Rabat seems to be somewhat of a dirty word on the Oasis Trans Africa trip. It’s the capital city of Morocco, and if you’ve ever been to Canberra you’ll know that simply being a capital city does not make one fun to visit. It’s also the location of our first big visa run of the trip. It’s here that we organise visas for Mauritania, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.
Rabat has become synonymous with long waits, no showers, and the slightly left of centre African approach to visa processes. Last year’s Trans group were holed up in Rabat for 8 days, apparently lining up day after day outside the Mauritanian embassy until they got through. Naturally everyone wants to one-up the years that come before us, but in the case of Rabat everyone agreed that the sooner we finished our visa run the better.
Any initial optimism was dashed when we showed up at the Mauritanian embassy on our first morning, only to be told that it’s liberation day, a 3 day holiday, and to come back again the next day. A less than promising start.
Things got easier from then on and Lady Luck was clearly on our side. We managed to do the rest of our visa run in just four days. Aside from the nine hour wait outside them Ivory Coast waiting for them to individually process 26 visas, everything was pretty smooth sailing.
We spent our days between embassy visits wandering the medina, buying up big at both the Marjane and Carrefour supermarkets (I invested in some grandad slippers for cold weather luxury), and even going to the Hammam in order to save on baby wipe usage.
Hammams are a phenomenon that half of our group are now slightly addicted to. For fifty dirhams, you’ll get a Moroccan woman in her underwear throw buckets of water on you, exfoliate every inch (and I mean every inch) of you until you’re red raw, shampoo your hair, soap you up and then massage you down. It’s mostly humiliating, but there’s no cleaner feeling in the world than a post-Hammam scrubbing.
On our one full free day, I jumped on board a train to Casablanca to escape rainy Rabat. Casablanca lived up to its reputation for being a massive disappointment. But at least I can say I’ve had a cocktail at Rick’s Cafe, and at least I now know I never need to go back. There was some absolutely amazing street art spread throughout the city streets, but really, that’s about it.
Without a doubt though, the highlight of Rabat took place at one of our more luxurious bush camps: the Rabat Zoo car park. When our driver Steve initially pulled the truck up at the car park and told us to set up camp, we assumed he’d officially lost it. But Steve proudly claims that he stays at the zoo car park every time he’s in Rabat.
We settled into our zoo “bush camp” for two straight nights, and on the second one a group of us decided to unleash our inner 90s rave kids with some slightly enthusiastic renditions of Ebenezer Good. Beer was flowing, rave arms were in the air, and everyone was having a ball until ten to midnight when we saw the unmistakable flashing of police sirens pulling up outside the truck. Out piled two stern looking Moroccan cops. Those of us on board the truck rave stared sheepishly out the window, wondering if our singing could actually be so bad as to attract police attention. Our pint sized French speaking fire cracker, Kim, crawled out of her tent to save the day, and after a lot of arm waving, finger pointing, and confusing language breakdowns, we eventually discovered that we’d actually been approached by the world’s most considerate policeman. They didn’t want us to stop raving, they just wanted us to sleep near their police road checkpoint where they could keep an eye on us and make sure we were safe. So as the clock struck midnight, we sheepish ravers and the slightly more disgruntled group of overlanders who’d already been asleep were forced to pack up our tents, pile onto the truck, and follow our police escort to our new camp site. And can you guess where our allegedly safer abode was? 100 flipping meters down the road to the car park on the other side of the zoo! That’s Moroccan hospitality for you – always well intentioned, but more often than not a bit of a cluster fuck.
In hindsight, Rabat wasn’t the soul destroyer it could have been. But it was certainly a good feeling to pack our tents up on the last day and head towards the Todra Gorge where the promise of hot showers, flushing toilets, and not one visa application awaited us.