I haven’t found them yet…
Day one in Morocco and here I am in Casablanca.
I am on an 8 day G Adventures tour, but I arrived a day early to explore Casablanca myself, since it is not actually part of the tour. Am I ever glad I did!
Casablanca actually reminds me a bit of Shanghai – the traffic is insane, if you don’t walk into the roads without fear, you will never get anywhere! They honk constantly while driving and the cars go every which way. Looking at the major avenues, one side will be very built up and “rich”, the other side will be a crumbling down shanty. Plus the smell, car exhaust meets raw sewage. It might not sound very appealing, but after living a year in Shanghai it was actually very comforting, which I needed.
When I arrived at the Casablanca airport, the guide who was supposed to pick me up was a few minutes late. Not a big deal – when I was 25 and arrived alone in Shanghai, the co-worker who was supposed to pick me up came almost an hour late! But I did notice as I stood there that lots of people stared at me. Some with curiosity, but some appeared reproachful and others with open dislike. It made me a bit uncomfortable and I was glad when Azim, my driver, showed up.
Azim drove me to the hotel and while we drove we talked (in french) about life in Casablanca, my travels, his studies, the fact that I was moving to Ireland alone. He said that in Morocco you don’t leave home until you get married, much like China. We chatted the whole 45 minute drive, he had a beautiful voice and was really kind, with lots of information. I was tired, jet lagged still I think, and my french kept escaping me. I couldn’t remember the french word for room! Ikes, Madam Tetrault (my favourite French Immersion teacher) would have been very disappointed.
When I arrived the concierge was supposed to book me a walking tour, but when I asked he looked at me like I was crazy, and told me there was no such thing. I had to walk by myself. Never having been to any part of Africa before, it was a bit intimidating and I wasn’t entirely comfortable, but having heard Morocco is one of the safer places in North Africa to visit, I decided to just get out there and walk.
I wandered around my area a bit, to get my bearings and stopped in to a cafe and a tobacconist for some water. Then, with a little more courage in my back pocket, I hopped in a taxi and headed to the Haboush, a famous market place in Casablanca. I went shopping and bought a cute pair of Moroccan walking shoes. I got to get my bargaining on again, just like in Shanghai! The stall owner was really friendly, he said I bartered like a Berber…I think that was a compliment?
I wandered around the Haboush for an hour, then sat down outside a mosque just as the call the prayer came. I listened to the chanting for a while, and a mother with a crying baby came by. She kept pointing at my teeth, I think she was saying I had a big smile? I’m not sure. The french comes fast and furious with an accent that takes me a while to understand. Sometimes I can’t tell if someone is speaking french or arabic.
Interestingly, as soon as I speak I am asked if I am French or Canadian. No one has asked me if I’m American or English. Apparently my accent in french sounds like I am from France. On the plane on the way here, a stewardess guessed I was Canadian before I even spoke, and said it was because I was “tres gentille” (very kind).
Once I was done at the Haboush I decided to try to grab a taxi back to the hotel, then walk to the Hassan II Mosque. It is a famous site, and about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. I jumped in a taxi, the drive seemed really reluctant to take me, and I realised why eventually – he had no idea where my hotel was. He jumped out to ask other taxi drives, stopped people on the side of the road until finally a young woman explained it to him. It was a bit concerning, but I decided to just go with it. Once he knew where he was going, he became really friendly, asking me where I was from, and all about Canada.
I did arrive back at the hotel safely – once we were close and I got my bearings I was able to direct him! Then I talked the concierge to find out which direction the mosque was, and promptly went in completely the wrong direction! About 10 minutes down the road I saw that the ocean was on my left and it should have been on my right…so I jumped in another taxi, well aware that I had only 15 minutes to get there or I might miss the last walking tour of the day! A fact I had to point out to this taxi driver when I realised he was driving really slowly to pump up the bill. I did arrive with less than a minute to spare. Lucky the taxis are so incredibly cheap here!
I toured the Mosque, it was absolutely beautiful. Made entirely with Moroccan materials except some chandeliers are made with Venetian glass, and some pillars are made with Italian clay.
After I was finished I decided to walk back. I left the mosque, went down a side street, and almost immediately a taxi driver tried to pick me up. And by that I mean literally pick me up. He followed me down the road offering to drive me anywhere for free, then when I said no enough times, convinced him I wanted to walk, he parked and got out. He was probably about my age or a bit older. He had a map and said he would drive me all around the city for free, a tour of Morocco, then take me out to dinner. Tempting, for sure, but I declined. He finally took no for an answer, and I went on my way.
A British couple I met at breakfast said that young men in Morocco really want to leave, and they will aggressively hit on someone who might take them away. I really hadn’t expected something quite that aggressive, though!
I wandered my way back to the hotel, and now here I sit, waiting to meet up with my tour guide and group before we go to dinner and make plans to set out tomorrow. Day one has been quite the adventure, I can only imagine where we’ll go from here!