Friday, May 1, 2015

Moroccan Train Travel At Your Own Risk

I fully expected mayhem in India. When it comes to boarding a train that is. I expected such congestion and a swarming of overpopulation that it would be near impossible to board a train without being seriously hurt and/or killed. And that did happen when a woman lost her leg trying to rush a train that was about to leave in Orcha. She dropped into the too wide space between train car and concrete platform, her left leg slipping onto the track as the train began to move, severing her leg at the knee. I was there to see her pulled up and out of the no-man's-land-like track pit and laid to rest on her back while she bled out, no one coming to her aid other than those praying for her soul.

But in Morocco, the boarding of a train, even a first class car, can also be a heart wrenching experience, while men and women bull their way inside a space that can only hold so much flesh and bone without bursting. There is no organization, no politeness, and above all, no civility. That is, until you are finally on the train and, having negotiated a place to stand (or sit, such as on top of the coffee bar in the inoperable cafe car), some kind gentleman offers you a freshly picked date from a paper bag. Mere moments before he might have gladly kicked your ass out the door if it meant he had just a little more space to himself.

Fights break out between men. Not swinging fists necessarily. But shouting matches, with fists clenched, not raised or poised to punch. One man trying to prove his macho manner over the other as if the security of an entire nation depends upon who enters the train car first. For certain these men condemn one another's souls for all eternity. It's like watching fighting cocks without the full contact or spilled blood. But that doesn't mean attempting to board a train in Morocco isn't a contact sport. Far from it. This isn't a very writerly description, but suffice to say, it is what it is.

Morocco is certainly not Italy when it comes to keeping train schedules. It's actually more like Amtrak in the states when running an hour or more behind is as common as food stamps. After all, a train system run by the government is a surefire means for inefficiency and carelessness. Workers get paid regardless.

But I digress.

For the weary traveler (or even someone traveling with an adventure company like Intrepid or Peak Adventures), just know this: If you are traveling in Morocco by train, pay for a first class ticket, because then you at least have a chance of getting a real seat, although it might not be the one you paid for. Maintain a sense of humor and a sense of balance since it's likely you'll have to stand. But above all, get over yourself and have a sense of humor. After all, you're not back in the states riding Amtrak. You're in Morocco, a land of enchantment and mystery.

The author shares a coffee bar for a seat with a stranger


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