Monday, December 19, 2011

Up, up in the air. To Casablanca we fly.

Back at Terminal 1 in JFK, we decided to find where the check in counter was for Royal Air Maroc before heading down one flight to get our luggage. We found the counter and there was already a good long line of people waiting to get checked in. We decided that since we didn’t have an luggage to check in, that we would just go ahead and get our seating assignments and boarding passes. We made it to the counter quickly but surprisingly, the agent said she could not issue our boarding passes without seeing our carry on luggage. So, back to the luggage storage location we went and with luggage in hand, we headed back to the counter and got our boarding passes. Turns out, they have to weigh the carry on luggage. Mine was a teeny weeny overweight but the agent let me go anyway. Nice woman.


Next, it was on to the security check. A mile long but what choice do we have but to queue in with everyone else? It took a while to get to the front of the line but luckily, just a few minutes to pass through the checks.

On the other side, Soon and I decided we had enough time to grab a quick bite before boarding the plane. We found a restaurant/bar where Soon could sit to watch the Redskins battle it against the Giants and we could each get a sandwich and a coke to tie us over before the airline dinner that awaited us.

Fast forward and we’re on the plane. Filled to capacity. As usual, there were the folks who brought on board overstuffed bags who were trying to cram them into the overhead compartments and those who put all their bags in the overhead taking up space that could be used by someone else. There are some really inconsiderate folks out there and thanks to them, we were delayed taking off.

"A no frills plane ride " We were on board a 767 plane but it was definitely outdated. Not that I’m a spoiled traveler but even I have to admit that I have gotten used to having a TV screen in front of my own seat. None here. And for some reason, no individual seat air or light controls. We got assigned seats in the center row. I gave Soon the aisle and I sat in the center. There was plenty of leg room for me so I was fine. The plane took off with ease. I’m sure there was a highly experienced pilot doing his job in the cockpit. Dinner, yep awful airline food, came and went. By this time, I was tired…..it had already been a really long day. I pretty much catnapped the entire flight…..waking up periodically because my mouth was parched. I got out of my seat and headed to the serving area and gulped down a couple cups of water and brought two back to the seat with me, one was for Soon who was also thirsty.

It was a night of fitful capnapping for me. For whatever reason, it felt like there was pretty much zilch airflow – the plane cabin was hot and stuffy. I don’t sleep well when it’s hot. I usually have the opposite experience where it’s cold enough to want to pile on a sweater and a blanket – I happily snooze away. On this flight, I was down to my thin undershirt. I woke up fully just as breakfast was being wheeled down the aisle. Soon was awake and watching Sherlock Holmes, which was the movie being played on the screen. I was still full from dinner so I passed on breakfast.

"Woohoo!  We're finally in Morocco! " Not long after they retrieved the breakfast trays and we landed at Mohammed V airport in Casablanca. It was shortly after 6am when we touched down.

It was still pitch black outside. We followed everyone off the plane and in the immigration area, filled in our disembarkation forms before standing in line. As expected, we cleared and without any luggage to worry about, we headed towards the exit.

"Plane to train to hotel " Outside the arrival room, we found ourselves inside Terminal 2. We followed the signs to the train and according to the departure sign, the next train would be leaving for our destination, Casa Port, at 8am.

It was now just 7:20a so we had some time to kill. Before heading to the train departure area, we did our final trips to the bathroom. We went down to the lower level, approached the ticket counter and told the gentleman behind it that we wanted to purchase two tickets to Casa Port. 40 dirhams per ticket later for two seats in 2nd class and we were ready to go!

There was no seating inside plus after having spent 7 hours on a stuffy plane, we both wanted some fresh air so we headed out to the platform area. Cool, dry air greeted us and we both took it in with utter satisfaction! Neither of us likes the heat. By now, the sun had risen and it was bright outside.





We found a bench to put our stuff on but neither Soon nor I were in the mood to sit down. We wandered about the platform and soaked in the fact that we had finally arrived in Morocco!! Especially exciting for me as I had done all the planning for the trip and everything, so far, was falling into place according to plan!
 

 
 



Shortly before 8am, the train pulled up and we boarded one of the trains with the big number “2” printed on the side. We found ourselves a couple of seats and settled in for the hour long ride which included switching trains at a station named “Ain Sabaa”. I had found a train route on the web and so I knew exactly what the stops were.




Pretty much at 8 on the dot, the train pulled out and we chugged our way towards Casablanca. No exciting scenery to be eyed along the way. Though I was tired and under any other circumstance, would have slept, I was too excited to want to shut my eyes….even for just a few seconds. We whizzed by countryside and small towns . Like so many other developing countries I have been to, you can see that Morocco is still a poor place. It has its share of ramshackled and crumbling buildings and trash everywhere. The landscape is predominantly arid but every now and again, it’s punctuated with lush greenery.
 
We eventually pulled into the Ain Sabaa station and as we got off the train, Soon spotted the announcement sign for the train to Casa Port. The train was leaving from the other set of tracks so we followed the masses to make our way over there. We barely had to wait 5 minutes before the train pulled in. We boarded and once again, settled in. The next stop would be Casa Port and we arrived about 10 minutes later.

We followed the crowd to exit the station and as we stepped out, we saw the sign for the hotel. They weren’t kidding when they said they were right across the street from the station. As we walked towards the hotel, we were quickly introduced to the art of crossing the street in Morocco. Reminded me of street crossing in Cairo with Lei. You basically have to figure out the opportune moment to dart and weave your way across the lanes. Best thing to do is just follow the locals so that’s exactly what Soon and I did.

Up a short flight of steps and we were at the front door of the hotel. When I booked our rooms, I had requested early check-in and as expected, the hotel would not guarantee that that would be possible. I told Soon that even if they only had one room, that would be okay. At least we would have a place to stash our luggage and freshen up a bit. It was our lucky day though because they had two rooms available.

"First view of Casablanca" We went to our respective rooms and took a few minutes to settle in and get cleaned up before heading out again. I threw open the curtains and saw the port that is Casablanca’s life blood laid out in front of me. Construction was going on all about.

But there was no time to waste.  I did a quick round of freshening up before meeting up with Soon and heading out for the day.

Hello Morocco, good morning Casablanca!