“Yalla Yalla”

For all the talk yesterday about how coming into port in Casablanca would be an adventure, the actual thing was not so bad.  Justin slept through it, Crystal barely noticed.  When we opened the shades we saw a very busy port and lots of sea birds.  We could see the massive Hassan II Mosque from the port side of the ship, when we were up on 7 getting our customary donut and tea.  It was nice weather outside, around 70 F (21 C) and sunny.  Outside, the asphalt was kind of dirty, but not nearly as bad as we’d been led to believe.  The grime was almost certainly years of bird poop – maybe Claudio just didn’t want to say that.  Claudio happy to see us when we approached the bus for the ship’s tour, happy we were finally taking a tour (with him).  We just missed getting on the first bus, and were one of the first on the second bus.

We went straight to the back of the bus, as Joe had suggested to us at the Observation Bar the night before.  He’d mentioned that there was more legroom there, especially in the middle where you could put your legs into the aisle.  Two other folks, Ross and Ruth (from Canada), had done the same.  We left just after 8am.  A man named Mustafa, wearing bright blue jeans and an orange blazer, was our guide. He told us a couple words of Arabic, including “Yalla Yalla,” which he said means “Let’s go.”  A woman from the UN who was with us on the ship was on this tour as well.  It took us forever to get out of Casablanca.  Just as we were approaching one of the last intersections in the south of town before getting on the highway we saw an accident at one of the roundabouts that was being cleaned up. 

Once out of town there wasn’t much to see, just some farms with goats, sheep, and vegetables.  About 2 hours in we stopped at a small place to use the facilities.  Around that area the scenery changed from green(ish) farmland to more desert.  We listened to podcasts to pass the time.  We could faintly see the snowcapped Atlas mountains in distance as we got close to Marrakech, but it was very hazy/foggy.  Arriving in Marrakech, everything in town was sort of a sandy orange color, sort of like how everything in Lanzarote was all white.  In town there was a roller-blader that was holding onto vehicles to get around town, and for some reason this was really irritating Mustafa.  Around 11:30, we finally saw our first site of the day.  We got out of the bus for a grand total of about 5 minutes to look at the Koutoubia Mosque, just outside the Medina (Old Town).  After taking a couple photos and getting a short explanation we went to lunch.

Lunch was awful.  [First World whining ahead, brace yourselves…]  We were in Marrakech, our first day in Morocco, and yet they took us to a European hotel, with western people sunbathing by the pool, but also with admittedly nice landscaping and grounds, and offered us all wine.  We were at table of 6 with two folks from Pennsylvania and Ross and Ruth from Canada (the two sitting next to us at back of bus).  We had a nice enough conversation, but the lunch was taking way too long, and we were all commenting on it.  The first course was about 6 different salads, enough to feed 20 people, but for just the 6 of us.  Then they brought out the mains.  When they brought out desserts, people started to get a bit vocal. 

Justin was doing everything in his (limited) powers to maintain his composure.  He wanted to scream “Yalla Yalla” but figured that wasn’t exactly what Mustafa had in mind when he taught us the phrase earlier this morning.  To top it all off, because lunch went so long, the conversation topic at the table turned to politics and 45 came up, in a “he’s not as bad as what people say” fashion, so Justin just got up to use the restroom and decided not to come back.  We finally left the restaurant at 2pm.  So as of 2pm, 6 hours after we left Casablanca, we’d seen exactly 5 minutes of Marrakech.  Why they couldn’t have given us something to eat on the 3+ hour bus ride was unclear, and why they couldn’t have taken us to somewhere in the Medina that could have served us some kofte or other grilled meat in about 5 minutes was also unclear.

Anyway, we took a short bus ride into the Medina, the old walled city.  It was a bit like Khiva (Uzbekistan), but much larger, and with motorbikes everywhere, even on the narrow alleys.  We went to the Palace of the vizier, Bahia Palace.  We took a pretty quick walk through it, with some explanation from Bob, another local guide, and also hard to miss, since Bob was close to 2 meters tall (6’ 8”).  The design and layout vaguely reminded us of some of the things we’d seen at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.  The courtyard was roped off for some event they were putting together, maybe a concert or wedding or something.

