Who are we to break with tradition?
Great food notwithstanding, Casablanca is rather more "oh Christ not again Sam" as averse to the more commonly uttered Hollywood phrase.
Like Rabat, the majority of the city is a modern creation of the past French and Spanish protectorates, and so retains little of traditional Moroccan flavour - one look at the tiny Ancienne Medina, no more than a kilometre square at the most, is enough to reveal how small the original settlement was before the Portuguese transformed it into a naval port to fight the Sallee Rovers. If it weren't for the fact that we had to come here for our Mauritanian visas, we would have given the place a wide berth from the first whiff of decaying rubbish.
It was a very uneventful walk down the coast road to here - although a pretty warm one. The temperatures are really rising now, and we find we have to rest for several hours in the middle of the day or we chew through our water supply. One day we had climbed into a bush on the side of the road to find some shade, when a man stopped and handed us an ice cold bottle of water from his car window. As he dismissed our thanks and drove away, we realised it was a bloke we had waved to earlier in the day; he must have actually gone to get us a bottle and deliberately returned to find us. Twice after that, people stopped and passed us water, insisting we take it and refusing any thanks. We try hard to repay the amazing generosity by handing on water to the other people we meet on the road; but I think it would be difficult to out-gift the Moroccans.
Whilst waiting for the embassy today we took a walk around the city, heading first to the granddaddy of all Casa's sights - the rather enormous Hassan II mosque. We sat ourselves down in a quiet corner and people watched for a while, always a fun past-time. The mosque was actually built on top of a large slum, which was unceremoniously cleared out and razed to make way for it. All around it the slum still exists, providing a rather stark contrast to the extravagant magnificence in it's centre. It is a typically Moroccan problem - on the way here, we passed a very ritzy beach resort of brand new apartments.
Across the road was this.
The latter is rather more the norm than the former, although the very marked efforts by the powers that be to modernise the housing country wide are in evidence everywhere. Progress is slow, though, and the majority of houses outside the cities are in this kind of style.
After we gorged ourselves on Friday-Special cous cous, we wandered up to where the major remnants of the glory days of the French protectorate remain, albeit in decaying, faded grandeur. Opposite the central market, in a complete state of disintegration, stands the crumbling remains of the Hotel Lincoln, in its heyday one of the most notorious examples of fine Art Deco architecture.
I really love the whole Art Deco thing in Morocco. Sometimes I think it bears a resemblence to the culture of the British Raj; if India now is more British than the Brits themselves, then the same certainly applies here in regard to the French. Every town, no matter how small, has a choice of several cafès or Salon de Thès, decorated in immaculate 1920's grandeur. Windows are hung with stiff brocades and rimmed with brass fittings, and the tables are good quality wood carving with thick glass tops over fine cloth. Tea is always served in shining silver teapots, and the waiters wear black waistcoats and are incredibly efficient and polite. Although I don't go into many of the cafés (not really a chick thing, those places) even walking past them and watching the men reading newspapers whilst smoking and having their shoes shined is somewhat reminiscent of a post-war European scene. In fact, it often strikes me that being here is in many ways like going back in time - not in the obvious images of donkeys, field workers, and timeless farm practices, but to a more modern era still in living memory. The buses stop on demand; each one has a conductor (remember those?) who helps people on and off with their loads; and if I am alone on the street and get approached by an insistent hussler, a dozen men nearby will leap to my defense and apologise profusely.
When we were in Algeciras, a Moroccan man told us that Morocco was safer than most Western countries. It struck us as a strange thing to say at the time, but I understand what he means now - nobody here would ever stand by and watch whilst someone got ripped off or attacked, and although you might get hustled an awful lot in places like Casa, the likelihood of being actually physically threatened is pretty remote.
She says, boldly....
Life is nice for us at the moment. There is never a dull day, and the walking is interesting. Best of all, the accommodation is so cheap that often we can actually afford a hotel room - and I can't tell you how good it is to have a hot (or, more often, cold) shower after walking all day. A room here costs the same as the camping did in Europe, so when we can we take advantage of it. The food is just endlessly glorious - tajines of lamb and prunes, fresh grilled brochettes (skewers of bbq meat) and wonderful melons. And everywhere is the fresh, bright smell of mint, wafting from cafés in glasses of sweet mint tea, bundled up behind old men riding bicycles, or growing in great fresh clumps by the roadside. The smell of mint mixes with the bright citrus smell of the orange juice stalls, which serve their wares on many street corners and all through the market for a couple of dirham a glass. I love that drink more than anything else.
So now I'm going for a little walk and (another) glass of juice before we leave tomorrow for the loooong hot hike to Marrakech. Its about 250 km from here I think, so hopefully we'll be there in ten days. It is also 45 degrees there at the moment so we may also of course pass out in dehydrated lumps by the roadside.
Thanks to all the people who contacted us offering hospitality in Casablanca - unfortunately our Moroccan visas are running out fast, so it is a one day stop only for us, and we are leaving tomorrow. We appreciate very much the many kind offers, and particulary to Najib who patiently answered my questions by email - thankyou (and am desperately sorry to have misspelt your name! Hope it is correct now...unfortunately I couldn't access my email to check the spelling at the time of writing, and thankyou again for all your help.)