Polka dot clouds start to break from their group hug just long enough for me to catch my first glimpse of the African coast on our descent to Casablanca. A familiar patchwork look to the land reveals a network of farms flush with crops.
Our plane touches down at mid-day, and taxis to a stop on the tarmac hundreds of feet from the low-profile white walls of the Mohammed V terminal. I climb down the staircase to an awaiting bus, lugging my backpack and a veil of sleepiness accumulated in 26 hours of travel.
The air is mild and still, laden with humidity from the Atlantic making it ever-so-slightly more work to inhale than the dry canned air of the plane. Palm fronds hang limply from their towering perches at the shoulders of the airport.
My friends haven’t slept much either and are the last to make their way out of the plane behind a beautiful olive-skinned woman and her cherubic, dark-ringleted daughter who is excitedly chirping about getting to see “papa”. Maybe that’s the case for Heather, Sharon and me – too much excitement to have slept on the plane.
Inside the terminal, we make our way through the slower of two long immigration lines (I have a knack for seeking out the slowest, most frustrating lines in markets, my local post office, airports…) before retrieving our bags downstairs and making our way to the arrivals area where a man greets us with a Gate 1 sign and an expression of relief. We are the last to emerge, rounding out his roster for our tour.
Dragging our luggage across the road, we make our way to an awaiting coach and the start of our first-world adventure. Welcome to Morocco.
Although the tour includes a night in Casablanca, it isn’t tonight, so our bus ambles out to a highway and turns north toward Rabat, the country’s capitol.
An hour later we pull into a roadside service area (complete with what our tour guide Yusef refers to as “the American embassy”, aka McDonald’s, and a gas station) for a bathroom break and a stretch to keep us all awake. Truckloads of onions sit and wait for less hungry drivers with empty bladders to return.
We arrive in Rabat in time for our first taste of tagine for the trip and some much needed sleep.
In the morning we tour a little of Rabat, while our guide gives us lessons in all things Moroccan.
In the Kasbah of the Udayas we stroll through the old city walls and into the narrow neighborhood streets. At first glance it appears cats outnumber people in the quiet enclave. I stop to take photos of heavy wooden doors and blue painted walls but can easily catch up with the group.
We visit The Chellah, a medieval Muslim fort near the center of the city and explore the scenic gardens and Roman ruins inside including a Roman bath. Dozens of cats laze in the sun on the remains of building foundations and in front of a couple of large mausoleums. Giant storks have built impressive nests along the highest walls and stare down menacingly at us as we pass.
Rabat seems quiet until I remember that today is a Saturday. I enjoy the slice of life on display from the window of the bus.
We visit the Royal Palace, one of many sprinkled around Morocco, and are told that the way to tell if King Mohammed VI is in or not is whether the fountains are empty or full. Unfortunately, he isn’t at this particular palace at the moment. Across the plaza we see the minaret of a mosque where the imam will call the faithful to one of five daily prayers at midday. In many Muslim countries a recorded call to prayer has replaced the live voice of an imam, but in Morocco tradition still holds and you can hear imams singing out across the land several times each day.
We watch the presidential fleet of cars getting exercised in the palace grounds before making our way past the white dome of the country’s department of defense offices and out of the complex.
In the center of the city we stop to visit the Yacoub al-Mansour esplanade, home to the Hassan Tower, an incomplete minaret which is more than 800 years old. The red sandstone giant stands guard over the remnants of columns which were intended to form the mosque that was never completed.
Across the plaza stands the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, grandfather of the current king, a breathtakingly beautiful carved marble shrine.
As I cross the esplanade toward the bus, I think the sun feels good today. Morocco isn’t as warm as had expected it to be. I’m glad I’ve packed a couple of sweaters and scarves. There’s so much to see here and we’ve only gotten started.
As per usual, I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t really this. Somehow my visions of Saharan sand dunes have been replaced with views of modern highways and city streets, and miles and miles of farmland.
Next stop, Volubilis.
Beautiful photos! I adore the blue doors…do you know if there is a significance to the color? All those cats would give me the heebie-jeebies though. 🙂
I love this! It made me feel like I was on the trip again. So glad Mary forwarded to me. Hope you all are well.
Ha is for taking the time to read it Jan. Wishing you well too.