Tips for Taking a Taxi in Morocco

Taxis are a relatively cheap way of getting around Morocco, in the city and in between cities. Depending on some things, the experience can vary from fun to frustration or panic. Here are my tips after going through all these states during my seven months in Morocco.

Petit Taxis – in the city transportation, color changes with the city

  • it helps knowing how to greet and say thanks in Darija: Salam Alaykum and Shukran. Say Beslama before you leave.
  • avoid taking a taxi at rush hour or before a call to prayer. You’ll either have a tough time finding a car or find yourself stuck in traffic, which is especially annoying when the driver doesn’t know the address…
  • have a map of the area of your destination. Have it written in Arabic, or at least the street name in Arabic. I lost track of the times when instead of getting where I wanted, I ended up in a completely different part of the city. After some frustration that I couldn’t find any driver with a map of the city – one actually pulled out a tourist map that had only a small part of the city center – I started printing Google maps of my destination. That helped a lot getting there fast and at a fair price.
  • sometimes petit taxis will stop to take someone else that goes in the same direction as you. You can tell the driver not to if you want, it’s your right, but usually it’s common courtesy to not complain. You should definitely complain if the taxi starts detouring. If the driver picks someone else, you won’t be sharing costs. So don’t expect to pay less.
  • if you desperately need a cab but there’s no empty one in sight, stalk one that’s waiting at the traffic light. If it has people inside but it’s not full, chances are you’ll be getting a ride if you’re going in the same direction.
  • taking a taxi at night usually costs you what’s on the meter + 50%

Grand Taxis – in & out of the city transportation, cars are big, white Mercedes Benz

  • know how much you have to pay for the ride. The Lonely Planet guide usually offers a good estimation. The best way is to ask other travelers, if possible without letting the cab driver intervene in the conversation.
  • wait until the grand taxi is full. It’s cheaper to travel in a full car (4+2+driver), and this is the local way to travel. Sometimes the 6th place might be hard to fill, in which case the empty (shared) seat cost is shared amongst the rest of you.
  • there are no seatbelts in grand taxis, and in between cities it can get wild if your driver goes 120 km/hour on a mountain road, rain outside and a cliff on your right. So if your driver doesn’t understand when you tell him to slow down, ask someone in the car to translate it to him (99.9% of the time it’s a him). If that doesn’t work and the image of the car tumbling down the rocks continues to bother you, pretend you have nausea and you’re about to throw up. They usually take good care of their cars. This helped me once.

pro tip #1: if you’re feeling ripped of by the price when taking a grand taxi from the airport, but you’re already on your way to the destination, argue with the driver. This tip is for the people that can raise their voice without raising their temper, which is a way of negotiation in Morocco. It helps knowing an approximate cost for your ride, so you can benchmark your negotiation.

pro tip #2: whatever happens, try to be as positive as possible about the experience. Raging and complaining with a person that doesn’t understand you helps no-one. And passers by that otherwise might want to help, will probably stay away from a person that screams, swears, and gesticulates angrily.

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Thoughts on Morocco I – the overwhelming pluses

After seven moths spent in Morocco, five of which living in the medina of Salé, and more than 15 cities visited, here are some thoughts on this experience.

Morocco has some of the friendliest people I’ve met. I was helped, hosted, and fed by complete strangers, in situations that rarely have a correspondence in Europe:

  • Neighbors bringing food & helping out – it happened in the new city and in the medina, our neighbors were very kind. They also helped when having to find food while I was sick, sending their children to some hidden shop in the medina. Or while having to deal with the intricacies of the counterfeited Jinkers water heater, fiding a good plumber, and dealing for the first time with changing gas tanks. Thanks Abdelhaq and Youssef in Fadesa!
  • Complete strangers inviting us to spend the night at their place, giving us food and a comfortable place to sleep. Thanks Firdaouss, Moustafa and Hind!
  • The policemen in Meknes, that invited us to share a tajine with them, while on duty. Too bad we could not take a picture to have as proof 🙂
  • The neighbors in the medina of Salé, that acted as close relatives, helping whenever we asked, and that called me on my mobile the second day after I left Morocco. Thank you so much!
  • Friends’ families that adopted me and my strange eating habits. It’s not easy being a vegetarian (+fish) in Morocco, but it’s manageable. Thanks Reda, mama-Reda, Amine, and…
  • … and all the friends in AIESEC and JCI that made my stay in Morocco so pleasant, thank you!
  • Random conversations with people – from bus stations to medina streets and tramway workers. It was incredible to listen and be engaged in conversations with total strangers, from all walks of life.
  • A private school that allowed me to spend my ‘other working hours’ using their internet and lobby to do online courses and talk to friends. Thanks ILCS, Abderrafi and Aicha!
  • The French teachers that helped me improve my language skills after I asked them to “politely correct my mistakes” 😀 Thanks Coralie!
  • The taxi driver that yelled something in Arabic while I was jogging, and something that I’d like to think was “Good job! Keep it up!”.

