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Driving in Africa: getting a rental car

As you’ve noticed, there haven’t been any new posts for the last two weeks, as I have been traveling. In the next couple of days/weeks, I’ll post some stories about my experience with driving in Morocco. I’ll start at the beginning: getting our rental car.

We arrive at Casablanca airport and after customs and security checks, we head straight for the car rental desks. On our way down there, a local man approaches us, asking if we’re looking for the cheapest car rental.

Morocco-Casablanca-airport-rental-desk-guidesOne thing you should know when traveling to Morocco, is that there’s a kind of black-market referral system in place, which involves mostly unemployed men who act as self-proclaimed guides to take tourists to shops, restaurants and hotels, and then take a large commission on the amount the tourist spends there. This causes two very annoying problems: the tourist is likely to be overcharged with at least the amount of the commission and besides that, the guides can be extremely harassive. Even if we manage to shake off this guy, there’s a whole bunch of others just like him waiting between us and the rental desks, ready to offer us their services, and even if you dismiss them, they’ll walk with you anyways, just because they want to take a commission from the rental office. Easier than telling each one that you’ve already pre-booked a car, you should just follow the first one, and he’ll keep the others away.

At the desk our guy has taken us, we tell the clerk we want the cheapest car possible, not at all expecting him to give it to us. And he doesn’t surprise us: he offers us a Peugeot 301, which is a midsized model in rental car company terms, for an utterly ridiculous price. Even after some negotiation, just for the sake of it, his offer is still triple of what we had planned to spend on a car. But our strategy has worked: our guide has already returned to his place in the Arrival hall, waiting for his next target, and fully expecting to get paid a big cutback on our rental fee. This gives us just enough room to move to the next rental desk without being noticed by him or any of the other “guides”.

A friendly lady awaits us there and even looks surprised to see us walk in unaccompanied. Apparently this doesn’t happen all too often. Again we ask for the cheapest car possible, expecting to spend the next two weeks cramped like canned sardines in a shitty little Korean minicar like a Kia Picanto or Chevrolet Spark as you would get at most rental desks in countries where the Chrysler/Dodge Neon is no longer available. But I should’ve done my homework better, as there’s a car much cheaper than any other car on the market, including minicars. It’s the locally produced and best selling car of Morocco in 7 of the last 9 years.

Morocco-rental-car-Dacia_LoganThat’s right, the lady offers us a Dacia Logan Economy. Wow, a Logan? That’s a compact sedan, with plenty of room for two people and their luggage! In my enthusiasm, I almost forget to negotiate, but considering she doesn’t have to pay commission to either an online vendor or a local bloodsucker, we manage to get exactly the price I had in mind. Instead, I forget to ask what she means by Logan Economy, but isn’t that the concept of the Logan, to be basic and economical? All I managed to pick up is that it doesn’t have air conditioning, but that shouldn’t be a problem in December, when the daytime temperatures vary between 15°C and 20°C. Well, you might be as surprised as I was when I found out just how basic a car can be in Africa.

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Also read: Driving in Africa part 2: The taxis of Morocco.