Casablanca, Day 17: The Long Hike East

Casablanca Travel Blog

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Ain Sebaa Pillars

Today I trudge through the gloomy industrial zone of Ain Sebaa to see what treasures I might find way out east.

 

Discovery 136 Casa Voyageurs Train Station

 

From Ouled Ziane I head east once again, this time right north of the train tracks towards Casablanca’s main train station.  Although I usually opt for the bus rather than the train as buses go to more places and have a more flexible departure schedule, I still have some fond memories of this station--  particularly as this is the first place you arrive when taking the train from the airport, welcoming you to Casablanca. 

The station is reasonably attractive, with its distinctive clock tower.  Right across the street are a couple of cheap eateries where you can get some rotisserie chicken or ground beef sandwich, a shady little plaza, and a high rise apartment building.

  To the right is a somewhat expensive Ibis hotel and to the right a cheap 50 dirham hotel.

 

            Music Spot 70: Train Station Plaza, Rating:*****

            Perfect little spot…

 

137 Highway to Ain Sebaa

 

From the train station I continue on east and soon find myself on the old Rabat highway, that cuts through a long, dreary industrial area.

Train Station Plaza
  There are a couple of interesting buildings along the way, and some old abandoned little French villas overgrown with bushes--  which I would find very attractive if I were a hobo needing a place to squat.

 

I finally reach an unusual residential neighbourhood with apartments with tall, two story pillars and gardens in front--  a style I haven’t seen anywhere else in Casablanca.  I’m guessing that this isolated neighbourhood was built especially for railroad workers and their families--  as there’s a railroad car sitting like a monument in the middle of an open square in the middle of the neighbourhood.


Then the landscape goes back to dreary industrial and warehouse until finally after about an hour of solitary walking, I reach central Ain Sebaa.

 

138 2M Television Studio

 

The area starts to cheer up a bit with big car dealerships and major businesses.

Old Rabat Highway
  One building that deserves discovery status is Morocco’s most popular TV station, 2M.  This is also where a aspiring singers and musicians go to participate in the “Studio 2M” American Idol style music contest. 

I came here some 14 years ago hoping to work out a cultural exchange program with a TV station in northwest Mexico… it didn’t work out, but I still feel proud of myself for trying.

 

Next to it is Addoha, Morocco’s main low income housing construction companies.  A few weeks ago this place was packed with people hoping to get in on a new budget apartment development out towards Tit Mellil.   Buying a house or apartment is a huge priority for Moroccans of all levels of society, even moreso recenty as the cost of renting has gone through the roof. 

 

139 The Ain Sebaa Lions

 

A little square down a side street catches my eye, so I decide to check it out.

  There I find a small but pleasant little market and a shady circle with two little lion statues in the center.  It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a “neighbourhood center” here in Ain Sebaa, and is a pleasant little surprise.  It looks like there is a little life here after all--  although clearly industry takes priority in this section of the city.

 

             Music Spot 71: The Ain Sebaa Lions, Rating: *****

            Shady, quiet… a few locals stopped by… nice experience.

 

140 Ain Sebaa New Neighborhood

 

From there I continue on east to see what else I can discover here in Ain Sebaa.

Ain Sebaa Square
  I find a row of very classy cafes over looking an large semi-maintained park area.  This seems to be the “heart” of Ain Sebaa--  rather unusual to have a huge open space in the middle of the neighbourhood, but then again, Ain Sebaa isn’t a usual neighbourhood.

Veering off to the west a little bit is a recent apartment development--  this is part of a huge construction project stretching almost all the way back to Hay Mohammedi.  This neighbourhood has a nice layout with wide but quiet streets and little clusters of green here and there.

 

Next to it is a huge “Marjane”, Morocco’s “Walmart” you might say… I’ve come across a couple of these on my tour and have been reluctant to go inside and give them any mention, mainly because of my concern of the long term effects they will have on Moroccan culture and economy.

 

I know it’s very inefficient to have to hike around a market buying 10 vegetables from 10 different vendors,  and Moroccans are entitled to streamlining their economic system just like anyone else.

