Ninety minutes. The length of a football match. Doesn't seem like very long. It's also the time it takes for the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers in Morocco. Quite a short crossing. But with one problem. If you're travelling with a car, it's the exact time it takes for the highway code to be ripped into tiny little fish-food sized shreds and thrown overboard into the Mediterranean.
Upon disembarking onto North African soil, those who actually learned to drive are at a serious disadvantage. Thus a few points are important to keep in mind.
Abandon Good Driving Practice
Anything logical or useful previously learned through driving schools or experience on the road, should be completely forgotten. Any knowledge of road signs or fixed rules should also be cast aside like an unwanted Christmas puppy. Road surface markings especially should be ignored at all cost and despite years of proven safety success, it's best to abandon any form of lane discipline. Should you find yourself waiting at traffic lights, it's best to slot into any available space on the road other than staying within the silly white painted lines. If the said traffic lights are placed just before a roundabout then it is highly likely that they shall turn green at the same time as four other sets. This tends to result in what Westerners would observe as a scene similar to a demolition derby. However it pays to remember that when a queue, seven cars wide, is funneling into an exit with two lanes, never stop moving forward. Millimetres between cars is more than enough space and thus the brake pedal should be never be in use. Brake lights are a sign of weakness.
Although rules of the road are largely missing, the local constabulary feature heavily on Moroccan roadsides. These uniformed chaps are normally armed with two guns, one to instill fear in your mind and the other to instill fear in your wallet. Speed guns are a Moroccan policeman's best friend. There is therefore an extreme likelihood of coming into contact with Constable Mohammed as you pass through the country. Two tactics can be employed whilst dealing with these officials, the first being the standard "stupid tourist" routine. This is a simple 3 step process, firstly, offer a confused look at any question posed. When this fails, proceed to ask in very complicated English what the problem may or may not appear to be. Finally, when you are still without luck, deny all knowledge of any wrong-doing. It would be fair to say that this routine is very much dependant on the officer you incur. Should you be apprehended by a far thriftier version a second tactic must be deployed. Negotiation. As always, a Moroccans first price is highly inflated and it is likely a princely sum shall be demanded of you. Remain friendly, exit your vehicle and the said officer will likely guide you to a quieter side of the road. It's important not to offer a price yourself, he does afterall have two guns, but simply appear reluctant as he slowly drops his price. Within a minute or two you should save 80% on your original fine. Paperwork is always a pain...
The horn on a Moroccan car is just as important as the engine. A vehicle without this necessary apparatus is the mechanical equivalent of a eunuch in a harem. Indeed it's highly likely that in your average Casablancan driving school, if such a thing actually exists, the students are taught situations which require the use of the horn. I would imagine examples are given of standard Western driving practice and subsequently disparaged as nonsensical. Someone is driving within a lane at the speed limit but is blocking your way? HONK. The traffic light is red but you expect it to change soon? HONK. The traffic is heavy with absolutely no sign of moving forward? HONK. There is a donkey and cart on the street? HONK. There was no couscous left at the market? HONK.
With these points in mind, do enjoy your journey!
Hearty Welcomes & Salutations! Originally an action-packed travel blog from a globe-trotting Scotsman, An Ache for the Distance has, over the years, slowed down (I post less often), mellowed out (my dogs and kid have found their way on here) and become more of an expat blog (I German things up). Take a look around, leave a comment and share the love if you like something.
Stuart Mathieson, Lübeck, Germany
Stuart Mathieson, Lübeck, Germany