When I touched down at Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca this past Thursday, my stomach was aflutter with a mixture of fear and excitement. As much as I had been looking forward to this trip, in all reality it would be the first time I have traveled alone outside of the USA/Madrid. Add that on to the visible concern of family and friends, and I wasn’t 100% sure whether or not it was a good idea by boarding time. But, being the stubborn mule that I am, I sucked it up and followed through…and I am so happy that I did.
After grabbing some delicious, Mediterranean-style shawarma at the train station section of the airport (the most delicious that I was able to taste, unfortunately), I took the 30 minute train ride from the airport to Casablanca itself. I was surprised to see just how poor Casablanca seemed to be just from peering out the train window – every few seconds you would see a new shantytown, dilapidated buildings that were still being lived in, garbage everywhere…now, considering I had been forewarned by many friends that Casablanca would be disappointing, I had already dropped my expectations to the bare minimum; however, even my lowest of expectations hadn’t quite expected this. Nevertheless, I put first impressions aside and held on tightly as I made my way to my hotel in the medina by means of crazy cab driver.
From the exterior, Hotel Central wasn’t anything special and very much blended into the surrounding area, by which I mean it appeared dirty and run-down. When I entered, though, I was blown away because it was really quite beautiful! After a brief check-in with the hilarious front desk clerk, I made my way up to my room to drop my bags off before heading out to explore the surrounding city. My first stop was Rick’s Café (“Play it again, Sam…”) for a drink and to figure out a game plan for the afternoon. I was really pleased with the atmosphere, and the cool temperature paired with the house cocktail I ordered made for a welcome reprieve from the sun.
Once I finished up, I decided to make my way into the souks and window-shop for a couple hours. Now, I was expecting to be hassled for being a young woman alone as well as to buy things, so I went in with a thick skin from the get-go. What I didn’t realize was that I would be hassled to the point where I didn’t feel comfortable bringing out my camera to take pictures (hence the minimal photos from Casablanca). After wandering around for an hour or so, ignoring the “hello”s in four languages, the kissing sounds, and the hissing (yes, hissing), a friendly young man approached me and politely asked where I was from. For some reason, I decided to answer him even though I had ignored pretty much every man who had spoken to me. He introduced himself as Mustapha and invited me to take a look at his shop nearby, since “looking doesn’t cost anything.” I agreed and wandered around his shop for a little bit, taking a look at the wide variety of items available as he attempted to get a sale out of me in by far the friendliest manner I have seen to this day. He then invited me upstairs, where we had some mint tea and chatted while he played some traditional Berber music for me.
I was definitely pleased at this gesture of hospitality, though it was definitely laced with his desire to make a sale. Despite that factor, it was really nice to be able to experience some Moroccan culture firsthand! After we finished up our tea, he offered to take me to see the nearby mosque, Hassan II, which he told me was the largest mosque in all of Africa. It really was a sight to behold – the architecture was absolutely stunning!!
After taking what felt like hundreds of photos of it, I made my way back to the hotel to have a bit of a rest before the dinner hour. My new friend was a little too eager to join me for dinner and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, so I tentatively accepted, letting him know that I only wanted to grab something quick and head back to my hotel so I could get some sleep. We ended up grabbing a traditional Moroccan dish – kefta tagine – and eating it with one of his friends in his shop in the souk. That delicious meal left me eager for a good night’s sleep, so once we parted ways soon after we finished eating.
Though I was made a tad uneasy at his unwillingness to take “no” for an answer (he had been pushing all evening for us to travel to Marrakech together the following day, despite my polite declinations), I couldn’t have wished for a better way to throw myself into the culture of Morocco.
PS – Don’t forget to check out my Facebook page for more pictures!!: http://www.facebook.com/unwrittenwanderlust