Before leaving Germany I bought a map of Morocco, and today we made it to the south side, below the fold. We left Meknes about 9am. While Tonny fueled up, I snapped this picture of the taxis. Here's what you need to know about getting a taxi in Morocco.
There are two kinds of taxis, and they are different colors. There are small cars that are called Petit Taxi. They are like taxis in the US, you get in and they take you where ever you tell them, and you pay the fare on the meter. In this picture they are baby blue. The color varies from town to town but all the Petit Taxis are the same color in each town.
Then there are Grand Taxis. These are usually 1970's and 80's Mercedes 240D. The same color rules apply, but these are more like small buses. They go from taxi stand to taxi stand, usually to the next town over or to a big town nearby. Each one has six seats, the driver and five passengers, and the passenger seats are each sold separately. Yeah, six seats in what most of us would consider a four seater.
Say you are in Ifrane and you want to go to Fes, about 45 minutes away. You go to the Grand Taxi stand and find the head guy, who has a notebook. You tell him where you want to go, and he'll point you to the next taxi going there. But it doesn't leave until all five seats are sold. Maybe he already has 4 passengers and you're number five, but if not and you are in a hurry, you can buy the rest of the seats, so now the taxi is full and it goes. But say you want to go somewhere in Fes that's not walking distance to the Grand Taxi stand. Once you get to the next town, you would get a Petit Taxi from the Grand Taxi stand to your final destination. You can haggle with the driver of the Grand Taxi to take you where you want to go, but this is out of his normal route and it gets expensive (I'm told). Imagine if you were taking a Greyhound bus from Cincinnati to Cleveland, but you wanted the bus to drop you at your house, not the bus station. Imagine how that conversation might go. The Grand Taxi guys is going to say the same things the bus driver would say.
But enough of that, we're taking a bike, not a taxi. We go on our own schedule. But we don't go unnoticed. Riding a big bike (anything bigger than 125cc) in riding gear (not a t-shirt and sunglasses) will
get you noticed here. Which is OK most of the time, but takes some getting used to. In Europe, nobody looks at you twice in adventure riding gear. Not the same here. You're about as subtle as a Martian driving a spaceship down Main Street in small town USA. The good news is that almost all the people who react to you do so in a positive way. I've had about 1000 people give me a friendly wave, smile, thumbs up, that sort of thing. And two people who have yelled something at me while making an ugly face and pointing away. No idea what they said, I had earplugs in, was moving, engine running, and don't understand their language. But I knew it was negative both times. I can live with a 1000:2 ratio.
And then there were these guys.
Tonny and I stopped at a scenic overlook between Meknes and Azrou, and about as fast as I could take my helmet off, these five guys were right up by my side. One of them offered his hand and in French welcomed me to Morocco. I was thinking he would quickly try to sell me something, like a guided tour of the scenic overlook, but I was wrong. They wanted to have their picture taken with the bike. Well, OK, go ahead. If I saw a Martian in a space ship, I'd probably want a picture with him, too!
As I mentioned earlier, there are very few big bikes here in Morocco. Being something of a novelty, I guess I understand. These guys were really nice, and I told them where to find this ride report. They gave me a couple of their emails and I'll send them some pictures and a link.
Before we could get going, another guy came over to talk.
He lives in Belgium, about an hour and a half from me. We talked in a mix of English, German, Spanish, and French. Not that I'm capable in all of these, they just kind of came out. We were talking about the great weather today compared to Europe's spring, and I used the German word for snow (schnee) and the French word for rain (pluie), not really intentionally, they just came out. But that was fine, he understood both. My friend Eric in Ifrane says it's common there for people to mix Arabic, French, and Tamazight (the local Berber language) all in one sentence. This seemed strange to me only a few days ago, and now I was doing the same. Eric is taking classes in Arabic, French, and Tamazight all at the same time, which seems unbelievable given that they all use a separate alphabet. Here's a sign in Arabic, Tamazight, and French.
On the way out of Meknes we passed a scene I would have loved to photograph but could not. A motorcycle police man had two guys pulled over, and both were arguing and talking to him. As we sat at the red light, he reached out and handed a ticket to one of them. This guy turned and walked away in disgust, but the guy who did not get a ticket grabbed the policeman's helmet with both hands and started kissing the side of his helmet. This is not totally weird here as it would be in the US, as men often greet each other with a kiss or two, or even four if they are good friends. But it was funny to see in this way. Wonder if this happens to him a lot.
Between Meknes and Azrou we passed a huge vineyard. When I saw the grape vines I wondered if they were for table grapes or wine, but eventually we passed the brick gate for Chateau Roselane. OK, it's for wine. Interesting.
After Azrou we hit the N8 and followed it all day, going SW in the direction of Marrakesh. The first half of the day was fun riding, if a bit crowded with traffic. The N8 follows the Middle Atlas mountains, and they must hold rain and moisture close to the coast the same way mountains on the west coast in California do. Parts of this area remind me very much of California. And again, not what I thought Morocco would look like.
If there was a web site for adventure driver, I would nominate this guy.
Notice that the side door and all the windows are open. Brave men.
Somewhere around here Tonny and I got separated. He took a brief wrong turn at a roundabout, and in the time it took for him to go around again, I went by and passed a truck, so he couldn't see me. He thought I was behind, so eventually stopped to wait. I thought he was ahead, so kept going and tried to catch up. Carefully, of course. Along here I passed a guy I really wish I could have stopped to talk with. He had black skin, very unusual here, was riding a bicycle with a trailer (not unusual) but was wearing a riding helmet and lycra riding clothes. There was a sign or piece of paper on the back of the trailer, and when I went by he gave me a big grin and a wave. He was resting by the side of the road, in a hilly area. I really wonder what his story is. I'm not sure we could
have talked, but I'd love to know who he is a what he's doing. Riding a bicycle around Africa? Around the world? Wish I knew.
After Beni Mallal, the Middle Atlas mountains end and the countryside turns dusty and brown. And flat, which means the road it boring to ride. The last 150KM's were just dodging traffic and getting where we were going. It give you time to think, and wonder about a town that much of the traffic is donkeys, but has two stores selling granite and marble countertops. That seems like an odd contrast to me. Kind of like the guy I saw a few days ago riding a donkey, hauling two car tires, and looking at his smart phone. Wish I had a picture of that.
I also saw my first camels, and first mud brick buildings around here.
And quite a number of small towns, which in Morocco are nearly charmless. The country side is usually beautiful, especially in wildflower season, but the small towns are just horrible, totally devoid of anything pretty.
We finally got our first look at the High Atlas, so stopped for a few quick photos.
We decided to avoid Marrakesh and are staying at a nice hotel outside of town at the base of the mountains. If you're coming this way, I recommend the Hotel Le Coq Hardi. The rooms are 'rustic' in Tonny's assessment, but the courtyard, pool, and food are excellent.
And we aren't the only bikers to find it!
Tomorrow we head over the High Atlas and Tiz-n-Tichka pass to Ourzazate and Kasbah Ait Benhaddou.