I didn’t want to ever leave Merzouga, but I had limited time left in Morocco and I needed to see some other cities. Rachel had to leave earlier, so I paired up with a British guy from our hostel for an overnight journey across the country.
We left Merzouga by taxi and headed to a nearby hub for transportation, where we had a bus connection booked to Marrakesh. When the guy who owned our hostel recommended booking the taxi for 2:30 to catch a 5:30 bus, even though the town was less than an hour away, we didn’t understand. However, when the taxi arrived about an hour late and then the driver had to do a bunch of errands on his way out of town, I understood why we needed those buffer hours.
What we didn’t realize is that we had unknowingly booked a local bus (i.e. not the tourist buses that are more reliable and only slightly more expensive) to Marrakesh. Thus, our bus journey started with an hour of standing in the cold, watching every male person in the vicinity try to fix our bus, which showed no signs of starting.
Men attempting to fix the bus
There were giant jumper cables and there were people climbing inside the bus engine and it seemed that everyone had an opinion. Finally, much to my surprise, the bus started and we got on.
In Morocco, they have a two-tiered system for public transit: one for tourists and one for locals. The tourist buses are well-organized, well-maintained, air-conditioned, sell official tickets with assigned seats, and have a schedule for stops they will make. The local buses are quite the opposite, and the price difference is very small, so I had mostly been taking the tourist buses. I admit I was a bit concerned that this particular local bus was going to break down in the middle of the Atlas Mountains, which we had to cross, but it made the journey without any problems.
It was, however, absolutely freezing and also chaos. Paul and I quietly occupied a pair of seats and tried to sleep. However, each time the bus stopped, people filled the aisles (whether they were getting on or off I couldn’t tell) and shouted at each other in Arabic until eventually the conductor made some decisive gestures and everyone either took a seat or got off the bus.
People were getting on and off the bus all night at various small villages along the route, and each time the doors opened (one was right next to our seats), cold air blew into the non-heated bus. You might think that Morocco is a warm place – and mostly you are right – but winter does exist, it gets cold at night, and high in the mountains there is even snow at this time of year. By the time we disembarked the bus around 6:30am in Marrakesh, my feet were numb from the cold!
What an experience that bus ride was. I used to ride local buses like this all the time in Benin, but it had been a while and I had forgotten what they were like. At least there were no livestock on this bus. In Benin that was not always the case.
Once we arrived, I decided to board another bus, bound for the coastal town of Essaouira, instead of finding accommodation in Marrakesh. After the calm and perfection of Merzouga, I just wasn’t ready to jump into life in a big, overwhelming city, and other travelers had told me that Marrakesh was just that. (I have also heard that it is a rich, vibrant city, and I thought I would be able to visit it on my way back north through Morocco but I ended up missing it.)
What I did see of Marrakesh seemed quite nice – I walked through some of the new part of the city on the way from one bus station to another. Modern, tall buildings and palm trees line the wide streets. I walked past a Burger King and some other restaurants I recognized from the US (I was hoping for a Starbucks but didn’t spot one). There was a lot of traffic on the road in the morning – mostly professional people headed to work in nice cars. But alongside that, there was also the occasional donkey-drawn cart and motorcycles like this pulling loads of stuff. Such an interesting mix.
The ride to Essaouira on the tourist bus was far shorter and less eventful than the overnight ride, but by the time I arrived, I had been traveling for more than 18 hours and was pretty exhausted.
As I stumbled off the bus in Essaouira, I immediately smelled the fresh air blowing in from the ocean and knew I had made the right choice.
I ended up spending 10 days in this chilled-out place, which I’ll tell you about in the next post:)