I have to say, with a smidgen of disappointment, that our experience on the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh was quite different from that of Graham Nash. Indeed, there were no ”Ducks and pigs and chickens” on the train. Then again, the reference to folks blowing smoke rings, though likely supposed to be a reference to the experience once in Marrakesh, was somewhat appropriate as folks gathered in the vestibules at the end of the train cars for most of the four hour ride to smoke cigarettes.
The ride was smooth, quick and quite reasonably priced (140/90 dirhams in 1st/2nd class). About 4 hours after boarding at Gare Casa Voyageurs in Casablanca we were pulling into the incredibly beautiful new train station in the Guéliz neighborhood of Marrakesh.
I spent most of the ride staring out the windows or otherwise enjoying the view. At one point another passenger noted that the train was a bit stuffy so he wanted some fresh air. Easiest way to do that was to simply open up the doors while we were rolling. Sure, probably not the absolute safest thing to do, but getting a clear view out of the beauty as we rolled past was worth the risk. Plus, I survived just fine, so it must’ve been plenty safe, right??
Rolling through the countryside – a mix of lush green farm land and ochre red clay soils – made for some phenomenal vistas. Ditto for the little snippets of life that rolled by. Whether shepherds and their flocks, folks on a bike or the kids who threw a rock at the train and freaked me out when it hit the window I was leaning against, it was all wonderful to watch passing by.
A snack car passed through the train once during the run with some food for sale. Given our 1pm departure from Casablanca and the almost 4 hour ride I was definitely up for a snack. I probably should’ve packed my own. The food wasn’t bad in that it didn’t cause me any discomfort or otherwise make me ill. But that doesn’t mean it was good. The chicken sandwich was boiled chicken, pulled from the bone and a handful stuffed into a loaf of bread. I think there was some lettuce in it somewhere but it was about as flavorless as the chicken was. Definitely not something I’d hope to eat again but also not so bad that I regretted the decision.
And then there were the folks hanging out in the vestibule with their cigarettes. Definitely an entertaining crew. Most were younger men on holidays or going to visit family in Marrakesh. Some of the train crew joined them at one point, lighting up directly under the signs warning of rather significant fines for smoking on the trains. There were a some others as well, including a few young women who the boys enjoyed flirting with. Best I can figure from the mix of languages involved in the conversations (Arabic, French and English, all at the same time) is that one of the guys got a date with one of the women out of the deal, though I’m not 100% sure. Either way, it was quite the enjoyable side-bar to help pass the time as we rolled along.
Overall, I’d say that the Marrakesh Express experience, while definitely a bit different that the mid-60s version, is a wonderful one.
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