Greetings From Casablanca and Marrakesh Morocco!
I made it to the hotel easy enough, I was enjoying the sea breeze as I walked down the street from the train station. It was only a short, 2 or 3 hour train ride from Rabat to Casablanca. I got a hold of Hicham (the first Hicham, I’ll explain later) and we decided to meet up the next day while I spent the evening getting settled in and finding a nearby market to buy some water and fruit and food. The hotel I was staying at was really nice and had some good wifi now, so I had some work to do and as well. I wish I could say I actually got to the work and got caught up on blogging but that would be a lie. I was still feeling down about my friend not meeting me in Morocco and probably watched more Netflix than any actual work being done.
Casablanca, Finally Some Breeze!
The first thing I noticed about Casablanca was the sea breeze, as I stepped out of the train I felt it blowing through the station. There wasn’t much of a breeze, if any, in Rabat so it was quite welcome, cutting the humidity and cooling me off. I took my time walking down to the hotel, stopping to look at Google maps whenever a good breeze blew down the street. It felt good to be cooled off from the sticky Moroccan heat for once.
I didn’t get a chance to walk around the Casablanca Medina this time but I did walk by outside of it while walking around the city, well a few blocks radius from my hotel anyways. Casa is a big city so if I wanted to get around and see a lot of it I would either need to take the streetcar, which was only one line, or grab a city taxi. I wasn’t in the mood for either really and I missed the opportunity to take some photos when around some of the places I did see, or was just driving by and couldn’t take any. For that reason I don’t have a lot of pictures of Casa but I will tell you about some of the things I did see.
One place I passed everyday and didn’t get around to taking pictures of was Mohamed V Square. The square itself has a water fountain that lights up at night and also tends to have a lot of people setting up booths to vend whatever it is they’re selling, making for an active area. The area across the street was cool to see as well, it was an open square with different metal figures and other statues around it. The city was working on it and had fences up around it with equipment everywhere so taking pictures wasn’t much of an option, tried and they looked like crap and didn’t do the view any justice. There was also a cool market Hicham brought me to that was big area lined with all sorts of seafood where you can walk around and pick what you want and they’ll take you to a grill and have it cooked and served to you right away. They also have a huge selection of other things. It seemed pretty cool to see but I wasn’t in the mood for trying it out, and I’m not much of a seafood person, but I would recommend it to anyone who likes seafood and is looking for something different. Sorry I don’t have a name for the market or a link to it.
Training With Equipe Elite
When I was first planning out my stay, at at the start of planning the Odyssey as my last post explained, I was referred to Hicham by several people. Hicham runs a Jiu-Jitsu gym in Casablanca and is a black belt. He’s the go to guy setting up visits to Morocco and seems to know everyone and all the gyms and is very helpful. Once I got into Casablanca I contacted him and we planned out meeting up. The first meet up was at the Center Ville square, we met up and Hicham showed me around a little bit before grabbing some food. We strolled around the city, talked about training and meeting cool people and Hicham told all about Casablanca, the market and the tourism industry that Casa thrives on. I also had some of the best shawarma I’ve ever had.
Later that night we met up and Hicham took me to the gym to meet the rest of the club. The Jiu-Jitsu club, Equipe Elite, is inside a crossfit gym, Gym Factory. The Jiu-Jitsu club is the upstairs of the gym, in a big open mat space. It’s a nice clean, newer looking place that had all sorts of different classes going on. It’s a good place for the Jiu-Jitsu club. The students were all friendly, those who I talked to, some were shy as they didn’t speak much English and my French is horrible and I have no knowledge of Arabic. The classes were big too, at least 20 people, much bigger than a lot of gyms I had been visiting lately. Hicham started class with a good long warm up, and I couldn’t help but feel a step behind everyone, the heat was definitely getting to me, and I’m not as athletic as most of them, and whatever other excuses I can think of I’ll add in later. There were a lot of drills we did on our own, working the movements that the techniques he would be teaching us would involve. I have seen this kind of drilling a few times now and I really like it, even though I usually get destroyed and by the end, but I tend to get a higher understanding of the move and retain those details. We were doing double leg takedowns, or a chain of moves that started with one, and my legs were jello by the end after all those drills and then working techniques. But I really honed in the little details I need to work on to make my less than stellar shoot in work, and the pain of my legs the next day definitely set them to memory.
There was some rolling time after class and we also had an open mat another day. A lot of the guys were pretty athletic so I knew I had my work cut out for me when it came to rolling. I was right. The guys were all pumped to roll with a new guy and all brought their A game. Some were strong, some were fast, some were both, so I was mainly just trying to survive. Rolling with Hicham made me have to re-think my entire game plan, you know when you meet someone who just has a move that completely shuts your game down? I walked right into Hicham’s go-to move and was instantly armbarred, over and over again. He gave me some tips on how to look out for his move and how to change my actions to make it not so open to his trap, something I’ve had playing back to me constantly since. It was a good learning experience for sure. Definitely changed the way I see my game. The whole experience of rolling with people on a higher level of ambition was a great learning opportunity. All part of learning to work my game against different situations. Thank you Equipe Elite, it was a great time together!
