When I was a kid, a visit from my mum's cousin (my second cousin?) was always a pretty cool occasion, because he drove a Jag. I remember him telling me he'd never buy a Mercedes, 'because, young chap, they are taxis.' Growing up in London, I didn't really understand what he meant - after all, taxis were horrible rattly old black cabs that wouldn't go south of the river and Mercs were those lovely SLs that wealthy people drove.
It wasn't until I visited France and Germany that I understood what he meant - suddenly there were Mercedes 300s and 500s everywhere with little taxi lights on their roofs. Wow, I could actually pay for a ride in the back of a car that didn't look like it had been designed in 1930 and wasn't going to shatter my spine either!
I've often wondered what happened to these cars after they've racked up half a million kilometres or so and ended their lives as euro-taxis. Well, after a recent trip to North Africa, now I know. They just carry on as taxis in Morocco…
Morocco is an awesome country, which I highly recommend you visit. Of all the north African nations it's probably the most politically stable; it's reasonably secular - women are actually allowed to do stuff; but it's still incomparably different from what we consider the 'western world'.
The capital, Marrakech, is really two different cities - you've got the modern city, which is actually not so far removed from what we consider a 'normal' city to be like. It is full of bog-standard eurobox cars, which you don't want to see and I didn't take any pictures of. Then you have the old city, the medina - a maze of narrow alleys, hectic souks, beautiful riads where you can stay in relative luxury for bargain prices, oh, and psychotic scooter riders who will run you down if you get in their way.
This guy is taking a well-earned break before another shift of terrorising pedestrians
The medina is pretty much inaccessible to normal cars, so deliveries are made by mule, porter or by these cool motorised trikes. Also driven by psychopaths.
The city is hilarious, and home to every ex-taxi Mercedes built before 1998 I think. Unfortunately, like taxi drivers the world over, the Moroccans aren't the friendliest of folk if you're not actively providing a fare and for some reason aren't that keen on tourists taking pictures of their cars. So, here are some pics of other modes of transport in this amazing city.
Suzuki Carrys are narrow enough for the medina's alleyways too - and can be made to look pretty cool, with some tasteful colour schemes and stickers, I think you will agree
This Jetta was 'intimate' with the wall
Friendly roadside assistance guy
Outside of Marrakech, things can get even more interesting. Old Renaults abound, and some are in pretty good shape.
We went for a multi-day trek into the Sahara, which required a day-long drive south over the Atlas Mountains, and some extraordinary landscapes.
In the desert, the only way to transport your kit is by camel train, led by your friendly Berber guide.
That is, until the weather turns sour and you need to call in the 4x4s to rescue you from an encroaching sandstorm. Our rescue party comprised a Land Rover Defender and a Mitsubishi Pajero Sport.
Guess which one broke down…
As I said, Morocco is pretty amazing and you should definitely go if you get the chance. I know it's a cliche, but it really is another planet. For those of us who love driving it's also a pretty potent reminder that there are many, many people in this world, who'll never get behind the wheel. Perhaps worth bearing in mind when we next are tempted to moan about our daily driver...