Getting around West Africa is a pain. After my last assignment in Guinea, a colleague had to return to his home in Burkina Faso. Look up Conakry and Ouagadougou on a map – they are not far apart. But to fly from one to the other? The best route available was Conakry (Guinea) – Bamako (Mali) – Abidjan (Ivory Coast) – Lome (Togo) – Niamey (Niger) – Ouagadougou (Burkina). A week later I had to fly from Dakar to Yaoundé in Cameroon. My trip wasn’t as complicated, but I had to choose between an overnight flight to Nairobi, that is from the far west coast of the continent to the far east coast, and from there back to Yaoundé, or an early morning flight to Casablanca, an 11-hour wait and then a night flight arriving at Yaoundé at 04:30 in the morning. I chose the latter, it being slightly cheaper.
This had the advantage however that the 11-hour wait in Casablanca enabled me to leave the airport and get on the train to Rabat, the Moroccan capital. A two-hour train ride away, but well worth it.
Rabat is a wonderful city. I started my whirlwind tour at the oldest part, the Roman ruins at the site of Chellah, where there are also remains of an Islamic minaret and necropolis from many centuries later, all surrounded by a thick, turreted wall. Another attraction there is the collection of white stork nests in the trees and on the tops of the minaret and other ruins.
It is mating season right now, and there was a constant soundtrack of clacking bills of the mating stork couples. I saw them do this whilst in the act of mating, but also noticed that when a stork returned to its partner at the nest, both would throw their heads right back and make this clacking sound.
From Chellah I wandered through the immaculate administrative quarter of the city to Tour Hassan. This is the stump of a minaret – intended to have been the tallest in the world but never finished as Yacoub al-Mansour died in 1199 before completing it. The adjacent mosque was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake but the minaret stump remains, together with a forest of ruined columns and a beautiful marble mausoleum alongside it for Mohammed V.
From there through the old souk, rushing a bit as time was moving on but I had to stop to eat, some delicious fresh sardines with aubergine and tasty bread, followed by some juice and mint tea in a café beside the river, from where I could gaze at the fortifications of the old kasbah. I’d intended to visit the Andalusian gardens and the museum inside the royal palace, but in the end just had time for a quick ten minute walk around the streets of the kasbah, all painted blue and white and immaculately maintained, before rushing back to the train station for the two hour ride back to the airport.
You often hear stories of hassle in Morocco (although I must say I don’t remember much of that from a holiday there 15 years ago) but there was none at all in Rabat. Just smiles and a few officials saying “welcome to Morocco”. I have to hope that this rather inconvenient route is still the cheapest when I go back to Cameroon next year, as want to go back for another day in Rabat.