On the road in Morocco

Riding under the African sky is beautiful. Montana may be known as Big Sky country, but this is pretty special. Bluest of blues and wispy white clouds grace our way (usually).  Cirrus clouds seem to write on the sky in Arabic phrases.

Roads in Morocco are generally good. As adventure tourists we don’t spend much time on four lane roads, though they do turn up in the oddest places. We were in the middle of the country in a very rural area and came out of a village onto a four-lane divided highway. It went on for twenty-five miles or so. The oncoming lanes returned to under construction and we became two lanes again. Tour buses are seldom seen on the roads we travel. Ours are very scenic, but too narrow for them to travel and make good time.

Signage is usually in Arabic and French. Distances are listed in kilometers. Instructional signs are universal pictograms and easily understood. As we got into the mountains the signs were mainly in Arabic and the only French on signs was “km.” Informational road condition signs are few. When part of the road has washed away, somebody places stones at the hole.

Advertising signage usually involves Coca-Cola. Even the few buildings with Pepsi on the window, have a Coke cooler visible inside the door. There are a few faded Kodak signs, just like the company itself. Wynn’s is a popular sticker on trucks and cars and we see their fuel additives in petrol stations.

Petrol is sometimes difficult to obtain. Stations are closed or they are out of Super Sans Plumb. Service can be hard to get. They get upset if they don’t pump it, but often don’t come out when we pull in. Most vehicles here run on Gasoil 50,  a diesel mixture. Some stations have concrete aprons and others, dirt or gravel. We often fill up at Afrique, which carries Texaco lubricants and avoid stations named OiLibya.

We have shared the roads with many things, camels, goats, gravel, rocks and streams included. Yamaha 50cc Mates are the most popular step-through scooters, but there are Peugeot, Chinese brands, unknown brands and thousands of mopeds. Bicycles are popular as well as hand carts, burros and three-wheeled trucks. Mitsubishi leads the market on six-wheel 2.5 ton trucks. Semi-trailer are led by Scania and followed by Man and an occasional Volvo. Recent Mercedes cars are seen, as well as Renault and Peugeot. Toyota Prado SUVs are often found, followed by Mitsubishi and one Ford Explorer. But compared to the US, SUVs are rare.

The most prevalent cars are old Mercedes sedans. Most are used as taxis. Germany has strict vehicle standards and doesn’t allow cars with rust or those that pollute. Those are sold to third-world countries who don’t have the same standards. Many of these cars have the Mercedes star logo in the grill. Often the points are askew and are aimed in odd directions.

Drivers are usually in a hurry and will try to pull in front of us if we show any hesitation. In the city mopeds and scooters will try to get to the front of the line waiting for the light to change. If we are waiting for a truck to back in to a driveway, cars come up beside and try to squeeze in front of us. If you don’t want anyone in front of you, don’t leave ANY room.

Speeds on the road seem randomly chosen. 100 kph is the posted limit on open roads. Many of the cars have engines smaller than Cathy’s old Yamaha Venture Royale. They pass us in the city and have to slow down on the first hill. They don’t have enough power to pass the truck or smaller car in front of them, but will pull into the passing lane so we can’t pass them. Vehicles stack up on hills and curves and try to pass when going down hill. We bide our time and blow by them when space becomes available.

Center lines are suggestions that are rarely heeded. On narrow two-lane roads, we see a truck ahead straddling the center line and can’t tell if we are following them or they’re coming at us. In curves especially everybody uses what ever lane they think they need. Trucks use the space they want and expect motorcycles to use the shoulder, even if there isn’t one. But they’re polite about it. When they ran Roger off the road and he went down, they stopped the truck and helped him pick the bike!

Single-occupied vehicles in Morocco are rare. Most have three to six people in them, trucks included. People will sit in the bed or stand if there are several passengers. They will ride on top of the hay or whatever the truck is carrying. Four people were standing on a Ford tractor with plows as it cruised through one town.

Trucks are packed as full as possible. There are racks on top of trucks, that are filled with animals or other goods.

We most commonly share the road with pedestrians. People walk every where. We see them many miles from any village walking on the side of the road. Some facing traffic and others against it. Often they wave but usually ignore us. Young children are the most enthusiastic. Teenage girls wave more than boys. Guys are too cool to wave at strangers. Often young men will give us the thumbs up and some will blow kisses. One young man gave us a middle finger salute and I thought it may be a compliment in Morocco, so I smiled and returned it.

Men walk hand in hand and arm in arm as do the women. But we’ve never seen men or women show any public displays of affection to the other sex.

Some carry bundles of goods as they walk. Bags of olives are slung over their shoulder. Bundles of sticks adorn their heads. Tree limbs are worn as epaulets. Most of the bearers are women. We saw three women carrying heavy loads on their heads. Along side them was a man carrying a walking stick and a cigarette.

The majority of people just stand or squat by the side of the road. Some lean against trees, stone fences or walls. Often there are more than one person and they all stare at us or continue talking without so much as a glance. Are they are waiting for a friend, a ride, or perhaps Godot? Many people are hitchhiking. They stick out their index finger, instead of the American thumb. They even try to hitch with us. We wave and ride on.

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2 Responses to “On the road in Morocco”

  1. Shannon Schiller says:

    One month down and glad to hear all are safe and sound. Morocco summary was great… especially the comments on the signage and branding… ha ha “you can take the girl out of Commercial Graphics, but….” I hope Argentine customs treat you well, and that you can enjoy some holiday cheer during your downtime. Merry Chrismas everyone!

  2. Pat Bruschini says:

    Cathy and Larry – Thanks so much for the detailed entries. I have read each one and follow your journey on my atlas. I assume your flew from Madrid to BA. I am so glad that you are in a Christian country for Christmas. The tree is precious. What a wonderful adventure and you both look GREAT! Pat Bruschini

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