Casablanca - Here's Looking At You, Egypt

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Mar 04, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, January 20, 2006

The worst part of the journey from Fes to Casablanca for me, was the initial 'remove the blankets' part. Its tough getting out of bed early in Winter in Morocco, as budget hotels don't provide any heating at all.

The train ride was your standard four and a bit hour journey on a north African train. No water in the toilets. Strange smell emanating from the brakes with locals inspecting them at every stop. Strange smell emanating from those waterless toilets as well. Nice local bloke chatting to me about Football, Morocco and Australia. Usual stuff.

The allegedly notorious Casa taxi drivers are indeed pains but soon enough I have lobbed into a suitable abode. Alongside the Atlantic, it is around 20 degrees in Casa and quite pleasant. The city itself is fairly European in style, but old and rundown. It reminds me a little bit of Alexandria in Egypt. It is a big city is Casa, in the millions, and I have been told it isn't a great destination to hang around. It is nothing like the film, which was allegedly more about Tangier anyway. But as I fly out of here, I have no choice but to come.

I spend some time wandering the streets in the afternoon, and indeed there isn't alot that tweaks the positive senses, apart from a few decent patisseries near the market area. Casa looks like it has seen its best days aound 40 years ago to be honest. Classic Euro buildings are now tired and rundown, and even closed and boarded up in some cases. The streets are too busy for my liking, and many feature that familiar waft of urine. It just lacks appeal.

And it is hardly a culinery delight either. Those restaurants listed in my guidebook as offering quality local food are actually closed now, perhaps just for the winter. I searched high and low, including down near the Casa old town, the Medina, but was in the end stuck with bloody McDonalds at around 9.45pm, wishing it was a Tanjine from Merzouga instead.

I had convinced myself that I was getting up early the next morning, but it was a struggle as I wasn't feeling great. Here I was thinking that I can get through a whole few weeks in a new exotic country without having tummy troubles, but it seems that McDonalds has been the culprit that has upset my stomache. I am not a happy camper as I face a very late flight tonight on a plane to the Netherlands. There is nothing worse than feeling ill on a travel day.

I dragged myself out eventually, making it to Casablanca's apparently sole tourist attraction - the Hassan II Mosque. The Mosque is around a 20 minute walk from the main 'action' in, if you can call it that.

Commissioned in 1980 and finished 14 years later, this mosque was the brainchild of former King Hassan II, who decided to spend some US$800 million on a mosque that ended up being only the third biggest in the world anyway. I doubt that he commanded 'make me the third biggest Mosque and make it snappy', so no doubt its a giant disappointment to the man.

Non-muslims are only allowed in side on expensive tours which only run infrequently, so I am stuck gazing at its outside magnitude, and a quick peer in the huge open doorways. Indeed it is a visual treat, but given most of the money was commissioned from the locals, once again I can't help but think what 800 million Yankee Dollar Dandies could have done for the Moroccan communities. Schooling, healthcare, better hygiene at McDonalds perhaps.... I just think that anyone's God would prefer to see the locals not starve rather than have yet another monument constructed in his honour. Given the name of the Mosque, I think it was more about the King's ego in the end anyway.

Casa is Morocco's dodgiest town for hustlers. Walking back from the Mosque, I was greeted by Mohammed, who wandered along with me for a while. You think he just wants to practice his English (given he said, 'I want to practice my English'), but soon the conversation turns to that he is a guide. I don't need a guide, but he still asks me specifically for 15 Dhs (about two and a bit dollars) to buy cigarettes. I guess for the priviledge of him practicing his English on me, I should pay him some money, so he can slowly kill himself with cancer sticks. Of course it all makes sense.

Piss off Mohammed.

He wasn't the only one. One bloke grabbed me by the arm an said in English 'Give me money'. I kept up the 'Piss off Mohammed' line, as its the mosty common name here. Grannies grab you demanding money. A teenager actually tried to grab a drink out of my hand. Another elbowed me inthe ribs then asked for cash.

Then their are the hashish dealers around the old Medina. They try to strike up a conversation as to if you want leather goods, shoes, whatever, which I always ignore. Then they whisper 'hashish' quietly to you. Usually when you ignore them, or look annoyed, they go away. On one occasion I continued to ignore him, and he said 'Fuck off'.

Bugger that I thought. I turned, went back, and yelled the bejeezus out of him, yelling so everyone could hear 'oh, so you are selling hashish are you, well lets get the Police shall we, then you can tell them to Fuck Off you cockroach!'. I had had enough. He scampered away. Walking through the Medina markets in Casablanca is akin to wandering the streets of Egypt.

One bloke actually walked up to me while I was trying to check out the market, and said 'No angry!', like they do in Egypt as well. That's enough for me I thought, as its given my a giant headache. Those of you heading to Morocco should come, but skip Casablanca. There is not much to see really, and it is full of to many scheisters.

I returned to the hotel to snooze off a headache. Thankfully my stomache has eased off in time for me to catch a train out to the airport, for a 1.55am flight to Amsterdam via Frankfurt. The Casa airport is an administrative nightmare. Thankfully I arrived 4 hours behore my flight. The customs officer almost refused to let me through for some reason - I suspect because Tangier customs hadn't registered me properly, and I don't look like my photo from 9 years ago.

In terms of classic films, I think they should have actually set "Gone With The Wind Here" instead of "Casablanca". Cos when it comes to Casa, 'Frankly my dear I don't give a damn....'
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