Ibiza Stories and Tips

Casablanca Caper

 Fish For Sale Photo, Ibiza, Spain

Casablanca: {Arabic name Daru-I- Bayda} Morocco’s largest city is unlike the sleepy colonial outpost portrayed inCasablanca. It is a brash, busy metropolis

After the Phoenicians, the Berbers were its first inhabitants; they were there long before the Arabs. The Romans, Portuguese, Spanish, and French all had influence, but in the present day, the vestige of French rule is most apparent. They occupied Casablanca from 1907 and built a city of wide boulevards and white buildings. The French architect, Henri Prost, planned the new city; fortunately, he ignored the medina.

Walking from the Port.

We knew walking through the port would be a running the gauntlet operation. Sure enough, we were inundated."You need Taxi?" was repeated frequently, along with, "You need guide?" However, we managed to ignore all offers, and after 10 minutes, found ourselves at the gates of the port. The Ave Houphant Boigney leads from the gates right into the Place Des Unis Nations and past the Medina. You can explore this port alone if you so desire and if you have the stamina.

We amble on. Scattered around the sidewalks are boxes of fresh fish. Hoards of milling young and old men pile the fish on carts and stack them in open crates upon the sidewalks. Cars, buses, and gas-spewing mopeds share the road with bicycles and handcarts. Women of indeterminate age plod along carrying heavy bags. Some seem to be wearing all the clothes they own, bent over under the weight of wrapped and rewrapped heavy woolen garments. It is a confusion of the medieval and modern - business suits and veils, Djellabas and Levis, and T-shirts and Fezes’.

Plunging into the crowd, trying to look in control while inwardly feeling like characters in a play whose plot we don’t understand, we half expect Peter Lorrie to pop out of a doorway. No Peter Lorrie, only chickens. They wander in and out of stores at will, and yes, in and out of traffic. Suddenly, a skinny fellow with a wispy beard dances in front of us. He is about 25, with doe-brown eyes and looks like he’s been sleeping rough for eons. "You must be careful here my good friends. Here are many bad people who will try to be your guide. You must not go with them; if you like, I will show you my city." He is very good at this and persistent. "What are your names my friends? Come with me I will show you the Medina, a very bad place if you go with no guide" We totally ignore him. "You come on ship, must be very rich. I very, very poor. You give me money." By this time he is no longer friendly. I take a whistle that I keep tucked into my top and raise it to my lips. Our "friend" takes off quicker than Jack Flash and we continue.

In The Medina: We follow the crumbly toffee-colored walls of the Medina and enter through the main portal at Place Mohammed {Right side of Unis Nation Square.}

Stalls filled with linens, T-shirts, carpets, and touristy souvenirs are to be found just inside this entrance. We meander along. Men push and steer rubber-wheeled handcarts filled with fish and produce. A boy with withered arms asks for money, and we give him some. A man passes by. He has a broad plank upon his head that is filled with loaves of fresh bread and pitas. Shouts from stallholders add to the din; they offer us football shirts, scarves, shoes, leather purses, T-shirts, and leather ottomans. One glance is enough for pursuit. This cacophony of sound includes a mixture of Arabic music; cries of vendors and squawking livestock adds to this alien scene.

A boy of around 12 sits stitching a very fine djellaba, head bent. He agrees to a photo, but he doesn’t glance our way again. We move through a warren of passageways. Women seem to form the majority of the beggars, moving in and out of the throng, sleeping babies over their shoulders, soulful souls with palms outstretched.

Passing by stalls now filled with fresh cheeses, bundles of mint, and pomegranates, we wander around in the north end of the souk, as the aroma of sewers and the acidic stench of offal assail our nostrils. We are in the quarter where livestock is sold. We see chickens in large wooden crates. A veiled lady points, and a chicken is taken out and weighed. She nods and the chicken is handed to a man with a very large machete. We leave quickly and find ourselves in a narrow street where a pungent odor of uric acid and fecal waste overwhelms us. We hear crunching sounds beneath our feet; we glance down and find that we are walking on a sea of dead cockroaches. Ugh {thank god I didn’t wear sandals}. With flies buzzing around us, walking on cockroaches, we end this Dantesque scene by fleeing through the nearest exit.

Place De Nations

Ultra-modern buildings surround this main square. The Hyatt Regency Hotel dominates here. Crazily dressed water-sellers provide water or a photo opportunity {for a fee}. We take a picture and give him 1€. His smile vanishes - he wants more, but we say no. We pop into the Hyatt for much needed rest and refreshment. I feel grimy after the souk and take advantage of the washing facilities in the bathroom. We are served a snack of coffee and cookies on a beautiful brass table in the lobby {$6}. The famous Rick’s Bar is also located here. It has a sign that saysBar Casablanca, but we content ourselves people-watching. Well-heeled clients pull up to the door in Mercedes and BMWs and others mill around the huge lobby. Armani seems to be the choice of the males. Cost per night here is around €350.

A walk back to the ship

We follow the Ave Hassan past dirty white buildings and take note of the French influence in the buildings here. Shuttered doors and iron balconies adorn these gleaming white well-kept homes and businesses. We pass by the Parc de Ligue Arab.

This is a large green square with many fountains, which are illuminated at night. It is thronged with people. Some are seated on the grass having a picnic lunch; most of the women are heavily veiled. We turn right on Ave Rachid and find our way further down to the Cathedral de Sacre Coeur. It is no longer a cathedral. Presently, it is being used for various venues, and men are dismantling what looks to have been an art exhibition. The interior is filled with light from stunning stained-glass windows, all that is left of this church. The walls are all white and bare; despite the lovely windows, the building is dead and cold {free admission}.

The smart neighborhood gives way to sprawling concrete slums. There are satellite dishes perched on the roofs, but walls are barely standing. Many of the buildings are in disrepair and some are crumbling. People wash themselves and their clothing around low stone basins. This city seems to be one in which there is a co-existence of wealth and extreme poverty, but we walked its neighborhoods with no sense of untoward hostility or danger. We found courteous and friendly interactions when seeking direction.

We finish this tour by a walk along the beach area. The beach is mostly rock and shale, and dominating the area is the great Hassan 2 Mosque. Continuing right along the coast, we return to the port area where taxi touts once again pester us, but we walk in without a problem. This is not a city I would return to, but I am glad we had the opportunity to see it. It is certainly lively and different.

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