Trip Start Aug 06, 2008
39Trip End Ongoing
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16 hours, 34.4 kms
The Two Faces of Rabat
A week later I'm back again, eager to uncover some more of Rabat’s treasure. Getting off at the Medina Station, I know exactly where I have to start: The Masoleum of Mohammed V. It’s the most important monument of the city, and I haven’t visited it yet during this tour!
In front of the Masoleum is a large tower, the remains of an ancient mosque and a sea of pillars in the front—the iconic image of Rabat. I’m not sure if it’s a appropriate for me to take a video clip, but nobody seems to mind. Then I leave my guitar with the guard and enter the Masoleum to pay my respects to the former kings of this country, with its intricately decorated ceiling. All the other tourists are Moroccans who are snapping pictures of the tomb itself—something I normally thought wasn’t an acceptable practice here.
From there I continue east following the street that overlooks the river valley and Sale over on the other side. This is an upscale villa neighbhorhood—normally rather boring to explore… except I know the American Embassy is around here somewhere, and I figure it’s another must see in my Rabat tour. I’m always mildly curious to know what sort of image my country tries to present in each country where it has an embassy. I recall Belmopan, Belize a country of 200,000 people where the US has an enormous steel and glass city that probably takes half the city to run… on the other hand, in Ankara, Turkey, the American embassy is the ugliest on the whole strip—even the Afghan embassy looks better
What’ll it be here in Morocco? Over the Top or Ugly Duckling? It’s another Ugly Duckling! Yep. It’s a really ugly building with concrete, butterfly roof and no real character whatsoever… I guess I should be grateful my tax dollars aren’t being wasted on an unnecessary new building—but it’s almost embarrassing when the embassy of Bangladesh right down the street looks nicer than the American one!
Anyways.. I continue on down the road until I finally reach the old "outer wall" of the city, and make a partial loop until I reach the Rommani highway. This is road I’m quite familiar with it, as I hiked up and down it a couple of times back in December of 2008 when going to get my visa to Mauritania… but there’s still more to explore up in this area.
But first I’ve got to make a stop in Chellah, the ruins of an ancient Roman city here—which was at the very frontier of the Roman Empire. I explored these ruins back in 2008, but the photos mysteriously disappeared from my camera. And since it’s only 1 euro to get it, it’s definitely worth a second visit
Satisfied with my visit, I continue on down the road, heading southeast. It’s sort of open countryside here for a ways, but there’s a busy road off to the left that seems to go straight towards the cliff overlooking the river. So I decide to check it out. On Google Maps a couple of extremely dense neighborhoods in this area caught my attention and I know I’ve got to explore them—they looked really out of place in this area which consists mainly of sprawling, walled in estates.
And there it is. A neighbourhood with squeeze through alleys—narrower even then the Old Medina that roller coaster up and down the hills at the edge of town. And then suddenly, a sheer cliff with dreamy, lush fields and a river far below…
I’m fascinated by this discovery. This is probably the poorest neighbourhood in Rabat, and, though fun to explore, not a very fun place to live. It’s “the other face” of this proud city that likes to be seen as a clean, spacious and prosperous city. Here, conveniently hidden away, is an area that actually looks rougher than the rough ghettos of Casablanca! I still can’t resist the photo op, and whip out my camera for a shot of the river valley.
I head back through another cramped alley, then up, then down, then up a steep stairway to yet another neighbourhood
These neighborhoods are teeming with life as crowds of kids come back from school. This feels like an entirely different city, completely disconnected from the pristine Rabat that I’m used to. I also notice a lot of Subsaharan Africans here, a number of them sitting on the sidewalk with a pile of shoes that people have left for them to repair. My shoe is starting to rip, so I figure it’s a good excuse to stop for a chat.
The tall fellow tells me his story. No, he is not a desperately poor fellow who crossed the desert in hopes of reaching Europe… he’s a basketball player who came here from Mali to try out for a team, but it didn’t work out… now he’s waiting for another opportunity, and ecking out a living as a street cobbler in the meantime.
I’m moved by his story as I imagine his life… struggling in this unfriendly land where he says he’s treated very badly by the locals
Then I go down a steep valley, and up to yet another grubby neighbourhood… another market street… and finally things start to spread out and I’m back in the upscale villa neighborhoods again. After the intensity of the slums, it’s a relief to be in a boring neighbourhood where I can soak in everything I’ve seen and heard in the last few hours. Finally I reach an area that is 80 percent empty lots and I figure I’ve gotten close enough to the edge of the city. Time to turn around for a long hike back.
The Hike back
I don’t want to follow the Rommani highway back to town, so I wind through some side streets—and a couple of dead ends—past endless villas and embassies without a person, a shop, or any sign of life. Finally, I do come across something quite interesting and inspiring: another forest, like the one between Temara and Rabat with a jogging path around its perimeter—only this one is teeming with people… young, old, men, women, fat thin, richer, poorer, modern, traditional—all making the circuit. It’s beautiful to see people from all sort of walks of life and different levels of society coming together for this daily ritual of health consciousness. This is one “non Moroccan” tradition that I’m very happy to see start to be inserted into Moroccan culture.
From there I continue on to what I think is downtown—but no, I’ve actually veered off to the southwest and I’m closer to the Agdal station. And so yet another very full day of exploring Rabat comes to an end.