We recently spent a few days in Casablanca. I had visited Morocco several times, but never Casablanca. I have to tell you, it doesn’t deserve its reputation as ugly, or not having anything to do. It admittedly isn’t touristy–it’s Morocco’s biggest city, with 3.5 million residents, and its economic engine, accounting for half the country’s gross domestic product. In such a bustling place, you get to see real life, instead of a sanitized tourist version.
I have way too many photos for one post, so you’ll get more about Casablanca in the future. All these were taken by our kid, whose eye for detail I admire.
I was very thankful our kid saw Casablanca. It was an eye-opener. The poverty was a shocker–and Morocco isn’t even that poor; it’s considered a lower middle income economy. Poverty dropped to under 5% in 2014 from more than 15% in 2001. That is a huge achievement. (If you are a regular reader, you know this is not the blog for “10 Most Luxurious Spas in Morocco” or “Five Most Instagrammable Spots in Casablanca.”)At the same time, our kid succinctly expressed what I couldn’t help thinking: “They really need a day where everybody goes out and cleans the place up.” Not just litter, but sidewalks that are broken in inexplicable places and gorgeous Art Deco and colonial buildings that are abandoned but that seem to have so much potential.
Speaking of crumbling Art Deco, we stayed in an AirBnB between the train station and the central market. It was a convenient location, but it turned out to be the red light district, though we never saw any evidence of that. I regret not taking my second choice, which I too late learned was owned by a friend of the person we had traveled to Casablanca to see. Here it is–the good one. And once I figured out the lay of the city, I realized the other apartment was equally convenient but in a much nicer neighborhood.
The old medina was simultaneously laid back and frenetic. Of course, we were wooed by shopkeepers, but they weren’t insistent. Of course, a couple of guys offered to be our guide, but we generally navigated by joining the dense flow of humanity coursing through the narrow alleyways. A few times when we got off track, we were directed by kind bystanders–kids playing soccer in a quiet corner who stopped their game to call to us when we headed the wrong way; a chic young woman on her way home who took the time to lead us through the maze and who was a delight to talk to en route. Nobody who helped us asked for money. Random people would strike up conversations with us–a fellow shopper who waxed on about the wonders of argan oil, for example. It was genuine friendliness, not tourist-friendliness. I liked it.The insane traffic also had a surprising lack of aggression. On the one hand, everybody started honking as soon as the cross-traffic’s light turned yellow–about two seconds before they actually got a green light. Plenty of cars would slide through the light change, triggering more honking. Nobody stayed in a lane. This made crossing the very wide boulevards a dance with death–except that cars swerved or stopped for pedestrians, who seemed as unperturbed as bullfighters in the face of a charging bull, deftly dodging danger. To cross streets, we adopted a strategy of sticking with locals, and the more the better, figuring we had safety in numbers and they knew when to stop or go.The times we took taxis it was impossible to figure out whether the rule was priority on the right, as in France (in principle, yes, but practice is another thing), yet the rides weren’t scary–the starts and stops were gentle, like a dance rather than a battle. It was chaotic, but a shrug-your-shoulders, what-can-you-do chaos, not a my-way-or-the-highway mean chaos.
We ate at La Sqala, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a little oasis on the edge of the old medina, next to the waterfront.
It was very good and a nice experience. The Carnivore had a hunk of meat (lamb), our kid had salmon, I had a vegetable tajine.
More to come on Casablanca, as time goes by….