[ Casablanca ]
A few hours in assorted tin cans of the flying variety, one easy cab ride, an unnecessary game of tag with my would-be host et voila! Here we are: Africa. Afrique.
My second day in Casablanca, and already the bike is assembled, a vaccine for yellow fever procured, my Moroccan SIM card and data plan are activated, conversational French skills have been lightly tested, and hours have been spent at the local coffee shop making new friends—swarthy and jovial and animated. Hell, I’ve even been offered a job as an English teacher and the concomitant work visa. (Legit and well-paying, I checked.)
All this and we haven’t even started any actual adventuring yet. It bodes well, non?
Other than a brief, mortifying experience at the end of my last Moroccan visit, this is my first time in Casablanca. I’m staying in a neighborhood named Sidi Maârouf, a quaint, attractive, middle-class residential district surrounded by butt-ugly office parks, shopping megaliths, and interminable highway construction. It’s about four miles from the centrally located Maârif district (I know this because I walked those miles after my visit to the Pasteur Institute for the aforementioned vaccine) but has enough of its own street life to keep me interested.
Case in point, my new favorite hang-out, Chez Brahim.
One of the great delights of Morocco is Moroccan or Maghrebi mint tea, served brutally hot in long-spouted tea pots and poured repeatedly (and from great heights) to facilitate the cooling process. The featured image above is of my first pot thereof, at Chez Brahim. I so enjoyed their tea, their full-power espresso shots, and the friendly staff that I’ve already become a regular. Tonight that paid off handsomely, with an entire table of crusty regulars engaging me in a two-plus hour conversation about everything from the proper preparation of tea, to Arabic cuisine, global politics, and the unique charms of Mauritanian women (expressed with wide-eyed wonder, at second- or third-hand, with enthusiasm undiminished by the indirectness of their information).
Only 24 hours prior I had passed the coffeeshop by, intimidated by the wall-to-wall collection of men cheering and jeering at what I presumed was a soccer match on the big screen television. After walking a few more blocks I turned back—forcing myself to ignore my initial response. I entered, about forty pairs of eyes on the outsider. Not surprisingly my initial response was the wrong one; the clientèle was just a normal group of normal folks behaving normally. Before long, I find I’ve returned five times, and those normal folks are now buying me tea and inviting me to their homes and helping me sort out train schedules.
The latter involved tomorrow’s plan: the morning train to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, about 87 kilometers up the Atlantic coast. There I will apply for my Mauritanian visa, with luck getting it by end of day; without luck by close of business next Monday. Even without luck, who cares? Why not spend the weekend exploring Casablanca, testing my bike, and loading up with food and water for next week’s ride into the Atlas mountains?
Welcome to Africa friends. Let’s do this!