Rabat: The Day That Wasn’t

After Asilah we decided to make a quick stop in Rabat. We gave ourselves only one full day to explore the city, partially because there didn’t seem to be a ton to see and do, and partially because we really wanted to spend as much time as possible in our next stop, the beach town of Essaouira. Because we had so little time, we put together a neat and tidy little agenda that would wear us out and, perhaps as importantly, keep us from spending any time in the room (or as Danielle calls it, “The Dungeon”) we had rented on Airbnb. But as the old adage goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men…” And so it went for us. Here’s the day that wasn’t:

We wake up at 8:00 and eat a nice breakfast courtesy of our Airbnb hosts before heading to the train station to buy our tickets for the next day to Essaouria. Afterward, we visit the Roman ruins at Chellah, have lunch at the Café de 7eme Art, have dinner at The American Club, see a movie, and then grab some dessert while we walk back to our room through the Medina tired but happy with our time in Rabat.

Here’s the story of the day that was. Nothing went terribly wrong, but nothing seemed to go terribly right, either. By the end of it, Danielle had taken off her pants in a public park, I had bumped my head on things (hard) twice, Danielle had grown a blister on a blister, we became criminals, and the list of things we didn’t do was longer than the list of things we did do.

It’s too hot for pants

Things started off alright – we managed to buy our train tickets for tomorrow without incident (though the price was much higher than expected), and we only got lost once while trying to get to the Roman ruins at Chellah, a site I’d been wanting to visit. While we were at Chellah, at about 11am, the temperature was in the low 80s but very sunny. We had walked there from The Dungeon (just short of 3 miles) and we were getting hot. I handle being hot with enviable grace and maturity. Danielle, on the other hand, handles it… well… she handles it like I do the cold: very poorly. After wandering the site for 20 minutes or so, I found Danielle in the far back corner of the place wearing a mischievous grin. She said, “I have an idea.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about – an idea for a good picture? An idea for where to go after Chellah? While pondering her meaning, I noticed she was casually tying both her scarf and her cardigan around her waist. I instantly recalled her repeated complaints on the walk over, “I wish I had known it would be so hot, I wouldn’t have worn jeans.” That’s right, she was turning her scarf and cardigan into a makeshift skirt so she could take off her pants. Two minutes later, it was over – the pants were in my backpack and Danielle was wearing a fashionable, though questionably constructed, “skirt”. This was the first “thing that wasn’t”: Danielle wasn’t wearing pants. And she carried on dressed like this for a good 6 hours.

Danielle seconds after changing into her "skirt"

Danielle seconds after changing into her “skirt”

It’s for good luck

After Chellah, my pantsless wife and I headed off to the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V to see the changing of the guard. This happens every other hour and we were curious to see what it was like since the guards ride horses. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes late, and didn’t feel like waiting around for two hours to catch the next installment of the show. We didn’t see the changing of the guard.

Relaxing in a shadow cast by one of the hundreds of pillars of a ruined mosque outside the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V

Relaxing in a shadow cast by one of the hundreds of pillars of a ruined mosque outside the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V

On the way out of the Mausoleum, a “henna woman” grabbed Danielle. This is a scam that, as far as I’m aware, is unique to Morocco. Basically, a woman grabs your arm and starts applying a henna tattoo without asking, saying “it’s free, it’s for good luck.” They are never free, and this one definitely didn’t bring us good luck. When we’ve encountered this scam before, we’ve either escaped henna-less or with a small tattoo that we flatly refused to pay for. But this time, the lady managed to get quite a large tattoo on her and wouldn’t let go, so we gave her 20 dihrams (about $2.50) to leave us in peace. After complaining that 20 dihrams would not suffice for this “free” tattoo and feigning refusal, she finally caved when I started to get angry and off we went. As soon as possible, Danielle scraped the henna off her arm (the tattoo was ugly). The tattoo wasn’t free. And since it was removed before it set, it wasn’t even a tattoo at all.

The American Club

There’s a restaurant here in Rabat called The American Club that has the peculiar requirement that in order to enter, each guest must have a US passport. We wanted to check it out for novelty’s sake, get a bite to eat, and hopefully meet some cool people who could give us suggestions on what else we should see/do during our last 13 days in Morocco. When we first left The Dungeon in the morning, we immediately realized we had left our passports in the room. We were only 100 yards from the room, but for some reason we decided we’d just come back for the passports later and head to The American Club in the afternoon or evening. This was a mistake.

After makeshift skirt Chellah, the un-changing of the guard, the “free” tattoo, and lunch (that actually worked out exactly as planned!), we went to a café to use the Internet so we could figure out where exactly The American Club was. An hour and a half later, we had learned only one thing: it was about 3 blocks from the US Embassy. We couldn’t find a website, a phone number, an email address, an address, nothing except a couple blog posts and the fact that five people had checked in there on Facebook. So we went back to The Dungeon to get our passports (this process took an hour) and then got in a cab and asked to go to the US Embassy.

Our driver dropped us off near an embassy, but we are pretty sure it wasn’t the US Embassy. We knew we were in the right neighborhood though, so good enough. After asking a security guard if he knew The American Club and getting an emphatic affirmative answer, we asked him for directions. He gave the kind of directions that really instill confidence, saying “right” while gesturing to the left, and so on. After clearing a few things up and getting the general idea, we set off for The Club. We got lost once, for about 20 minutes, but at 6:08pm we found it! Sadly, as we strode up to the place, a security guard came out and burst our bubble: The American Club closes at 6:00pm. If we had just gotten the passports in the morning, we would have gotten there at 5:08pm instead. Dinner wasn’t at The American Club.

