The cruise ship shuttle bus dropped us off in the middle of United Nations Square on a dreary and very rainy November morning with no map. (Seriously Norwegian! You can kill a thousand trees so I can get a flyer everyday about the spa and drink specials and know what time Bingo is, but you can’t give me a map of our port cities?!) We asked the driver which direction to the markets and he pointed off across the square. As we walked, we were accosted by men offering us tours of the city or their guiding services for the Medina. But we needed to find an ATM, and prefer to explore on our own anyway, so we turned them down and kept walking through the rain. Once we found an ATM, we decided the next thing to do was find a map…since our phone wasn’t working and we had totally lost our bearings.
We marched into the Hyatt Casablanca (past all the luxury taxi drivers in their white Mercedes) and right up to the concierge desk. The concierge looked up and we confessed, “Hi! We’re lost and need a map and a taxi.” Smiling, he was more than happy to oblige us, and even had the doorman walk us out to the street (once again, past all the luxury taxi drivers, who were now screaming at us) to help us hail a petite taxi – a small, compact, local taxi.
“Please take us to the Mosque” we asked. And we were off. But not really. Because that is when the negotiations really begin…once you’re in the taxi. Our driver started offering to take us on a tour of the city and quoting us prices on his calculator. I love this part. I used to hate negotiating prices on things…but now I kind of understand the dance that negotiation really is…and that it’s not always about the lowest or highest price…but about two people dancing around as they feel each other out and try to come to a mutually agreeable number.
The first number on the calculator was astronomically high. “Nope, just take us to the mosque, please” I said, in my rather rusty French. The second number on the calculator was half the first – but still ridiculously high. “Just the mosque, please.” And then the number came down into a reasonable negotiable range and we started to talk. He started teasing me about my bad French and speaking louder…I kept trying to pinpoint where exactly he was going to take us. Eventually, we agreed on a price and a route and were off for the day.
We wound through a maze of streets and Kyle and I looked at each other, silently wondering where we were going and what we’d signed on for that day. We drove past the Royal Palace (at least the one that the King stays at when he is in town). It was closed up tight and we didn’t stop. Not far from there, he pulled over next to a park, announcing that this was the Habbous quarter and that we should go look in the shops and see the park. He said he would meet us in 20 minutes and went off to drink tea. We had no idea where we were and started wandering along blindly, looking lost while admiring the minarets, the park, and all the beautiful mosaics. It was a Sunday morning, and not many people were out because of the bad weather.
Twenty minutes later, we were off again…on a roundabout whirlwind tour of the famous sites in town before dropping us off at the new medina (so we could find some lunch).
We had lunch at a local place where we spoke just enough French (and the owner spoke just enough English) to order some fabulous tagines and drinks. Then we set out to explore a bit of the city and Medina on our own. We wandered up and down city streets and stumbled onto several of the places we had been with our taxi driver…and wow, were they very close to where he picked us up (before driving all over the place to make them look further away). That’s just the way it is sometimes, though.
We finished our day with mint tea on the terrace of a tea house, watching football with the locals and enjoying the afternoon sun. If you have never had the chance to drink real Moroccan Mint tea…go out now and do it! Go on, you can Google a recipe and go pick up some mint.
One of the most stressful, and most invigorating, things about travel is getting into a taxi in a foreign city where you don’t know the lay of the land or speak the language. Because you never know what is going to happen, what kind of ride it will be, or where you will end up. This day we were lucky and had a really great adventure.
Here are some pictures from our day. Dreary in the morning and beautiful in the afternoon.