Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cars, taxis and mopeds....Oh My!

So, in order to drive in Casablanca, you have to be a bit crazy. Or brave. Or crazy. I'm not sure I can even describe the madness that is city traffic here. If I could videotape it, I would. It's THAT interesting.
Casablanca is a very large city. Different reports have from 3 million to 5 million people living here. And unfortunately, many of them drive. On the roads. And sidewalks sometimes.
One of my first 'noticings' was that they do have lanes painted on the roadways. But drivers seem to ignore them more than follow them. As one of my colleagues who has lived here for a while said, "The lanes are just a suggestion". I laughed so hard, because it's true. There might be 4 lanes, but if you can fit 5 rows of cars across there, by golly they are going to. One colleague said they have actually seen someone reach out of their window to fold in someone's side mirror in order to be able to pass. The little moped/motorcycle/scooters that are here weave in and out of traffic like nobody's business. Some are so old they still have pedals on them from when mopeds first came out in the 80's? A few drivers even wear helmets. Most all of them pollute the air with so much exhaust it's mindboggling. No emissions control here they tell me. Interesting to say the least.
Anyway...back to driving. From what I have figured out in one week of living here, driving is an intricate system that involves one hand on the wheel, one hand ready to use hand signals out the window and one hand ready to honk the horn at all times. Wait...that's 3 hands isn't it. Well, I guess they have a good 3 for 2 system working. Drivers here are CONSTANTLY honking horns. But, it's not angry's communicative. It let's people know when you are coming, when you are going, when you are changing lanes, when you are letting someone else in front of you. I've never seen anything like it. I'm amazed everyday at some of the maneuvers our bus driver,  Hamid, pulls out of his ass. We get picked up for school in a blue school bus. Hamid is not afraid to make Uturns in the middle of major intersections. And as long as he has given the proper honk and seems acceptable. There is an intersection here unlike anything I've ever seen. It is referred to as the 'Circle of  Death'. I believe I counted 6 streets converging into one circular intersection that is so massive to get across, lights are changing while people are still crossing and turning, etc. People are turning left and right and they just make it work, one car at a time. I don't know how people get through it. But again...lots of honking and motioning with the hand.
This driving involves vehicle owners and taxis. Here in casa they basically have a 2-taxi system. Red, and white. the red taxis, or Petit Taxis as their signs say, are very small and will only carry 3 people. You get in an accident with any speed involved in one of these, you are squashed like a  bug. But, since traffic rarely seems to go above 35, they are less dangerous. These taxis will not go outside of the city. They are dirty, but get you from point A to B. And, they are cheap. As is everything here except gym memberships. Anyway...neither red nor white taxis have air conditioning. Nothing much does here really. And, they don't have the handles on the windows for you to roll down. I'm not sure why. My only thought is it's because they don't want too many hands out the windows confusing their flow of traffic. Kind of like how Dad always told us as kids not to raise our hand at the sale barn because we might accidentally buy something. Here that incidental hand wave might get you in an accident. They will try to make you pay more, and we just found out that they actually raise their rates after 9pm. Again, not sure why. They drive like mad, but get you where you are going. Always make sure the meter starts at zero. The white taxis are interesting. They are cheaper and run outside of the city. They don't have window handles either, but the one we took to the beach had it up by him and allowed us to roll down windows. Which is a huge bonus when you are cramming 7 people into an old, 4 door mercedes. They charge you basically 10 dirhams (which is about a dollar or just over) to go wherever. We went about a half hour out of town to a different town where the beach was, and I think it was 12 dh a piece. Cheap! However, if you don't have a full taxi (full being 6 passengers...3 in front, 4 in back. seatbelts are not a concern) they will stop and pick up random people along the way who are going the same direction as you. So, now you are crammed in a cab with strangers. Who might smell. It's pretty funny really. We had a great driver down to Jack Beach the other day. When we were ready to go home, we just started walking along the side of the road until a cab came by to take us home. We didn't have to walk far before finding one. And, back to the city he took us. It's a system like no other, but it works here. Ya just gotta roll with it. Life is an adventure...might as well experience it!

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