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Fear and Woeful Driving in Morocco

fear and woeful driving in morocco

I’d heard some horror tales about bad trips to Morocco. Midnight Express-like tales where small-time dope deals turn out horribly bad- undercover police stings. Resulting in imprisonment and extortionate demands from crooked cops to drop charges. And a bloke I knew was overpowered and sodomized by a carpet dealer in a Medina.

I picked up a Moroccan travel guide while living in Germany and the opening paragraph reads, ‘Morocco, einmal und genug, oder immer wieder.’
‘Morocco, one time and never again or you’ll just keep on returning.’

My friend Nadine sold me on going, her enthusiasm for the country was infectious [ she’d been before].

And Ryan Air’s 29 Euro one-way Frankfurt to Marrakesh online special offer sealed the deal.

A couple of days into the trip and that opening paragraph came to mind when we arrived at the bus station in Marrakech and missed the only connecting bus to our destination, a village in the Atlas Mountains. Our predicament was sized up by the local bus station loiterers who were quick to approach us and offer ‘travel solutions’.

The general consensus was that, NO we couldn’t wait for a later bus. But we could take a Grand Taxi instead. The bus station loiters introduced me to a sleazy-looking bloke called Mustafa- the owner of a Grand Taxi (a shabby and battered circa 1980 Mercedes 300D)
For roughly the price of a single bus ticket, he’d drive us there if we could fill his taxi with four other paying passengers. In amongst the other bewildered travellers, I found two young couples who’d also missed their bus connections.

Mustafa wanted to negotiate with me, the oldest male in the group (not with the young backpackers, even though two of them were French and he was speaking French with me).

I don’t speak French but I took on the role of negotiator using the 30-odd French words I’d remembered from a French course I’d taken over twenty years before. He appeared to be taking offence to my parsimonious negotiating tactics and haggling. And when I questioned his taxi’s roadworthiness, moreover questioning our comfort and personal safety. He looked at me as if I’d personally insulted him, dismissed my protests and roughly grabbed a few rucksacks and shoved them into the boot. It was his way of ‘reluctantly’ accepting the offered price!

Four of us managed to squeeze into the back seat and the young French couple shared the front with Mustafa.

Once we reached the mountains the condition of the roads worsened and his driving became erratic. We were becoming nervous as he manoeuvred corners at crazy speeds.

Click image for larger version Name: Fab-story2.jpg Views: 1 Size: 58.9 KB ID: 72892The guy on the right organized a camel trek in The Sahara Desert. The guy on the left was our guide. I wouldn’t recommend camel riding if you have dodgy hips. I walked most of the trek instead.

His driving style reminded me of a classic 1953 French film, ‘The Wages of Fear’ where daredevil truck drivers tear through dirt mountain roads loaded with nitro-glycerine explosives in jerry cans at breakneck speeds through treacherous roads. I gathered the film must have been an old favourite on late-night Moroccan TV and Mustafa had modelled himself on Yves Montand’s macho character in the film.

Our first unplanned stop was a roadside stall selling trinkets to tourists. Mustafa offered me a half-feeble excuse about having to return down the hill to the last village we’d passed to get some water for his overheating radiator. His explanation didn’t sink in. I was ‘lost’ in the breathtaking views and had a delayed and stunned reaction when I saw him drive off with all our luggage in the boot of his car. Nadine gave me this confused and desperate look and uttered, “ Marsani you let him drive off with all our things ?” I tried to placate everyone’s fears by reassuring them that we hadn’t paid him and that he really wanted our cash, not the contents of our luggage. To which she replied,
“ Marsani, I have all my money and passport in my rucksack.”

Twenty nervous minutes passed before the Grand Taxi returned. The driver got a laugh out of our distressed looks and unfounded concerns and reassured us with, “Nes pas problem, cest Ramadan”- don’t worry, it’s Ramadan, I wasn’t too sure what he exactly meant. Did he mean he would have driven off with our luggage if it hadn‘t been a sacred Muslim festival?

His reckless driving was downright scary, constantly overtaking vehicles on blind corners. Visibility had gotten worse due to heavy rain. And I was constantly telling him to slow down. He’d ignore me or turn around and laugh- he found it hilarious that we were scared[ he was getting off on it ]. Once he took his eyes off the road, turned around to face me beaming, “Misseur nes pas problem .”- don’t worry, I have four boys. This was his way of reassuring us that he wanted to return home safely to see his four sons. To which I replied, well there are three young women seated in this car, please give them the opportunity to have 4 garcons- sons of their own one day.

Click image for larger version Name: Fab-story1.jpg Views: 1 Size: 46.4 KB ID: 72893Once we reached our destination, Mustafa, on the right, tried to extra cash.

At one stage he pulled a dagger out from under the dashboard and made a motion under his throat suggesting that he was going to slit my throat for being such a troublesome and meddling passenger. When he got a puncture after trying to overtake a lorry on a particularly precarious stretch of the road, I felt relieved. By this stage, it was pissing down and we had to take out all our baggage from the boot so he could change tyres. We stood in a huddle trying to protect our luggage from getting soaked with a make-shift cover of waterproof jackets and plastic sheeting.

However, Mustafa didn’t have a jack in the boot. He then tried to flag down passing motorists for help.

Eventually, someone stopped to help him.

Weary and wet we were on our way again, but a few hours behind schedule. On several occasions, he tried to convince us to shorten our trip and change our destination on the pretence that the road up ahead would be flooded and far too dangerous to continue. He sang the praises of upcoming villages en route. I continued with my role as head negotiator and suggested that if he drove slower it would be safer and that we didn’t want to change our destination. He didn‘t like that response and begrudgingly continued to navigate-tackle stretches of road that had become quasi-creeks with the torrential rain. The Grand Taxi started to take in water and leak in some unlikely places and a pool of murky water developed under our feet. It was becoming farcical but I was careful not to piss him off too much, after all that dagger was still under his dashboard.

When we finally arrived at Ait Benadouh after five hours of hair-raising driving he pulled me aside and tried to renegotiate on the previously agreed price. He proposed, “You and friend pay the original price, but you get the others to pay more to cover my extra unforeseen costs, change of tyre etc.” When I told him No, he stormed off and started hassling them to pay extra.

I really wanted a beer after all that, but being Ramadan the country was dry, and the bars weren’t serving alcohol.

A few weeks after returning to Germany Nadine called me and said,
” Marsani, I have some holidays coming up around Christmas. Would you like to go back to Morocco ?”

My curt reply was, ” Another holiday without the prospect of either a drink or sex. I can’t wait !”

A complete guide to different types of luggage bags

Fabrizio Marsani

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