Casablanca Day 6: Habbous to Hay Salaam
Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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Today I'll reach Casablanca’s 2nd most famous tourist attraction: the "new" old medina of Habbous… and some other neighborhoods in the area.
I start out my day in a nice park with a little amphitheatre a little ways north of the freeway… play some music… From there I head east down another of them 8 lane boulevards into Hay Chifaa, a sort of “hardware shop” neighbourhood, with all sorts of little auto parts stores, paint stores, hardware stores… But it doesn’t have the ugly, grundgy feel of many “hardware neighborhoods”, in fact, it seems like a rather pleasant place to live, with apartment lower middle class apartment buildings rising above the shops, and plenty of snack shops and corner stores as well…
I reach Oulad Ziane another of Casablanca’s main north south boulevards that goes from downtown to the outer neighborhoods… I figure I’ll leave exploring the other side of it for another day and today focus on the neighborhoods between Oulid Ziane and Mohammend VI…
So I head down a diagonal Boulevard which happens to be eastern end of El Fida… and soon find another little park where I can strum a bit more
I make almost a complete loop back to where I started, and happen on a very pleasant grassy park with palm trees next to a beautiful mosque-- a little oasis of green in the midst of a concrete jungle. There a bunch of high school students who ask me to come entertain them… A cheery bunch-- except for one fellow who seems a bit off the deep end who insists that “music is of the devil”, eliciting howls of protest from the others…
They fill me in a bit on the neighbourhood, which is no longer “Hay Chifaa” but rather considered part of Derb Sultan…
Back up Mohammed VI Boulevard
From there I head back east a little ways to Mohammed VI once again
This stretch of Mohammed VI is one of the liveliest in the whole city. On the other side is Derb Sultan Market district, which I explored last week… Towards evening, the market spills over into the boulevard and 2 traffic lanes are taken over by street vendors and pedestrians… The whole area is an anthill of activity. I’ve hiked this stretch several times when heading home from the bus station in Ouled Ziane and have always found it fascinating.
There are different areas that seem designated for different projects… For example, there’s one section that’s nothing but tent making shops-- tiny little shops with a guy at a sewing machine, sewing enormous tents that are rented for weddings and funerals, with mountains of fabric piled around… I can’t figure out how he can piece it all together in such a small space…
Really fun place… I sit down for a fruit salad in little juice bar and just soak in the vibe…
Now the Grand Taxi station.
On north a little ways, across the train tracks is the Royal Palace. It’s hard to get a good view of the place, and I wasn’t allowed to get close to get a better look-- but I figure it still deserves a mention.
Between the train tracks and the Royal Palace, there’s a narrow street that leads to one neighbourhood all Casablanca folk are proud of: Habbous. It’s a quite unique neighbourhood-- it’s a sort of “new” Old Medina with traditional Moroccan architecture and a very distinct style to all the buildings, but the layout of the neighbourhood was actually designed by a Frenchman city planner, giving it a Morocco-French fusion feel
The buildings are all white with brown cut stone archways and beautiful carved gates, and wooden ceilings… most of the shops specialize in either traditional Moroccan décor, traditional clothes or paintings-- a very artsey retro sort of feel. However, I see very few tourists shopping there-- mainly locals, giving the place more of an authentic feel rather than a tourist trap feel.
In the center of Habbous is a cozy little circle with one lane streets radiating out of it’s center through various arched entrances… There’s a beautiful stone mosque and a tree line plaza that invites me…
I follow one of the tunnel streets which leads to a bridge across the tracks to Derb Sultan Market area-- which, when compared to the calm of Habbous, looks like an entirely different country with it’s grime and bustling chaos. I follow a winding side alley soon surrounded by crowds of school kids heading home for lunch… and out to the edge of the neighbourhood.
