Dear Europcar Customer Service,
My wife and I arrived in Casablanca late at night stiff and sore from long hours folded into anatomically incorrect airline seats. You may think that airlines are public companies, but they’re not, they’re evil cults created by chiropractors to drum up new business. Then we shuffled along in endless queues while a succession of 27 different uniformed officials wearing more lanyards, medals, tassels and bling than an army of rappers took turns stamping, chewing, sniffing, mauling, and generally defiling our passports. God only knows where the government found so many stone-faced, humourless sods with the exact same moustache.
(Is there a farm, perhaps? Like with turnips?).
Then we wrestled with the crazy-eyed porters who blasted through schools of weary tourists like frenzied sharks intent on devouring our baggage. “No, I already have a trolley thank you. No, I can also push it myself, thank you, it’s really quite simple. No, I don’t want you to take MY bags off My trolley and put them on YOUR trolley, but thank you. No, I don’t want a goat or a taxi or a daughter…or your daughter’s goat. No, stop biting my wife!”
(The best way to get through? Wave at two different porters simultaneously and then slink away while they attack each other).
And then, in the distance, we saw the cheery green glow of Europcar’s sign piercing the gloom like the sole sunbeam on grey cloudy day. “Yes!” we cried. “Europe! A little haven of tranquility and efficiency in the eye of the storm!” We ran towards that green sign like victims of a bad curry scrambling for the nearest toilet. Even the most rabid porter dared not impede our progress.
At the Europcar door we screeched to a halt, trolley wheels smoking, bits of porter sifting to the floor. We dredged up our broadest, brightest smiles and we were almost ready to put our positive pants back on until… Until we saw the sullen, joyless, deflated figure behind the desk.
My wife and I whispered to ourselves:
“Is he low on air, do you think?”
“I doubt he’s inflatable…”
“He’s got a moustache, like the passport guys.”
“Yes but much less bling, which might mean something.”
“Maybe he didn’t make the grade to be a passport guy and now he’s pining for paraphernalia?”
“We could let him fondle our documents, if that would help?”
“He hasn’t looked up from his desk or smiled or greeted us in any way.”
“Yes but it’s okay, surely he’s been trained to Europcar standards.”
(Hilarious, in retrospect, I know!)
Eventually a pair of murky brown eyes flicked up toward us and we deigned to approach the Europcar agent’s cluttered desk. Amazingly, the transaction progressed relatively smoothly thereafter albeit at glacial pace. Papers were printed, keys were found amongst the mess, credit cards imprints were captured, and then everything ground to a halt when I said:
The brown eyes dimmed and the stony face assumed a level of immobility that made granite seem soft and silky. “You did not book GPS.”
“I think you’ll find that GPS was offered as standard on the class of car we booked. And this is Morocco after all, a place where GPS is somewhat essential for tourists…”
“I have paper,” the agent waved a crumpled scrap of something from amongst the piles of detritus on his desk, “you not book GPS.”
“Leaving that particular argument aside for a moment. Do you have a GPS?”
“Yes, but you not book.”
“So can we have one anyway?”
Brows furrowed, breathing slowed, moss began to grow quietly on the catatonic agent. “If you did not book, you cannot have.”
“Again, leaving aside the argument about whether we booked or not. Why can’t we have one now?”
“What if someone book GPS tonight and then I not have one to give them tomorrow?”
“Do you have a shortage of GPS systems at the moment?”
Sigh. Heart-rending, lung-bursting, gale-producing sigh.
“So basically, even though you have GPS systems available, we still cannot have one because…”
“…You did not book.”
“So according to you, the only way to get a GPS from Europcar inside Morocco is to book a GPS before we arrive.”
I looked at my wife. “We should have let the porters kill us.”
But before I approach the topic of the alleged “car”, let me just tell you a few things about driving and navigating in Morocco.
