Sunday, September 17, 2006

Casablanca, Morocco, Africa, Day 9

Today we slept in until 9 am, as the Princess Patter (the newsletter we receive in our mailbox each morning) says that the city (downtown) is only a 15 minute drive (2 miles approx). So we figured, since we’re docked here until 8pm (the longest docking port on the trip - due to a 4 hour drive tour (each way) to Marrakech, Morocco), that we could sleep in, and then head out. The patter also said that it was a 30US taxi ride to the city center, yet we got a ride for only 5€ (Euros). (6.39 USD or 7.15 CAD) We shared a cab ride with a couple on the cruise from Toronto (we seem to be running into a lot of Canadians on the ship!) When we got to the gate, (which was after a secure area around the ship) there was a lot of local taxi cabi’s fighting for our fare, so that was quite the aggressive start to Casablanca.

We got dropped off at the city center, and the cabi, (trying to make more money) tried to get us to take a tour of the city with him (for more money, of course). As soon as we left the pier, we could tell the poverty of this area/country. It really opened my eyes to how lucky I am to be living in North America, Canada specifically and for the simple things in life (like a roof above my head to sleep under each night).

We decided first to go into Old Medina Market, and that was quite the experience, let me tell you. First off, everyone wants your money, (to buy stuff from them) and you can tell that money is very hard to come by, so they are all harassing you to come in and look at their stuff. The passage between the shops was very tiny, with thousands of people walking around, and that’s why we only took with us what we needed (camera around my neck, passports and some money in J’s front pocket).

To be honest, our first impression of this city, was pretty bad. I was scared to be in this city, because of the type of lifestyle lived there. In the morning, I am not even sure how I made it until noon, out in that city. I didn’t feel safe at all, even with J by my side and no valuables with me, besides the camera around my neck.

At noon, we told the Toronto couple that we’d meet them back at the Hyatt Hotel, which was at United Nations Square (city center) where the local taxi cabs pick people up to drive them. We came back to the boat, had lunch (I was not going to have lunch in Casablanca, they warned us not to drink the water there, so why would I eat the food?).

After lunch, we walked back to the taxi area (which was outside of an 8-10 minute secured walking area around the boat) and this one taxi driver said that he would only charge us 20€ (25.57 USD or 28.58 CAD) for a 1 hour tour of Casablanca to see the Mosque, and all these really cool places. Well, 2 and a half hours later, we had seen a lot, and had a FANTASTIC afternoon, which doesn’t compare to the experience we had in the morning. (Not one bit!) We enjoyed visiting the Hassan II Mosque (which was BEAUTIFUL), the Corniche D’ain Diab (an upscale resort section of Casablanca), Habous Quarter (the New Medina - which is a lot better of a Market than the Old Medina which we had visited in the morning).

We went by this area where the first settlers discovered Casablanca, and live up on this little island. It’s now all gypsies that live there. Because the tide was low, we were able to walk over there, but when it’s flooded with water, the way the gypsies have to go back and forth between land and their island, is by paddling with inner tubes. It’s pretty crazy. This place, is a place where someone with bad luck can go and sacrifice a lamb, and once they do that, it should bring them good luck. Also - this place is a place that women who have not found a husband yet, can go see a fortune teller (gypsie) to find out what was going on with their love life. Pretty interesting place. I started taking pictures there freely, and then when this man who lived there started waving a finger telling me “No, No, No” I freaked out a little bit, and took photos either at waist level (zoomed out so I could get maximum view and then could crop later) or with J standing next to me, blocking their view of me taking photos. I think I got some great shots there, we’ll see what they look like on my computer when I get home (so hard to tell on my little LCD screen on my Rebel XT - even when zooming in to view. I even got a shot of the sheep that were roaming around freely, but I didn’t photograph a lamb that had been recently sacrificed, that was a little bit too much for me to handle. While on the beach walking back from the island, (my feet getting wet a little in my fake crocs (which I’ve been living in - SO much more comfortable than my nike’s!) as some areas had more water than others, I got a gypsie to give me a henna tattoo on my right hand and arm. It’s gorgeous. I hope that it doesn’t last took long, but it’s nice for now. It cost me 5€ for the tattoo.

Today I bought some local handicrafts (a wood elephant, as a collect elephants, this gorgeous mirror thing to hang on the wall in our house, as well as a Moroccan tea set) and J finally got something for himself.

We also went by the Royal Palace, but since the King was home, there was really tight security, and we weren’t allowed too close and the area that was viewable was very restricted.
The cabi stopped just before bringing us back to the ship, and ran out of his car, and picked me up a bouquet of flowers. I was really not expecting this. The cabi even got the security at the gate to allow him into the secured area, so that I wouldn’t have to walk an extra 8-10 minutes back to the ship because I am pregnant (that was quite a shocker and nice, since I was dying to pee, and didn’t want to stop in this country to use the facilities anywhere).

I still can’t believe that today, I set foot in Africa. AFRICA! Wow, I still can’t believe it. Of course one day I want to see an African Safari and visit south Africa as well, but this was really quite the experience, in a very Muslim area of Africa. I was shocked to learn that there are FOUR synagogues in Casablanca alone:

Synagogue Beth-El - 67, Verlet-Hanus
Synagogue Téhila Le David - Bd du 11 Janvier
Synagogue Benarrosh - Rue de Lusitania
Synagogue Em-Habanime - Rue de Lusitania

Between the 1940’s and the 1960’s there was over 70,000 Jews living in Casablanca and now there are fewer than 5,000, but that is still a strong amount.

Our opinion of Casablanca went from day to night. Unreal! I have such a better opinion of Casablanca now than I did this morning. It changed all because of the right cabi and an amazing taxi tour. And our tour was 100% better than any of the guided tours that you could have signed up with, with the on shore excursions with Princess Cruises. We went to places that the coach buses couldn’t go to, and also Princess didn’t want to be responsible for taking passengers to.

I probably won’t ever go back to Casablanca, but I am glad that I’ve experienced it, in different ways. J also is very happy after our afternoon tour. We just seriously, ended up with the right taxi driver.

I’m still amazed on how gorgeous the Mosque was.

I’m now a fried tomato, I hope that it settles into a tan very fast, that would be nice.

Tonight, back on board, we had dinner alone, because we were wiped (tired) so we were feeling very anti-social. J’s down at the casino (what else is new!) and I’m tired, so I’m going to go take a nice long hot shower and then read in bed. Tomorrow (ON OUR ONE YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY) we’re in Gibraltar, can’t wait to see the tail less apes!

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