0578 Wetlands in Morocco (Mor 209—new)

Mechra Benabbou Travel Blog

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It’s still raining and common sense tells me that I should just call it a day and head back to Casablanca.  Hey, I fulfilled my quest of “discovering” a new Moroccan village…

 

But I can’t quite just quite yet.  So since there are no bush taxis heading south from Rahal, I hop on a bus, determined to get to Mechra ben Abbou, or perish in the undertaking…

 

After about 20 minutes or so, the bus stops in the absolute middle of no where.

“This is Mechra ben Abbou” the ticket guy tells me.

 

I get off the bus, feeling more than a bit foolish.

 

But at least the rain has stopped for now…. There’s a tiny hamlet visible on a hillside way off to the west and a paved road heading east… I decide to head east.

 

I feel like I’m approaching a ghost town.  There are sidewalks, and even palm trees planted along the road… but no houses… Finally I reach a school,  a corner store--  and a handful of houses… and a Gendarme station… and that’s it…

 

Mechra ben Abbou feels like a village that aspired to becoming a town, but somehow that never happened…

 

Then comes a very pleasant surprise… On the other side of town is what looks like a sizeable river (although it’s almost certainly just a long lake), an old metal truss bridge, and… what looks like… could it be? Wetlands? In Morocco?!

 

In between two barren hills is a lush strip of trees and grassy marshes--  something I’ve never seen before in Morocco.

  For a split second I feel like I’m in Virginia USA or someplace like that!

 

It feels like a very, very cool discovery… OK, maybe it just feels that way because my expectations for Mechra Ben Abbou were very, very low--  so to find ANYTHING unique or special here feels like I’ve discovered the Grand Canyon or something like that…

I take a clip with the bridge and river in the background, then cross to the other side to sit on a log and soak in the atmosphere.   Then I continue on and hike to the top of one of the hills to get a panoramic view of the whole area.  It is a beautiful view from the top… the barren hilltops a stark contrast with the winding, lush valley.


In the shade of a thick grove of trees are a couple of abandoned concrete park benches.  It seems like once upon of time this might have been a popular little picnic spot… although it seems like it’s an awful long ways to the nearest city…

 

Anyways, I’m very happy with my discovery of Mechra Ben Abbou--  especially after the rough start this day had…

 

I head on back to the highway and to catch a bus back up to Settat.

  Finally a bus passes by--  but it’s full, and with a couple of Gendarmes standing a few feet away, the bus driver doesn’t want to take any chances…

The friendly Gendarme police offer to help me out--  basically to tell someone to give me a ride to Settat… Reluctantly I accept.  I feel a bit uncomfortable with the realization that I’m being helped only because I’m a foreigner…. I strongly doubt they’d do a favour like this for one of the locals…


But my options are kind of limited, and time is running out…

 

They wave the next car that comes by.  The guy doesn’t seem all that happy with the arrangement, but he accepts.  I figure I’ll offer to pay him something...

 

We get to talking.  It turns out that he wasn’t happy because he’d recently had a fight with that very same Gendarme police… He’s actually a very successful young businessman who gets government contracts for installing water and sewage pipelines for entire towns…

 

Back in Settat

 

Back in Settat, I’m in no hurry to rush back to Casablanca.

  This is my first day of adventuring in 2 and a half months, so I want to soak it for all it’s worth.  So I trudge around in the rain up and down the market streets… I hike through the neighborhoods on the other side of the tracks all the way to the edge of town and back again, pausing for a bowl of harira soup, a freshly toasted mnsimen (flatbread) and a handful of zirria (sunflower seeds)…

 

Finally I figure I’ve been rained on enough and I duck into a nice café in the center of town, just to chill out for a while and soak in the significance of this day… this First Step in what I’m hoping will be a Very, Very Long Journey.

 

I take a moment to take in the surroundings.  There’s the typical “habibi pop” music playing… there are colourful designs on the ceiling and a rock fountain behind me… Here on first floor is the typical middle aged men crowd, postponing going home to their wives as long as they possibly can.  Upstairs is packed with high school girls, hanging out after class…

This is a fairly recent phenomenon here in Morocco.

  Just a few years ago, it was unthinkable for a woman to sit in a café… this was men’s territory… But times are changing… and I realize that I’ve been privileged to have lived here in Morocco long enough to witness firsthand some of these transformations…

 

I sip my coffee and scribble a few notes… Usually I wait a few weeks before writing about my travel experiences, to give them time to sink in, but today, I just can’t wait… This is, after all, a very significant day…

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Mechra Benabbou
photo by: nathanphil