Morocco Road Trip I: Casablanca to Marrakesh

If you are not a seasoned backpacker, it might be hard to find travel buddies/partners who enjoy the same things that you do. For a trip like this, it will be harder because it requires more time away from the daily grind, and the trip itself is not cheap (but doable and can be cheaper if organized as a group tour).

I require a little comfort when traveling, and sometimes a bit of luxury. I need a travel partner who is willing to spend a bit on accommodation. Just a tad bit. I don’t need five star accommodation but some of the basics are a must—water heater, A/C, clean linen, towels, and a bathroom I don’t have to share with everyone booked in the same place. Luckily for me, this trip was planned with someone who feels the same way and knows:

  1. How to navigate roads.
  2. How to avoid the highway and find more scenic routes.
  3. Roads well through experience.

Our road trip took 2,268 kilometers, 36 hours total. It was the best trip of my life, bar none. And I wish to make more great trips in the future.

CAR RENTAL

My travel partner, who prefers to be completely anonymous and disliked every name I came up with, and therefore I shall refer to as Sir Elton John or Elton from here on out, arrived three days after I did. Elton pre-booked a car from Avis for 8 days for 194 euros (approx ₱10,350.00). The model was a Fiat Punto with manual transmission. Five people can fit inside the car but I guess four is best for comfort. The Avis staff recommended full insurance coverage which cost 196 euros (approx ₱10,450.00). I was against it, but Elton took it anyway and boy, was I glad he did. Car insurance is very important, we later found out.

One doesn’t need an international license to drive in Morocco. Elton said that driving restrictions are set only to licenses with texts written in special alphabets/characters (like Chinese, Greek, Russian, etc) and not for those not written in English. However, do check with the car company before renting a car.

There are a couple of toll gates along the highway from Casablanca to Marrakesh. I have forgotten how much toll cost but it wasn’t much and won’t strain your budget.

THE BAD SIDE OF MARRAKESH

We arrived in Marrakesh around eight in the evening. I was in charge of accommodation. I would’ve booked the same wonderful EL Moukkef inn I stayed in for the past days but due to a misunderstanding, I had to look for a new one and found a riad with good reviews. I mailed the riad and was assured that they will find a paid parking space for us.

As we got nearer and nearer the Old City, Elton seemed to be getting more and more doubtful about my choice of accommodation and said that in places like Marrakesh, it’s always best to book a hotel outside the city center, where secured parking is usually available. I insited that I was assured that there will be a parking slot available for us and that the riad’s staff will personally take us there.

My things were still with Mohammed (the manager of the EL Moukkef inn) so Elton and I entered the walled Old City and headed to EL Moukkef, using both Google Maps and Here apps to navigate the medina, which had more people at night and a lot of them were touts!

A group of men approached the car. I was getting alarmed but Elton was calm and opened his window a little bit. A guy wearing a red jacket, who seemed like the leader of the group, kept asking us if we needed a parking slot—which we did, but hopefully not there! The tout walked alongside the car, into the only passable street at that time, that lead to a small plaza that people use for parking. And then another man pushing a huge cart with oranges pounded on the car again and again using his hand, before hitting the back of the car a few times with his cart! There were so many people around and I personally didn’t know what the heck was going on, but I knew for sure we shouldn’t get out because it seemed like it was exactly what the touts wanted.

“Parking, Sir, Madame? You know someone here? Here we have parking. Tell me who you know,” Red Jacket said with a sense of urgency, as if we needed to decide immediately or the world was going to end.

I called Mohammed and as I was talking to him, insistent Red Jacket said, “Madame, give me your phone. Let me talk to him.”

Mohammed said, “Don’t ever give him your phone. I’m coming over.”

fiat-dentIt took only a few minutes before Mohammed arrived but it seemed like an eternity. Red Jacket asked us for some money but we didn’t give him anything. Mohammed got in the car and showed us the way to the inn so I can get my luggage. It was calm and quiet in that area. Elton came out of the car to look at the damage. The car was dented. If he didn’t take the insurance, Avis would’ve charged his credit card 3,000 euros (approx P160,000.00).

We asked Mohammed to take us to the place we’ll be staying in, which turned out to be far from EL Moukkef and therefore, the secured parking area near the inn was out of the question (it was 40 dirhams/night or P220). Mohammed called the riad we’ll be staying in. The receptionist told him that they couldn’t help us with parking and so Mohammed did.

The riad was located deep in the medina, close to the Big Square. The only place where you can park “near” it was on the street beside Arrondissement Jamaâ El-Fna (beautiful structure), which meant that we needed to carry our luggages through a park, across a major road, through the big square, and a series of small streets into the medina. Elton’s first day couldn’t be any crappier. Or so I thought.

The riad blew. The rooms stunk. We skipped dinner, exhausted. In my mind, I was preparing to adjust the itinerary I worked on, which has never happened before in any of my travels. Being a bit OC, it should’ve alarmed me but Elton was a great travel partner and I knew everything was going to get better (and it certainly did).

The next morning, we were supposed to do a side trip to Essaouira and head back to Marrakesh since it was a closer starting point to get to our next destination, Ait Ben Haddou. We decided not to go back to Marrakech even though the hotel was prebooked and therefore booking was non-refundable. Surprisingly, the riad’s receptionist wouldn’t swipe my card and said that they only accept cash payments (they accept dirhams and euros). Take note that some hotels will accept only cash payments but they will charge your card if you cancel. My guess is they don’t have swipers and just use the old system of charging cards by phone call to the bank/Mastercard/Visa. Always bring cash.

Don’t let the bad side of Marrakesh discourage you from seeing it. I think it is one of the most important places to see in Morocco. It has too much of everything. I recommend staying here for two or three days. You might want to check out my Marrakesh entry for more details.

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