Casablanca Day 10: Back to Bab Marrakech
Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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Today I finish my tour by hiking from Ain Sebaa back to Bab Marrakech… and I'm determined to milk this stretch to the last drop
The Ain Sebaa Tower
Nothing all that remarkable about a little tower in the middle of traffic circle, but in a neighbourhood like Ain Sebaa, any decoration is appreciated. And there’s a little plaza next to it, where I’m joined with a couple of groups of students on their way to school
I continue on through a neighbourhood of a mix of middle upper class villas, random stores and workshops and lower class housing
Finally I decide to go inside, a discover an intriguing little neighbourhood. The houses are shantytown style-- although there are a number of 2 storey houses, which is rare in shantytowns, and some of them have traditional village finish on the exterior. Also, unlike normal shantytowns, the alleys don’t go in straight lines, instead they are squeeze through alleys that zigzag between the houses, always giving you the feeling that you’re about to hit a dead end.
On the far side, is a rocky coast. If you can ignore the trash scattered about, it’s a pleasant view. This neighbourhood definitely merited discovering.
The coastal highway looks pretty boring so I head back into Ain Sebaa through some rather empty industrial areas
Obviously can’t see a whole lot, except in the middle what look like shabby apartment blocs with clothes hanging to dry outside the tiny windows. If it weren’t for the big wall, you’d figure it’s just another government project neighbourhood.
I’ve heard horror stories about this place-- but I don’t know what is fact and what is exaggeration. For now I’ll just settle for imagining what a day in that place must be like.
The Cathedral Turned Mosque
I continue on west, wandering through the industrial zone, and occasionally diving back into a colourful shantytown. Finally, I’m forced to head down to the coastal highway back again, along a short boring spell, and back into town.
As soon as I can, I head up the side streets to milk this last section I have to explore for all it’s worth. Expecting a gritty, ugly hardware district, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a lively neighbourhood with a little central market and… what’s that? I have to rub my eyes to see if it’s for real… A cathedral?
Now I’ve seen quite a few churches on my tour, but all of them give the impression of having been hastily slapped together as cheaply as possible to give French colonist an illusion of being at “home”
I notice that at the top there are three spheres rather than a cross-- typical for a mosque… Could it be? I ask around, and sure enough, it’s been turned into a mosque-- something I haven’t seen before. Usually unoccupied churches are turned into culture centers or something like that. It seems that the most “Christian” looking building has been turned into a mosque… But then again, it’d be a shame to let such a beautiful building just sit there empty!
Jamming with a Casawi Rapper
Right on the other side of the cathedral… er… mosque is a pleasant little fenced in park. Here clusters a high school students are cutting up and distributing “cheat sheets” for the exams. Maybe one or two is actually studying…
A couple guys call me over for some music. Soon we’re having a rollicking time, singing and talking about all sorts of stuff-- the prison in Ain Sebaa, life in the USA, and crime… I’m told that this neighbourhood is called “Roche Noire”, and it has a bit of a bad reputation as well
They tell one of the guys is a rapper so I give him a riff and he lets out a speel of Arabic rap… I think we did quite well together and hopefully will try that again sometime. I asked a guy to take a video clip of us-- but unfortunately the audio is pretty low…
Good bunch of fellows there and a really fun encounter.
Back into the Heart of Casablanca
I snake through the streets of Roche Noire and then finally back up across the Rabat Highway and back into the heart of Casablanca. I start seeing some of those old French buildings again-- including a building that is being demolished in front of my eyes… Back to the high apartment buildings that give you shade anytime of the day… back to the snack shops and eateries every few feet… It feels good to be back.
I head up Zora street, and on up to the plaza in front of the train station where I pause to catch my breath
West of the train station, I can still go a bit farther before I run into Explored Territory, so I head through a rather ugly hardware area at the edge of Derb Omar. But off to the right, a beautiful building catches my eye, a start contrast to the surrounding grime. I go to check it out… it’s the Mohammed VI Theater, which looks like it was built recently, and seems really out of place in this part of town.
I continue on east, past another stately, decaying French colonial building… and the run into the Y where Ouled Ziane joins Mohammed VI Boulevard… Beyond is explored territory… I still have a little chunk up north that I can explore.
I head north a short ways to an unexplored section of Mohammed V Boulevard
I head down to the the Rabat Highway (now Boulevard F.A.R) once again, and hike past an enormous 5 star hotel that’s being built, one of the biggest single building constructions I’ve seen. Seems like a rather ugly neighbourhood for a 5 star-- but it is a convenient location for business travellers.
