Written by alias843 on 17 Apr, 2011
We arrived at the Casablanca airport in the afternoon following a very loud Easyjet flight from Europe. The airport was small but modern, passport control was efficient and customs not a problem. Unfortunately we arrived about ten minutes too late for the hourly…Read More
We arrived at the Casablanca airport in the afternoon following a very loud Easyjet flight from Europe. The airport was small but modern, passport control was efficient and customs not a problem. Unfortunately we arrived about ten minutes too late for the hourly train from the airport to the Casa Voyageurs train station in the city. Unwilling to pay $30+ for a taxi, we bought our tickets (about $4 one-way) and waited. When the train finally arrived we were among the first to board, a good thing as it filled up fast. The ride to Casa Voyageurs was about 45 minutes, through some less-than-scenic terrain, a lot of slum housing dotting the landscape, along with the ubiquitous sheep. The train station itself was likewise small but modern and the cab drivers were all lined up to harass and rip off the tourists. In a week in Morocco, we encountered two petit cab drivers who used the meter, the others just named their price (always hugely inflated), some were willing to negotiate, others not. Be sure to get this out of the way before getting in the cab if you can, otherwise you’re in for an unpleasant argument at your destination. Seatbelts were also non-existant, but the feeling that death was imminent did ebb somewhat over time. When we arrived at our hotel we were told that the hotel was overbooked and had no room for us. We were then given a printout voucher and put into another cab by the bellhop and sent away. The cabbie dropped us off in the middle of a six lane intersection, and pointed us in the direction we were supposed to go in. No one had seen fit to tell us the name of the new hotel. A couple blocks later we were in the lobby of a new hotel, which thankfully had a room for us. By the time that we got all of this out of the way afternoon was giving way to evening and we didn’t have a lot of time to explore. We set out in another petit cab for the Hassan II Mosque, the crown jewel of the city, or so we’d read. It turned out to be one of the prettiest places we saw on the whole of our trip. Our late arrival meant that we missed the daily tours, but we were just in time to watch the sunset over the water. Truly a stunning sight. The mosque itself was amazing. Absolutely huge and gorgeous architectural details. Truly an imposing sight and a must-see in Casablanca. We wandered down to the sidewalks below and sampled some snails from a vendor serving up big bowls in a salty tumeric-infused broth. A culinary experience. We then hopped into another cab and found a recommended restaurant where we enjoyed our first Moroccan meal. After dinner it was pouring rain and we nixed any further exploration, as it was it took the better part of half an hour to hail a cab back to the hotel. Casablanca is huge and sprawling and can be completely overwhelming, especially on introduction. Especially coming from the orderliness of Western Europe, the culture shock can be bracing. That’s what we came for though, and my only regret is that we didn’t have more time to experience more. We really did not have the opportunity to do the huge metropolis any sense of justice, a task that I imagine would take quite a bit of both time and fortitude. Close
Written by evilchris on 17 Nov, 2004
The early 21st century is an interesting time to be in Morocco. Most Western political analyses show that (since even before 9/11) King Mohammed V of Morocco has been outwardly re-inventing himself as a defender of "traditional" Islam, subsequently contrasting himself and the Kingdom to…Read More
The early 21st century is an interesting time to be in Morocco. Most Western political analyses show that (since even before 9/11) King Mohammed V of Morocco has been outwardly re-inventing himself as a defender of "traditional" Islam, subsequently contrasting himself and the Kingdom to the West. Behind this image makeover, Morocco is still moving to strengthen its economic ties with both the US and Europe (which is what brought me to Morocco in the first place). Cultural ties to France and economic ties with the Iberian Peninsula and France are particularly strong. Many of the elites I met during my meetings in Casablanca were educated in the US or Europe, and they all send their children abroad as well. Naturally, when these kids come home, they want to be able to play in the same types of venues they visited while studying in France or wherever. For those who can afford it, nightlife in Casablanca caters discreetly to this vibrant, entitled group of partygoers amidst an apparent resurgence of conservative (and distinctly anti-Western) Islamic politics. This underground scene has its nerve center at La Bodéga de Casablanca.
The main floor of La Bodéga is a Spanish restaurant. My German colleague - Sepp - who brought me, promised me that I would not be disappointed by a night out at this place. La Bodéga is located on a dead-end street (rue Allal BenAdballah) behind the Marché Central (Boulevard Mohamed V). The walls are a tobacco-stained white plaster with dark wood trim and fittings, covered with mementos of Spain. Their specialty is Spanish wines and a wide variety of tapas. Portions are decent, the atmosphere is boisterous and friendly, and the house band played everything from traditional Spanish flamenco to rock-and-roll. There was a wonderful chaos to the arrangement of tables, and the food service quickly enabled me to be in conversation with all those around me. The "locals" I met were all from the aforementioned elite partygoing class. They were all in their 20s or early 30s, dressed to the nines, well-educated, glamorous, and 90% female. They all spoke French, and many were quite fluent in English. Everyone "studied" in Europe and visited home (Casablanca) for "frequent family visits". For those who now resided in Casablanca, I was assured that a shopping trip to Europe was only a short flight away.
Sepp assured me that, as cool as the restaurant of La Bodéga was, it was only the tip of the iceberg. He took me down the back stairs into a basement disco. A DJ was spinning on the decks in one corner, and there were a few tables in the alcoves. Through the smoke and bodies, the main chamber of this basement opened up to a long bar, behind which three of the most hyperactive bartenders I have ever seen were busily slinging drinks and flinging bottles through the air.
The scene down there was incredible. I had expected that nasty cheesy synth music (aka "international music"), but what I heard from the DJ was a fantastic blend of house, lounge, hip-hop, and traditional Moroccan music. Bodies were grinding, and the liquor was flowing freely. The crowd was primarily wealthy Moroccan, but there were some tourists and Western businesspeople there as well (the Sheraton and the Hyatt were walking distance from here).
At one point, the music was at such a crescendo that the bartenders grabbed traditional instruments from under the bar – a two-sided drum called a daff, a tambourine, and metal castanets called qaraqib – and started playing in time to the music. The crowd hit such a fever pitch that a few women started dancing on the bar. The men and women started singing and shouting out that traditional Maghrebi ululation, adding to the intensity. Suddenly, the DJ killed his sound, and these traditional instruments, the ululations, and our clapping carried the beat. For a full five minutes, the women danced, twirled, and swayed to the percussion, encouragement, yells, and ululations of the bartenders and the crowd. Finally, the DJ swooped back in with a thumping beat, perfectly choreographed to the tempo kept by the bar staff. In this traditional, conservative, Islamic country, these surreptitious merrymakers only shouted for more, and the party carried on until the early hours. When la Bodega closed (i.e., when they threw us all out), we stumbled off, ears ringing, into the silent, empty streets of Casablanca.