We were advised to take a Petit Taxi to the Mosque Hassan II (the now deceased father of the current king), so Eve, Dan, and I caught a Grand Taxi (and at 40 dirahms or US $4 were overcharged) and were there at 8:30 am, ready for the 9 am tour. The mosque is absolutely enormous, with a total capacity of 25,000 men and 15,000 women. Empty it looks even larger. The workmanship was, of course, of the first quality, but otherwise it was kind of plain, without Coranic writings or great decorations. Noteworthy is the system of running water they use for cooling it.
Somehow I got separated from Eve and Dan, but shared a Petit Taxi with Nancy and Sally, and got back to the hotel for only 10 dirhams or US$ 1). Forget the big taxis!
At 10:30 am we got on a little bus that took us to the supermodern train station, where we boarded the 1-hour train to
Rabat, which is currently the capital city of Morocco. There
we had lunch, stored our luggage with the friendly shop keeper, and went for a
walk in the old market and the original fortress, the latter of which now
encloses a pretty garden. They had an exhibition on the prehistory of the area
that I found fascinating. Not that I should be surprised, but Homo erectus lived here 500,000 years
ago, as demonstrated by the finding of Acheluian stone kits, followed by Homo sapiens neandertalensis and its
Mousterian stone kit, and finally by Homo
sapiens sapiens and its Neolithic stone kits. Come to think about it, the
rivers that drain the north coastal plain of Morocco would have been a perfect
place for human habitation.
Back at the train station in
we drew lots and got in First Class, AC cabins for the 3-hour ride to Meknes. Well, it was the
sauna ride, because the AC was not working, and the closed cabins turned
themselves into Turkish baths. I was riding with Jennifer and Annette, and we
three were totally drenched by the time we got to Meknes and our supermodern hotel, where the
AC works to perfection!
Reflecting on my fellow travelers, there is a clear trend of independent travelers who are for the first time trying this group thing (just like me!). This means that it is hard keeping the group together. Everyone here has several countries under their belts, so the initial conversations were directed at probing how extensive the other one has traveled. We have an excess of women (10) versus guys (6), and quite a few are teachers taking advantage of the long summer vacation, just like me!
At dinner I had my first tajine of lamb with prunes. Hmmm … delicious!