If you’re reading this post because you want to find The American Club, it’s here. It is in an unmarked white building that looks just like a house, behind 7 foot white walls. You’ll know it’s the right place because there’s a security guard station out front and it has the only “No Parking” sign in the whole city that’s written in English. And it closes at 6:00pm (at least, it does on Tuesdays).

“If they can’t use Google, what do they use?!”

Fresh off our latest defeat, we decided to just grab a quick dinner and go see a movie. That would kill off the rest of the night and would be pretty fun – we like seeing at least one movie in each country we visit. We headed back to a park we knew well in the center of town and broke out the phone to Google for movie showtimes. Google turned up nothing, which was actually less frustrating than similar searches for showtimes in Casablanca (type “Casablanca movie showtimes” into Google and see what comes up). We had seen a couple small theaters earlier in the day so we wandered over to see what was playing, hoping for something in French or maybe, just maybe, in English. We found Spider Man playing in French but not until 9:30 which wouldn’t work – we didn’t want to be rude guests coming back to The Dungeon at midnight. The other theater was playing some drama movie in Arabic. We would have seen an Arabic comedy or something that would be easy to follow, but we thought a complicated plot in a foreign language with no subtitles wasn’t the best way to spend our money. We didn’t see a movie.

We returned to our park bench with a new plan: let’s get Sushi. We found a place on a Yelp-like website with good reviews that was right off the tram line and not too expensive. We worked out how to buy a tram ticket and with the assistance of a fellow passenger, who recognized the looks of confusion on our faces, found our way onto the right tram. Twenty minutes later we disembarked, and Google told us the restaurant was around the corner just two blocks away. Perfect. We took the right turn, verified we were on the right street, and walked to the end of the block where the restaurant should be on the left. There wasn’t a restaurant on the left. There was an abandoned house.

We stood on the street corner, our frustration still giving way to bemusement for the time being, and tried to hatch a plan. We Googled some more and walked around a few other corners but there wasn’t a sushi restaurant in sight. I started saying things like “ok well whatever, this restaurant here looks ok, let’s just eat.” Danielle’s reply of “NO. We are FINDING this restaurant, and we are EATING sushi” brought me back to the task at hand. After about 10 more minutes on the good ol’ internet, we found a screenshot of a map that purported to show the location of the sushi place. The screenshot, however, was super zoomed-in and we didn’t know where it was telling us to go, let alone where we were currently standing in relation. Thankfully, there was a mosque noted on the screenshot as well that was allegedly next to the sushi place. Hopeful, we fired up Google Maps and searched for the mosque which, it turns out, was only about 5 blocks away. Defying the day’s experiences, we put our faith in Google once more and started walking. Ten minutes later we had arrived at Yoka Sushi.

We found the sushi place!

We found the sushi place!

Danielle, thrilled to be eating sushi after a long day.

Danielle, thrilled to be eating sushi after a long day.

I fought the law

We ate slowly and enjoyed our meal. The sushi was pretty good and the miso soup was excellent. After a leisurely dinner, we started walking back to the tram. Before we got on the first tram, I verified what time the last tram ran: 10:38pm. We had plenty of time; it was 9:45 when we left the restaurant and 10:00 when we walked up to the tram station. As we got closer, the electronic board that tells you how long until the next train arrives came into focus. It said “Fin de service” which even I can read: end of service. There would be no more trams.

Incredulous, I checked the sign again that listed the last tram time and confirmed it – 10:38pm. We milled about for a minute or two, hoping the electronic sign would update, but it did not and there was nobody else waiting. Dejected, we walked to the street corner and tried to hail a cab. Cab after cab went by, already full of passengers. After about ten minutes, we decided to head back to the sushi place and try our luck at getting a cab there. But just as we turned around, Danielle says “Shit! There’s a tram!” Lo and behold, a tram was coming, it was going our way, and it was about to pull into the station. We broke into a full sprint from 100 yards out and reached the station just in time to slip onto the tram. We couldn’t believe our luck! Another thing that wasn’t: it wasn’t “fin de service”.

We had been told by our hosts at The Dungeon that we could either buy our tram tickets ahead of time, as we did for our trip out to the sushi place, or buy them on the tram itself as we now planned to do. The original plan was to buy tickets at the vending machine while waiting for the tram, but since it was “fin de service” we didn’t, and then we ended up running for and catching the miracle tram. So there we were, on the tram, ticketless, 12 dihrams in hand, ready to buy tickets from the uniformed man holding a ticket reading machine. When he came up to us and we handed him the money, he just shook his head and said something in French which I am pretty sure was “Silly foreigners, you can’t buy tickets once you’re already on here!”

After a little back-and-forth in our broken French, we learned that we were illegally present on the train, and that the fine would be 50 dihrams ($6.25) each. That was more than 8 times the amount the tickets would have cost us if the damn sign hadn’t said “fin de service” and we had bought them, as planned, at the vending machine. We took it like champs, getting our written citations, paying him the money, and being stared at by a tram full of Moroccans. A good time was had by all, and then we were shooed off the tram a few stops before our intended destination, so we got to enjoy a nice two mile walk back to The Dungeon.

Proudly showing off our citation for riding the tram without a ticket.

Proudly showing off our citation for riding the tram without a ticket.

Thanks for the memories, Rabat, it’s been real. We were definitely ready to put up our feet and relax in Essaouria!

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