Across the street is the sprawling Casablanca Port. I guess it deserves a mention because after all, before the Tanger Med Port was finished a year or two ago, this was the lifeline of Morocco, bringing in goods from all over the world-- including a lot of wheat from the USA which insures that there is bread at a reasonable price on people’s tables
Although this port has now been eclipsed by a very modern new port up on the Mediterranean, it still serves as a vital commercial link to the outside.
Nearby, outside another little nondescript church, I find another little plaza.
Back on Boulevard F.A.R. is the beautiful Stock Exchange building. I spoke to a stockbroker/guitarist a few months ago and he told me that Morocco managed to avoid being directly hit by the global financial meltdown because it’s stock market is strictly for internal stocks, not international. I guess that turned out to be a smart decision…
As I continue wandering up and down the side streets of Belvedere neighbourhood, I keep snapping pictures of more Old French Colonial Buildings-- as well as a few old traditional Moroccan style buildings
Right nearby is the old stadium which now is just used for practice. A couple of guys in a barber shop invite me over for a chat. Rather than asking me to pull out my guitar though, they want to talk about a popular topic here in Morocco-- religion… it’s an interesting little encounter.
I’m almost out of real estate to explore. I follow the street right behind Mohamed V, which turns out to be a “Bar Row”, lined with bars and nightclubs. A sort of ironic last minute discovery here in Casablanca.
I’m a stones throw from Bab Marrakech, the beginning and ending of my tour. But I still have one last little loop to do. I head back east one last time, up a side street past the CTM bus station. This is a more expensive bus line that I rarely use. But it was here at this bus station that I got my very first glimpse of Casablanca 14 long years ago
Around the corner is a pleasant little surprise-- a Senegalese restaurant! It’s probably catering mainly to Senegalese expatriates… but it sure would be nice to see Moroccans showing a bit more appreciation for their neighbors to the south and maybe coming to sample some Subsaharan dishes…
Back around on Boulevard F.A.R., I pass a couple of Casablanca’s more prestigious hotels…the Sheraton, the Golden Tulip… this little strip here has a touch of modern class to it…
Ending where I started
And finally… I’m back where I started… at Bab Marrakech and Place Nations Unis, where all the extremes of Casablanca seem to converge. Here I absolutely cannot go in any direction without retracing my steps… so here my journey must end. I take one last picture of a little sculpture that seems to be giving me the “OK” sign, pause for a moment of reflection… and head on home
It’s been a fun journey and with scores of interesting discoveries I’ve proven my point… there’s a lot more to see in Casablanca than just the Hassan II Mosque. I love this city and I’ll cherish the memories of this 10 day expedition for the rest of my life.
CONCLUSION OF MY 10 DAY CASABLANCA TOUR
It’s a thrilling feeling to know that I have explored a large city in a way perhaps no one has ever done before… hiking through it neighbourhood by neighbourhood with a guitar slung over my shoulder and playing music in every park and plaza along the way. I have truly discovered this this city… and now I’m ready to go out there and discover this country and this planet…
Here are the statistics of my Tour:
Hours: 100 (approx.)
Kilometers hiked: 229.1
Photos taken: 227
Memories Created: 375
Parkbench Concerts: 83
And here are my favourite discoveries:
2. Notorious Derb Chichen (Day 7)
3. Sidi Abderrahmane (Day 1)
4. High School Student Concert in Hay Salaam (Day 7)
5. Camel Meat Market (Day 5)
6. Twin Center (Day 3)
7. Derb Sultan (Day 5)
8. Park Murdoch (Day 4)
9. Ain Sbaa Zoo (Day 9)
10. Habbous (Day 6 )
12. French Architecture (Day 4)
13. The Courthouse (Day 4)
14. Mohamed V Boulevard (Day 4)
15. Bernossi Mnsimmen Shop (Day 9)
16. Ligue Arabe Parc (Day 3)
17. Ghetto Alleys of Derb Omar (Day 1)
18. Snack Shops on Goulmima Street (Day 3)
19. The New Middle Class in Sidi Maarouf (Day 2)
20. Korea Market (Day 6)
21. Hay Annasi Mosque (Day 7)
22. Moulay Youssef Blvd (Day 3)
23. “Cutting” two children in Sidi Othmane (Day 8)
25. South Mers Sultan Park Crowd (Day 6 )
26. Ain Sbaa Lake Park (Day 9)
27. Sacre Coeur Cathedral (Day 4)
28. Aspiring Singer in Bernossi (Day 10)
29. The Corniche (Day 1)
So I've finished exploring Casablanca. Tomorrow I'm going to continue on to a new city... on foot.