So I mentioned that we had a couple of unexpected surprises in Rabat (I’m sorry for the long cliffhanger – internet access has been spotty here in Senegal). The first surprise was a good one. Though the streets of this massive, cosmopolitan city are as chaotic as any I’ve seen on the African continent, the medina in the old town, though not as picturesque as Fez or Chefchaouen, is relaxed and laidback. Perhaps it’s because most tourists avoid Rabat, but hassling from vendors was kept to a minimum.
The sea breeze brings a welcome reprieve from the hot summer sun, and the underrated sights included an old Kasbah with beautiful gardens overlooking the ocean and some impressive Roman ruins on the edge of town. Even the new part of the city, bustling with all the intensity of a European capital, made for a lovely stroll.
I haven’t talked much about the food in Morocco to this point in our travels. That’s because, while it’s been decent, a lot of the places we’ve been are so focused on tourists, so nothing yet has been outstanding. Our meals in Rabat changed that.
The first was a simple lunch at a workaday diner in the old town. We were the only non-Moroccans in Restaurant de la Liberation. Taking a cue from our fellow patrons, we had delicious couscous with vegetables for cheaper than any prices we’d paid in Morocco. The food was so good, we went back the next day for lunch.
Our second meal in Rabat was a dinner at a little nicer place called Le Petit Beur in the new part of the city. The ambience was great, with the wait staff breaking up their service with sessions on traditional instruments. I had great brochettes, and Anne-Claire had a magnificent lamb tajine (sort of a crock pot that’s used over an open fire) with apricots.
In my mind, these positives still outweigh the struggles we had with the Mauritanian embassy in Rabat. The procedure calls for dropping off your passport before noon, and then you come back and pick it up with the visa after 2 o’clock the next day. Oddly strict protocol, but at least you know what you need to do.
After waiting in line for about two hours the first day, the nasty attendant took our passports. We arrived a little before 2 the next day and stood in the already-formed line outside the embassy gates. At 3:15, the door still hadn’t been opened, and the people standing in line were getting restless. A few even banged on the big metal door, eliciting a shouting rebuke from the (same) nasty attendant inside.
Around 3:30, they finally began handing out passports, but ours weren’t among them. We waited until nearly everyone had gone to see if there was anything they could do, but they just told us we’d have to wait for a decision from Nouakchott (the capital of Mauritania). We met another American couple who had been trying for several days to get their visas. They were particularly stuck because they had their own vehicle, which they’d imported from the States.
The husband, Mitt, said he thought this was due to tensions between the US and Mauritania brought on by America’s imposition of democracy there. I’ve also since heard that the government wants to make it as difficult for Americans to get Mauritanian visas as it is for their citizens to get American visas.
Whatever the reason, we took our passports back and ended up flying from Casablanca to Dakar, thus missing our first African border crossing (and perhaps the most dangerous one) on this trip.