First Stop: Kasbah Des Oudaias
Kasbah, n. (Arabic: القصبة al-qaṣbah), a type of medina, Islamic city, or fortress (why, thank you Wikipedia)
When Mom came to Morocco for the second time to help me on the plane, I was determined to make her my travel partner. Willingly or unwillingly, I drove her all over Rabat to explore the city where I had lived briefly before being shipped back to the States. Our first stop was the kasbah.
Bare with me for this quick history lesson. The kasbah is the oldest part of the city and the site of the original ribat (a ribat is a fortified monastery). This ribat was established in the 10th Century, but it became a fully-fortified military stronghold (a kasbah) in the 12th Century when the Almohad dynasty of Muslim Berbers came to power. The Almohads used it to launch conquests to Spain, and having been successful in returning Spanish Andalusia to Muslim rule, the city became “Ribatu l-Fath” (fortress of victory). Later, it was shortened to Rabat.
Now, back to Mom and I in the 21st Century. It can be really intimidating to go somewhere new in a foreign country. I’m not a thrill seeker, so going to the Kasbah without a guide, for me, is akin to jumping out of an airplane. Parking alone was almost enough to thwart the adventure, but I took a deep breath and parked right in front of Bab Oudaia. Right. In. Front. I’ve been in Africa long enough to know that there are very few rules, but it still causes me heartburn to park somewhere that doesn’t seem right.
The second we entered the kasbah, a faux guide tried to steer us off the main drag. I’m sure he was lying in wait for a naive westerner to cross the threshold. All sorts of alarms bells probably went off when I walked in. I don’t like conflict. I like to follow directions. So when this guy implored us to turn down a side alley, I had the hardest time dismissing him. He was persistent too, but thankfully Mom had the travel-smarts to stay on course.
We headed straight back to the Platform du Semaphore for a good view of the ocean, the river (Bou Regreg), and Salé, Rabat’s sister city on the other side of the river.
Next we took a very circuitous route to the Andalusian Gardens. Signage is a bit sparse. It’s also a bit in Arabic. We headed downhill and that seemed promising. I stopped along the way and paid 5 Dirhams for fresh squeezed orange juice from a glass I hoped had been washed. It was the best orange juice I have ever tasted, so I decided not to care if the glass had been washed. Then after passing the same young (and slightly suspicious) man 4 times in the kasbah’s winding streets, we found the gardens.
Back at the car, a man materialized out of nowhere wanting money for watching the vehicle and helping us back out. I guess these unofficial (and probably untrustworthy) safety patrollers don’t know that I lived in DC and can back out of anywhere blindfolded. And they probably overestimate the value I put on my junky vehicle. But like I said, I don’t like conflict. Or breaking even unwritten rules. And ignoring this guy would have put me over my thrill limit for the day (I gave him the obligatory 2 Dirhams). So what is an up-tight, naive, and conformist homebody doing overseas? I have no idea, but I’m having a lot of fun.