Moroccan Railway

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Leaving Marrakech, Morocco

It is a long ride from Tanger, Morocco to Marrakech. It’s not an express experience. That song is wrong.

Morocco is about the same size as California in the U.S.A. Instead of being on the Pacific its long shoreline is on the Atlantic Ocean. The capital, Rabat, is on the coast and the fabled Casablanca is south of Rabat. Both of these coastal cities are large and filled with business and industry. To the east of Morocco is Algeria which is extensively arid much like California’s eastern neighbor Nevada.

Unlike California, Morocco has a train system that reaches many parts of the country. Morocco used to be a French protectorate, so the Moroccan train system is influenced by the strong French railway. All communications are in Moroccan Arabic and French, this includes signs and spoken announcements.

Departure Board, Fes, Morocco

The Moroccan train system seems to work. The French and Swiss systems are more punctual and fancier, but you can get around Morocco reliably by train, unlike California. And the Moroccan rail system is affiliated with bus lines which extend public transportation further throughout the country. You can not buy train tickets until you are in Morocco, but it is an easy thing to do at the stations and the attendants speak many languages.

I didn’t take the train from Tanger to Marrakech. I first went to Fes. It is still a long ways from Tanger. The Tanger and Fes train stations are beautiful and new. The ride is interesting in the same way that most train routes pass through the edges of towns and the back sides of commercial districts, so you don’t see the best parts of towns. The countryside is mostly gently rolling to hilly. The soils seem like to they could be very productive but in late September there weren’t many crops growing.

Fes was an amazing experience. I had a room in a beautifully restored old house in the ancient walled city. These old Arabic walled cities are called medinas and this one dated from the 9th century. Wandering the narrow alleys with the crushing crowds was intimidating at first, especially carrying camera equipment. I hired a local guide through the hotel. He was born in the medina and has lived his entire life navigating the alleys and market stalls. He taught me a lot about the culture and traditions and took me to many out-of-the-way places. As with every guide apparently, he also took me to places where I could support the local craftsmen, ensuring that he would also get a commission. He was kind enough to tell me that the artist cooperatives are funded by UNESCO as a recognized World Heritage Site. So when the hard sales pitch was presented I didn’t have to feel bad for causing starvation and the end of the rug industry in Morocco. Fes is an ancient religious and academic center and is intense.

I did finally ride the train to Marrakech, and from Fes it is still an eight hour ride. And it is a long eight hours. You pass through Rabat and keep going and going. One recommendation, don’t drink the luke-warm coffee on the cart in the train. I regretted that, but I won’t go into details. Let’s just say the water wasn’t boiled.

I only went to Marrakech in order to meet up with a guide service to walk in the High Atlas Mountains to the south. Marrakech has exploded with new unimaginative hotels and apartments and is still growing. I didn’t spend much time there.

Since this posting is about the rail system I won’t go into the walking experiences at this time. My last ride was on the train from Marrakech to Casablanca where I flew to Milano, Italy to photograph in the Dolomite Mountains.

The Moroccan trains can seem crowded, even in first class. Six people are in a compartment. But the seats are comfortable and the mixture of languages and the exotic north African scenes out the window make a captivating experience. I enjoy traveling by train and the Moroccan railway is a pleasant way to experience the country.

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