Welcome to the capital city of Morocco, Rabat
Thursday – Day 1 Rabat
It’s an early start leaving the Berrechid dorm house for our long weekend away journey. We hail taxis to the Berrechid train, and then catch the train from Berrechid station to Rabat station which takes a duration of about 2 hours. The Airbnb host Kayizer has kindly agreed to meet us at the train station and he will walk us back to his accommodation.
First impressions on Rabat straight off the train – organised. It’s a capital after all.
The train is slow and late in arriving into the Rabat train station. Steve exchanges numerous messages with our Airbnb host Kayizer. Once off the train, Kayizer spots us easily (who wouldn’t with four daughters). He’s a tall man and greets us quickly and then we’re off following efficiently behind him, zig zagging through the station crowd and then the streets of Rabat and finally trying to keep up with him through the old medina where the accommodation is located.
The old medina is full of interesting distractions and people. However, it’s not a threatening place like some of the other narrow market lanes tend to be. Traders and stall holders are not screaming at us to buy, rather they say hello and prefer to engage in worthwhile conversation with a smile. The pressure is off and it’s lovely to just enjoy the area without protecting ourselves or ignoring hard selling tactics. There’s every type of clothing, leather goods, shoes, dates, soaps, spices, bags, turtles, chameleons, nougat, nuts, and tagine restaurants. It’s bustling and it’s only got one narrow laneway up the middle to walk along. Pedestrians are coming from all directions. At night it’s so congested that we’re stopped in the traffic.
Our Airbnb accommodation is perfectly suited to our family: a dorm like room with six beds, well really six mattress on the ground that are twice the thickness of a standard mattress. There’s a shared bathroom and kitchen and it’s located in the optimum location – right in the middle of the old medina. There’s also a rooftop terrace with views across the roofs and close to the mosque. We have been told that the pre-dawn morning prayers will most likely wake us up. I’m not fussed. The Muslim prayers are a lovely way to be woken up, especially when you don’t need to be out of bed praying!
Our afternoon is spent exploring the old medina alleyways, stalls and shops. I befriend a man in the medina called Mohammed. I’m really not sure how we even start chatting, but his English is quite good and he’s very friendly. He seems to be a good hearted man with a broad smile.
He wants to show me the place in the medina to buy the best Moroccan tagine that is reasonably priced. Then he wants to show us his leather shop. He’s been working in his leather shop for over 30 years. Apparently Mohammad’s brother lives in Sydney. Ash wants to know where exactly as she is suspicious of Mohammad’s intentions but he can’t name the suburb. Now everyone in the family thinks I’m getting scammed and will have to buy up big in his leather shop, but he’s a nice bloke and if there’s a game that we’re playing, well I can play it too. I’m not forced to purchase anything at the end of the day.
We enjoy lunch in an old medina café upstairs and order six kebabs with a cold cola. The kebabs are unlike what we are used to in Australia, there’s no bread and it comes more like chicken with salad and chips. It’s been a while since we’ve enjoyed a range of food options as food options are very limited in Berrechid. We notice Mohammad hangs around until we’re finished and we agree to follow him to the tagine restaurant and then to his leather shop and then we will go to the beach.
We walk into his leather shop and although it’s a lovely shop we really don’t want to buy any leather slippers at this stage of our trip. All the Moroccan men love these leather slippers. We tell him that we are long term travellers and are not heading back home to Australia any time soon. He gives us his response that they’re lovely leather slippers and beautifully made, which we don’t doubt, but we really have no use for or desire to buy. The perfect alibi traveling long term – we can’t carry excess trinkets we feel like buying along the way.
We bid farewell to our new Rabat friend Mahommad. I can tell he’s not totally happy with us not purchasing anything, but that’s the name of the game. We walk to the very end of the medina, out the walled medina gates and towards the beach. We cross the busy road and see water – first it’s the river which meets the sea. We pass the old Kasbah, and find ourselves within the narrow old city of Odayas (also known as Oudayas Kasbah) with its starkly whitewashed walls, and painted blue half way up the walls with colourful terracotta pots with greenery growing from them outside the doorways and down the laneways. It’s stunning and beautiful.
Oudayas Kasbah was originally built in the 12th Century. It is one of the country’s most unique sites and has been renovated many times since throughout the centuries. It has been home to Arab tribes, Andalusian immigrants, and some of Morocco’s most powerful sultans. It’s truly a magical stroll up and down this part of Rabat. I could stay and explore these laneways all day.
There I happen to meet an older man from Sudan who is also touring around Odayas with friends. Somehow we get chatting and I introduce all the girls and of course Steve. He’s blown away by all the daughters we have (it’s a common reaction while we’ve been travelling). He tells me that in Sudan men can marry up to four women, and he suggests that maybe I need another husband! I tell him that’s crazy! And we have a laugh, but I know he’s not joking around about many wives. Anyway the girls are refusing to walk any further in this magnificent blue city. I just want to get to the sea to see the ocean, but they’re starting to stop at corners and are refusing to take another step. Frustrating. But I get them going. Somehow. Can’t remember now what I promised them.
