Time to say au revoir to Marrakech and head to the coast. A surprisingly comfortable three hour train journey took us away from the foot of the Atlas mountains to the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
Our final destination on the African leg of our adventure is one synonymous with old cinema, the song As Time Goes By, and Humphrey Bogart. Casablanca.
Of course, the reality is going to be very different from a film released over seventy years ago. Besides the obvious that it is highly unlikely filming ever took place in the city (I haven't checked but believe, given the fact that a war was happening, that to be a given), Casablanca is known as Morocco's modern city, and with approximately four million people residing here by far its largest. Business and banks rule supreme here. Any Western faces are usually dressed in smart suits, as opposed to ali baba trousers. It is completely different from our other Moroccan experiences thus far.
This extends to our accommodation. Hostels and guesthouses are in short supply in Casablanca. Luckily, thorough research on the internet led us to a five-star hotel with an absurdly low price: the cheapest of our whole trip. The strange nature of the offer was highlighted by the fact that two of the hotel breakfasts would have come close to the price we were paying for the luxurious room with a continent of a bed.
Casablanca does indeed specialise in grandeur and largesse. We read that it has the largest artificial port in the world (what constitutes a natural port is beyond me) and one of the largest shopping malls in Africa (though this title varies wildly depending on your source). The seaside city is also the host of one of the largest mosques on Earth. Having seen it, we can validate that it is simply enormous.
The location of the Hassan II Mosque is picturesque; a place of calm resting just in front of the violent tides of the Atlantic. It currently possesses the tallest minaret in the world, and its doors make anyone who stands beneath them look minuscule. I hope the cleaners we saw polishing the top of the tower don't have vertigo.
Considering its size, the mosque has some intricate patterns on its exterior. It wasn't open to the public when we arrived, though this didn't prevent hundreds of people from congregating in the plaza in front of the main building. Although it is a place of worship, it also seems that the mosque is a popular meeting point, as well as a football pitch. Boys in Morocco are obsessed with football.
The massive mosque sits next to the Atlantic Ocean, with a corniche running along its western side. Like much of Casablanca, this was nothing to write home about, simply because there was nothing there, throngs of people aside. It's actually quite run down. The city's medina was small and insignificant in comparison to Marrakech, and it lacked that city's buzz or sense of culture. We had read before that there wasn't much to keep someone in Casablanca for more than a day, and I would have to agree. It felt like time was going by, and that we spent as much time calculating our exit strategy as we did with the city's sights.
As for the film? Apparently Rick's Bar, where much of the film takes place, is a popular expatriate restaurant, but we didn't look too hard for it. Not at 800 dirhams for a meal for two, which is what we heard. Maybe others in our five-star hotel can afford that life of luxury, but that's simply not how we travel.
Casablanca is the main arrival point for many travellers due to the size of its airport and relatively close proximity to Europe and North America. If you do come to Morocco and start your journey here, it is worth an afternoon of your time, but probably little more than that.
As for Morocco as a whole? Tourism is catching on quickly here as the country realises its vast potential. English is rarely spoken here, but I believe this will change in the near future. In spite of this, it isn't difficult to make yourself understood. Easily accessible and most welcoming, with wonderful weather even in February (though bring more than one jumper!), it is a place which is very different and affordable to visit, at least for the moment.
From friendly hospitality to fabulous food, cities like Marrakech are thoroughly enjoyable and cannot fail to enlighten. Even if you get tired of the hustle and bustle, the stunning and diverse landscapes can take you to another world within hours. Don't hesitate; if you have the chance, visit Morocco as soon as possible.
Love you all