Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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After exploring Mohammedia I face the moment of truth: am I going to continue exploring the world on foot or switch to mechanized travel? The next big city is Rabat, some 70 kilometers away, with some long stretches of open country in between. No, I'm not intending—at least not now—to be one of those legendary hikers who cross countries and continents on foot… but Rabat, Morocco’s capital and perhaps it’s most regal city is a prize to tempting to turn down: I must reach it on foot.
And so the Casablanca superhike lives on…
Actually, I do this next stretch backwards, starting in Bouznika about 26 kilometers up the road and hiking back
So I get off the train in Bouznika and head straight down to the coast, cutting through the fields until I reach the coastal highway. But I don’t have walk along the highway for long. There’s a blocked side road that leads to "Complex Bahia Golf Beach" what looks like literally a city being built from scratch right along the coast. The streets and lighting are already in place… even some artificial lakes and winding footpaths where houses are yet to be built. Down near the shore a line of large modern houses are being built.
I have mixed feeling about Bahia Golf. I guess it’s inevitable that the stretch between Casblanca and Rabat eventually get filled in—I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already… Casa, Mohammedia, Rabat, Sale, and Kenitra further up already are a sort of “Megacity” with folks commuting back and forth between them. This is where the money is made, where the jobs are, so it’s natural that it’ll expand
I guess what bothers me is that these houses are most likely going to be vacation homes, sitting empty for 95% of the year. Morocco actually doesn’t have a housing shortage, but rather a problem of distribution, with many families owning 2, 3 or 4 houses that just sit there empty. People (especially Moroccans living abroad) feel that it’s safer to invest their money in an extra house or two rather than put it in a bank. Nobody seems concerned about the environmental impact of all this construction. I’ve heard that there are long stretches of beaches that have been destroyed because the sand is being hauled off for the endless construction projects…
Anyways, after a seemingly endless hike through this new “city to be”, I finally reach what’s left of “the forest”… won’t be competing with the forests of Oregon or Germany anytime soon, but it is an nice feeling to be able to enjoy a bit of nature inside the “Megapolis” while it still lasts… there’s even a little section of wetlands with some ducks waterfowl chilling out in the marshes.
I decided I’ve followed the highway long enough and opt to cut through the forest and fields towards the coast. No real path, but with no fences or high undergrowth, it’s quite easy just to blaze my own trail. Eventually the trees thin out, and it’s a sloping harvested wheatfield with a couple cows and horses sheep grazing, and a young fellow hauling water from an isolated well, old school style to water his herd…
A few hundred meters away is a walled in upscale villa compound, looking like a bold outpost of urbanization, a sign of things to come… the eventual end of rural life in this region.
I was determined to find an isolated beach to swim on, but the coast here is all jagged coral. I decide that I’ve got to get in the water anyways—maybe it’s something ceremonious, to immerse yourself in water is a sort of unforgettable bonding with a certain place and time… something I think will be an integral part of my journey across this planet.
So I leave my guitar and knapsack and gingerly make my way to what looks like a sort of sheltered inlet in the coral rock that I might be able to baptize myself in and even paddle around a little bit… if it weren’t for those nasty spikey things which quickly dampen my enthusiasm
Oh well. Good try.
I’ll admit, I did a little research before doing this hike, and there is supposed to be a tiny village on the way that should count as a “new town discovered”: Mansouria. To reach there I’ve got to head back up to the coastal highway across a long, treeless stretch, hoping I haven’t missed the side road to the southeast that crosses the freeway to Mansouria. Back on the highway, I spot an ancient mosque what looks like an old fort… can’t explore it unfortunately, it’s been turned into the “Royal Stables”… but still a pleasant surprise to finally catch a glimpse of something historical in this region.
And then, the side road to Mansouria… here I help a poor fellow with his donkey who’s trying to haul a cartload of sand up over the freeway overpass…
Mansouria proper is only, maybe 4 blocks in area, but it has a pharmacy and a couple of shops where I can finally get myself a snack
But there’s a lot more to Mansouria. Down a narrow lane, I reach a long, narrow shantytown stretch, with tiny house packed liked sardines—quite a contrast with the surrounding empty landscape. These are the “in between” folks… neither urban nor rural… people who probably work or scavenge in Mohammedia, and then disappear, out of sight from the city at the end of the day. But they are not entirely forgotten… there is a nice little minibus parked outside the shantytown loading up folks to take then to the city. And right outside are a couple of tents, the remains of an itinerant market that made its stop here today.
I know I should explore this shantytown from the inside, but I’m hesitant, knowing that there’s no good explanation for a foreigner to be wandering through this pocket of misery… and my guitar and camera are looking especially conspicuous… But I finally decide to dive in.
There’s an alley that runs right through the middle, that gets narrower and narrower until you feel like you’re in a Mumbai slum or something—but with little touches of class as well… like a nicely painted little house with vines stretched above the alley
And finally… fresh air! Open space! I have traversed the Mansouria slum and lived to tell about it!
My next quest is to cross the freeway again, without retracing my steps, I continue down the lane which abruptly end at the entrance to a farm, so it’s back to trailblazing again. I follow an old couple leading their cow… I seriously doubt that they’re planning on crossing the freeway… but nope, I’m wrong… they lead me to a nice little tunnel underpass, and I’m back on the coastal highway again.
Not interested in any more side trips, I follow the highway past new upscale developments popping up on the side… a primary school that’s just letting out. It turns out that this whole area is “Mansouria” which eventually is probably going to be quite a large city. And then there’s a bridge across a little river… and I’m back in Mohammedia.
I’ll admit I’m a little more tired than usual, but I do take one more detour to the beach, just to enjoy the Mohammedia beach scene once again… then back up to the highway where this section of the city still has a lot of growing to do with upscale villas, schools and cafes interrupted by sections of open field. I finally find one last cozy neighbourhood to explore near the university, with a shady park to sit down for one last concert, singing for the local young folks and a very talkative old fellow.
And then I’m at the Casabanca bus stop… and reconnected to the Casablanca Superhike.