We have reached the end of our time at Al Akhawayn University and are transitioning to the next phase of our trip. The campus has been beautiful and comfortable, and we will miss our fantastic teacher, Ali, as well as other friends made here in Ifrane. Before going to Fes, the group is taking a two-day excursion to the Mediterranean coastal resort of Saidia. I, however, have decided to stay in a nearby town, Azrou, for two nights and meet up with the group in Fes on Saturday. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to catch up on my IT&DML work.
Last night, after our fourth meeting with a group of Moroccan educators, I headed towards Azrou. One of the Moroccan teachers, Si Mohamed, lives in Azrou and joined me on the journey.
The taxi system here can be complicated. To travel to another town, you must take a "grand" taxi. These ancient Mercedes with diesel engines leave from a set location in town and will carry six passengers, two in the front and four in the back, although the cars are designed to carry only four passengers. Mohamed and I arrived at the grand taxi station and he quickly commented, "We may have a problem."
The scene was chaotic. Taxis were everywhere, but few of them seemed to be departing. We asked for taxis to Azrou and got little response. Young men in gray suits were around most of the taxis, many of them arguing and shouting with the drivers. At one point, a taxi pulled up and a swarm of men surrounded it, some jumping in the back seat before it came to a stop. An argument pursued for about fifteen minutes before that taxi left. Occasionally the arguments were so contentious that the police got involved.
Mohamed explained that the young men were from the police academy in Ifrane and were heading home for the weekend holidays. They were fighting for spaces in taxis, and arguing with the drivers. One of the arguments involved a taxi driver who felt he was being disrespected by these young police recruits. Mohamed told me that to catch a taxi in Morocco you must be loud and aggressive. Although it looked like the men were about to fight, he said they would not. They would just argue and eventually get in the taxi and leave. This is exactly what happened with nearly every taxi there. One of the factors in these arguments is that all of the participants are fasting, no food or drink all day, and since it was late in the day tempers wear thin.
Since it was clear that we would have no chance of getting in one of the taxis, Mohamed called our friend Hassan, the teacher from the AUI school who has become our friend unofficial guide throughout our stay in Ifrane. Hassan asked us to walk about a block from the taxi stand for him to pick us up. If he had picked us up at the taxi stand, the drivers would have argued with him about stealing their fare, even though they were not offering us a ride to our destination.
Although Azrou is just a half hour from Ifrane, and I left the campus at 5:00, I did not check into my hotel until after 10:00. Still, the entire experience was intriguing and enjoyable. If we hadn't run into problems at the taxi station, we would have never enjoyed the beautiful sunset on the road to Azrou. We zipped around mountain curves, watching the sun set, and Hassan promised to stop just in time for us to snap photos. He knew exactly how many seconds it would take for the sun to set and where to pull over. Of course he was right.
Another unexpected outcome of this adventure was the long conversation I had with Mohamed
and the Iftar I shared with his family, which will have to wait for another post.
One more thing . . . (I'm trying to keep my posts short, but am not having much luck). I was not able to snap photos of the arguments at the taxi stand, but did get some photos and audio of another taxi war the day before. This was the scene outside Al Akhawayn University when our group left in three grand taxis and had a fender bender with one of the town taxis. The theory is the town taxis were upset that we hadn't used them to go to to the grand taxis, as is the custom. So, they blocked our exit, called in reinforcements, and many arguments ensued. Hassan magically appeared and saved the day again!
And here is a sound clip of part of the argument, in case you're interested.