Hello again from sunny, noisy Morocco. I was in Marrakesh just two days ago. Now I am in Casablanca. Both are large and somewhat unkempt. In Marrakesh, the best thing was the huge square deep in the old Medina.
It was a very interesting place to explore and people watch. There were snake charmers, magicians, bird trainers, men with monkeys to hug you for a fee, and musicians playing very fast music on instruments tuned in some sort of outrageous way.
Raucous as the square is during the day, at night it is packed with humanity. Better keep an eye on your wallet in there, and don't take a picture of anything or you will have to pay. Night is when the fake doctors come out, ready to heal anything from diabetes to flaccid male organs. For the women, there are henna painters ready to decorate arms, hands, feet or legs. And sundown is when all the food tents open up out on the square. Quite pushy, those men are who want you to eat at their stalls. One trip through there convinced me to not go through the food area again. I mean, how many meals do they think a man can eat?
Driving in the big cities of Marrakesh and Casablanca is exciting, to say the least. Traffic zips along, and carriages, scooters, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, walkers, and of course cars, require every bit of concentration a poor old man on a huge motorcycle can muster up.
I will say though that, despite all the horn honking, they do watch out for each other pretty carefully. And anything you do seems okay. Want to go the wrong way down a one way street? Want to make an illegal left hand turn across waves of incoming traffic? Want to make a U turn up and over the curb? Its okay man. No problem. And if you just can't handle it any more you can always get a ride in one of these contraptions-------
I left Marrakesh yesterday morning, and rode Odysseus north on a beautifully maintained, nearly traffic free toll road. I got into Casablanca in late afternoon and promptly got lost. I had made a beautifully hand drawn map of the route to my hotel, but since almost none of the streets have street signs, I could not at all figure out where I was. All I knew was that my map had no relationship to reality. I stopped several times to ask corner police and taxi drivers how to get to Hotel Washington where I am staying, and they were always helpful with their directions. One taxi driver said that I should follow him, and he twisted his way down narrow streets until he got me close to my hotel. I was within two or three blocks of it, but I still couldn't find it even though I rode around in the rushing traffic for quite a long time, getting more and more lost. Finally, I hired a taxi driver to lead me there. I didn't even mind that he stopped to pick up three more fares along the way.
So, here I am. I am kind of splurging on this room, but it is nice, and the motorcycle is secure down in the sandy underground parking area under the hotel.
I have been walking around Casablanca, and I have found that the guidebook was right: there is pretty much nothing here to see or do. It is simply a loud and gritty city. However, it does have the third largest mosque in the world, after Medina and Mecca.
I decided to get fancy with this picture taken some distance away from the Hassan II Mosque. I hope you like it.
Here is another picture. I debated about putting this one on the blog after I realized it looked like a big phallus.
It was about noon when I got to the mosque, having walked through the Ancenne Medina on my way there. I couldn't go into the mosque until three in the afternoon. That left me time to go eat a pizza and settle in for some people watching and sneaky pictures.
There were people there from all over the world, and most of them were taking pictures of each other. The man here was trying to tell his friend how to adjust the camera. He was not aware that I was taking his picture from across the way.
I learned later that these giant doors are made of titanium. They used that expensive metal because it is not affected by salt from the ocean which is just behind the mosque. There has to be a lot of doors because on a holy day there are as many as 25,000 worshipers in the mosque, and as many as 80,000 out in the courtyard.
Once inside, the first thing a good Muslim must do is wash. Twenty-five thousand worshipers need a lot of ablution fountains. They are downstairs in the mosque. This picture shows a tiny fraction of the fonts. And there is an identical set, or so I a told, on the other side of a walled off area for women.
Up in the main hall, it is easy to see how 25,000 people could kneel, facing Mecca, in there.
I guess you have to bring your own kneeling mat if you want to worship there, but the floor is heated so I guess it is pretty comfortable. And look at the ceiling. On a warm summer day they can open it in three minutes to let out the heat and let in the cooling ocean air.
Look at the balcony. It is for women. They are walled off so that men will not be distracted by feminine beauty as they pray down on the main floor. Rather a misogynist group I think, but then to each his own.
So, as I say, there is just not much other than the mosque to attract somebody to Casablanca. I am going to hop on Odysseus and high tail it out of here for Tangier tomorrow. Once there I plan to catch a late ferry to Spain where I have a small room reserved for tomorrow night. I walked part of my route today, just enough to get me on the right road in the morning. I'll let you know how it works out. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Time now to go find some supper.