Morocco

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Flag of Morocco Morocco
Information
Language: Arabic, French
Capital: Rabat
Population: 33,757,175
Currency: Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Hitchability: <rating country='ma' />
More info: AVP Free Encyclopedia (Russian)
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Hitching in Morocco is good despite the scarcity of vehicles on some routes. If you're doing it in hot seasons bring a big bottle of water, a hat, and maybe a book to read. In winter consider staying short-sleeved during the day. Expect to freeze at night though (especially above 800 m of altitude), so plan some "onion layers" clothes.

Most people will not want payment, but it can be hard to avoid the interest of grand taxis (who will definitely want payment). Hitchhiking is done by waving one's index finger, but the thumb will often be understood as well.

Compared to the hassle of the cities, hitching in Morocco is a very pleasant experience and a good opportunity to meet some genuine friendly people who don't want to sell you a carpet. The people for the most part are incredibly generous, intelligent and curious and hitchhikers are able to experience the country’s cultural richness and diversity in a way unavailable to tourists who travel by more conventional means.

Moroccan car license plates tell where a car is from. Find a complete list here.

Far from the big cities you won't need any special spot: everywhere looking like a safe place (ie: cars not going to fast/can see you from far/can stop almost safely) will be fine. The traffic in the countryside is never too big and they can really stop everywhere, sometimes even in spite of the most basic driving rules. You can experience a large variety of lifts: slow drivers and crazy drivers, brand new luxury cars and (especially) 30 years old car, sometimes you can find yourself very packed with many people, or on the back of a van/pick-up.

Sometimes is not easy to understand if the incoming van is a local bus or just a normal van. The first time you see one you'll probably stop it not understand its a bus.. they're anyway nice and if you explain you don't have money (something like "makeneis fluss" in Arabic) they'll either go away without any complaints or maybe give you a free ride.

European-style gas station hitchhiking is possible on the motorways, which are quite busy and in very good shape. They are a good way to cover long distances in a short time, especially between the big cities. The employees might not allow you to approach drivers at gas stations, but will usually offer to find a ride for you, which might seem weird at first, and also seems to take longer than asking people yourself, but definitely works. Otherwise, the rest area and restaurant are often separate from the gas station and there are no employees there, so they are also a good spot to ask drivers.

Cities

See also: Western Sahara

Language

The official language is Arabic though the dialects spoken in Morocco and Algeria are significantly different from Modern Standard Arabic and dialects found in the Middle East and other parts of Africa. French is a common language of business and among educated people and in major cities will be almost universally understood. Many people in the north speak Spanish. The major Berber languages are fascinating but the effort required to learn them is probably too great for a casual tourist.

While spoken by some educated people and those who work in tourism, English is of little use. Be very careful if approached by someone speaking English, they are often looking to make a profit, legitimate or not.

At a minimum you should have basic competence in French as most drivers will understand it even if in rural areas they might speak just local languages. It's not anyway too hard to make yourself understood (especially with a map) but expect they to drop you off nearby some bus or taxi station because they might not understand you want to go all the way by thumb. A few words of Arabic will surprise most Moroccans, gain their respect and differentiate you from common tourists.

Police

Police in Morocco can be a great asset to a hitchhiker. Police roadblocks are quite common especially when the King is nearby. Approach them respectfully and make conversation and they will probably help you get a ride.

In small towns where it is sometimes difficult to find people who speak French, police officers (who always speak French) are invaluable aides for finding hotels, hammams, roads out of town etc.

In some most touristic areas (ie: on the route from Rissani to Merzouga) police might think your driver is an unauthorized guide illegally getting money from you, so be ready to explain them (in French!) you're just hitchhiking and your driver was just very kind in helping you. Having some picture of your hitchhiking experience will help convincing them, otherwise your driver might get a fine, and of course you'll offer to pay for it.

