I've been to Morocco twice already, both times to Marrakech. I thoroughly enjoyed my stays in the city, with the souk and the grand sites to see. My favorite part was the afternoon on the second visit when I piped up and said no to another historical tour of the city, in favor of a trip a little out of town. So we got to see some of the countryside, and a crocus farm and a canyon with a river where all Marrakech came to picnic in the mountain cool during the heat of the summer.
This time I'm in Rabat, and being much smaller and less touristy than Marrakech, I hope to appreciate the local life more.
I'm staying in a riad, one of the traditional North African houses with two stories built around a courtyard or simple light-well, topped with a terrace. In fact, I'm staying in the best riad in Salé, the town across the river from Rabat.
Everything you want arranged, Jan and Rachid will arrange. They had their taxi pick me up at airport, which I guess is ordinary but usually I muddle through on my own. But then they'll arrange guides to show you around, transport everywhere, towels and suchlike for visits to the hammam next door, massages, they'll tell you just where to go for pottery or for sunglasses or for a replacement camera battery. With just four rooms to let, they have time to make just what you like for breakfast, and to pamper you in every way.
I have the African room, which gives directly on to the ground-floor courtyard and consists of a bedroom with a window on the courtyard, then three steps up to a bathroom which is blocked off from the sleeping area by a closet and a half-wall. It's decorated in rich browns and reds, with zebra stripes and elephants. The shower is simply a shower head in a corner of the room, and the floor sloping slightly down to the drain. Happily, there's plenty of place for your towel and things where they won't get wet.
Much as the riad is tempting to linger in - the terrace covers the whole footprint of the house, with pots of flowers everywhere separating lounge chairs here and breakfast tables there - the coast is more tempting still, so I go out for the afternoon.
The ocean is so blue.
There are beaches in two cul de sacs where the river arrives at the sea, one on the Rabat side, and one on the Salé side. The sand goes inland for a few hundred feet, in relatively clean drifts and some buldozered piles, and the sand currently washed by the tide is clean, but the high tide line is a colorful zone of plastic bits and pieces of clothing and vegetable detritus. Soccer players are having a coaching session on the sand, being driven by their cheif to jog a little faster. People are scattered about, mostly couples having private conversations, and lone men with nothing to do. Along the stone jettys dozens of fishermen are trying their luck, and a yellow dog is sleeping contentedly on a dune.
Between Salé and its beach is the cemetery, curled all around the south and west side of the hill. In Marrakech I was chased away from the cemetery gates be more than one vigilant Marrakechi. I was just curious to see, but that's apparently the problem. A cemetery is not a place for tourists. They're not my relatives, why should I gawk at them? Well, I can see that. I'll respect that. Walking around the curve toward the ocean front, the cemetery walls get shorter and shorter, and here's another opening. It's not like this cemetery is particularly private, so I pop in just to see. Ah, it's beautiful. The headstones are all ornately carved, and a lot of the elevated graves are finished in color tile.It's very peaceful, looking out to sea, with the noise of the road cut by the wall. Just as I feel a twinge of defiling the dead with my infidel presence, I turn and notice a pile of human feces just next to a white tile tomb.
Don't think I'll feel so bad about taking a few snaps after all.
Wandering around the medina and the souks is kind of strange. On one hand, I wanted something less touristy than Marrakech, where you feel like a mark all the time, people always selling, selling, calling out to you, trying to 'guide' you, offering you tea in their shop. Here there are no tourists at all. And yet, I feel even more out of place. Others of my kind might annoy me, but at least to the local people I'm just one more. Here, I'm not meerly an alien, but an unauthorized one. Who gave me permission to peer down that alley, or into that doorway, the people seem to say. I feel so nosy.
Back at the Riad around sundown, the temperature plummets with the light, but I discover an electric heater in my room, and turn it on. Then there's to noise from the street which comes in the bathroom window and echos around the room. Closing the window does some good, but I do hope Salé is quiet at night. Though there will be the muzzein, of course.