Excerpted from the eventual book, Common Sense and Whiskey:
7:48 a.m., Saturday Nov. 20, Casablanca: I’d have never believed we’d have left on time. At 7:40 there wasn’t a train in sight along quai deux. At 7:45 we were underway from Casablanca Gare de Voyageurs, right on time, on the express to Marrakesh.
Gare de Voyageurs was dark but not foreboding at 7 a.m., friendly and do-able, with a short queue for billets and hot café available. Pictures of the new, young King Mohammad hadn’t yet replaced his father in the magasin.
At least at first, we were alone in our premiere classe compartment for six, the sun playing cat and mouse with clouds in a tropical-style rain, big drops but cool, a torrent that looked to occur only here just onshore. The low eastern sun made the clouds in the western sky foreboding blue.
Premiere classe cost 100 dirhams, ten bucks, for the three hour ride into Marrakech, and the Sheraton Casablanca wanted seven dollars per LaBatts. We drank two and a half round trips on the Marrakech Express in an hour last night.
Royal Air Maroc’s 747 had delivered us right on time, six hours forty minutes flying time from New York Kennedy to Casablanca Mohammed V International. A twenty dollar grande taxi would surely be the most expensive in Morocco but it was a long ride, more than 45 minutes, at first through the Oulad Salah Zone Industrielle and alternately, fallow brown land. Just after dawn, with the sun so low, the fair weather clouds were lit orange from below in a definite November chill.
Horse-drawn buggy drivers in distinctive Moroccan pointy-top hooded djelaba robes and pedestrians alike stamped their feet and blew into their hands. Scooters and funny French transports. Kids with backpacks surprised us on their way to school on Friday, the Muslim holy day (they go a half day).
People stood in ones or twos on the roadside, it seemed like at random, and since we saw no buses or bus stop signs, we couldn’t tell why. Most of the women wore head cover. Given that you see people standing absently at the roadside all across the developing world we didn’t take their loitering as indolence – it just looked that way.