From there we went to a small museum (put together by a relative of the King) relating to carpet and fabrics.  The “tour” through here was so fast we wondered why we came at all.  Our best guess was so that the ship’s explanation of the tour would have more things than “6+ hours of sitting on a bus and a 2.5 hour lunch at European hotel.”  After spending literally five minutes at the carpet museum our group (about 25 people, give or take) split into two, with half going for the souq and the other half going for the square.  We chose square because we asked Mustafa if we could just walk around and meet back at square, and he said yes.  We just wandered off somewhere, anywhere, to get away from the group and actually try to experience Marrakech in a quasi-authentic way.

We wandered into the souq, a massive covered market, a bit like Istanbul or Isfahan, but without the grid pattern of the alleys to easily find your way around.  It was very easy to get lost, which we did, but somewhat purposely.  The only issue was that because all the side roads didn’t connect, we eventually had to backtrack a bit, but thankfully nothing too crazy.  We had Google Maps, otherwise it might have been more hair-raising.  Once back to the square, we saw snake charmers, people with dancing monkeys, lots of horse-drawn carriages for tourists, etc.  We have no pictures or videos of this because we’d been told that all of these people will clamor for money and get quite aggressive if someone films their activities and doesn’t pay them.  We walked through the square, then just outside the Medina towards the Koutoubia Mosque area.  Walking across the street, the “don’t walk” sign flashed for all of about 2 seconds before the light turned green for oncoming traffic, so basically it was like a yellow light.  We did not realize this.  Thankfully oncoming traffic was nice enough to honk at us and encourage us to run the last couple steps before they ran us over.

We walked around the Mosque, checking out a fountain area on the west side.  It was pretty nice, and despite being far less crowded than in the Medina, still had a lot of people.  The cell phone towers were designed to look like giant Date Palms, and they actually looked fairly realistic, at least from afar.  We eventually made our way back to the square and found the meeting area for the group.  It was only 5pm, and we weren’t leaving until 5:30, so we walked off for 10 minutes in a different direction, also in the souq, then came back.  There was a prayer call when we were walking down the alley, and when we walked back from where we came it was noticeable there were less people milling around.

At 5:30 we left the square and walked towards the Koutoubia Mosque and the edge of Medina to get on the bus, basically right where we’d crossed the street a couple times an hour earlier.  On the bus we listened to more podcasts, then got some sleep.  We stopped at the same bathroom facility at 7pm, wondering if we’d ever get back to the ship.  We got back to Casablanca around 8:30, and on the ship just after 9.  We saw a Starbucks right near the port, but there was no time for Crystal to go in to get a mug, as the ship should have already left the port by then – it was only because there were 50 of us on buses operated by the ship that the ship was still there.  “Yalla Yalla” ended up being the most ironic phrase of the day.

All of the restaurants were closed on the ship, so there was only room service.  Why, when they knew 50 of us were coming in late, they didn’t keep one of the restaurants open, we don’t know.  We just went up to the Observation Bar, figuring room service would be flooded with orders from the others from the buses.  Talking with others at the bar, several people had gone to Marrakech, including Joe and his wife, who’d taken a private car and did it much more quickly.  We told them this was money well spent.  But then the people next to us had been with Joe and his wife on their tour, and they didn’t like their guide because he kept trying to get them to purchase stuff from his pals.  So apparently nobody was totally satisfied with the experience, but that more to do with logistics than with Marrakech itself.

As we were sitting there, the Captain got on the speaker and told us the wind would be 50 knots when we exited breakwater.  Joe pointed out a ship that had left the harbor 30 minutes ago, which we could see in the distance, and we could see it bobbing and weaving all over the place.  Sure enough, there was lots of rocking and rolling as we left port.  We eventually went down to the room, ordered a cheese plate, potato chips, and two orders of tortilla chips and guacamole.  The guacamole was sadly not that good, but the tortilla chips were good on their own.  We had the “wind beneath my wings” song from Beaches stuck in our head from the piano guy in the Observation Bar, so we played some George Michael to get something else stuck.  “Kissing a Fool” was what stuck.  We got to sleep around midnight.

Previous Day
Next Day