We have scribbled down in a notebook, a local cell phone number for this guy who we don’t really know and can’t really communicate with (he’s the friend of the door guy at the hostel and he speaks French and Arabic) and we’re supposed to call him an hour before returning to Marrakech on Friday so that he can make his way from the mysterious underbelly of the city to the Centreville McDonald’s to reclaim the car that we’ve rented from earlier today.
Just this morning, after showing up at the hostel an hour late, our rentor had us fill out a few forms before walking to a small square (still well within the medina) where our rental car sat waiting, complete with the owner’s bottle of cologne, sparkly lighter, and bootlegged copy of Michael Jackson’s Greatest Hits still present. Fortunately he had the time to drive us out of the medina (I’m not trying to fight for the lane with any donkeys) and through a traffic jam that was apparently caused by the presence of the king and a bicycle event at the same time, to a gas station where he ran off into the day after helping us put 200 Dirhams worth into the car and pointing in the direction of the road that would eventually (hopefully) lead us to some gigantic sand dunes only miles from the Algerian border.
Driving in Marrakech is like driving in a slightly more out of control Tijuana, with more of the worries caused by chaotic traffic than the threat of violence. Once outside of the city, the driving is reminiscent of Costa Rica, with decently paved two lane highways with low shoulders and an ample amount of roadside villages and truckstops between towns.
Driving through the High Atlas from Marrakech to Ouarzazate is amazing. Definitely up there with the drive through the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago or through the Rockies from Denver to Grand Junction.
Ouarzazate is home to the largest film studio in the world. It’s been the shooting location for hundreds of movies including Lawrence of Arabia and Babel. This, along with a gas station/hotel/castle combination is the first sign of the city when coming down from the mountains. The town it’s self has about 60,000 people and it seemed that most of them were in the main square this evening for some sort of variety show.
We’re staying at a small hotel just south of the center, on the highway to Zagora. Our room was about $14 each and we have wifi,a pool, a cafe, and a parking lot- so we’re quite content. After a wander through the old city this evening for some couscous and burnable cds, we spent the remainder of the evening relaxing and working by the pool. Unfortunately tomorrow looks to be full of Michael Jackson on repeat. It turns out our cd-r purchase was in vain, as we are the owners of two vintage macbooks and zero functional cd burners.
Tomorrow we’re off to Merzouga to play on some sand dunes.
After staying up until sunrise Saturday night eating kabobs, drinking at a fancy hotel bar, and debating the merits (and lack thereof) of metal, we woke up at one in the afternoon on Sunday and decided that instead of heading east to Fes, we’d jump on a train to Marrakech and try to figure out how to eventually drive over the Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara. Pretty typical.
I booked two nights at a five star riad turned hostel in the medina a few blocks in from the Djemma el Fna for about $18 per night and after a quick walk through Rabat (taxi boycott continued) and a delicious departure pastilla and coffee, we were sitting in an eight seat compartment on a train to Casablanca, hoping that we’d get there with enough time to transfer to the train that we were supposed to be on originally which left about two minutes after the one that we mistakenly jumped on as it was leaving the station.
Fortunately, crossing tracks in Casablanca ended up being a non-issue, and we were on the proper train within minutes of arriving. Our second class seats were quite comfortable for the four hour trip, despite the standing room only for the first few stops out of the city.
The train station in Marrakech is on the new (relatively speaking) side of town, near the designer shops, boutique hotels, and expensive clubs and restaurants. The station itself is beautiful and much larger than the stations in Casa or Rabat. It’s also a few miles across town from the medina, and after a quick serving of fries and wifi from the station McDonald’s (again, wifi) we walked across every last foot of it on our way to the hostel and were checked in by midnight. Finding it was a good time, as the directions involved walking through arches and alleys, making u-turns, and walking specific amounts of steps in many different directions from the left side of the largest cafe on the square.
