Sunday, 13 November 2011

Supratours Bus (Fes to Merzouga) – from terror to tranquility

The idea of an overnight bus from Fes to Merzouga where the seats recline a total of 5 degrees, while sitting in the very two front seats didn’t sound like it was going to be the best of times but we figured it wouldn’t be terrible, we’d just lose some sleep.

Firstly, we have a money saving/scam tip for people travelling from Fes to Merzouga on  Supratours. We had heard previously that theses buses only ran from Fes to Erfoud, then from Erfoud we would need to take an expensive taxi to Merzouga with the added possibility of being taken off to some strange town in the desert and being extorted.  Luckily, nowadays you can purchase a ticket all the way with Supratours and avoid all the problems…

supratourOur story was that we went to the ONCF train station (ONCF owns Supratours) and the kind young lads in the ONCF office told us with all sincerity the bus only went as far as Erfoud. We thought this was a bit odd as we knew it went all the way to Merzouga, and in addition to that - they were acting extremely odd when Sarah insisted on buying a ticket all the way.  Regardless, they insisted that this was all they could sell and that we would need to get off at Erfoud and ‘find a taxi’.  So we no other options available we bought the tickets and left a little confused.  We then spotted the official Supratours office opposite the train station, wandered in and asked the lady behind the counter. She was a little bewildered and amazed that the guys across the road had refused to sell us the right ticket.  She assured us that of course the bus went through to Merzouga and promptly sold us an additional ticket to cover the remainder of the journey. The positive at the end was that even though we were almost scammed in the end we saved around a 1/4 of the ticket price as for some reason the two separate tickets cost less than if we’d booked the normal journey.

After sorting out the ticket situation we came back later that night and while waiting for the bus we had our bags weighed and were then charged extra for luggage (we were only travelling with backpacks the size of  carry on for an airplane).  After placing them with all the other bags in the office, we boarded the bus.  After a while, we looked out only to notice our bags still sitting in the depot with several others, Dave quickly jumped off to investigate and was told in a obnoxious tone that they don’t load the luggage underneath the bus. No problem, but perhaps that should be made clear when your to leave them in a designated spot in the waiting area!

It turned out that a young Asian couple weren’t so lucky as to realise this, they left their bags in the depot and only realised 12 hours later upon arrival in Merzouga... In an amazing act of selfishness the Supratour office girl had said nothing about it (they would’ve been the only two bags left in the office as the girl closed up and boarded our bus). Pretty amazing on her behalf since they had big tags on them to say where they were going, and really the effort of making an announcement to say that two bags had been left would have been rather painless.

After a few seat re-arrangements (originally the driver said to sit wherever we wanted, turned out not to  be the case…) and an obnoxious French girl complaining loudly to the bus drive that she couldn’t recline her seat because the lady behind her had a baby and as such she should sit somewhere else (we weren’t really sure where). We would have happily swapped our front row seats with her!
desertFor the trip we had two bus drivers, the first one was a reckless ‘cowboy’ who overtook on blind corners, stopped regularly to by snuff which he snorted off his hand, which required taking both hands off the wheel and steering with his knees at 100+ km/hr. Needless to say, sitting at the front watching narrow misses with cars and the bus wandering into the wrong lane with oncoming traffic because the driver wanted to sniff his line didn’t exactly fill us with hope that we’d make it to Merzouga alive.

Thankfully, we stopped halfway a bit after midnight at a truck stop which had open shops, boiling tagines, giant cow carcasses strung up and large BBQs going with various bovine body-parts roasting away.  We were thankful for the stop to gather our nerves (and empty our bladders) before we were off again.
At this stage, we’d swapped drivers with a older, more conservative guy. Along side him in the ‘co-pilot’ seat was the hopped up snuff sniffing maniac who was chattering away like he’d just drank 30 cups of coffee.

It turns out that I literally thanked God (or Allah, as be the case in Morocco) that we had swapped drivers. As we were driving down a very straight road, with desert on either side, we were frantically flashed by an oncoming bus (which in itself isn’t odd, as they all flash each other to lower their high beams or check if the oncoming driver is actually awake).  We watched curiously as to why the bus was being so frantic as our bus driver ploughed on at full speed.

As we started to sail past the bus, it became immediately apparent what was wrong – there was a man walking in the middle of our lane in the pitch black on the pitch black bitchumin.
Time seemed to slow down as we were sure we would witness a gruesome death. The old man walking on the road looked more like a zombie; his shirt was unbuttoned and his hair was unkempt, his arms were dropped at his side, his shoulders were slumped and he was staring at the ground.
Had we had snuff sniffing bus driver, and he had been huffing at that time (which would honestly have been possible), the old man would have certainly hit the middle of the windscreen with tremendous force – and we would have a upfront view of the carnage.

As we saw the old man only metres away from the bus, the driver pulled the bus HARD to the left just missing the rear end of the oncoming bus and literally missing the old man by centimetres.  To give an idea of how close we were, the headlights illuminated his body in a bright white flash so vivid you could make out the details of his face, just as if you’d passed by him walking on the street.

We missed him, the bus screeched across to the wrong side of the road swaying so violent we thought it was going to roll over. But the driver held it together. It was truly nothing short of incredible that the old man, or we, didn’t die.

So, several lessons here. Check the facts when being told you can’t do something (or go ask someone else), watch that your bags actually follow you onto your bus, and don’t sit at the front of a bus... you’ll be scared shitless and the first one to die if some snuff sniffing hippy drives the bus with his knees into an oncoming truck.


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