From Formals to Gum boots: Cruising Rome-Rio and Forays into the Amazon, Part 3-Morocco

Port 4 – Casablanca 

Day 6  – we finally made it to the N. African coast! Because of its namesake movie, Casablanca often conjures up images of romance and intrigue. In reality it’s a vast, modern metropolis that lacks the exotic atmosphere of Morocco’s more ancient cities. Refusing to spend hours in transit for the 300 mile trek to Marrakech, I decided to explore Casablanca on our own.

Immediately after docking, we headed for the Hassan II Mosque – the largest mosque in the country and a truly impressive architectural masterpiece. We meandered through the winding alleys of the medina along the way and saw vendors selling a mélange of spices, tons of olives, (freshly) dead fish, live (soon to be dead) chickens, and butchers proffering cuts of mystery meat.

For a change of scenery, we strolled around a colorfully restored old fort nearby and then checked out the Deco District, where Moroccan traditional buildings gave way to Art Deco architecture.

We eventually took a break and had some Moroccan coffee with traditional ground almond sweets. The coffee, similar to the Turkish variety – aka Sludge Coffee – is bold, flavorful and quite addictive, especially with hot milk and sugar! As we scurried towards the port, I looked enviously at the locals (mostly men) leisurely sipping their drinks at the sidewalk cafes. Someday, I promised myself, we’ll have time to do nothing – but not today…

View of an alley in Old Medina

A peek into one of the alleys inside the old medina.

Remnants of Casablanca's 18th-century fortifications.

Remnants of Casablanca’s 18th-century fortifications.

A cat in the Casablanca citadel.

A lone feline patrols the citadel and stares intently out to the sea.

Picture of Rick's Cafe.

We stumbled upon Rick’s Café, named after the one in the movie, tipped off by a busload of tourists snapping pix across the street from the restaurant.

At 689 feet, the Mosque's minaret is the tallest in the world. At night, lasers shine a beam from its top towards Mecca.

At 689 feet, the Mosque’s minaret is the tallest in the world. At night, lasers shine a beam from its top towards Mecca.

Built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque lies over the Atlantic water and has dramatic views. The lavishly designed building has a heated floor and electric doors. There is also supposed to be a glass floor with views of the ocean below, but it’s reserved for ‘The Royals’ only.

Built on reclaimed land, almost half of the surface of the mosque lies over the Atlantic water and has dramatic views. The lavishly designed building has a heated floor and electric doors. There is also supposed to be a glass floor with views of the ocean below, but it’s reserved for ‘The Royals’ only. Guess we’ll never get to see THAT view…

The Mosque displays strong Moorish influence with horseshoe arches used throughout the building. Walls and columns of the interior are delicately carved in a variety of intricate patterns reminiscent of the Alhambra and Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain.

The Mosque displays strong Moorish influence with horseshoe arches used throughout the building. Walls and columns of the interior are delicately carved in a variety of intricate patterns reminiscent of the Alhambra and Great Mosque of Cordoba in Spain.

It was our lucky day - the automated sliding roof was retracted on our visit, exposing the sky above. It’s open only on special occasions (a small section is visible in picture).

It was our lucky day – the automated sliding roof was retracted on our visit, exposing the sky above. It’s open only on special occasions (a small undersection is visible in picture).

A patinated brass chandelier from prolonged exposure to the corrosive sea air.

A patinated brass chandelier from prolonged exposure to the corrosive sea air.

Protected by walls finished with tadelakt lime from Marrakech, a highly breathable plaster, this brass chandelier in the hammam under the Mosque looks good as new!

Protected by walls finished with tadelakt lime from Marrakech, a highly breathable plaster, this brass chandelier in the hammam under the Mosque looks good as new!

This Art Deco building could have been in South Beach!

This Art Deco building could have been in South Beach!

Port 5 – Agadir

Rebuilt after being leveled by a devastating earthquake in 1960, Agadir resembles a modern European beach resort with a conservative bend. I waited in anticipation, not because it’s charming or scenic, but because a lunch of camel tagine beckons…
I know you’d say “WHAT tagine?” since most tourists would be booking camel rides rather than looking for it on the menu. To me sampling local foods is the quintessential travel experience, therefore so long as it’s legal and not too gnarly tasting, I’m up for it. Also on the itinerary is Souk Elhed, a labyrinth of 3500 different stores with 10 gate entrances, for potential bargains in the afternoon. We were going to take it easy at Agadir since it was the last port before the transatlantic crossing, so we literally couldn’t afford to ‘miss the boat’!

The camel tagine is quite flavorful, tender but slightly chewy. Being a Muslim country, beverages were limited to coffee, mint tea and juice shakes. With coffee, tea, and an avocado shake, the entire tab was still under $14!

Despite being armed with Google maps of the restaurant location, we still wandered round till we came upon it by accident. We ordered goat and camel tagines. The camel tagine is actually quite flavorful, tender but slightly chewy. Both tagines’ presentations were similar, and being the same price, we joked if they ran out of one, they could probably substitute with the other! Being a Muslim country, beverages were limited to coffee, mint tea and juice shakes. With coffee, tea, and an avocado shake, the entire tab was still under $14!

One of the entrances to the walled compound of Souk Elhed. The market is divided into sections selling everything from clothing, leather ware, handicrafts, to fruits and vegetables.

One of the entrances to the walled compound of Souk Elhed. The market is divided into sections selling everything from clothing, leather ware, handicrafts, to fruits and vegetables.

A stall in the Souk. It’s amazing to see stalls carrying dozens of varieties of olives and dates, with locals buying them by the kilo! We bought 3 types each of dates and olives – in case there wasn’t enough food on the cruise ship...

A stall in the Souk. It’s amazing to see stalls carrying dozens of varieties of olives and dates, with locals buying them by the kilo! We bought 3 types each of dates and olives – in case there wasn’t enough food on the cruise ship…

I decided to get a pair of leather babouches, the pointed toe traditional Moroccan slippers. Though cheap, some slippers were of plastic, and the workmanship marginal. After bargaining at several shops, I finally got a pair of leather ones at $8 US – more than the $6 that I offered, but less than the $20+ some vendors wanted.

I decided to get a pair of leather babouches, the pointed toe traditional Moroccan slippers. Though cheap, some slippers were of plastic, and the workmanship marginal. After bargaining at several shops, I finally got a pair of leather ones at $8 US – more than the $6 that I offered, but less than the $20+ some vendors wanted, so I guess everyone went home happy.

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