Sunday, April 12, 2009

Traveling in Morocco

Traveling here can be easy, frustrating, cheap, expensive…pretty much everything. There is currently a transportation strike going on (really no transport other than trains and hitch hiking anywhere) so it seemed like a good time to write about the issue.

Local vans. This is my primary means of transportation around my site. These are big vans that seat maybe 12-15 people comfortably. However, they are more often filled to the brim. I’ve seen 30 people in a transit like this, with 10 more riding along on top. My transit is generally reliable. I find the driver the day before and ask him what time he will be leaving the next day. He’s normally within fifteen minutes of his estimate. Sometimes, however, he is wrong by an hour or two. This is particularly frustrating when I wake up at 5 am and it’s the dead of winter. These transits are fairly inexpensive: my transit costs 10 Dhs ($1.20) for an hour ride.

Grand Taxis. Grand taxis are big, old Mercedes that typically fit 6 people plus the driver (four in the back seat, two in the front passenger). This 6 people rule is more of guideline, however, as more can be squeezed in depending upon demand and the driver’s willingness. Taxis run between big towns/small cities. They compete with buses, which normally run between the same cities (although buses go much further distances than taxis). Taxis are faster than buses, but more expensive. A taxi from Boumia to Azrou (about 1.5 –2 hours) costs 40 Dhs ($5).

Buses. These are pretty similar to buses in the states, except a little older and a little dirtier. They run long trips all over the country. They’re kind of slow sometimes because they will pick up anyone standing by the side of the road with their thumb out and drop people off wherever they want. But their cheap and you can get anywhere in the country with them.

Trains. Trains only run between the biggest cities in Morocco (Meknes, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca, Oujda, Marrakech). They are the most comfortable form of transportation. They are also by far the most expensive. I recently took a train from Fes to Rabat (my first train!), which is about a 3 hour ride. It cost me 76 Dhs. A bus for the same route would probably be around 45-50 Dhs. But the train is nice because you meet more interesting people and it’s comfortable.

Hitch hiking. I hadn’t done too much of this before the current transportation strike. Normally it is no big deal as pretty much everyone hitch hikes. Most of the time when you get picked up it’s by a taxi driver, bus, or local van. Taxi drivers will even leave seats open for hitch hikers. You often pay a small amount; about what you’d pay a taxi driver for the same route. However, during the transportation strike, it was a different story altogether. No one was picking up and many people were trying to get rides. A quick summary of my hitch hiking adventure.

Thursday I left a fellow volunteer’s site, hoping to get to my site that evening. I got to the nearest big town (Gigo) to catch the 9:30 bus. The ticket guy said: “There’s nothing, try tomorrow.” I asked around and people told me about the strike. Apparently there was nothing. So went out to the main road in town and found a transit that was going to Timhadite. I felt I might have a better chance in Timhadite because it’s on a bigger road. However, after three hours with my thumb out, I gave up and went back to the volunteer’s house for the night.

The next morning (Friday) I went back to Timhadite and waited for about 30 minutes – hour before I got picked up. A big tourist bus was empty and driving people illegally. They drove me to Zeida. In Zeida I stood by the side of the road for about 3 hours with absolutely no luck (trying to go to Boumia). At around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I gave up and walked to the other road out of town to catch a ride to Midelt (where a volunteer lives). This is a larger road and it wasn’t as hard getting a ride. I got picked up in 45 minutes by some Casablancans on their way to Merzouga (the desert) for a trance music festival. They invited me to come with them and I was tempted, but declined. I got to my friend’s house in Midelt and stayed the night there

Saturday morning I got up early to try my luck again. Unfortunately, I had to back track to Zeida in order to get to Boumia. I stood by the side of the road for about an hour with no luck. Then some boys (maybe 16 or 17 years old) walked by and told me they were walking to Boumia and to come with them. It’s about a 44 km walk so I told them no. They kept trying to persuade me. They said that if we walked about 5 km out of town we would have a better chance of getting a ride. That was enough to convince me. We walked for about 10 km and finally got a ride to Zeida. In Zeida, we got some food, and walked out of town in the direction of Boumia. There is a large lake there so we took our food to its shores and rested for a bit. Then we started walking again, getting picked up about 5 km into our walk.

In Boumia (about 2:30 pm) we went to one of the boy’s house and had lunch. That was nice. They wanted me to stay the night, but I wanted to get to Tounfite for the night. So back to the road. Tounfite is about 37 km from Boumia, so it was unwalkable that late in the day. There weren’t many vehicles going by, so I had little hope. A friend drove by, but his car was full and he couldn’t take me. Finally someone with one spot left stopped and agreed to take me. So here I am in Tounfite. I was exhausted from my travels, but I slept really well last night (today is Sunday) and I’m glad to be home.


My two weeks of work, related travel went really well. I met some interesting people and learned a lot about Morocco. I’m on an incredible streak of having very positive interactions with people that I have just met.

My work also took a very promising step forward when I went to Rabat for a meeting. Another volunteer and I met with CDER, which is a renewable energy agency that is associated with the Ministry of Energy of Morocco. We have been coordinating with them on our conversion of hammam stoves. Although our most recent effort in hammam conversion didn’t go well, CDER is still behind the project; they gave us some good ideas for what to do next. They want to draw up a convention between CDER and Peace Corps that will solidify our responsibilities with one another and hopefully make the work more accessible to other Peace Corps volunteers. They also want us to do a study of personal wood consumption in our region. If the project goes well, then this will be a ton of work for the rest of my service. It’s very exciting.

One last thing: during the transportation strike I had a nice realization: I really wanted to get back to my community.

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