Monday, September 13, 2010

Out there, 5 Ramen & 1 Camel will not get you to Rabat.

Morocco is a completely different world. They do not utilize any form of sanitation in form of soap nor keeping trash off their streets or beaches. Also they do not abide by street signs or use intersections and you have to haggle for everything from souvenirs to taxi fare, there are no fixed prices in Morocco. The MV Explorer is docked at one of the largest artificial harbors in the world and is in between the Morocco Naval Port and an active Phosphorus plant which has caused the crew to wear masks and the ships' decks are covered in dust so we remain inside our protective shell with running water and electricity. Upon arrival I entered the Medina which is the fort that was used as protection many centuries ago and now encases a vast market filled with knock-off Louis, Gucci, Prada, and even Polo is exotic enough to warrant the production of fakes. I also visited the Mosque Hussan II which is the second largest Mosque in the world, which is only exceeded by Mecca. The Mosque Hussan II is literally built on the Atlantic Ocean and is 600,000 SQ FT and can accommodate 2,000 cars under its massive structure. We were not allowed inside the mosque due to the end of Ramadan which had its final night on our first day in Casablanca. Since the Mosque is built on the Atlantic there is a wall where children and teenage boys jump off into the rough waves and then swim to shore. Although the police try to prevent this, they have little authority amongst the Moroccans and this seem prevalent throughout the rest of the country.

The 2nd day I went on the city orientation where I again visited the Mosque which cost $800 Million and yet the majority of Morocco's population lives on less than one dollar per day. We also visited the King's Palace, of which I have seen three throughout the major cities in Morocco. Casablanca hosts a large jewish quarter and a large private beach with four pools for the wealthy while those less fortunate crowd the trash covered beach. I spend my nights on the ship because the city does not have a welcoming night life and for the second and third day most of the shops were closed due to the end of Ramadan and the Id celebration which is a large feast that follows the conclusion of the holiday. Ramadan increases crime significantly in the city because of its impact on the economy. All of the businesses have limited hours, therefore employees work less and earn less and have trouble affording food during Ramadan, not to mention the poverty level is as high as 33%. Fortunately that night, Lindsay & I stumbled upon the Times Square of Casablanca and drank at the Sky 28 Lounge of the five-star Kenzi Tower Hotel which is on the 28th floor and has panoramic views of the city.

The following morning I took a 2.5 hour train ride to El Jadida which is further down the coast and hosts an abandoned Portuguese Fortress and Cistrine under the Medina. We rode first class on the train which guarantees you a seat and due to the currency conversion is only $10 round trip whereas passengers are crammed into coach and many try to sneak into first class but are escorted to the back by security. Speaking of Security they are everywhere: Shopping Malls, Hotels, Ports, Grocery Stores. No one is trusted and crime is high. The largest mall in Africa is reportedly located in Casablanca: however, when I visited the area I found a four story shopping center with at most 50 stores...way to go Africa.

Today I went to Marrakech which hosts yet another opulent palace and the largest traditional market in the world and yes it is massive and similar to the market in Casablanca is filled with knock-offs and several other tourist items that are marketed as traditional Moroccan icons. I also went to a Pharmacy which appeared as more of a black market where we entered a private room and the doctor, along with two assistants allowed us to test creams, remedies, and spices. They even had medicine for weight loss and Viagra without a prescription. The market hosts Henna Ladies which grab your arm, give you a tattoo and demand Durham (Moroccan currency). There are also monkey dancers and snake charmers that fill the quad preceding the Market. The food here is delicious and everything is communal style. Couscous with beef and grilled vegetables consist of a traditional meal. I also visited the Jardin Majorelle which is filled with gorgeous fountains, cacti & overarching trees that provide shade. Yves Saint Laurent found inspiration here and created a trust before he passed away in 2008 to ensure the upkeep and preservation of the Jardin which hosts plants from five different continents and embodies Jacques Majorelle who was 'one of the most important plant collectors of all time.'

Tomorrow we leave for 7 days at sea before reaching Ghana which is the port that I am most looking forward to experience.

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