  But there’s more to a market than just an exotic timeless experience.  See in a market, each of those vendors has a sense of pride and ownership and the hope that if he runs his business right, he might be able to grow and someday buy a house a live a better life.  That little shop supports a family and a future.

These big supermarkets, however, can pay less than a living wage, fire and lay off at a whim and can exploit young folks who will do settle for anything just to have a job. From the conversations I’ve had with friends working at these places, it’s not the kind of job that will allow you to marry, buy a house and start a family…

But then again, I could be wrong.

 

Anyways, I begrudgingly decide to go inside and explore this Marjane, and I must admit, I am quite  impressed by the options.  Here you can buy a computer, refrigerator, a scooter, a swimming pool, a shark, a freshly baked bread or any of 20 varieties of olives--  more options than any Walmart I can remember.  But it’s still completely generic. I could be anywhere in the USA, Brazil, China, France or Australia--  there’s nothing Moroccan about this place other than maybe the variety of olives.

  It’s majestic and depressing at the same time.

 

141 Lake Park

 

Back outside I can breathe freely again.  I’m back in Morocco.  I cross the main road which connects Ain Sebaa with Sidi Moumen, and into a huge, beautiful park.  It has pathways, flower gardens and even a lake in the middle--  and is very well maintained.  But little shade, and no people in it, except for the gardeners.   If only this park were in the middle of the city instead of way out here on the fringes where no one seems to appreciate it.

 

Music Spot 72: Ain Sebaa Lake Park, Rating: ****

Beautiful, calm, but little shade.

Ain Sebaa Zoo

 

142 Ain Sebaa Prefacture

 

I head back towards the “open space”, the center of Ain Sebaa.  In front of it are a couple of government buildings including the royal looking Prefacture of Ain Sebaa, with a super wide palm tree lined entrance.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think this were the entrance to the capitol of Australia or something like that.

 

At the street entrance there are two columns with bowls at the top that welcome you to Ain Sebaa.

 

Ain Sebaa seems to be very confused about its identity… Is it an abandoned French colonial neighbourhood? An ugly semi abandoned industrial zone?  A progressive new residential area?  A proud government center? A modern big business district?  A cozy little tucked away neighbourhood?  I’ve seen nothing but contradictions all day!

 

143 The Ain Sebaa Zoo

 

If you tell Casablanca folks that you visited the “Zoo”, expect to hear a chorus of sarcastic guffaws… Admittedly, it’s a bit embarrassing that a city of 5 million has a zoo that consists mainly of chickens, rabbits and sheep… but that’s all we’ve got, so we might as well appreciate it.

 

I can understand why this zoo has been slowly dying.  Folks here don’t usually like to spend money going out.  They’d much rather spend their money on buying homes, or on festivities like Ait Kebir, Ramadan and weddings--  but not on trips to the zoo or amusement park.  So the Ain Sebaa has been slowly dying, one animal at a time.

It does have a couple of lions that roar ferociously at the gazelle put in the cage right next to them, and a handful of monkeys (the smaller ones climb in and out of their cages at will!) 

 

So visiting the zoo can be a memorable experience if you’ve got a bit of imagination.

                         

144 Reaching Bernossi

 

I continue on a bit further.  I’m running out of time, but I want to make it at least as far as the entrance to Sidi Bernossi, my last big neighbourhood to conquer.  So after a stale stretch of empty lots and big businesses, I finally reach a my first really friendly neighbourhood of the day.

I stop for a raib (yoghurt) and take a stroll down main street, relishing the homey feel to the place.  An older man comes walking beside me and we strike up a conversation.  He’s from Figuig, a city way off near the border with Algeria and lives here in Bernossi.  He congratulates me on my project of exploring all of Casablanca on foot and fills me in a bit on Figuig, which I hope to visit next summer.

 

I see a plaza up ahead, but I think I need to call it a day.  I’m not going to rush through Bernossi… I want to really give this neighbourhood some time.

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Ain Sebaa Pillars
Ain Sebaa Pillars
Train Station Plaza
Train Station Plaza
Old Rabat Highway
Old Rabat Highway
Ain Sebaa Square
Ain Sebaa Square
Ain Sebaa Zoo
Ain Sebaa Zoo
Casablanca
photo by: nathanphil