Cruising Casablanca

It bodes ill for my bank balance that the first photograph I take in Morocco is of a necklace. Massive rough chunks of amber strung carelessly on a piece of wool. Ibrahim, the trader, was dozing in the sun, but instinct led him to quote A$75 for the necklace. We didn’t strike a deal, but we parted amicably. He knows I’ll be cruising past again.

It’s been a long and interesting day in Casablanca, the administrative heart of Morocco. I always heard it was so boring with little to see, but the street scenes are fascinating, especially now on the 18th day of Ramadan. The city is distinctly liberal with girls walking around in shirts without sleeves and knee high and nobody turning a hair. Even at night, and by themselves. That would never happen in Cairo. They would be wolf-whistled into deafness.

With a population of just four million, compared with Cairo’s 16-20 million (give or take four million), it just seems a little empty, but the Casablancans I met tonight are relishing the unusual silence, that comes thanks to Ramadan. They are surprised to learn that Cairo is the opposite: sure it’s quiet in the day, but the night-time goes into manic overdrive as the country goes on an eight-hour eating binge marked by sunset and sunrise.

Today I wandered through Casa’s old town, stacked with fabulous sandals, pirate sunglasses and leather goods, before taking a turn toward a towering minaret that was so high, its peak was constantly cloaked in clouds.

The Hassan II mosque, set on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, is astounding; as luxe as any palace, it took 13 years to build, finishing in 1993. The minaret is 210 meters, the tallest building in the country, and the third-largest mosque in the world, says my guidebook.

The mosque is set on high walls that drop into the ocean, the perfect place for small boys to dare each other to dive from. They prance along the sea wall, their friends below in the thick water egging them on, swimming and twisting like so many young brown seals till finally, the police clear them off, even pushing them off the wall into the ocean to get rid of them. But within minutes, the boys are back, like a flock of pigeons, disappearing over the wall when the police start to chase them.

It’s a game that will keep both occupied for hours.

You can see the mosque lit at night from Sky 28, an elevated bar in the Kenzai Tower Hotel. While the view is grand, the atmosphere is like any other dreary hotel bar, complete with cigarette smoke, bad aircon and a girl singing ‘Misty’

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