The hostel (Equity Point Marrakech) was without a doubt the most beautiful and pleasant I’ve ever stayed at. Besides the fact that they have a pool and incredible rooftop terrace, the guy who works the front desk (gucci mane enthusiast) was able to get us a rental car (which we’re pretty certain is his friend’s personal car) for three nights for less than the price that the international rental chains wanted for one day.
Our time in Marrakech was spent getting lost in the souks, dodging mopeds and donkeys, eating kabobs and olives in the square, drinking delicious fresh squeezed orange juice, and lounging in the pool.
Two nights wasn’t exactly enough, and I’m kind of hoping that after returning
from this outrageously aimless desert roadtrip that we’ve embarked upon, we can spend Friday night back in the city and see what kind of shenanigans we can find in the newer side of town.
We’ve been in Rabat since Thursday afternoon now. It’s smaller and much cleaner than Casablanca, though they’re only about an hour apart on the train. It’s also the political capital of the country.
We’ve eaten at quite a few nice little French restaurants, a local couscous spot, as well as a New York style pizza place with crust that can easily compete with Carmine’s. The mustard here is especially spicy and delicious- not to mention the mint tea.
Yesterday afternoon while enjoying some tea at a sidewalk cafe on a downtown street, we came upon a relatively large street protest, which turned out to be a group of angry teachers from throughout the country. After finishing our tea we followed them around for the remainder of the afternoon, wandering all around the city and eventually ending up at the Parliament building near the main train station. This afternoon we stumbled upon the same group as yesterday, though it was obviously much more tense, with a larger military presence.
After it became pretty obvious that we were being watched at the protest, we walked to a local bar (not a club or restaurant), which is pretty much a smokey room full of older men drinking cheap beer and wine and debating over al jazeera. Later (but no later than 7:30) we proceeded to a local liquor store, to pick up a few beers for the evening- which brings me to now. Time for dinner.
General Rabat Photos:
Thursday morning we had a breakfast of bread, pita, fresh squeezed orange juice, and mint tea before checking out of the hotel and leaving our luggage locked up to wander the city for a bit. We planned to catch a train to Rabat later in the afternoon and decided to walk along the waterfront to the Hassan II Mosque- one of the largest in the world and apparently one of the few that non-Muslims can enter. The development along the way is a bit out of control- with flashy, English language billboards for new shopping and condo developments directly across the street from slums and next to the Mosque.
We came upon some kids (no more than ten years old) who were swimming in the pools on the rocks near the mosque, who were very adamant about posing for pictures and then yelling “facebook! no facebook!” I’m pretty sure they were fucking with us until some older people yelled at them.
After wandering around the waterfront for a while we walked back through the medina to find some outlet converters and went back to the hotel to grab our bags before walking (we’ve still not been in a cab in Morocco) to the Casa Port train station to catch a train to Rabat.
This is the view of a small square in the medina from our hotel room
Residential neighborhood south of the main road on the waterfront
New waterfront developments in Casa
People lounging on the rocks near Hassan II Mosque
Train station in Central Rabat (Gare Rabat-Ville)
Yesterday I started my day at home in Brooklyn where I took the L train to the A train to the Skytrain to JFK to catch a flight to London where I got held up by a lethargic woman at security and had to sprint to catch a flight to Madrid that got put in a holding pattern for forty minutes which in turn required me to sprint to a flight to Casablanca and wait in an hour long passport control line to rendezvous with Clayton to catch a train into the actual city to walk 6 kilometers to a hotel that I’d previously booked in the medina.
So we’ve actually been in Casablanca now for about seven hours. It’s my first time here, and all I’d heard before arriving is how it’s a big, ugly, dirty shithole with nothing to see and that I should get out as soon as possible. As this is also what most people say about places like Mexico City and São Paulo, I was tipped off in advance to the likelihood that I’d find it charming, which so far I do. Nevertheless, I’m full of mint tea, espresso, shwarma and french fries and I’ve slept for about an hour in the past two days. We’re planning on catching a train to Rabat tomorrow, so I’m staying in tonight. I’ll have a few days to really explore this city on the way out of the country in two weeks.
These are a few pictures that I took on the walk to the hotel and from the rooftop earlier this evening.