Friday, December 5, 2008

Travel Blogging IV: Casablanca

Dateline: Casablanca. The run here from Gibraltar isn’t a long one, basically overnight. One thing to know for sure, this isn’t the sleepy colonial outpost of the Bogart/Bergman movie. It is the third busiest port in Africa, after Durban and Alexandria.

We moored at a pier just across from the Royal Maroc Navy yard; as a nation with a long coastline they spend some money on navy. There was nothing in port as large as a modern destroyer, but there were coastal patrol vessels, and a couple of frigates or corvettes, including one quite modern one with a chopper pad on the aft deck and a hangar for the bird built into the ship’s superstructure. There were maybe 8 vessels in port, all in quite modern navy gray livery.

Casablanca is the home of the world’s third largest mosque, built to honor an earlier king. It is quite beautiful, modern, and sited in a picturesque seaside location. On the other hand, the fountains had no water in them and although it was Friday, the holy day, there was essentially nobody around. Adjacent to the mosque are buildings which are supposed eventually to become a “university of religion” or seminary. The buildings look complete but the seminary doesn’t yet exist. Go figure….

Women in Morocco are free to “go Western” or “go Moslem” in dress and maybe 70% do the latter. We seemed to notice that as women get older and fatter, they are more likely to cover up. A smaller number of men here “dress Eastern” and wear what amounts to a nightshirt as their outer garment. Casablanca has synagogues and churches as well as many mosques, the official policy is religious tolerance. The reality is probably not quite so harmonious.

Our guide claims that the nation has a truly democratic elected government, in addition to its hereditary monarch who is the head of state. He also makes the point that whereas the language is Arabic, the people are not Arabs but Berbers and the local dialect of spoken Arabic is incomprehensible to Saudis and Egyptians.

The point in visiting Casablanca is to be able to say you’ve visited Casablanca, there really isn’t much here to see. It is a relatively prosperous-looking third world city, with some squatter slums, some tenements, and some nice looking residences. The nation apparently cannot generate enough jobs for all the young people who need them, so many infiltrate Spain illegally looking for work. Sounds like Mexico, eh?

Our next stop is Dakar, Senegal – the western terminus of the Trans-African Highway that crosses the Sahel and ends in the Sudan. Dakar was also the northernmost port of the eighteenth century slave trade.