After saying our goodbyes with family (100 times over), working our way through security at JFK, and enduring a delay on the runway; we were finally on our way to Morocco. In just 6 1/2 hours, we would be on the other side of the Atlantic in the city best known for the movie that also holds the name: Casablanca. Arriving here felt different than any other previous trip. This trip was different. We had never planned a trip like this before. We had never attempted such a long journey. This was the beginning of our 14 month marathon through 26 countries. With a little bit of nerves, but more excitement, we got to our hotel and set out into Casablanca. The beginning of a new adventure.
Casablanca gave me a very similar first impression as Manila in the Philippines did. People running in all directions, colors galore, and different sounds and smells around every corner. A deeper look however gives this city a much different feel.
Casablanca: Worth a Short Stay
Although many tourists enter Morocco through Casablanca, the city does not have a touristy vibe in the least bit. Most people are too busy working in the financial capital of Morocco to worry about tourism. In addition to this, most tourists enter Casablanca and leave almost as soon as they came in order to run after the more attractive cities and places Morocco has to offer. During our stay here, we barely saw any other tourists and felt like we had the place to ourselves. Despite this, the city does have its charms for those who stick around long enough to find him.
Where to go in Casablanca
Casablanca’s only true tourist site is without a doubt, Hassan II Mosque. Built to commemorate a former Moroccan King, the result was the third largest Mosque in the world and it does not fail to impress. Built right on the Atlantic ocean, you could not ask for a more photogenic location. Locals and Moroccans from other cities come here to pray, with the minaret calling the faithful to prayer, along with the sounds of the ocean in the background. If there is one place to start in Morocco, this is it. It’s beautiful, it’s relaxing, it’s awe inspiring, and its a great place to sit, watch, and shake off the jet leg.
Just a mere walk from the mosque is Casablanca’s old medina. Although it doesn’t have the old charm that other medinas have in Morocco, it does truly feel authentic. Only dating back to the 19th century, this medina was built and is still meant for locals.
Many medinas in Morocco are still truly authentic but loose some of their charm as vendors for tourists begin to outnumber local vendors. You will have Casablanca’s medina all to yourself. Go get lost, try some food, and just appreciate all that is unfolding in front of you. It is a very authentic experience even for the most seasoned travelers.
Morocco: Where Hospitality is Abundant
Although we had read about it before we embarked to Morocco, the friendliness and hospitality shown by the locals was very surprising. As a traveler, it is sometimes difficult dealing with such kindness as there are many people in the world looking to scam you or get you into a bad situation. After a few interactions, we understood that Morocco and its people go out of their way to make you feel at home and comfortable. Just in our first day we had a handful of people do more than what their duty required them to do.
When asking which side of the tracks we should wait on to catch a local tram, a man showed us which platform to be on. Not noticing him across the train car, he waved us over at us a stop early in order to inform us that our stop was next. In another situation, a beggar would not leave us alone and started grabbing us. A man quickly came over and stopped the situation, telling us “Don’t worry”. When buying goods, people also shopping are willing to translate without even asking. Usually after helping you, many Moroccans start up a conversation with you. Building relationships in Morocco are very important no matter how small they are. The level of hospitality here rivals no other place that I have traveled to. No matter how small the relationships seem, people are always greeting each other on the street and checking up on their neighbors. I have been in few countries where there is such a strong sense of community that rival Morocco’s.
An Uncomfortable Encounter
There was one exception to this however. While in the Medina, Claire was taking a picture of an open square when a young man began to walk in front of us displaying his middle finger at us. He continued to shout “Get out of here” at us, and not wanting to cause a scene or confrontation, we exited the area quickly. Despite this one instance, countless others have shown us kindness and an open hand in our 2 days in Morocco. The only other annoying thing is all of the ‘helpers’ in many cities looking to get a few Dirham off of you. Many of them will not leave you alone and has caused us to turn around from where we are going several times.
Our Feelings After Our First Few Days
As of the day I am writing, we also had our first Moroccan train experience. In order to save cash, we ended up buying second class tickets to Marrakech. With no seat guaranteed, and a crowded train, we ended up having to sit on the floor near the door for most of the 3 1/2 hour journey from Casablanca. Although uncomfortable, it was doable. The lifesaver ended up being the face masks I had brought from China as the space in between cars where we were sitting was very dusty.
Despite our one unnerving encounter in Casablanca, our overall impression in Morocco has been one of kindness, bright colors, and unrivaled hospitality. I am excited to get to know Morocco and its people much better as we dive into this wonderful country over the next month.
Have you been to Morocco? What was your first impression? Have any questions? Comment below!