Arriving at a new city in a country you don’ t know is always exciting. The uncertainly is everywhere. There are many questions going on in your head…. where do I stay, how do I get there, how much will things cost, how far are the places, can I trust people.
Weather you are a new traveler or an experienced one. There is always that feeling of uncertainty. This is how I deal with the situation…
I am not a big research kind of traveler… I typically plan my trips as I go, but one thing I try hard just before arriving at a new city (on the plane or bus ride 😉 ) is to have an idea of where I want to stay at least for the fist night. Ports of entrance can many times be stressfull…. People welcoming you and trying to take you their way… taxi, taxi, this way, that way… Depending on the country and culture you have have to be firm or firmer on your decisions to do one thing or another. Typically when you make up your mind to go with someone everyone else chills and lets you go.
Doing a bit of research regarding where the airport/bus station/ferry is in relation to where you want to go is a must for me… I want to know where I am, so when I am heading to my destination I don’t feel like I am being bullied.
Today, I arrived in Casablanca. Landed in the morning and took the train from the airport to the city (about 30km away). I had done a bit of reading on the plain and knew I was going to stay in a particular area of town (possibly in one particular hotel). First day in a new country I rather stay in a good place (better place than I may usually stay at) so that I can get myself oriented and learn the lay of the land. I took a cab from the train station to the hotel. Of course at the train station I had to confront the party of taxi drivers who were waiting for customers to make business… barganing time! After a couple of minutes of interaction and using my rusty french I bargain my taxi fare to 5 Dirhams. ($.90) My driver, for some reason, got into a fight with another driver regarding other pasanger’s fares… it looked quite intense (yelling in arabic doesn’t sound very friendly), but I think it was kind of a normal thing.
Funny thing was that after we all left (seemingly in different directions) 8 minutes later we ended up meeting again with the other taxi driver at the same hotel (the other tourists and I were staying at the same place). The two drivers looked at each other again in a not very friendly way…. Welcome to Morocco.
I was dead after my trans Atlantic flight, so I took a nap for a couple of hours.
Woke up an decided to go for a walk and see what’s going on in town. I am staying relatively close to the Medina (old town surounded by walls), so I headed in that direction.
It’s always fun to walk in a new place. All of your senses get stimulated right away… visual, hearing, smell, streets in a new country always have a different sound… no sure why.
After a few minutes I reached one of the gates of the Medina… a big archway… typical arabic architecure.
It seems like there are not too many tourists in Casablanca (I didn’t see many) so I am sure that I wasn’t hard to identify.
I started walking in and of course I was immediately offered stuff for sale… I rejected nicely and kept on walking. Didn’t really have much of an agenda for this afternoon. Just wanted to feel the place out. Didn’t even brought my camera with me, just because I wanted to be relaxed and feel the place out before I start “working”. A young man approached me and started talking to me… the typical situation… Hi, where are you from… welcome… need help… I was friendly but didn’t really feel like having a guide yet, so I dismissed him politely. He smiled and walked back to the entrence of the Medina.
photo caption: A wall in the Medina
After a few minutes I see him again and he smiles and starts chatting again… I was thinking, ok here we go… welcome to Morocco… you will be harrased on every corner… The guy started speaking (in very good english) and telling me something about every place we were walking by. Of course he wanted to charm me and was joking around a bit, but it felt easy (as opposed to an annoying sales person). So we kept on walking… He kind of broke my scilence and I started asking him questions … about the place… about him and his family. Before I knew it I had a brand new guide in the Medina!
I usually don’t get sucked into having guides walk me around, but Gino (his nickname) was very friendly (in a not aggressive way) and had good stories. The things he was pointing out where things I really didn’t know… places, spices, soaps (which I ended up using later on), language (tought me some basic arabic).
I mentioned to him that I wanted to get a haircut, and he took me to this small shop in the middle of the Medina, where I spend about 1 hour. Got some tea and honey bread while I waited. The owner of the shop and his assistant were very nice and friendly as well…. got my haircut for $7 and I was off to a Hamam (Public bath…).
photo caption: My new look!
Gino really wanted me to soak on the Moroccan culture right away. We stopped at a shop where we bought soap and shampoo and rented a towel! Then we walked across the street to one of the Hamams inside the Medina. It was way too crowded… full of kids and families. Gino decided to turn around and take me to another place a few “blocks” away.
It is hard to trust strangers right away, but this guy was really trying to take care of me…
We got to the next Hamam and went in. This one was pretty empty which felt way more private. He arranged for me to go in and spoke to the “Scrubber” and gave him instructions to treat me well…. At this point I was just going with the flow…. The “Scrubber” was this BIG man, bald with a big belly, but with a tender face (It was kind of a cute Quasimoto). HIs name was Muhammad (surprise!). I took my close off, but them in a “locker” and went in with Muhammad.
This Hamam was divided into different rooms. It almost felt like I was taken back in time to a medieval dungeon where the heat and the water was flowing. There were only4 or 5 other people there so it felt very quiet. Muhammad didn’t speak english or french, so we had to go to basics and communicate with gestures… The floor was tiled so it was slippery (didn’t have flip flops) so Muhammand took me by my hand and walked me in until we reached a specific corner.
How do you tell someone to lay on their back, on your side, on the other, on your belly? Well, he managed to make me understand. He had to fetch a few buckets and filled them with hot water…. and really what he did was SCRUB me. Man, I felt like a baby being bathed by my mother again. He was rough, but gentil…. It felt really good and after 30-45min of this my body felt clean and light.
I got dressed and felt new again. Gave Muhammad a generous $5 tip ! (recommended by Gino) (The Hamam entrence fee was $1.25) and met Gino, who was waiting for me.
We went to return the rented towel and got a small bite to eat while Gino was giving me a list of key phases that I will need to use in the next 5 weeks… from “How much is that… no it is too expensive…. to Can I take a photograph of you?”
Gino escorted me out of the Medina and suggested I give him a tip for the experience that I had if I thought it was good… whatever I felt like he said….. Money is so relative and I only had $25 left so that was his tip for the day!