The view from the Kasbah viewing platform is amazing and we see the beach below and look in amazement at the numbers of beach goers on the beach. Another family arrives near to where we are standing admiring the scene from the Kasbah viewing platform below with a couple of teenage children. They’re very well dressed and looks like they’re on some kind of tour of Rabat. It’s been a long time andI don’t want to be seen to be eavesdropping but we conclude that they’re accent is Australian.
And then it’s confirmed. The young teenage girl looks down at the very same beach scene we’re in awe about and leans on the Kasbah railing and says, “Just imagine being down there in that!” I heard her comment as a judgement that there would be no way she’d go down there with the mainly local Moroccan beach going crowd. Then what came out of her mouth was quite hilarious when she said, “It’s even worse than Bondi.” Oh dear…
That it may be. And the family walk away with their tour guide into the Kasbah. I look back at the crazy flock of people and all of the colourful umbrellas on that beach. My thoughts are the exact opposite. I really want to get down there amongst it. I’m keen to stroll down there and see the scene up close – how the Moroccan people enjoy a day at the beach.
We watch young Moroccan boys jump off the high rocks jutting out from the sea water river that leads out to the Atlantic Ocean and dive into the water; other men jumping in from the shore near the Kasbah and swimming straight across the river to the other side to commuter town Sale. The girls are not keen to put their feet in the water, so we wander around the entire Kasbah instead. Out of the Kasbah on the opposite side is undulating land that leads down to the ocean and it’s full of Muslim graves. It’s as if it’s an illusion that goes on forever and ever.
We walk back to the Airbnb via the old medina and I purchase a summer dress. There’s such a great atmosphere here and it’s quite liberal from what we’ve been used to living in Berrechid. I can’t wait to wear the dress and feel the coolness of light cotton again and show some skin on my arms and legs freely without concern from staring men.
We have a rest and meet fellow traveller Alex from Manchester who has been living at the Airbnb for a week and loves the city of Rabat. He and a friend have a kebab business back in Manchester and he’s taking a holiday before heading back. It’s lovely meeting these young people as we backpack our way around the world.
We go out for dinner around the corner of the medina. We pass by rows of BBQs with smoke billowing from them. We walk through the smoke and inhale the smell of caramelized onion and cooking meat. We notice a cow skull on top of the BBQ wrapped in glad wrap. The meat is falling off the bone and looks like a slowly cooked casserole meat. The girls take one look at the white bone of the skull revealed from the peeling meat and express their dislike. We just stare at it though mesmerised by it.
We share toasted kebab style dinner and pizzas at a small café. It’s tasty. And then there’s a man who’s looking up at the night sky. He’s almost crazy. His body rigid and unbending. He comes close to us and starts to fall and a couple of young Moroccan’s push him back up and into the street.
I’m not sure what was really going on with this man. I assume he had some sort of mental or physical disability. It was very sad to see and watch its unfolding. People were taunting him and laughing at him. He had fallen to the ground numerous times. A lady came out from one of the cafes shouting at people and then handed the man a kebab. But most of it ends up strewn all the road.
Friday – Day 2 Rabat
A lovely sleep in. It’s so much cooler here than it is in Berrechid right now. We’ve come here to the coast to escape the hotter inland conditions that is occurring right now. The Airbnb in Rabat is full of colourful mosaic and is also naturally cool especially with a tiled floor. It’s a lovely place.
Poor Billie has woken up this morning with a stiff neck. She literally can’t move it from side to side. We go to the pharmacy and dose her up on anti-inflammatories.
By the time we get going today, it’s close to midday. The girls are happy to stay behind at the Airbnb. Charlie plans on completing some editing on her videos, Billie is entranced reading her book, Dacey is watching YouTube, and Ash brought her English work along with her and plans to compete some tasks. So it’s a Steve and Lisa exploring together day. We plan on being out for three hours and then the girls are keen to go shopping later in the afternoon or early evening for some new clothes in the old medina.
We walk through the medina and out the other side, cross the road and walk past the opening to the cemetery. A man coming out of the cemetery suggests we should go in because there’s an amazing view of the sea from the top of the cemetery hill. So we do. We quickly befriend an elderly man who seems to be working within the cemetery and is carting water over to a section within the cemetery for washing. We see a couple of men washing their hands and feet with the water.
Another younger man who also carts water is quite annoyed that we – tourists – are in the cemetery. It is a Muslim graveyard after all and we do not look Muslim especially with this camera hanging around my neck. Our older cemetery water carting friend talks with him in those stern words of Arabic that leaves us guessing as to whether it’s going to end up good or bad for us. He calms down and we are prompted to continue following the older man to the best place to get a photo. And it is an amazing view.