Sleeping

Cheap hotels are available in the medinas of most cities for 20–40 dirham. Expect an uncomfortable mattress, cold communal shower and don’t be surprised if you wake up with bug bites. Hotels are required to see your passport and most will want to hold it until they make a photocopy. There is little danger of a hotel worker stealing your passport but it is a good idea to keep several photocopies with you for peace-of-mind. Inside cities but also small villages if not invited at home, a very good option is ask for the nocturnal guardian, almost any quarter and village have one, they will show you the place to put your tent or mat and will take care of you in the night.

The night can get extremely cold for most of the year, especially around mountains. As they seldom have heating, be sure to carry a sleeping bag even if you plan to stay in hotels, as the blanket they give you might not be enough.

Under the Stars

Outside most cities and towns are places one can sleep discretely without a tent. Just make sure you get up before dawn. Also be aware that out-of-the-way spots that look like good places to sleep are often used as public toilets. Public parks, where they exist, tend to be “cruising areas” where men meet to have sex.

In some places, especially near trucking routes, there are semi-permanent tents made of plastic sheeting wrapped around a timber frames. These are usually empty though you may want to ask first.

If the night is coming close and you're in a rural area, you will often find groups of women sitting outside and talking. If you ask them for a place to set up your tent, you will usually be shown a corner somewhere close to peoples' houses where you can then camp with some "protection".

Getting invited into people's homes

If you are humble and kind, you will easily receive invitations. Sometimes the hospitality is exhausting and you may want to take a cheap hotel for some privacy and space to breathe.

Hospitality

Morocco is famous for its hospitality and if you spend some time hitchhiking around the country, someone will sooner or later invite you for tea, food, or a place to sleep. To be polite, and to find out whether the invitation is genuine, it is wise to refuse at least once. If people really want to invite you they will insist, and you can accept in good conscience after the second or third time. Sometimes, people might offer you to stay with them if you ever come to their town, but only do so out of politeness, in which case it might not be very nice to respond with something like "yeah, definitely, what's your number, so I can call you when I get there?". But many people also genuinely want to help you out and will offer you to take down their phone number in case you need a place to stay or any help at all, and if you feel like they are serious about it, it is definitely not rude to accept and call them later if you want to take them up on it.

It might be a good idea to make yourself aware of the overall social / economic situation of people who invite you, as you might meet both very rich and very poor people, and even a very poor person might offer to pay for food, transport or other expenses, even if they cannot really afford it. In these cases, if someone invites you to spend the night at their home, if you can afford it, why not pay for groceries, or at least bring a small gift, like a pack of tea, sugar or some fruits... A little extra food every once in a while will most probably not put a dent in your budget.

Personal Experiences

Fede was caught wild camping three times and detained by the police. Once in Azilal, in the Atlas mountains, asking for a spot near a mosque, the security didn't authorise him until arrival of the cops (amn watani) who treated him politely and explained they must force him go to a hotel. Second time in Sa'idya (border with Algeria and "maximum suspect") while hitchhiking brought to a police station with a ridiculous scam (policeman said "this friend of mine will bring you to a better spot") and kept hours checking documents and asking questions; lastly in Chefchaouen where a nocturnal guardian directly called the police (kept for 5 hours, taken fingerprints and the day after threatened to be expelled from the "kingdom" if he didn't leave the city). Each time police clarified that it was illegal to sleep in the streets or as guest at Moroccans for "security reasons", i.e. according to them and that law, every foreigner must go to a hotel or guesthouse every night unless there is an emergency situation where you don't have alternatives. Of course the practice is different than the theory, though pay attention, especially if you are not european, because they could be extremely racist.

Safety

Because of the importance of tourism to the economy, anyone found physically harming a foreigner is punished severely. Attacks and terrorism against foreigners is extremely rare but due caution is advised. Far more common are a wide range of scams and hustles.

If you get lost in a city (and you will), people will jump to offer to show you the way. They will always expect a tip. This is fair, but make sure that they have actually lead you to your destination, and not intentionally gotten you more lost. It is better to buy something from a shop, and then ask the shopkeeper for directions.

All the money that is involved in tourism has unfortunately made the cities slightly dodgy. But outside urban areas, the people are almost universally polite, welcoming, and honest.


