The room cost us less than a large jar of peanut butter to stay for the night. And as we huddled together on top of the sheets in that dank and drafty place, I dangerously wondered if we should have agreed to pay even that price.
That morning, as we spryly left Casablanca by train with Starbucks coffee in hand, I would not have believed that the day’s adventure would culminate to such an end result. I had spotted the beautiful green, circular logo as soon as we entered the station. As I sipped a grande Americano and dined on chocolate chip muffin, I felt a continent, rather than a country away from Senegal.
For the next hour, shanty towns, green hills, pastures, and orange orchards were framed by our window as I began scribbling on the white blank pages of our Moroccan travel journal.
Rabat’s sky was heavy with clouds when we stepped out of the train station and into the capitol city. But it did not detract from beautiful streets lined with palm trees, charming cafés and architecture reflecting an interesting blend of Western modernism and Arabo-Muslim past.
Because we had no WiFi and no data on our phones, we navigated throughout our stay in Morocco by antiquated paper maps. Before leaving Dakar, Gabriel had the insight to print a list that noted a few hostels in cities we thought we might visit. He included names and addresses on the list, and how far they were from city centres. Then, using paper maps (when available), we attempted to find them.
The Rabat hostel we wanted to get to was only .6 km from the city centre and there was no map available at the train station. But we knew it was near the ocean, and also near the medina. So we headed in that direction, thankful to have only one book bag apiece to carry.
We enjoyed our search for the hostel during the first hour, as we stretched our legs. But our bags became heavier with each step and we were soon ready to be rid of them. We decided to hail a taxi.
“Nous sommes allons á la hostel de surfing. L’adresse est ici.”
At this, I pointed to show the driver the address we were looking for. He took the paper from my hand with a puzzled look. A minute later, he handed the paper back to me, waved, and drove off. Frustrated, I looked at Gabriel.
“Maybe it was my French? Something went wrong…”
“Or maybe it’s because French is also his second language. You should have asked in Arabic.”
The same scene played out every few blocks as we tried no less than four times to hire a taxi to take us to the hostel. Concerned and hungry, we decided to plan our next move over lunch. We followed our noses through a winding residential neighborhood until we came to a kebab shop full of locals. A large hunk of succulent meat sat on the shop’s front verandah, rotating on an outdoor spit.
The menu was in French and Arabic, and we didn’t recognize any words. But we figured we couldn’t go too wrong with anything that came off of that spit. The dishes we pointed to arrived and didn’t disappoint.
After the meal, we asked some locals in the kebab shop for help in locating the hostel.
“À pied ou en voiture?”
I looked warily at Gabriel. “The man is asking 'by foot or by car'? That sounds like we’re still far away.”
“Although not too far away, otherwise by foot would not be possible.”
“Lucky us, since by taxi seems impossible.”
The men in the shop consulted one another for several minutes, before telling us by car was best. Knowing the outcome of that plan, we asked in which direction was the ocean? Confident in their directions, we decided to continue the search by reorienting ourselves with the coast.
For the remainder of the afternoon, we tried to be positive as we walked with our luggage strapped on, through the salty air of Rabat, fighting high winds and heavy mists with cameras tucked away more often than not and only our minds to snap photos. Despite our aching backs, we tried to appreciate the beauty of each place we passed, including Rabat’s lighthouse and Kasbah des Oudayas.
It was nearing evening when we entered the walled medina. It was the only place that made sense to go—if the taxis did not know the address, then the road must not be accessible by car. We window shopped as we navigated through the labyrinth of footpaths, taking in the sights of exotic spices, tea sets, clothing, home décor, butcher shops and more.
After some time, the medina path opened up to a large square and we realized we had reached its outer edge. Looking across the square, we saw the minaret of Assounna—the mosque located just down from the train station—and realized we had walked a 9 km circle through the city.
Gabriel laughed while I felt like crying. We were no closer to finding the elusive hostel. I was tired, hungry, and wanted to take my bag off my aching shoulders.
Instead of continuing on, we stopped at the first hotel we came to, down a narrow alley between two cafés. We looked at the room only long enough to drop off our bags and put on another jacket before heading out into the medina to find dinner. In the short period of time we spent paying for the room and getting settled, the medina had metamorphosed as some shops closed and street food carts appeared.
Many people were eating a type of sandwich made with chopped meat, scrambled in egg and stuffed into a bun. One cart had a particularly long line, so we we decided to try the dish there. It took nearly 10 minutes before it was our turn, but the wait was worth it as we caught a glimpse of authentic Moroccan culture—men smoking in street-side chairs, sipping Arabic coffee and mint tea while women sat separately in their burkas and hijabs, quietly caring for their children as the husbands conversed.
Unsure exactly what we were eating and concerned that the meat was quite red, the first bite into our sandwich was interesting, although not unsatisfactory.
“Gabe, is this… is it camel?”
“If it is, I can honestly say I enjoy eating it more than riding it.”
We completed our evening stroll in the medina by purchasing a few Arabic sweets—the same I had fallen in love with in Jordan—and mint tea. Mimicking the locals, we sat in a street-facing café and enjoyed our treat while curiously watching people in the medina.
Perhaps it was the refreshing evening and delicious food that gave us clarity when we returned to our hotel and saw it for what it was. Entering our room, we were greeted with the foreign smell of dampness—a scent we had almost forgotten in Dakar—that permeated the walls and bedsheets and breathing air. And because it was cold outside, leaving the window open to air out the room wasn’t a viable option. Instead, we huddled together on one of the single beds (the one that was the lesser crooked of the two), hoping to stay warm and free of bed bugs.
I considered taking a hot shower to ease my sore muscles and wash off the dirt from our walkabout. But when I turned the water on, I discovered we had no hot water and the drain was so clogged that within 30 seconds, water was spilling out of the shallow shower tray and into the room.
The bath towels were damp, as though they had been used earlier that day before being carefully refolded and put back on the rack. I accepted it for what it was, knowing it was not Four Seasons, and reminded myself I had packed a few microfiber face towels that could be used instead.
But on second thought, I mused as I stood staring at the black mildew that grew like a pernicious weed across the tiled bathroom, perhaps I would feel more clean skipping a shower.
“Maybe this is a place we’ll laugh about one day.”
“But maybe we should also be more prepared for tomorrow.”
We walked down to the foyer—the only place where we could pick up a WiFi signal—and started to plan out the next 24 hours…