Morocco Fragments: On The Way To Marrakesh

Finally on the train to Marrakesh. Everybody insists on talking to me in French, even after I point out that I don’t speak a word of it. I only walked the block around the Casablanca Voyageurs train-station and I don’t like it one bit. I wonder what the city is really like. I want to enjoy Morocco, but it looks like it’s going to be a chore, especially with a budget like mine. The weather certainly isn’t helping. It’s dreary, cold, and wet outside and makes me want to hide in my hotel room for the three days I have in Marrakesh.

Looking out the train window the scenery isn’t that different from Syria, similar vegetation, similar run down towns in the middle of nowhere. For a few seconds I felt like I was back home. The square minarets shake me out of my willful illusion screaming “this is not the land you long for.” But that is another story for another time. Maybe that time will never come.

Feeling desperate for an internet connection. I’m wondering if my last-minute couch surfing requests sent from the airport received a reply. I’m tired and haven’t eaten all day. It’s 2 PM now. I’m torn between checking in at the first hotel I see, or looking for somewhere to get online and maybe with some luck crash on a total stranger’s bed. The clouds are breaking, and sun light makes a brief appearance before getting blocked behind ominous clouds again.

I’m sharing this small space, this 6 passenger compartment, with three other riders. A French middle-aged man and woman, and a younger Moroccan woman who seems to be in her late twenties. I formed my own little francophobic island. My fellow passengers are kind enough to use English or Arabic when attempting to communicate something to me. A T-shirt that says “Je ne parle pas Français” would have been a great idea. Hindsight is 20/20.

Another stop. This compartment might get crowded. I’m crossing my fingers that we won’t have to share this compartment with a young man who thinks it’s a good idea to use his cell phone as a boombox on board the train. A couple of minutes of anticipation then a sigh of relief. My colony on wheels is not accommodating yet another conqueror. Heavy rains now encompass my fortress of solitude. The heat is broken. So much for first class. I could have saved 50 Dirhams and huddled for warmth with passengers in the second class, but then I wouldn’t be writing this. Time to get some shut-eye.

P.S. This post is part of a series of posts I’m writing about a visit to Morocco. I have already left the country. Expect more to come soon.

  1. Sasa says:

    I made that same journey a couple of months ago. Sitting in that tiny compartment, I ended up speaking to an incredible Marrakeshia girl who – kindly – spoke in broken Shami Arabic for me. It was like a breathe of fresh air after struggling to speak Maghribiya and French. People understood my Syrian Arabic, but I barely comprehended a word they said.

    I hated Marrakesh. It’s like an overpolished Old City of Damascus over-run by Americans. If you get a chance, go to the rooftop bar called Cafe Arabe.

    Casa, on the other hand, was amazing. Authentic, raw, young and creative. It’s harder to love, because it’s not a beautiful city. But once you do understand it, you’ll never look at Marrakech again.

    I know you have a very good source on Morocco. But from me, all I can say is spend some time in Casa, and pop up to Rabat – the casbah there is mindblowing.


    • Anas says:

      Wow, probably the fastest comment on a blog post I’ve written.

      I’m back now but thanks for the advice. I’ll save it for a rainy day. I’m with you on Marrakesh, it reminded me a lot of Damascus. It was interesting nonetheless, yet I got tired of it after only two days. A mixed bag of feelings there.

      I was participating in a workshop in Rabat. So I got to see most of what’s to see there. I popped to Casablanca on the day I was flying out, but it was recovering from devastating floods and also had some hooligans rioting. But that’s a story for another post.

    • Sasa, I think your assessment of Marrakesh is unfair (also, it’s not Americans, it’s mostly Dutch and French). True, the Djemaa al Fna and surrounding have become overrun with foreigners, but Marrakesh is still breathtakingly alive; you just have to get past the tourists. It also strongly depends on the time of year.

      As for Casa, it is indeed young, raw, and authentic, but that’s so hard to find unless you have a good local friend to show you around. I hate Rabat, incidentally, though I made sure to send Anas to the casbah.

      Now Meknes – that’s where it’s at 😉

  2. Liosliath says:

    Rabat represent! I lived there, and I loved it. Can’t stand Casa, way too much code switching into French, a million SUVs zooming around, terrible weather, dirty.

    I actually don’t like Marrakech much now myself, but for a different reason – it seems like the French have invaded the medina and taken over 85% of the riads.

  3. Sache says:

    I LOVE Marrakech – that’s my home away from home away from home. Meknes -eh, yes and no…love it like I love Chicago – grudging and enduring hometown affection. As for Marrakech – if you don’t find a couch to surf, go to the Hotel Afriquia – close to the square, cheap and lots of English speakers. Enjoy!

  4. Sache says:

    Oh, and tell them Aicha de Meknes sent you – that may get you something…

  5. Dubai jazz says:

    What’s wrong with square minarets? :)

  6. Le Marocain says:

    Yeah…Morocco (proper) is generally an overrated destination.

    For a loner on a budget, I recommend the Rif or the Sahara. Less cosmopolitan for sure, but way more interesting than Marrakesh and the like.

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