At the edge of Habbous is a beautiful flowery plaza, a towering stone mosque and a castle like building over to the side-- a beautiful little corner of Casablanca…
From there I continue on west, through a neighbourhood that suddenly looks quite drab compared to beautiful Habbous… I follow parallel with the train tracks all the way to 2 Mars Boulevard once again… it feels like it was ages ago that I explored this stretch…
After a day of wandering around relatively ragged neighbourhoods, it actually feels nice to be back in a neighbourhood of new, well maintained “residence” apartments and classy little shops here near 2 Mars Boulevard
My next objective is to explore the neighbourhoods between Mohammed VI and the next main north-south boulevard, Ouled Ziane. At first this neighbourhood is a bit unappealing-- a mix of residential and industrial, will a lot of long walls and not much to see.
There are a couple of interesting spots though… The first one is “Egg Alley”, a street with nothing but egg warehouses and little trucks coming to load up with eggs to be distributed. The next one is “Blind Alley”, I call it that because, if you walk down in the daytime, you’re at risk of going blind. It’s lined with scores of little welding shops with piles of miscellaneous metal everywhere. During the day it lights up like a Christmas tree and everywhere you turn you’ll be looking at a lit welding torch!
I cross the train tracks again and continue south
I wander up and down the alleys-- it has a bit of an Old Medina feel, except that the alleys are all straight. Right in the middle is a mosque, a tiny little square and a street market that hasn’t quite woken up yet… and of course, the typical breakfast crowd huddle around the mnsimmen shops. This neighbourhood is cool little discovery.
Casablanca’s Bus Station
This bus station is perhaps my favorite spot in Casablanca, because it is my connection with the rest of the country. Dozens of times I’ve shown up here-- sometimes with no idea where I want to go. Each time it’s the same story: I get waylaid by a couple of ticket hustlers, I struggle to get to the gate trying to shake them off all the way… and find a bus that will take me to a whole new world of adventure and discovery… and go.
It’s not that bad a bus station as bus stations go-- I’ve seen better and I’ve seen much, much worse… The main thing I like about it is that, unlike Agadir, you don’t have to buy tickets in advance
But today, I’m not taking a bus. I’ve got some discovering to do right within walking distance. South of the bus station I find a little square and sit down for a strum. I wander around what seems to be a rather desolate neighbourhood with huge open areas. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was the edge of town. But no, it’s an area with a lot of cemeteries and undeveloped lots. I continue on south, across the freeway once again, back to the Outer Neighborhoods.
Here a whole bunch of neighborhoods overlap, Ben M’sik, Sidi Otmane, Moulay Rachid… I’m not quite sure where one starts and the other stops… I’m going to call this Sidi Othmane
This is a pleasant and compact neighbourhood-- not as lively as the area around Ouled Ziane, but plenty of little shops, and numerous little green spaces set aside in an attempt to spruce up the neighbourhood a bit. A beautiful mosque at the top of a ridge surrounded by trees catches my eye. I find a spot that’s an appropriate distance from the mosque and pull out my guitar. I’m soon joined by 20 or so Jr high school students who were studying for their tests not far away-- a very energetic, yet polite audience... I’m really liking this neighbourhood.
To the west is Ben M’sik, which I’ve already explored, so I head on north. I soon reach a large, rather scruffy market, which looks like something fun to explore. I wander through the lean to vegetable stalls… and on down the furniture alleys and mattress making shops.
A bit farther north, I reach Colonel Driss Boulevard once again and head east. Here there’s a lot of wide open space that has yet to be filled in
One thing you’ll notice about these southside neighborhoods is that there aren’t a lot of taxis. Instead people use horse buggies as taxis, trotting up and down the main boulevards. Since these boulevards are so wide, they don’t really slow down traffic. Most of these buggies are fixed up quite nice-- like the ones in Marrakech… except these aren’t for tourists, these are used for real transportation, giving the area an interesting retro flair.
I come across a large, well maintained park and garden with no shortage of shady benches-- I haven’t seen a park like this since Murdoch Park near 2 Mars, so it’s quite a welcome surprise.
Afterwards I head back east… hike for a bit further until I reach Hay Salaam, and decide to call it a day. I’ll explore this neighbourhood tomorrow.