Hooves and Wheels
Thanks to VCU I didn’t have to provide the bulk of my own transportation throughout the trip. We got from city to city and town to town via an extra-large minivan with limited AC. When it came to traveling in my free time, though, the manner in which I got from Point A to Point B was all up to me. Since I didn’t desire to trek but so far from my hotel at any given time, I usually found myself walking (always in a group). The one time I didn’t choose to put my new sneakers to good use was in Marrakesh when traveling to and from the medina, oh no, instead I got there in a taxi and came back in a horse drawn carriage.
Let me tell you more about that.
Animals pulling people around is not something I often saw at home save for Christmas parades, television weddings, and babies riding great danes on YouTube. So, you can imagine my surprise to see so many mules, donkeys, and horses servicing people on a seemingly regular basis. In fact, the first photograph I took in the country was of a brown donkey pulling a sleeping man in a wagon (and I still wonder how the donkey knew where to go when the driver clearly wasn’t directing him . . .)
When it comes to that horse drawn carriage I took back to my 5-star hotel after walking around the mystery medina, well, it was definitely part of the tourist trap. However, $10 for a ride around the corner and the feeling of being 18th century visiting nobility on the way back to the prince’s palace was just cool. How many other times would I get that opportunity?!
“But what about the camels?” I was asked this many times after I returned from my adventure. Apparently, camels and Morocco are a thing. Of course, I wasn’t surprised to learn that camel riding was a thing people did in Morocco; the country is halfway in the desert. However, while I was there I didn’t think about camels because I didn’t see any camels, save for the ones on those 10 cent magnets and that gas station t-shirt.
Worry not, though. I’ll be back to find me a camel to ride.
Whether or not a camel had chosen to cross my path, animal-powered modes of transportation were not more common than their gas-powered counterparts. There were hundreds of motorbikes, vans, cars, trucks, trailers; the kinds of vehicles that—to my astonishment—folks back home were surprised to learn existed in Morocco.
Preconceived notions of the country aside, the truth is that there always seemed to be . . . a lot going on when it came to vehicle traffic. I saw people not wearing seatbelts, hanging off trucks, piling onto motorbikes, and sitting amongst ill secured stacks of heavy furniture and mysterious vats of flammable liquid. Not to mention road rage was, well, common. In short, car accidents seemed probable and I was constantly on edge about that.
Motorbikes were probably the most abundant vehicles in the country and I encountered them on the highway, in the cities, and even in the medinas on narrow pathways I mistakenly assumed were pedestrian-only. As a pedestrian who learned to dodge motorbikes every 10 minutes, I became well aware that the idea of my right-of-way was a little blurry. The same feeling of slight terror continued when I had to deal with cars on busy streets and highways. In fact, on the highway to Marrakech we passed by an accident that was the worse I had ever seen in my life. Other students said they even saw dead bodies, but Arkangel must have kicked in and censored that out for me (#BlackMirror).
My point is that street traffic seemed terribly dangerous.
Even with the cars and trucks riding down paved roads filled with traffic lights and road signs, crossing the street as a lowly pedestrian still felt like a risky game. In downtown Richmond I just cross the street when there are no cars coming, lights be damned; it’s the fastest way to get to class and work on time. In Morocco, though, I wasn’t going to tempt fate. No, I would simply stick to crossing exclusively at the crosswalks exactly when the electric sign told me to, so as to avoid becoming street pizza. Not all students respected my wish though . . .
It’s time for a story!
Picture this: A busy two-way street in Marrakech, six students who had met only a week ago, all hungry and on the way to the McDonald’s around the corner from their fancy hotel. We wait for the pedestrian light to turn green, and while waiting, I look around. I take in the scenery and relish in the fact I somehow managed to make it to Morocco.
While I’m lost in my self-satisfaction, though, the other students cross the street before our light turned green. They saw an opening and they took it. Well, in the few seconds it took me to notice they had left more cars began creeping closer to the crosswalk. I told them to go on ahead, that I’d catch up once the cars had past. They all agreed to this—no problem!—the McDonald’s was in sight after all. There was one student however who apparently couldn’t bear the thought of me being left alone on a median. She so nobly took it upon herself to return to me and, with a bright smile on her face, she grabbed my arm and pulled me with her into the oncoming traffic. As I ran hoping to beat out cars that showed no signs of braking for two jaywalking tourists, she laughed and smiled cheerfully as we made it to the other side of the street. Though at the time the feeling of having my life risked only resulted in a strew of very angry swears, it now serves as a wonderful example of what not to do:
DO NOT ENTER A BUSY STREET. And, preferably, do not force someone else to enter a busy street with you. I feel like it doesn’t matter where you are from or how accustomed you are to crossing city streets. I think that when you are in a new country, take it easy, take it slow, be alert, and at the bare minimum try not to risk someone else’s life along with your own.