encountered – both of them also took turns walking to the back of the plane to use the loo!)  We arrived at the Casablanca airport around 11:30am. 

Right away at the airport, after collecting our bags and going through customs (they asked us a LOT of questions – I realized that maybe a US attorney and an Australian Naval officer may not be such an innocuous pair after all…), we heard our first call to prayer (or adhan) from the muezzin at the nearest mosque (located in the airport!).  It was a good sound, and, I suspect, one we will become quite familiar with this week. 

Murray had been reading up on Morocco during the days leading up to our arrival there, and by his suggestion, we decided not to spend any time in Casablanca but instead split our Moroccan week between Marrakesh and Fez.  So, we bought train tickets from the airport directly to Marrakesh.  We did have to switch trains in Casablanca, however, and when we arrived at the train station there, it was hard not to notice how smelly the station was, and how strongly it smelled of sewage.

After an hour's wait in Casablanca, we boarded a second train for the roughly 3-hour ride to Marrakesh.  We were told that the 2nd class cars had air conditioning and were nearly as good as 1st class, so we went with the 2nd class cars.  Mistake!  When the train pulled up, it was a chaotic free-for-all getting aboard and settling into a cabin (each seats about 8-10 – but really, four if you want to be comfortable!).  Luggage and kids were flying everywhere as people scrambled to find seats on the 2nd class cars that really were already quite full.  And that air conditioning?  Hahaha – joke was on us.  The cars were hotter than… well, they were really hot.  I was carrying my side bag, backpack, and Murray’s messenger bag – and ended up leaving Murray (who had our two large suitcases) several cars behind me as I ran ahead to try to find a cabin – ANY CABIN  – that had space for us. 

When I finally found a cabin that only had two people in it (so far – several cabins had 12-16 people, probably families, in them!), I asked the two people in very bad French if they could save the spots for me (of course, I didn’t want to leave any belongings there to hold our place!) while I hustled four CARS back to Murray to tell him I found us a spot.  At that point, both of us were dripping in sweat and had just about had enough of the train.

And did I mention that the "hallways" of each car train, which ran alongside these cabins, were less than two feet wide?  Add that to your vision of the chaos, crowds, running, pulling, tugging, and dragging of luggage that I mentioned above!  There were several times when I thought, “Oh, yeah – we’re not in the US – or Europe! – anymore”, as well as, “Aren’t I too old for this?!”

So.  It was an experience.  Once we were settled in a cabin with only the four of us, other than a HOT three hours to Marrakesh, it was ok!  We bought “lunch” from the tea cart that came through, dozed on and off, and viewed the gorgeous and interesting landscape whizzing by – mountains; rugged plains; pockets of oasis-like topography; mud-colored stone huts and houses; abandoned palaces; bits of farmland here and there; skinny goats roaming dry hillsides; kids running alongside the train tracks, and waving; and, closer to Marrakesh, squatter settlements of extreme poverty located right next to brand new, wealthy high rises.

Also, that sewage smell at the Casablanca train station that I mentioned earlier?  Figured that one out the one time I used the bathroom on our train ride to Marrakesh, which turned out to be a tube in the floor that deposited waste clear through to the train tracks below! 

We arrived in Marrakesh around 6pm, and this is where the rest of this journal entry could be entitled “Coins, Cards, and Codes!”  For the first (and LAST!) time this trip, we had not secured accommodations for our time in Marrakesh (we had emailed a few places last week, but never heard back from them).  Little did we know that November is STILL the HIGH SEASON in Morocco.  (You can guess where this is going, right?)  Long story short, I sat in the train station with all of our bags for about two hours while Murray went out as our envoy to brave the very confusing public telephone system here in Morocco.  Some phones took coins – but then they didn’t work, or quit working after one or two calls.  Other phones only took calling cards – but, of course!, different phones might take different calling cards.  And better yet – the phone numbers themselves required different codes before dialing the actual number (you must dial a “5” before local/landline calls – but a “6” before dialing a mobile phone number!), which Murray learned through trial and error, communication with several different people, and perhaps even sheer luck. 

All’s well that ends well.  Murray figured out the phone system and got rejected by at least 10 hotels (Full!  No room at the Inn!), but finally found us a great place in the heart of Ville Nouvelle (New City) – Hotel (tent over the “o”) du Pacha.  We took a (later found out it was scandalously priced, of course) taxi to the hotel, and checked in, and it has turned out to be a wonderful place for us – a period-piece colonial hotel with hand woven Moroccan rugs scattered here and there, large comfy lounges downstairs, and our own large double room with private bath (bathtub + space to walk around in + a bidet!) and private balcony overlooking a magical garden with noir-novel charm!  (In fact, that is where I am sitting right now on 11.2.09, typing out this journal and sipping my beverage as the sun goes down in Morocco and the air cools to a more pleasant degree.)

After watching a little of “The Incredible Hulk” in dubbed French (“Sacre bleu!  Un largesse monster de green!”  Or something like that…), we hit the hay around 10:30pm.  (What I won’t tell you is that after Murray secured accommodations for us at Hotel du Pacha, we ate at the McDonald’s at the train station.  I’m not telling you this because, well, I’m highly embarrassed by it.  I don’t ever eat at McDonald’s while in the US – why am I eating there in Morocco???  But, in our defense, we were tired, and hungry, and humiliated by Moroccan telecommunications, so give us a break.)  Catch you tomorrow, after a night of rest and a long, hot shower!
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Greig on

Brought back memories of my two years in Morocco. You've probably left Marrakesh by now, but I would have recommended a carpet dealer there.

Safe travels.


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