I was originally going to stay with Hicham but got a hotel room since I was supposed to have a friend coming to visit (which never happened) but I was always in contact with him and Hicham was always helping me in any way he could. He showed me around the city, took me out to a few good places to eat, told me all about the culture and how to get around, at any point if I ever needed any help for anything all I had to do was text Hicham and he’d be there if he could. So in between Hicham showing me around and us training I met up with him and we did an interview. It was my last day in Casablanca and I was really burnt from being at the beach the day before and not feeling too well so I had to pass on our plans to meet up and go for food with the guys from the club, but we got through this interview and I think it’s great for telling us how the Jiu-Jitsu scene is in Morocco. Since I can’t load videos here check it out over on the Panda’s Odyssey YouTube Channel and watch it there. While there please show some love, like, comment, share or maybe even subscribe, thanks!
The Beach…And The Sun!
There are good panoramic photos I took that I couldn’t upload here, head over to my Flickr account to see them.
One day Hicham and I went to the beach to relax, this is where I got way too much sun and ended up with a severe sunburn. It wasn’t all bad though, the beach is a great place, it was full of people suntanning and playing sports and families building sand castles and playing in the waves, it was a fun place to relax and take in the view. There were some guys walking around with horses and ponies and I believe I even saw a camel that offered people to ride them, for a price of course. I enjoyed watching the waves come in, getting bigger as the afternoon got on, crashing into all the kids and adults playing in the shallow waters.
I got out into the water to cool and down a few times, the water was really refreshing but also very salty. I didn’t go out too far as the waves were a bit intimidating for me, having no real sea swimming experience. I would walk out and stand facing the waves and let them knock me back a little, and then later when the waves come in more I would turn and sit down and float and let the wave carry me in. It was a fun way to cool down, until a big wave came crashing down on me and knocked my sunglasses off. I saw them bobbing just a few feet away, then another wave crashed and suddenly they were a few meters away, then another wave and they were gone. I had just bought them in Lisbon, after the pair I had bought in Idaho while visiting Keith Owen during my west coast trip almost 2 years ago finally broke. That pair of sunglasses and I together had been all over Canada, the west coast of the USA, even to Tokyo, not to mention every stop in the Odyssey before they broke; and I bought them used so no telling how much of the USA they had seen before becoming mine. Losing those sunglasses sucked. This replacement pair I had just bought on the other hand, I wasn’t near as torn losing them, although I did curse at the waves a few times. I hope a kid found them and have been wearing them everyday since.
A bunch of the guys from the gym showed up to hang out with us too, this is where I met ‘the other’ Hicham. This Hicham I had also been talking to online through BJJ Globetrotters and he also helped me out with telling who to contact and setting me up with places to train at. He was also a student of black belt Hicham, having been training for some time now, and him and I had a great talk about goal setting and mindset while training. In fact I had some great conversation about Jiu-Jitsu philosophy with a few of the guys that day. After the beach we went to a cafe and I had some Moroccan tea, which I had fallen in love with, and the guys were all keen to ask me questions about training and visiting clubs and tips for traveling. As the conversations went on I started to feel the sun burn coming in.
You see, as I found out later on, the Sun in Morocco is much stronger than in Canada, but with the sea breeze coming in you don’t ever feel being baked. I had a base coat of sunscreen on and re-applied to my head and arms, but not to my body as I wanted to get a little colour. Well I got a lot of colour! The burn didn’t come in until after being in the shade at the cafe, then I started to feel the heat of a good burn coming from, well, all over except my head and arms, which were saved. Once I got back the hotel I started to feel sick, fever and diarrhea were starting to hit me as me body punished me for cooking it in the Moroccan Sun all afternoon. It was a horrible night to a awesome day.
Marrakesh, Too Hot!
The day after the beach, my birthday, I did the interview with Hicham and then went back to the hotel feeling like shit, the day after that I took the train to Marrakesh. The train ride was a easy one, I relaxed and slept some of the way. Getting ready for the train was quite the task. Packing wasn’t the issue, the problem was dealing with my sunburned body. The burn was so bad that I couldn’t shower, cold water felt like needles piercing my body and warm and hot water felt like flaming needles. In order to bathe I needed to draw a bath that was basically room temperature and slowly wash myself. After that I then needed to cover the burns in lotion. My chest and sides were stiff from the skin losing it’s elasticity, being dried out and burned. Across my chest I was starting to get blisters, even had one big one in my belly button that was very annoying. Wearing a t-shirt wasn’t possible for long times, it felt like sandpaper on my skin even with the lotion, it was just too painful to wear a top for more than a few hours. This whole thing was a long slow process and it hurt. As soon as I got into the hotel in Marrakesh I turned on the air conditioning (because Marrakesh was freaking hot!) and whipped off my shirt and just lay on my bed in my underwear. I could hover my hand over my chest and feel the heat coming off.