Cigarette Scam

Travelers including hitchhikers going to Mauritania are likely to encounter a cigarette scam in southern cities such as Tiznit and especially Guilmeme. Typically the traveler is engaged by a local who inquires about his or her plans for traveling further and after some discussion is told that to avoid delays and harassment at the Mauritanian frontier he should bring a gift of cigarettes. He may also be told that cigarettes are very expensive in Mauritania and/or Western Sahara and with a pack of cigarettes he can buy everything from a fish to a room in a hotel.

The local will then offer to ‘help’ the traveler buy several cartons of cigarettes for a “very good price” of anywhere from 12 to 20 dirham per pack (120-200 MAD per carton). The cigarettes he proposes are brands only available on the black market.

These are smuggled from the Canary Islands and come in several brands-the most common being American Legend. The price varies from 6 to 10 MAD per pack depending on the city and the dealer. These are lower quality cigarettes and smoking more than a few tend to give the smoker a sore throat.

The scam artist is paying probably no more than 50 MAD per carton (200 cigarettes) and pocketing the rest. The reality is that cigarettes are easily available in Mauritania (in fact usually less than half the price of in Morocco; ranging from 100-400 Ugyia per pack of 20)

Locals driving cars usually bring a gift of some sort to help ease the passage into Mauritania but hitchhikers should not expect problems.

Religion and Politics

Religion

Always be careful about discussing religion and politics while hitchhiking. This is especially true in Morocco. Nearly everyone in Morocco is a Muslim and the religion permeates every part of the culture. Moroccans love to discuss God and a hitchhiker will certainly be asked about his religious beliefs. Muslims recognize Christians and Jews as “people of the book” and are respected — especially if they are knowledgeable about the Bible and can intelligently discuss religion. Claiming to be an atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu or member of some other non-monotheistic religion is not advised. There is little danger of being beheaded as an infidel but being a believer may mean the difference between being merely tolerated and being welcomed into peoples’ homes. And of course, keep any negative opinions about Islam, Muhammad, etc. to yourself.

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is recognized by most countries as occupied territory. The Kingdom of Morocco and most Moroccans consider it part of Morocco. It is technically illegal in Morocco to assert anything else. From 1976 until 1991 the Polisario waged a civil war for independence. In 1991 the United Nations brokered a cease-fire and an agreement was reached to hold a referendum for independence. The referendum has yet to take place and 60 percent of the Moroccan army is still stationed in the territory. The history and current situation is very complex but a hitchhiker there should be very careful about what he says and to whom. Under no circumstances should you claim or admit to being a journalist or writer. Doing so is asking for trouble, possible arrest and will endanger any Saharawis you are seen with.

Border crossing

The border to Algeria is closed.

Hitchhiking to Mauritania is surprisingly easy at the Mauritanian consulate in Rabat. Anyone going to Mauritania must stop there first to get the visa (no longer available at the Mauritanian border or in Rabat), and you will have many long hours of waiting for your visa in which you can talk to the various drivers going south. Also, just hitchhiking towards south conventionally will be quite easy as there is always overlanders and car salespeople going south.

A personal experience with border crossings (Dating back to 2005):

I was homosexually harassed by an older border policeman while coming from Morocco to Ceuta. I don´t forgive such, so I approached Moroccan consulates in both Malaga and London. In Malaga they obviously protect such criminals and London wasn´t very helpful either. I did send letters to the ministries of tourism and interior affairs, as well as to the border chief but nobody was interested. So, if you really have to come to this country, make sure you don´t cross the borders alone!

Hitchhiking Events

From the LCD:

The 2007 Hitch has just wrapped up with a record-breaking 760 Hitchers completing the 1,600 mile journey to Morocco, and 26 the 800 mile journey to Prague. The Hitch is LCD’s largest fundraising event and hitching the 1600 or 800 miles is a true feat of achievement. All the Hitchers have now safely returned to the UK, but the money is still rolling in.


See Also