Dont go there. That was the advice regarding Casablanca, Moroccos biggest city. But I had time and they have Ricks Bar, often mis named Sam’s bar. It’s the bar from the 1942 film Casablanca with Humphry Bogard and Ingrid Bergman. Anyway I knew a bit about it and I had a spare day, how difficult could it be to negotiate the city? Three and a half hours difficult! I eventually got to the seafront but no clue as to where Ricks bar may be. I stopped at McDonald’s to use there WiFi but it was broken so I was no better off. It was getting late and I had driven a long way. I drove up and down the seafront, no campsites and no hotels. Back into the city and the two hotels I tried wanted £150+ per night. I decided to drive to nearby Mohammedia to look for a place. I kid you not its like 3 miles and that to, another hour and forty. By now I was tired and right grumpy. I saw an Ibis hotel and just handed over the credit card. I was shattered, I would consider what to do in the morning.
Up bright and early to take full advantage of my included breakfast. I could leave the car and get a train there and back or I could just grin and bare it. The grinning didnt last long. The Morocans love the car horn, I think its because donkeys dont have them and that makes them a status symbol. You sit at red lights, maybe fourth in the queue and as soon as the lights change people start sounding their horns. Where am I supposed to move too, I can see the green light but it takes time for everyone to get moving or we would all travel on each others bumpers. In no time at all, well quite a bit of time actually I was at Ricks Bar, ironically, spitting distance from the McDonald’s with no WiFi. The place looked good, although closed for another two hours and in the middle of quite a run down part of the city. I couldn’t get it in one photograph but there is a massive divide within the city where the modern buildings and commercial centre rubs shoulders with the old run down parts. To cover it up they have built an authentic looking ancient wall, so the workers don’t have to look at the slums.
I took a walk towards the very impressive minuete of the mosque. The King somebody the second mosque was built in the kings memory, such was his overwhelming support that it was decreed to build the second biggest mosque in the world, however popularity doesn’t bring in the Dirham and the mosque had to be built from donations. What they ended up with is none the less very spectacular. The tallest minuete in the world and the thirteenth biggest mosque. 150000 people can be accommodated within its grounds and in keeping with current global instability, there are armed guards on overy corner. I can only assume that Morocco could be a target because of their relaxed attitude to worship. They are very devout muslims but regular prayer has given way to the necessities of modern life, which I would imagine could upset the hard liners of the faith.
Times up so I trot back to Ricks. Now there’s a queue but I’m in front of a coach load of Americans. I’m not quite sure how I would describe my next actions, I’ll let you decide. The woman behind me was clearly very excited and was full of face paced American chat as she told her friends how she couldn’t believe they, were actually at Ricks Bar, where the film was made, actually there where Bergman and Bogard filmed the classic scenes, so excited………… I couldn’t help myself, honest, as I turned and said “it wasn’t actually filmed here, the whole movie was filmed in L.A. this is just a theme bar that replicates the original, it opened in 2004 long after the star’s had died, but I do believe its very nice!” I think it dampened her spirits a little, but she still went in. I was right it was very nice, I didn’t stay long, I’d ruined enough people’s day. (In the film no one said “play it again Sam” either).
Back in the car and it was time to head out of town. It was a slog but I wanted to head for Mekness, I was now on a deadline for the ferry in two days time. I ended up in a small town called Tighassaline. The reason to stop was that I had proved my own theory wrong. I needed to get some money out of a cash point. They are few and far between in the sticks and often don’t have money in them. My theory was, any town where there are donkeys being ridden will not have a cash point. I was wrong as I found both in close quarters. So having stopped I decided to take a look round this bustling little town. There were stalls outside most of the shops and as I walked past the dentist a man called out “Bonjour France”. I explained I was English and was invited to sit and have coffee with the man who had just two teeth in his whole head. I did enquire if he was the dentist but apparently not. He was though, a well travelled Berber, having lived in Germany, Canada and various other short term residences. Now in his 60’s he was happy to practice his English, which occassionally slipped into German. He spoke of how his family had needed his help when his parents died and he had returned to help out. Quite how he did that by selling cigarettes on the street I dont know. I left him with some money for the coffee and a generous tip. Walking further down the street I found the barber who did my £1 haircut and then my £4 a night hotel. The room was bare apart from a metal chair and a bed. The matress, rock hard and the bedding a single fury blanket. The toilet down the hall had no door, despite being directly at the top of the stairs and was very Moroccan, two foot plates and a hole. Need I be more explicit? It was a stifling hot night and I certainly wasn’t going to get under that blanket, in fact I slept fully clothed and avoided the toilet altogether