“Salam, Bonjour, Hello!” Morocco’s mixed colonial past and tight relationship with the US makes for a very interesting travel dynamic and has caused me to engage in this hierarchy of greetings. Arabic for respect, French as a backup, and chippy English hello to let them know we are American. We all love each other, right?!
After leaving Meknès by train, we settled into a great apartment in the center of Rabat, conveniently just 5 minute from the Rabat Ville train station.
After Fès, Meknès, and Moulay Idriss, Rabat felt a little like returning to Europe, with a more diverse, prosperous, and international feel. Of course as the capital of Morocco, it has the many trappings of a capital city..embassies, agencies, and fancier restaurants. It also has a vibrant Medina and visible middle class.
Rabat is a good walking city, with fresh Atlantic air and wide sidewalks with one notable addition….more cars. They rule the streets a bit more and have a disturbing habit of parking them willy-nilly across any available space.
But for the most part, it is pretty well managed, and traffic across Morocco is pretty light. It feels that they have built a lot of infrastructure in preparation for a future that they have not grown into yet.
Everyone with some means or touching the tourism sector is talking about the shutdown of air travel here through the 13th of December. Optimistically, we have a flight booked to London via Madrid for the 14th. We continue to monitor the situation, but don’t expect confirmation that flights will actually resume until later this week at the earliest when maybe more is known globally about Omicron.
The Moroccan government has taken COVID very seriously and had good success at stemming the cases and deaths over the past 21 months; however, this means there is a strong chance that the travel ban is extended. When that happens, we will then be stuck in Morocco, but not trapped, as this is an amazing country with lots to discover and enjoy, with almost no tourists. Strange times indeed.
The embassy has sent one notice via the STEP (safe traveler program) system which we signed up for prior to coming to Morocco. It just had a list of some outgoing flights that were scheduled until the 6th. Most are filled, cancelled, or outrageously expensive, so we are sticking to our hope that we will have more options in a week or two… slight anxiety, but manageable.
So we continue to explore historic sites, museums, and eat as much as we can to make up for the lack of other tourists. While many Moroccan museums can still use some better curation (and funding no doubt) there are some gems. The King Mohammed VI museum of contemporary art in Rabat is one of these, with 2 great exhibitions, and permanent Moroccan and African modern art galleries.
The range, depth, and voices portrayed in art from the continent was particularly fascinating to us, as it’s not something you see covered much in Euro-Anglo museums. The building is also beautiful. A bargain at $2 and arguably a better experience than the Louvre crowd madness.
We also made the better part of a sunny Wednesday heading out to the National Zoo. It’s a great zoo with surprising infrastructure and vast open area for many of the African animals, both those endemic to Morocco and the more transitional central and South African Savannah creatures.
A word of caution, we took a small blue taxi out there as it’s 5km from central Rabat, but it was not easy finding a taxi (or bus) back! We walked about 1.5 miles along a busy road (sidewalks yes, taxis no) and finally were able to flag one at the edge of an 8-lane arteial. Just in time, as our marital travel bliss was fraying with this challenge.
We liked Rabat and our apartment a lot, so extended to 4 nights and actually felt a little sad leaving for our onward adventures. But we decided to head to the coastal “surf/beach” city of Essaouria by 4 hour trian to Marrakech, and Supratours bus for 3- hour final leg.
You buy Supratours bus with the trains ticket and they are run by same National rail service, ONCF, similar to Amtrak thruway buses in the US. The train ride was really nice at 60-100 mph and allowed our first glimpse of the more arid south and the dramatic High Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech. Lots of snow across the whole range!
We have now arrived in Essaouira and checked into our first apartment, which is nicely equipped and comfortable but no sun or views, so we will be moving tomorrow to a place on the edge of the Medina with ocean views. The uncertainty of our times has pushed us to seek some comfort and perks due to the lack of tourists.
Stay tuned for updates and let’s hope Omicron doesn’t cause much more misery in the world. Collective fingers crossed.