What you need to know
Kat’s Morocco – Fourth in a continuing series…Thu, March 26, 2009 - 9:05 PM
The airport train platform afforded a wonderful people watching experience. There were many foreign travelers contributing to the amazing mix of languages, a rainbow of colors and variety of clothing styles. One man approached and sat next to me. Turned out his family was from India. They had migrated to Canada where he worked in the construction business and he traveled regularly to Morocco to work on various developments going on in country. Amazing what you can learn in twenty minutes! He gave me some good tips about train travel to Fes, like spending the extra few Dirhams (MAD) to get a first class seat. I of course played like I knew what he was talking about when in fact, I had no idea what I was doing and was grateful for this conversation to help me on my journey to Fes. It was to be a four hour train trip and first class would provide a more comfortable cabin with space for my luggage and air conditioning.
We boarded the train to Casa and had soon arrived at the downtown station. My new friend showed me how to find the information I needed to purchase the train ticket and how to read the time table. This was his final stop so we said our farewells and I proceeded to wait the two hours for my train. Another interesting place, and this was even better than the Casa airport station! I was now in the city where there were far fewer tourists and most travelers were local residents. I saw young women fashionably dressed, many carrying beautiful leather handbags with decoration and adornments, the likes of which I had not seen before. Granted, I am not a Prada or Chanel girl, but the design was quite exotic and appeared to be of local styling. I had to add the leather handbag to my mental shopping list!
Most other people I saw wore the local clothing article of a jellaba. It is a full cover type robe with a hood, goes on over the head and has slits on the left and right seam to allow for easy access to pockets. Various fabrics are used and can be very plain, as I saw most men wearing, or decorated with simple to elaborate embroidery as I saw many of the women wearing. The purpose of the cover up is similar to the philosophy of the homes in the Medianas. The outward appearance tends to be plain and comparatively simple to avoid undue attention and suggest a level of anonymity. Underneath the robes or within the interior of the walls of the home is where you will see an indication of the person’s wealth. Under the robe, the men could be wearing simple cotton slacks or an Armani suit. The jellabas are worn through the day and may be removed at home or in the presence of close friends. It is the same with women. I saw many pairs of common sandals sticking out the bottom of the jellaba, but saw just as many pairs of very expensive and stylish looking Spanish made high heels supporting the woman wearing the robe.
As the train destined for Fes pulled into the station, people crowded on the platform to board. I approached the train, ticket in one hand and luggage in the other. Almost immediately, my nostrils were assaulted by something that smelled strongly of a sewer. My guess is that the train is not self contained, yuck! The compartment was in relatively good condition, clean and cool. It seats eight, four to a side, but there were only four of us so we actually had room for our legs. I was on board with locals. One of the men spoke some English and one woman spoke French. From the limited conversation we had, they knew I would be leaving at Fes and told me they would alert me when we got there. It was a wonderful feeling to know there were people willing and able to volunteer to help.
The train afforded a great tour of the countryside which is reminiscent of San Luis Obispo. We passed through the country’s capital city of Rabat and Meknes, with stops at the various stations along the way. There were many depressed areas, especially by Western standards and made me think of some of my trips to Tijuana, Mexico or areas around Cairo, Egypt, where homes are of inferior materials or dilapidated tin covered shacks. I saw men relaxing in the dirt next to the railroad tracks and women and kids working in some of the shanty households set up in ravines or sheltered areas along the route. I did not get the feeling of depression or poverty though that I usually get when I see these households. The inhabitants did not seem to carry on their shoulders the oppressive weight of weariness or struggle. I can’t say what it was, and what insight can really be gained from a fleeting glimpse anyway? There was just something in the way they carried themselves, in the way I saw them interacting with each other that was different than what I was accustomed to seeing in this environment. I was intrigued!
As the English speaking man in my compartment got off in Meknes, he reminded me of my stop and bid me farewell. The train was next approaching Fes and the woman indicated we were at our stop. I retrieved her bags and mine from the overhead, and was soon strolling along the platform median toward the cab stand. I had a view of a cab stand while in Casa and figured out how that process worked, so I was ready to try out my new found knowledge. I wrote down the name and address of the hotel I was going to, so there was no question about my destination. Again, luck was with me as I immediately found a cab driver that spoke English. His friend was at the cab stand too and asked if he could come along on the ride to practice his English. Why not, the more the merrier!
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