Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Strong Impressions in Morocco’s Capital City

Morocco is punguent. The smells and sights are very intense and new, the brights are brighter and the drabs are drabber and overall the contrasts are much more extreme than we are used to.

Our visit began with a ride in the pilot boat across the river for an early morning walk through the medina, or walled old city, of Rabat. It is the month of Ramadan so the medina in Rabat was not very busy. We walked over to the Kasbah des Oudaias. The Kasbah was very restful and we wandered slowly along the cool and quiet stone walled streets out to the ramparts to enjoy a great view over the estuary. In the middle of the dry stone Kasbah is a lovely lush green public garden and next to this we found a very small one-room weaving studio. Five women were at work and showed us how the beautifully intricate carpets they were working on are made. This is an incredibly labour intensive activity and each one takes a minimum of two months to complete!

Rosa was kind enough to take care of all four sleeping children while Adam, Leonie, Seb and I took a walk to the medina in Salé in the evening. Salé is the smaller town next to the marina and across the river from Rabat, described in the guide book as quiet and traditional. It was a shock to leave the shiny modern marina compound and enter the dark and narrow labyrinth streets of the Salé medina. The walls were lined with the small booths of the bustling souq. People stood or squatted to sell their wares ranging from lovely fruits and vegetables to wilted soggy ones, live chickens and other small birds and animals, colourful clothing and shoes, luscious cloth, left over spark plugs and wires, books, sweets, individual diapers, pens, other odds and ends and almost anything else you can imagine. Seb and Adam had taken a walk there during the day and they came back with an impression of squalor, sadness and dirty, quiet streets with stalls of goods interspersed with desperately poor beggars of all shapes and sizes. It was unbelievably busy and almost festival-like in the evening.

On the recommendation of the Lonely Planet, we took the children out to the Jardins Exotique, a 13 km bus ride from Rabat. The bus ride was an extreme activity. Our bus driver was clearly someone who strongly believed in reincarnation. He drove the bus like a small car and zig-zagged at great speeds through traffic slamming the breaks every few minutes to avoid hitting the car or wagon suddenly in front of him. The Jardins Exotiques are a really lovely and slightly comical place. They were built in 1951 by a French horticulturalist and are divided to represent all of the vegetation he encountered on his world travels – Brazilian rainforest, Polynesian jungle, Japanese pleasure garden among others. Emma and Mees had great fun following the color coded arrows that led up and down through paths, tunnels, along ponds and over floating bridges. Poor Emma very enthusiastically ran across what she thought was a field of green plants only to find herself waist deep in the middle of one of the ponds. I have to admit to laughing a little as I comforted my shocked and embarrassed little girl.

On our second evening, we ate dinner at a small restaurant next to the Rabat medina. When we arrived at 1815, it was almost completely full of people waiting for the gong to sound to announce sundown at 1840 so that they could break their fast of the day with the typical Ramadan breakfast, soup, egg, pancakes, milk and orange juice. We tried it as well, very yummy, although I expect that it tastes significantly better if you haven’t eaten anything else since sunrise.
Pulled out of Rabat marina in the early evening for the 100 nautical mile overnight we planned to sail with the Elena. Check-out was again detailed but extremely efficient – our passports will be stamped for entry and exit in every port that we visit in Morocco. We waved good-bye to the modern harbour with great facilities and sailed on towards the little fishing village of El Jadida.

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