Hitchhiking in Morocco

Nobody wants to read a “how-to” on hitchhiking, because a hitching adventure should be a story you make for yourself. So if you want a proper guide, check out the HitchWiki article (to which I regularly contribute). This post is just notes for the curious.

 

Is it a good way to get around?  Yes and no. As in most countries, waits can be long. Another source of vexation is that drivers will often expect you to pay. Between locals payment is standard, but as often as not drivers will simply want the pleasure of your company. Others could use the money but are too proud to ask. In any case it’s always polite to offer a little payment.

If you’re genuinely skint, clear that with the driver before you get in the vehicle. As often as not, the reply I will be “Monsieur, c’nest pas comme ca! Entrez-vous!” But you should expect to fork out cash occasionally, and the upshot of this is that it isn’t always cost effective to hitch long distances. Taking a bus may end up cheaper than paying for many short lifts, although of course hitching is a lot more fun.

Another option is to talk to your way onboard a camion, (truck). These can be very slow but they cover long distances so you only have to pay once. For locals there is or used to be a semi – standard rate of 10 dirham no matter how long the ride. Since it’s often the camions which rescue you from the most hopelessly deserted mountain roads, I don’t mind paying the truck driver whatever I think a taxi would have cost.

I hear a lot about shared taxis. What’s the deal with those? Grand taxis’, as they are called, will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go, and they’re easier to find than a bus. But they’re also slightly more expensive. The plus side is that they’re definitely the fastest way to get around. The downside is they’re massively uncomfortable. To maximize profits, the five-seater taxi will always be crammed with six passengers plus driver. For this reason I’ll never take a taxi ride longer than an hour. Of course there’s always the option to buy two seats for yourself, though, and this has the bonus of allowing the taxi to depart sooner, instead of waiting for a 6th passenger.

One more thing about shared taxis, they’ll never try to rip you off. You only need to haggle if you’re taking a taxi by yourself.

Hitchhiking may be a bit of a fuss, but in a country where any kind of transport is a bit of a fuss, the Universal Perks of Hitchhiking carry extra weight. I’ve had many of my best ever hitching experiences in Morocco. It’s a great way to meet English speakers, a great way to get invited for tea in someone’s home, a great way to get lost and see places you’d never imagined visiting. And as every hitchhiker knows, nothing spells ‘Travel’ with a capital T like catching a ride in the back of a pickup truck. You feel like a king with the wind in your ears, the pure thrill of motion, and the landscape unfurling in panoramic splendor.

SAM_3510

My mother, en route to Marrakech

So yeah, give it a go.

 

An Anecdote

I’ve walked to the Marrakech airport before; it isn’t far. Sure, it’s 9:00 at night right now, but the city’s still very much awake. The fact of the matter is that I can tolerate just so much dishonesty and no more; and the greedy conduct of Marrakech taxi drivers tips the scales. But saying that, if my mother were to arrive at the Marrakech airport and I wasn’t there, she’d be eaten alive by the predator taxi drivers within minutes. So if I’m gonna walk I’ll have to hurry.

45 minutes later I am lost and beginning to panic. Beyond the urban center of Marrakech there’s an appalling sprawl of suburban nothingness and I swear to god it doesn’t end. Between the yellow-lit leafy boulevards are vast, shadowy blocks populated by orange groves and homeless camps. Rush hour traffic is in full swing. With a gory crunch the rear tire of a motorcycle is run over by a Peugeot. A crate on the bike splits open and a whole load of tangerines rolls across the busy roundabout as the drivers start arguing. I grab a rubbernecker by the scruff and demand to know where the airport is. “Aeroport! Damnit, that is the French word! Tu ne parle pas Francais?” As my victim splutters uncomprehendingly, a jet screeches overhead, pulling up its landing gear, clearly having taken off at least a couple miles away. I drop the rubbernecker and begin to sprint back the way I’ve come. My mind is filled with images of my dear mother neck-deep in the amazon, surrounded by piranhas who shout at her in Franglais as they devour her piece by piece. Now I really am panicking.

In desperation I hail a taxi. I have basically no money — two dirham, about 22 cents. Once we’ve rejoined traffic I show the solitary coin to the taxi driver and begin my sob story. He’s already got a passenger and isn’t going in the direction of the airport, but he can drop me off at the right intersection. He refuses the coin. “Sorry I can’t take you closer,” he says as I climb out of the cab, “And tell your mother welcome to Morocco.”

He’d told me to walk through two roundabouts and turn left at the third. But my watch shows that my mum’s plane should be unloading within the next five minutes. Is it possible to hitch the rest of the way? Jesus, I can’t afford to stand still; but might as well thumb while I jog. Within seconds a vehicle stops, a kid on a motorbike with a trailer full of rolled up carpets attached. We share no mutual languages. How badly can I be mispronouncing ‘aeroport‘? I gesture straight ahead and then to the left. He nods. This’ll get me closer one way or another, I guess. I hop onto the pile of carpets and we tear off into the night.

“English?” He shouts at me, by way of chit-chat. “American!” I shout back.

“American! New York? Texas?”

“Boston!” I respond. This isn’t the time or place to explain where Maine is. My heart leaps as he turns left at the correct roundabout. Two minutes later he pulls the bike over to the curb, right outside the airport. “Thank you, mon ami!” I say, giving him a pat on the back as I jump down. He holds out his hand which gives me a jolt because for a second I think that he’s asking for money. But of course all he wants is a handshake. I’ve never been happier to shake a hand in my life, and with that it’s understood that he and I are friends for life. “Bon voyage!” He wishes me a good flight, before melting back into the hectic traffic.

“Taxi? Hotel?” The piranhas begin to swarm around me as I cross the parking lot; through the airport’s glass façade I can see my mother just coming out of the gate. “Right on time!” We say to each other.

She asks me if we’ll be able to find a taxi at this hour; I tell her anything is possible in Morocco.

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