Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The way we roll

We are not new to not having a car. When we lived in Portland, OR, we decided to sell the car the summer we got married. When we moved to VA we were without wheels for over a year and made great use of the public transportation system. Of course it had its faults and many times we were not impressed by the operation but we lived and worked within walking distance from the metro station and really had little need for a car. When we wanted a change in scenery we rented a car from across the street and spent the weekend in discovery mode. Then we had a real need for reliable transportation and invested in our first major purchase as a family. CR-V Mike made its way into our life and became integral to it. We moved back and again to VA and the car tagged along. Luckily we were never utterly dependent on CR-V Mike and could always get around with it as we now find ourselves back at square one with transportation: car-less!

When we made the decision to move to Ifrane we were told time and again that we needed a car. We debated shipping our own, but ran into laws against it. We thought we would try getting around without one. We, after all, had options when it came to transportation. This is how we roll around here:

Our feet:
This is by far the most reliable, although not the quickest, mode of getting around town. Since there is not much to do and a lot of time not to do it, many times I find myself walking to and from destinations. Some times JR walks along, other times she rides in the stroller or on my back. During this season the morning part of the day is usually sunny and warm so we do the majority of our walking then. It gets windy in the afternoon so we avoid being in the open air then and revert to transportation choice number 2.

The university shuttle bus(es):

The university has a fleet of buses to serve its faculty and staff. There is an array of buses ranging in sizes from vans to tour buses that are deployed to take people around town. They stop at the various university residences, the marché, and other areas depending on the time of the day and the requests of the passengers. Yes, although the buses have a fixed route to follow the drivers take on-board requests and change the route accordingly without previous warning or explanations. On several occasions the kids and I found ourselves being taken around town to that end. One time we, along with a bus-full of people, waited while someone walked up to their apartment, picked up something they had forgotten and got back on the bus. That person was not even faculty at the university! Another time we found ourselves being taken the "scenic" route and ended up in an accident with a car.

Some days we are the only ones on the bus, and on others we are crowded together and hear the driver asking people, usually the students to deboard. When there is enough room, the drivers pick up locals on their way and drive school children to their homes.

The buses follow, or rather do their best to follow, a posted schedule or schedules, which makes it confusing to remember. There is one schedule for the weekday and another for the weekend, one for faculty, another for staff and a third for students. There are also buses for each of these categories although many times everyone is seen piled into the same bus. The buses are many times late, and some times early so we end up either waiting too long or missing it altogether. Sometimes more than one bus come at the same time and once there were three stopped at the same "station."

We find ourselves spending a lot of time at the bus stop but time is of abundance here.

The petite taxi:

These are the go-to mode of transportation to get around town. They are clearly visible in their green color, their marking "petite taxi" (if you look closely you can read that along with the number of the cab on the front door), and their topper.

They roam almost everywhere and all you have to do to catch one is hail them. The places they do not roam are inside the university, and at the annex residence, where they are prohibited to enter. You could call for service, though, and they will arrive. Once you find a cab driver you can communicate with he becomes your go-to-person. You exchange phone numbers and he takes care of your transportation needs.

It usually costs between 15 and 25 MAD to get around town whether it is one person or car-full. And when I say car-full that ranges between 3 and 5 persons depending on the mood of the driver that day. There seems to be a fluid insurance law that dictates there can only be 3 passengers to a car. That is the equivalent of two to three and a half US dollars. You could tip the driver but that is not expected.

The grande taxi:

 These are five passenger Mercedes-Benz turned seven passenger to maximize income. They are the method of transport for the maids and the nannies who live across town. The ones we have seen in Ifrane are old, rickety and dirty. The bumpers are falling off, the paint is chipped and the car is held together with masking tape. But if it rolls, it is driven.

These taxis are used inter-cities. You take it from the gare routière, or the equivalent of Union Station. To get there, you either employ your feet or hail a petite taxi (see above). They are for long distances, whether your destination is the next town, which is about 20 minutes away, or the ones further out which are an hour or more away.

If you are lucky you are a family of six and can command the entire vehicle. If you are not, then you choose your fate: either be sandwiched between three other strangers in the back or be wedged between the stick shift and the second rider in the front. Or, you could pay for the entire cab and get comfortable. The cost depends on where you are going but everyone must pay, including lap babies. The journey in those cars end at the counterpart gare routière where again you either take a petite taxi or walk to your final destination.

Friends' cars:

There are two types of cars in Morocco: these with yellow tags and those with white tags.

The yellow tags are reserved for foreigners, diplomats and such. They are hard to come by and in great demand by the expat community. These cars cost less that their counterparts as they are exempt from taxes. Once you locate one to purchase, and at times you have to travel internationally and drive one back, you go through a lot of red tape, make numerous trips to this office and that and spend many hours trying to navigate the process. The money you save on cost, you spend in your time. But once you are done with the process you are rewarded with not being too harassed by the police when you infringe on the driving laws, which, by the way, are quite vague.

The white tags belong to the locals. These cars are abundant and easy to buy but they are usually more expensive considering the amount of taxes that are tagged on them.

Rented cars:

There are no car rental agencies in Ifrane. We reached out to the one in Azrou, the major town next door. A colleague of Jeff's emailed us the contact information of a man who works in the business. We got in touch. There were no emails exchanged, no paperwork filled out, no credit card information given out. The entire transaction was conducted by phone and word of mouth. We indicated the dates, he detailed the cost. He trusted we are good for our money; we trusted he was good on the car. We did not know him, and he did not know us. We did not see the car until the day it was dropped off. Secretly we wondered if he would remember, or even show up!

We traded a few phone calls up until the day. He showed up! He showed up early. We met in person, negotiated a little. He took the cash. He took my Lebanese passport. We took the car. As simple as it. One item of value for another. We had wheels. He had business. It was the beginning of a beautiful renting relationship. Apparently he is the only agent who offers door-to-door service.

Other modes of transportation:

bicycles; notice the "no" helmet
the "moped"
a school bus

the university courtesy golf cart to wiz you around

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