Days: 461 (29 September 2015)
Total distance travelled: 123,151.7 kilometres (76,491.71 miles)
Okay, so I may be stretching it a little, forcing a link between wascally wabbits and the Moroccan capital, after all the city has countless roads in and out, although the six main arterials really aren’t so far away from three are they…
Then there’s the king.
Morocco’s ‘King of the Poor’ (as dubbed by the French media when he assumed the throne in 1999) has proven that title something of an oxymoron given he is one of, if not the worlds richest monarchs.
Rabat is home to his royal palace, although he seemingly has one of those in every major Moroccan city.
There are at least three ways in and out of this place, but when we arrived here as part of a guided city tour, we weren’t getting close to any of them (perhaps he is my aforementioned crafty Rabbit?)!
Indeed even wander too close to the gate (unless you look savvy and like you belong there… a bit like the guy above) and at best you’ll get a polite shout to head back whence you came, or possibly even a muzzle of a semi-automatic weapon waved in your direction.
As such, our tour didn’t linger here too long.
We were promptly whisked away in our mini-van, our next stop somewhere with a bit more history, and for mind a lot more charm.
We now found ourselves at the ruins of Chellah, which depsite the fourteenth century mosque (with that very Moroccan square shape inspired by the Moors) towering over its grounds, was in fact the site of an ancient Roman city.
With the name possibly bastardised over time (the original Roman name was Sala Colonia, but more commonly known as simply Sala), the place now serves as an engrossing ruin and garden, apparently also home to an annual jazz festival!
The ruins were nice, but for many of us, the star attractions here were the birds, and more specifically, the Storks!
My only previous experience with them was in the realm of children’s books, those trusty custodians who would deliver freshly born babies to families in a crazy perversion of the true birthing experience…
The children’s stories were rubbish, these birds were not.
The lower gardens of Chellah were flush with fruit trees sagging under the weight of their bounty, whilst there was even a natural spring present which our guide was happy to drink from (apparently this was his playground as a child), whilst advising us that it was probably best we did not.
We’re pretty confident our by now iron guts would’ve been up to the challenge, but we restrained ourselves from the cool waters on what was by now a warm morning.
From Chellah, things got all royal again, as we popped in briefly at the Hassan Tower and Royal Mausoleum.
The tower was an anti-climax, obscured as it was by a wall of scaffolding as it undergoes maintenance… or was it repairs?!
As far as mausoleums go, the royal one was a treat, gilded as it was in intricate Islamic patterns (the star of Islam ever present), and home to one of the most serious, yet cushy jobs we’d ever seen.
On a lower level beside the tombs, sat an Imam (at least I’m assuming this to be the correct title whilst highlighting my woeful lack of knowledge in regards to the Islamic faith), possibly a cross between a Blues Brother and Australian comedian Austen Tayshus, who from a plush seat indeed, would recite prayers.
Our guide then lead us to less a sight, and more a neighbourhood which itself became the focus of our visit.
Behind a large, typically Moroccan gate, sat the capital’s own mini version of Chefchaouen, the famous ‘Blue City’ (which we’d soon be visiting).
Like how we’d imagined the fabled ‘Blue City’ itself to be, this was all narrow streets, and walls of either whitewash or blue… well mostly in any case.
It was a place teeming with cats (very soon one would come to realise that the country in fact belongs to the cats), and after a short wander through its surprisingly grid-like as opposed to maze-like streets, we were afforded some lovely ocean views (this being another Atlantic coast city).
That wrapped up our time in Rabat, the afternoon’s hundred and fifty kilometre journey to Meknes punctuated by a lunch stop where Younes (our guide) entertained and refreshed us all with an introduction into the correct preparation and ceremony involved in a Moroccan tea service.
Basically a little tea, a little mint and a shitload of sugar!
By the time our bus journey was completed, our sun filled day had given way to that most unexpected of Moroccan occurrences.
A fully blanketed sky and thunderstorms!
Despite the inclement weather, our time in Meknes was limited (basically this afternoon, before we left early the following morning), and as this was another UNESCO World Heritage listed historic city, we were keen to check it out, wet weather or not!
It was a desire not embraced by all aboard, so ultimately we had the chance to race across a slightly flooded and empty square, tiptoe about an equally wet and continually dripping souk, before dashing back to the bus as the rains got even heavier!
At least I managed to score a couple of free sweet pastry samples from a generous vendor…
Eventually the storm blew itself out, and incredibly our balcony (surprisingly our room had) was soon beneath a canopy of stars.
We’d dined and had essentially retired for the night, when there happened to be a knock on our door.
Expecting it to be Julie (Sarah’s mum), we were completely surprised to discover Jason, one of the members of our tour.
The basic situation was this.
He’d tried everybody else, but nobody was interested in joining him, but he was certain that he’d stumbled upon the location of a pub!
Here, in an almost entirely Islamic country, that sounded intriguing.
So off we marched, a motley crew of three, which soon became four after we bumped into Julie in the lobby and she decided to join us.
A short block or two away, and we swear Jason must have been able to smell booze, as he walked up to a nondescript door, which easily opened once we pushed.
Lo and behold and the bastard (that’s using Australian affectionate slang there) was right.
Here was a bar serving drinks, tables at which we could sit, as well as a few lounges as well!
We ordered a round, and soon discovered that Julie had brought with her the TV remote from her room (not sure if that’s legal tender in these parts), and kicked back to soak it all in.
Julie soon left us for the short walk back to the hotel, whilst for us three, one more drink became a series of one last drink on repeat… about five times!
We’d also noticed the high number of women present at this venue, a fairly uncommon situation in Morocco at the best of times.
A few were lounging around a table, another couple were working at the bar… then the penny dropped.
These women were indeed working!
I’m sure a few had even helped some young citizens of Meknes learn the ways of the world for the very first time, as we then got to a watch a pretty and buxom young thing make the acquaintance of a very young gentleman, not so far from our table!
These three swaying tourists, eventually departed by what appeared to be the only exit, a farewell handshake from the bar staff and doorman apparently a mandatory way to round out this already surreal experience (although not completely, as we managed another couple of drinks in our hotel bar as the house entertainment took their vocal chords up a few more decibels).
As for our crafty ‘Rabat’ (that would be King Mohammed VI), our so called ‘King of the Poor’, he ‘gets by’ on a $61 million US allowance from his people each year.
Meanwhile, five million of his poorest subjects do their best on just 10 dirhams (that’s just over $1.00 US) every day…
* Our flights from London Gatwick to Marrakesh (via Casablanca) with Royal Air Maroc cost us £88.09 per person.
* Our 15 night Morocco tour was booked through On-the-go travel, and costs per person vary depending on the season.
* There was an entrance fee of 10.00 Dirhams for adults into the old city of Chellah, however I think ours may have been included as part of our tour.