What did my parents say before I got on the plane to move to Marbella nearly 10 years ago? “Erin, please, just please don’t go to Morocco.” Where did I want to go? Obviously, Morocco. Me and my best friend Caroline were relaxed and played things by ear. We relied on friends and ended up stuck in Tangier with nowhere to go, nervously getting into a taxi to Marrakesh…
Taxi to Marrakesh: A Lesson in the Importance of Back Up Plans
Caroline and I decided quickly that we’d spend our week off from school in Marrakesh, but we held off on making reservations while another friend dilly dallied between different options. By the time she decided against joining us there were no flights left for us to book. “No worries!”, said our Moroccan friends. We’ll take care of you! One friend, in particular, I’ll call him Khalid, is from Tangier. Come to Tangier he says. It will be fun he says. I’ll pick you up from the ferry, I’ll show you the city, then I’ll drop you off safely at the train station to take the overnight train to Marrakesh. Promises. So many promises.
We text Khalid from the ferry as planned. He would get the text that we were on our way and leave to pick us up. BUT HE DIDN’T. He had forgotten his phone in Spain when he left two days ago. Did he email us to let us know? No, he threw caution to the wind. They’ll figure it out, he must have thought. We walk off the ferry with absolutely no knowledge of Tangier or where to go and no one to call. Tourists and locals drifted off and we were left standing alone, looking so pathetically foreign and lost.
A group of official tour guides (they had the badges proudly displayed around the necks to prove it) surrounded us. Most offered to take us to their friend or cousin or brother’s hotel where we could leave our backpacks safely while we explored Tangier. But leaving our belongings with strangers? I’ve seen Brokedown Palace thank you very much. The winning offer was a man who had a taxi driver waiting, a brand new Mercedes he said! He speaks English he promised!
We followed him (leaving behind a group of disappointed salesmen) to an old run down Mercedes and got into a taxi with a man who spoke not a word of English. He would take us to Marrakesh! 7 hours away, through the desert. That’s all that mattered.
One does not simply drive to Marrakesh
After finding a common language, Spanish, he explained there were a few ends to tie up before he could legally leave the city. Surprise! He needed to get a police permit to drive outside of Tangier and to change his back tires. What else were we going to do? Get out? There was no train for twelve hours. And we felt safe in this car now. It was our refuge. To the police station, we went.
The police station didn’t seem to be much more than a small adobe building. The police came out, spoke to the driver and demanded our passports. Oh shit, we thought. Seeing our faces twist into nerves they quickly showed us their badges, then went inside with the driver. They came right back with passports and permit in hand. Next stop: tire shop.
Parked outside the tire shop we were instructed to stay in the vehicle. They jacked the car up with us inside and changed out the tires. Women wearing hijabs and djellabas walked by, the call to prayer sang out on loudspeakers that seemed to echo everywhere. We burst out laughing. With the tires successfully changed, the car began to lower us back down. Off we went in a taxi to Marrakesh.
Wake her up, she’ll go insane!
The drive to Marrakesh from Tangier was 7 hours. The view was monotonous through the desert and my buddy Caroline fell asleep to kill the time. When our driver saw her sleeping with the strong desert sun blaring straight into her face he panicked. He yelled at me to wake her up or she’d lose her mind! He was genuinely concerned that she’d go insane if I didn’t wake her up. Sorry, Caroline. No rest for you.
Give me 100 euro.
The cost we were quoted for the taxi to Marrakesh from Tangier was 300 euro. We were SO ashamed to be paying this. Being on backpackers budgets for this trip, this felt like such a sacrifice: both financially and our pride. We had arranged to pay when we arrived, but when we pulled into a gas station he turned around and firmly demanded, “Give me 100 euro.” A short moment of panic ensued. Are we being extorted for more money? Pay or I’ll leave you here, in this gas station in the middle of nowhere? Is this just part of the original 300?
It was part of the original agreement, for gas money. Obviously. It feels like such an overreaction now, but at the time everything put us on edge. We were in a strangers car, no one knew where we were. And we had to go to the bathroom. Do we go together and risk him leaving us there? Does one of us stay behind, and we go in turns? Such a stressful pit stop.
After a long day, we arrived in Marrakesh after dark. Our driver, I hate myself for forgetting his name, was so incredibly kind and helpful. Being from Tangier, he knew nothing about this city. Asking for directions he got us as close to our gate to the medina, Bab Aylen, as he could. He was worried about leaving us alone and lost, so he asked everyone around us for directions to our riad (hotel). We followed the direction he pointed us in, and he turned around to start the drive back to Tangier.
Nervously, we walked into the medina and a group of kids playing soccer took us to our riad. We collapsed into bed to the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque that shared a wall with our hotel room.