Riding on the Marrakesh Express

Monday, May 05, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Around the World, Day 14:  Casablanca to Marrakesh, Morocco

To seal the coffin on our exotic dreams of Morocco, Ken woke early this morning with an active case of TD.  Though we exerted our best effort to be vigilant about what we ate and drank, some nasty little bacteria managed to slip through our shield of caution and wreak its havoc.  We suspect the not-quite-hot Moroccan tea served in the hotel bar last night, or maybe the strawberries from lunch at the local Sheraton hotel.  At any rate, we had to pack up and leave Casablanca for our journey to Marrakesh, where we will catch a flight to Milan tomorrow morning, hoping that Italy will bring us better luck, or at least improved health. 

To reach the train station we again called on Morocco's fascinating taxi system.  In Casablanca and other Moroccan cities, you can find two primary types of taxis, the petits taxi and the grands taxi.  Each city has its own designated taxicab colors, one color for petits and another for grands.  Both petits and grands tend to be ancient beaters with manual transmission engines, fueled by diesel.  Don't even think about air conditioning.

Petits taxis at Casablanca rail station
Petits taxis, painted red in Casablanca, are subcompacts, usually 1990s models with interiors that have seen many miles.  Since many are not equipped with a trunk, a simple open wooden box is mounted atop the vehicle to allow passengers to carry luggage.  The maximum number of passenger for a petits is three, and these cars travel only within a particular city.  If there is a vacant seat in the taxi, as there was in our cab in Marrakesh today, the driver might pick up another passenger who is traveling in about the same direction as the original fare.

Grands taxis in Casablanca
The petits' larger cousin is the grands taxi, usually a 1970s or '80s model Mercedes sedan, also with hundreds of thousands of miles under their hoods.  Grands are sometimes used for intercity travel and, according to local convention, can carry as many as six passengers--four in the back seat and two in the front.  Not enough seatbelts, you wonder?  No worry since seatbelts are either absent or nonfunctional in most Moroccan taxis.  Grands are also used for intracity travel and, unless one pays for the entire taxi, are assumed to be a shared vehicle, with the driver free to pick up additional fares along the way.

Both types of taxis are plentiful in Moroccan cities so the fares are pretty reasonable, especially if one does research and is assertive.  We took a grands taxi from our hotel to the train station in Casablanca this morning.  The hotel doorman told us the fare should be 100 dirhams.  When we were underway, we asked the driver about the fare.  "150 dirhams," he replied.  After we told him the hotel told us to expect 100, he readily agreed to that price.

Antoine
Once at the Casablanca Voyageurs rail station, we located our platform readily and waited about 20 minutes for our train to arrive.  Knowing we had 1st class tickets, we selected a 1st class car and boarded, ignorantly disregarding the assigned seats printed on our tickets.  Four changes of seats later, we finally reached our correct spot in the assigned compartment in a different car.  As it turned out, all these changes were in our favor.

In our correct compartment, we were seated with Antoine, a charming French national just beginning an internship in satellite communication.  His job will take him between Casablanca and Marrakesh over the next two months.  Also sharing our little six-seat cubicle was a friendly Moroccan couple.  She has relatives in Australia, she told us in English, and her husband said proudly that his wife speaks English, though she protested his assessment.  Despite the language barrier, thanks to Antoine, who speaks English, Spanish and German in addition to his native French, we all enjoyed a very interesting conversation over the next three hours as we rolled south through the dry countryside toward Marrakesh.

Tomorrow our time in Morocco will end, as we move on to Italy for the next week or so.