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Tales of Rabat, I - manjushra
Tales of Rabat, I
On Christmas Eve, the kids and I walked to the beach. Rabat is a modern city built around an ancient fortified city, and so we moseyed along streets paved with marble-like stuff, past expensive boutiques for clothing, jewellery and shoes, and cheap outlets for tech and chocolate and smoothies. We passed the parliament building without really realising it and a cinema where we could have watched Assassin’s Creed in French. Then we hustled over Death Road/Tramline and after consulting the map carefully, promptly set off in the wrong direction down one of the main streets of the medina. Here it is a different world, all the cobbles are old and broken, all the houses are small and slopy, and you are surrounded by little brown jagged-toothed men in long robes with pointy hoods attempting to sell you stuff. Yellow and blue slippers, leather belts and wallets, cheap-looking sunglasses, pastries swarming with flies, enormous sacks of spices, varnished keepsake boxes and chess sets, and millions of those shapeless long shirt-dresses in various colours and quantities of bejewellment.

Eventually we managed to escape the tourist trap buying only a couple of bottles of water and emerged out through the north-west gate, where we finally spotted the sea. Ah! The sea! I wish now I had spent more time there, and watched the crashing waves more. There seemed to be so much time in our hol to keep coming back to the sea on a daily basis, something I would never tire of. We settled on a nice bit of flat sand at the gentler part of the beach, fewer waves, more local boys playing football, the occasional robed and scarved Moroccan family having a go at baseball. In high summer every square inch of this beach is covered by human bodies and beach towels; on Christmas Eve 2016 it was blessedly calm and peaceful. We spent a couple of hours doing beachy stuff – reading, playing backgammon, taking a stroll along the breakwater, people-watching, taking stupid photos of each other, and increasingly wondering where the best place to take a pee was.

There came a time when we’d had enough of that. Following my expert guidance, we set off in completely the wrong direction for the quickest route to the local supermarket. The route I had cleverly chosen was not only at least a mile longer than the correct one, it was also packed with every other visitor to and inhabitant of Rabat who had chosen this time to peruse the shoes, chess boxes, spices, slippers, belts and rugs offered in possibly the narrowest street in the Medina. And also fish. We discovered that Moroccans don’t use British values when it comes to negotiating street space. Anyhow, within only 40 minutes or so we emerged unscathed, and again unencumbered with varnished wooden plaques ornate with Arabic calligraphy, into the biggest longest flea market on a pavement which would probably have been an appropriate size were it not for the millions of flea market sellers, the world and his wife, and the tramline right next to it.

I confess I’m not a good tourist, and I have passed this lack of skill onto my offspring. We should, I know, have enjoyed lazily browsing the wares, had a go at haggling (how much for this gourd? 50 shekels? you must be mad!), sat restfully at a street tea vendor and had some highly-sugared mint business and a pastry. This mode of behaviour looks hugely enjoyable from the outside, but it is, I’m afraid, entirely beyond me. Sitting on a lonely beach with a book, a croissant and an orange is my idea of proper travelling.


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