Casa Blanca

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What was I thinking when we decided to just walk out the port and wave down a taxi? Having lived in Arab countries, I should have known what to expect. But somehow I did not anticipate what was about to come upon us. That goes to show that we always tend to forget the unpleasant things and only remember the nice ones. So, fresh off the ship, about twenty yards away, a familiar scene unfolded. A horde of taxi drivers crowded around us, their shouting voices trying to outdo each other as they offered all kinds of tours and prices. Appalled by it all, we tried to ignore them, forging ahead. But some remained unfazed, shouting and hollering at us hoping to win our business. Luckily, a red taxi stopped, a couple emerged and we hopped in after bargaining a reasonable fare with the polite driver. He introduced himself in fluent French as Mustapha and thus began our three hour tour of Casablanca in his petit taxi numero 1402.
Casablanca. The name of this North African port city of four million has always intrigued me. And not just because of the famous movie. We had no interest in seeing Rick’s Café but shortly after we pulled out of the port, driving down a busy boulevard, Mustapha pointed out the name written in black letters on top of shabby kind of house to our left. Driving past, we rolled along massive construction sites, futuristic artist renderings of fancy shopping malls, hotels and apartment complexes. We felt insignificant as we tilted back our heads admiring the minaret of the Hassan II Mosque reaching into the blue. A magnificent and astonishing monument, two thirds of this mosque which is one of the largest in the world and the second most important Islamic center after Mecca, was erected on dredged land. Still in awe of the mosque’s grandeur we drove on. Warm salty air streaming into the open window, we marveled at the stylish bars, upscale restaurants and fancy beach clubs as Mustapha explained to us that in this area, Ain Diab, only the wealthy and tourists hang out. From the coastal road we soon turned off into the posh residential quarters of Anfa, the splendid villas and sprawling mansions behind tall fences standing in stark contrast to the run down buildings we encountered leaving the port earlier. While Mercedes cars drove past on tree lined avenues, our driver pointed out palatial homes of government ministers and the elaborate compound and mosque built by the Saudi Arabian King. Navigating through the crowded, bustling streets and avenues of the largest and busiest port cities in Africa, Mustapha took us past the Catholic church of Notre Dame de Lourdes before we crossed the beautiful Mohammed V Square. From the backseat of our red taxi I took in this intriguing kaleidoscope of smells and sounds against a unique architectural blend of Spanish, French, and Arabic influences which gives this former French colony charm and mystique. A quick stroll through some of the intricate alleyways and handicraft shops of the Habous Bazaar brought our private tour to a crowning end.

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