Rounding up the usual suspects in Casablanca

Published: December 14, 2016
Email

Morocco – a country filled with diverse culture, memorable sights, sounds, and a remarkable cuisine. There are so many things that make this country stand out in my eyes. The divine bed and breakfast boutique hotels known as ‘riads’, the beautiful resorts, and the list goes on.

My trip lasted a total of ten days, and started in Casablanca, followed by Marrakech and Fes.

“Mystical” is the one word that describes my trip to Morocco the most. As I walked down the streets, I felt everything was alive around me. The atmosphere was thriving, and the energy was inexplicable. Women were dressed in a range of attire from a full gamut, to the traditional ‘jaleba’ to ‘caftans;’ to western outfits – with and without the hijab. Some women, especially in Casablanca, would don high-heels and skinny jeans, their hair and makeup was also flawless as ever.

The beaches in Casablanca were just as diverse as the city. Everyone was relaxed, I saw women in bikinis as well as burkinis. There were no awkward stares, no one was disrespectful – everyone was just having a good time. The contrast of attire and the nonchalance everyone gave off was mesmerising.

Having said that, the people in Morocco speak a fascinating mixture of Arabic (with Berber words interspersed) and French. English will likely be understood by some only in the larger cities. Therefore, I had to hire local tour guides throughout my trip. It seemed like the best way to immerse myself into the environment – the guides helped with the language barrier and gave us insight into the history and culture of the land.

I also visited churches, synagogues, and the famous and iconic Hassan II mosque with our tour guide. Visiting the Hassan II mosque was a subliminal experience as the visitors have a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean from the mosque. And I love the fact that it was open to both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors during non-prayer hours, also the tours of the mosque were offered in multiple languages.

The popular places for tourists to visit in Casablanca, include the ‘Habous’ (the traditional Moroccan market), the exterior of the royal palace, and the old ‘Mahkama du Pacha’ (the old court of Casablanca). My personal favourite was the ‘Habous’, the open air market which is famous for all sorts of staples. From one perspective, the Habous may seem loud and crowded, with different kinds of scents floating around – yet for me, it was ethereal. I wanted to immerse myself with the market – to possess, to taste, to capture it all through the lens of my camera, as well as my memory.

After Casablanca, we headed to Marrakech, which is known as “the land of God” by the locals. It is a tourist’s paradise. Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh has an old walled city (the “Medina’) packed with vendors.

The electric blue walls and lush plantation in the Jardin Majorelle was extraordinarily charming. It was created by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle.

It was also interesting to see the small communities in the Imlil Valley, which travellers visit on the outskirts of Marrakech. The small towns are popular for hiking and sightseeing in the Atlas Mountains. We saw numerous traditional Berber houses reflecting traditional Berber culture. Everything about my experience there was great, but one thing I’ll never forget is the warmth and hospitality of the people.

The next city we went to – Fes – represents the intellectual capital, and the heart of Morocco’s spirituality.

It’s a must to see the Borj Sud Palais Royal, and the historic University of Karaouine. The university was founded by a Muslim woman called Fatima Al Fihri. Her name is in the annals of history with the distinction of establishing world’s very first university.

During my trip, despite having various choices for food, I preferred Moroccan food because it was all halal and very pleasing for my palate. The ‘harriera’ (soup), ‘couscous’, ‘tajine’, ‘briouat’, and ‘kofta’ are all my favourite dishes.

For me, the entire experience in Morocco was the least to say, enchanting.

Shaziah Zuberi

Shaziah Zuberi

The author is a blogger about a variety of contemporary subjects and is based in Washington DC. She contributed to the book “Food Prints” and is currently working on her forthcoming book titled “A Taste of Pakistan in Fusion”. She tweets @ShaziahZ (twitter.com/ShaziahZ).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.