Thoughts on Morocco II – and some minuses

This post is dedicated to the less positive things in Morocco. I’ll make this part short – the negative aspects were greatly outnumbered by the positive ones – although it’s worth mentioning some of the least pleasant things:

  • traffic accidents and people that don’t seem to understand the importance of a helmet or safety belt. Those could help you, but what happens when you meet…
  • … drunk/ drugged drivers? I was surprised, to say the least, by the amount of young people with cars that drive under influence.
  • Also by the amount of people that do light drugs, by the amount of people that sell them – in Tangier people shamelessly offer hashish. From the hostel receptionist that offered me “chocolate”, to a random person on the street that pulled two packs out of his underwear – sell that, drug dealer!
  • One point for improvement would be if people would read more… buses in Morocco have no schedule, and often times I had to wait 45 minutes to one hour for a bus, time in which no-one opened a book
  • and my pet peeve – the plastic bag, which they give you plenty-of in Morocco. With a bread, with a pack of biscuits, with everything!

Thoughts on Morocco III – traveling

Morocco is an exotic country for many Europeans and traveling inside Morocco has its perks. The most obvious advantage is that it’s cheap, and if you take the time and patience to do it like the average Moroccan – with train, bus, and taxi – it will come out really cheap. You will also get the chance to meet the locals, something that is hard from a rented 4×4.

My advice is to travel in groups. If you travel two-three people, chances are you’ll get invited to people’s homes. You’ll be fed and even hosted by complete strangers, something that doesn’t happen very often in urban Europe. 6 is also a magic number when traveling in Morocco. It’s somehow unlikely that families will have the place to host all of you, but there’s a big advantage in mobility – you are exactly the right amount of people for a big taxi (grand taxi).

If you choose to travel like the locals, bring a considerable amount of patience. Trains usually come on time, but buses have nerve-breaking delays. In remote places such as Beni Mellal or Azilal it takes time until the taxi fills with the six passengers it needs to be full. So options are that you either wait or pay for the remaining empty seats. Which is cheap, but you’ll miss the chance to hug a stranger while sharing the right seat, no seatbelt, while the driver tops 100 on a curvy road…

Scarcity Principle at Rabat Bus Station

Four fights started between 8:05 and 8:43 this morning (June 20) at the main bus station of Rabat/ Morocco. Three of them were more serious and required the assistance of nearby Police. I never imagined a man in a djellaba could be so aggressive with his legs 🙂

The bus station is an agglomeration of small boots approx. 1.5m/ 2.5m. They’re numbered 1 to 15 and are circling the lobby, each belonging to a bus company. The image of a fighting ring is not off, since most of the companies have ushers that sit in the middle and at the five entrances, screaming their company’s destinations. As soon as you make eye contact or give them a hint that you’re interested in their services, they guide you to the small, one man boot, where tickets are sold.

Since some companies have coinciding destinations, you can understand why people ushering travelers can get over excited over the scarce resources – travelers – that need to be shared with competition.

Quick read about scarcity on Wikipedia and on ChangingMinds.org

Thoughts on Traveling

Today my friend and business colleague from Morocco, Amine B., asked me why I travel so often and far from home. Why am I far from my family, and why am I not married yet? – it’s not uncommon for people here to get married in their mid twenties.

The question came as a surprise and my frugal response did not satisfy my friend’s curiosity. Neither was I happy with my answer.

So next week when I meet my fried I’ll explain him that it’s learning that I’m seeking and that living and working in different countries has taught me so much.

Living in Slovenia and Belgium allowed me to experience a work environment where trust, fairness and respect were almost unquestionable. It challenged my previous experience and this stuck with me ever since. I’ve taken this values and now they’re with me no matter where I move.

I perceived people in Poland as professional in their work, structured and respectful, while at the same time warm and friendly to strangers. I enjoyed tremendously my six months in Krakow and it’s this kind of structure in the work environment + warmth towards those around you that I’m seeking in the city that I’d like to call home.

Morocco had challenged my work values. As I said before, the structure that I’ve experienced in Slovenia, Belgium and Poland stuck with me, and Moroccans view time a bit… differently. This being said, it’s the country where I’ve met, by far!, the most hospitable people no matter where I’ve traveled. It was incredible to be hosted, fed, and helped by total strangers. From now on, I’ll do me best to replicate this kind of kindness and hospitality no matter where I am.

All these experiences have made me a better person. It’s hard to imagine a better way to become more cultural aware, more assertive (taxi drivers are taxi drivers no matter what country you are in), and more relaxed about cultural differences. Traveling has made me more respectful, more confident, more resilient and more detached. While this post has touched on the personal aspect of living and working abroad, I think it’s just as important to mention that the cultures I’ve experienced made me see things from more than one perspective. I’ve had the opportunity to build a set of skills that are easily transferable to a globalised work environment, and I believe that these skills and behaviors make me a better colleague and leader.

Disclaimer: this post is biased by my optimistic nature. My travel experiences are themselves strongly biased by that. Changing countries is not always easy and pleasant, and I’ve had my fair share of CRAP (Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure). The positive aspects, though, greatly outnumber the negative.