We think it best to not hang about too long in the cemetery, and get out of there swiftly as to not intentionally offend anyone else. The old man is skinny and looks poor. He mentions to me very quietly something along the lines wanting a cigarette. “Sorry I don’t smoke,” I reply. But then he tells me one euro for a smoke with his index finger up and a longing in his eyes. We continue walking out of the cemetery while I quietly update Steve what’s actually being requested from the friendly old cemetery man. We thank him for letting us in and walk away. I can sense he’s disappointed. We have given him no cigarette; no euro. We turn back around after walking off and Steve slips him a couple of euro coins. He’s happy and waves us a cheerier goodbye.
We breathe a sigh of relief once we’re out of the cemetery and I look forward to seeing the amazing photo that I was able to take of the view from this perspective.
Next we explore the whitewashed Oudaya area in more details without the girls. Again the walls within are painted half white with an overlapping half blue wall. It’s to keep the mosquitos away apparently. It’s pretty and bright and full of charm. It reminds us more of a postcard we’ve seen of the villages in Greece than some place in Morocco. We ask a Moroccan man directions who kindly stops to assist us and then starts taking us on a tour. We didn’t ask for a tour, just directions to a café. We feel that we may get asked for money at the end of his tour, so we thank him and turn to walk the other way. He walks off without fuss.
Oudayas of Rabat
It’s Friday and under the religion of Islam it’s Jumu’ah congregational prayers held just after noon every Friday. It means many shops and cafes are not open or operating today as its classified as a holiday for the purpose of people coming together to pray at the mosque. It’s quiet in the narrow alleyways of Oudaya which makes it easy to get around.
Kasbah of Rabat
Steve and I walk to the Kasbah – it’s beautiful and green and peaceful. We walk past a place whre there is cat food out on a stone wall to feed all the cats of the Kasbah. It reminds us of the castles we visited in Spain. We walk through the Oudayas area of Rabat again with very old with doors that have been there since 1377. It’s etched in its wood. I enjoy the stroll through this time without the girls and the whinging and enjoy a rather expensive Turkish coffee and Steve an icy cold water. This café is open so we sit looking out onto a million-dollar rive-ocean view under the shade. It’s very relaxing. Alex passes by and we call out to say hi. He’s with a group of his friends heading somewhere. He stops for a quick chat which is nice and then motors on saying he’ll catch up with us tonight back at the Airbnb accommodation.
We wander all the way down to the light house and check out the view of the ocean. It’s an amazing rugged coastline lined with rocks and caves.
We Messenger the girls to let them know we are coming back. They are still at the Airbnb “just chillin’ mum” is the response. Billie’s neck is feeling less stiff which is great news. They’re keen to get some local Dirham from us and do some shopping in the old medina market. The quality of clothing and goods is very good here. I’m thinking of all the practical things we need like more underwear but they’re thinking closed white shoes. Really girls? Fashion is fashion and none of them will be seen dead in any backpacking sandal. Since we all had a similar foot size prior to leaving and since we purchased good quality backpacking shoes before we left that cost us a small fortune, I now have plenty of shoes to wear on the trip! Some things I have to just let go otherwise I’ll go nuts and this is one of them.
We return and find Kayizer busying himself with housework – sweeping out our dorm room. I’m not sure why he’s in the room when we are staying here. I think to myself can’t he wait and do all of that when we leave tomorrow? Kayizer is a lovely host. But he also has tendencies we’ve noticed to be an absolute tidy control freak. I mean this place must be the tidiest place in all of Morocco! But once we sit down with him and ask some questions about the best things to see and do in Morocco he’s more than happy to assist us and we watch YouTube videos on the sights – waterfalls and wilderness treks. He has a heart of gold and good intentions, but his approach is sometimes misinterpreted unfortunately.
The great thing about Rabat is that it feels welcoming and safe. So we hand the girls some money to get out and do the shopping they want to do for an hour or so. They have a great time at the shoe stalls and corner sunglasses stand. We meet up and head out to a restaurant across the medina road and upstairs. Opposite the entrance to this restaurant is a man selling snails in a large steaming pot. Locals are standing at a small table picking the snail meat out with a tooth pick. The smell is not so pleasant, and although the locals are suggesting we try them, we pass as we really are looking forward to a hearty tagine upstairs. It’s empty due to it being Friday, but the women make us a tagine and we all share three chicken tagines and a cold drink. They’re tasty and full of vegetables which is just what we all need right now.
We return to our quiet Airbnb and Steve has a final chat with Kayizer along with a new couple from Poland who are staying here. Kayizer will not be here when we leave for Tanger so he ensures we have everything we need. He is a lovely Moroccan man who wants to make a difference by giving visitors to his country a safe and welcoming experience.
Tomorrow we depart for Tanger on the train. It’s been a wonderfully pleasant stay in Rabat, a place I prefer over Casablanca.