Now that I was in Marrakesh it was very hot, for me at least (+40C), and there was no breeze like in Casablanca. It was like being in an oven, a beautiful oven but still an oven. Because I was dealing with the severe sunburn, and the high heat and humidity, I didn’t get out to see much of Marrakesh but what I did see was great and what I saw online of the sights I missed were amazing. The center of the city, downtown if you will, is small, everything I could need was just a five minute walk away. Marrakesh in it’s entirety is much bigger with sprawling residential and industrial neighborhoods and some huge beautiful gardens through the city. I managed to see one garden while I was there but it was while I passed by, taking a taxi to the airport. It was early in the morning and still dark so I couldn’t take any pictures but it looked very well taken care of with lights along the walkways, vine covered lattice arches and stone benches for people to sit on and take in the view.
Training With Marrakesh Fight Club
During my planning of visiting Morocco I met Rafe online and he was my helpful contact for Marrakesh and the club he trains at, Marrakesh Fight Club, which has recently been re-named to the Gentle Art Academy Marrakesh. Rafe and I had been in contact for a long time, since the start of looking up Morocco as an option, I believe he was one of the guys who referred me to Hicham in Casablanca actually. I was looking forward to meeting him and training with the club. Unfortunately he had to work when I was in town so I would miss out on training with him and the amazing training sessions he has at his place. From pictures I’ve seen online Rafe has a very nice set up for outdoor classes, complete with mats and places to sit in the shade. Luckily we got to meet up for breakfast one morning, which also showed me where to go for breakfast for the remainder of my stay in Marrakesh. Rafe and I and his wife talked about living in Marrakesh and the sights and markets, and of course traveling and training.
Through Rafe I met Dex, the head coach at the gym. I had the schedule and address of the gym and let Dex know when I’d be by, just to watch at first because I was still healing. The Jiu-Jitsu club is inside a gym and it’s quite a small space, since the gym owner is a boxing champ and the gym focuses a lot on boxing there was a boxing ring that took up a lot of the space. For this reason Dex limits the people in his classes and runs more than one class a day to fit everyone in. He was really happy to see me when I finally made it out to visit and him and the rest of the class were super friendly. The first time out I just watched class, watching Dex teach some techniques and how the students interacted, I could tell they were a close club by how they got on with one another. In between teaching techniques and correcting the students Dex and I would talk, he had a bunch of questions for me, curious about my training and my travels. I also had questions for him and the techniques he was showing, being a taller guy who’s all long limbs he had a very different style from me so some of the movements were new to me.
The next time I came back I had my gi and was ready to train, I wasn’t quite ready to roll too much as the rashguard on my chest was really irritating the burn but I was there training. I remember telling Dex this exact same thing, that I couldn’t really roll because of the burn, but then he somehow got me into rolling with him for almost half an hour. And then we did some training and more rolling with other students. Funny how that works. The rest of the students for class were young and somewhat new, or newer than me, to BJJ and so I helped them out when their techniques and gave them tips for rolling, Dex was very appreciative of the help and actually loves people coming and visiting and showing off techniques and giving out tips. The students were also appreciative, although shy to talk to me, given the language barrier, and class was pretty fun training together. Both classes, the one I watch and the one I joined in, the students seem very enthusiastic to learn and train, which a great thing to have for a club. I’m looking forward to seeing this club grow and become a club of submission assassins.
Dex has a tradition with his club, everyone who visits his club has to show off one technique to the class. It can be anything and doesn’t have to be some crazy new technique they’ve never seen, just teach one technique. Everyone has their own way of doing things and I bet if you watched 100 people do an armbar you could find a small detail to pick up from each one of them. I decided to show off my guard break that I showed the guys in Rabat, but this time it was filmed and posted online (and has over 1k views!) Showing the technique was a lot of fun, Dex was genuinely interested in it, he asked to see it a few times over and had a bunch of questions about it and then drilled it asking me if it was correct. It was a cool feeling being able to share a little knowledge with people so appreciative. There’s the link to the guard break again. I talked about it and posted this link back when I talked about first teaching it in Rabat but here it is again in case you missed it or want to see it again. Panda’s Guard Break Video!
And after a few weeks of traveling and training, and burning, in Morocco it was time to head for Italy! My first stop was in the island of Sicily, Palermo to be exact, where I would be staying with a fellow Globetrotter. But first I had the craziest flying experience to date that ended with me losing my luggage…
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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