A grand old taxi party

Have you ever piled into a car with six of your friends, half sitting on each other’s laps and joking about watching out for police officers, because you somehow found yourselves with too big of a people-to-car ratio?

Have you ever done this with six complete strangers?

This week, I discovered the Moroccan phenomenon known as the “grand taxi.”

There are two kinds of taxis in Morocco. “Petit” or “little” taxis are your regular old taxi cabs. They are color coded by city. Bright royal blue in Rabat, pale baby blue in Meknès, red in Casablanca, yellow in Tétouan.

A petit taxi can take up to three passengers, one in the front seat and two in the back. Transporting three passengers in the back seat is not allowed. At first, I thought this was a safety rule. I was thoroughly confused. (Moroccan taxi cabs often don’t have seat belts in the back, and if they do and you try to buckle in, the driver might take it as a personal insult to his driving skills and tell you to take it off… but oh, heaven forbid you put three people in the back of a taxi!) I realized later on that the three-passengers rule is probably more economic related. Because then I discovered the “grand” or “big” taxis.

Petit taxis stay within city lines. If you want to leave the city, you have to take a grand taxi. The name is a bit confusing. Grand taxis are not much bigger than petit taxis at all. A grand taxi is a Mercedes sedan that usually looks older than me. It transports seven people: the driver and six passengers. Two people share the front passenger seat. If you want a little more space, or if you don’t want to be half sitting on the gear shift, you can pay double and have the whole front passenger seat to yourself. Four passengers squeeze into the back seat. I’ve heard that sometimes they put a seventh passenger between the driver and the driver’s door, but this is illegal.

There are grand taxi stands here and there throughout my city. Each is marked by a sign that says “Taxis,” but the sign doesn’t always say where the taxis are going. You sort of just have to know.

I knew enough Darija to ask a woman, “Where are the taxis to Tangier?” but not enough to understand her reply. Thankfully, though, pointing is universal! I thanked her and headed off in the direction she’d gestured. She yelled something in Arabic to a middle school boy with a backpack who was walking in the same direction. It must have been, “Hey, kid! Are you going by the Gare Routière? Show this lady where it is, ok?”

At the taxi stand, I paid the driver and got in. We sat until the car was full, but it only took a few minutes. Four men and two women. Then we were off!

The road to Tangier is winding and hilly. Halfway there, the poor girl next to me screamed at the driver to pull over quick. I opened the door and jumped out so she could get out and throw up. Two minutes later, we were back on our way. The driver was all nonchalant, like this happens all the time. “I’m sorry,” she said in Darija. I didn’t know how to say “I hope you feel better,” so I patted her shoulder.

We made it to Tangier in less than an hour. The trip should have taken an hour and twenty minutes. I’m not complaining! I’m also never looking at a grand taxi’s speedometer, because I just don’t wanna know.

The college where I’m teaching is in a town a few miles outside the city where I live, so I’ll be taking a grand taxi to work on a regular basis. Thankfully, I’m not shy about being squashed in a taxi with six strangers. Plus, these grand taxis are cheap. When in Rome!