First of all, most streets in Morocco are “omnidirectional”, which means that cars, trucks, scooters, buses, goats, bikes, camels and pedestrians come at you from every angle. You might be driving down a four-lane “highway” replete with signs and pretty white lines and big bushy median strips but it doesn’t mean that you can relax. Some guy on a scooter will appear in your lane anyway, riding straight at you, flashing his lights to tell you to make space for him even though he is obviously on the wrong side of the road. And even though the lorry driver beside you sees the scooter and knows that you need to move over, he’ll still stand on his horn and wave angrily if you dare drift even one nanometre into his lane. (Perhaps we are supposed to create wormholes in such cases? Or spontaneously master vehicular levitation?). And then there are the window washers. Anytime your vehicle slows down below about 80 km/hr, a swarm of determined window washers will emerge from nowhere and then muddy your windscreen with brown liquids from the bowels of hell. If you speed up to avoid them, they will run and leap with a level of vigour that would shame Usain Bolt. One window washer actually clung to our back windscreen all the way from Meknes to Fez until he saw a dirty tourist bus and then leapt onto it like the Frog from Frogger. Anyway, the point of all this is: Front seat passengers in Morocco need to keep their eyes on the road to spot hazards. They cannot afford to fumble with maps or phones or any other navigational aid.
Secondly, you might think that an iPhone with 3G is all you need to navigate your way through any foreign land and in many countries that is true. But not in Morocco. There are three main networks in Morocco and they bicker over your phone like a pack of old, barren, aunties harassing a cute young kid. You might catch a glimpse of 3G occasionally as your phone does its endless Maroc-Meditel-Inwi mating dance, but don’t expect to use any mapping or navigation apps. Maybe, maybe…if you are sitting in Marrakech underneath a mobile phone tower enjoying a light breeze late at night on a Friday when all of the locals have gone to bed, then maybe, just maybe, you might get enough 3G to load a single map. But don’t expect to move, breathe, or heaven forbid, take your phone into a car and use it to navigate. It just ain’t gonna happen.
Even in the face of these restrictions you may still say, “C’est pas probleme, you whinging English git. Use a map!” And normally, this would be a reasonable, if somewhat ungenerous, suggestion. But maps are not popular in Morocco because most streets do not have names. Oh sure, there are many, many names written on maps, of course, but very few of those names are visible on the streets themselves. We drove through Casablanca for 2 hours and did not see a single sign showing the name of a single street. Eventually we found one sign on a dusty boulevard and stared at it for 20 minutes but it wasn’t much help because it was written in arabic. Now, I am sure that arabic is a wonderful, rich language worthy of great respect, beloved by poets and mullahs, and perfect for angry arguments between Yemeni’s bearing AK-47s but unfortunately, I don’t speak it or read it. To me, arabic writing looks vaguely like words constructed by children playing with wet spaghetti. So even if there had been more road signs, we couldn’t have used them and the window washers would have eaten us if we’d even slowed down enough to try.
So, Europcar. Think about this. View the world as it is, not as you want it to be. Put GPS systems in all of your cars or be prepared to boost your insurance premiums when more of your customers get consumed.
But anyway, let’s put aside the GPS and move on to the alleged “car”.
We had booked a 4×4 and indeed we were presented with a Nissan Pathfinder which technically fit within the agreed specifications. But it wasn’t really a car, it was a poor, abused, neglected, unwashed, homeless orphan. I’m not sure if words can describe just how filthy your Nissan was, but let me try.
Have you seen those advertisements on television where animal charities seeking donations show photos of mangy, moth-eaten, flea-infested, dirt-encased, dysentery-ridden, tortured animals? Well your Nissan would have put them all to shame. We asked the Europcar agent in the car park to show us where the insurance documents were stored but he refused to approach the car itself, he just waved vaguely through the open door. The valet parking guy at our first hotel stepped into the car and then leapt back out as if the seat had grabbed his balls. (Maybe it did?). We had to give bellboys obscene tips just to get them to touch our luggage after we bravely dragged it from the bowels of satan’s chariot. (*more on the luggage later).
I actually felt bad when I stepped out of the car because I was afraid of dirtying the earth itself. I shook hands with a berber tribesman who’d been crossing the desert on a camel and sleeping rough for weeks and even HE was taken aback by the smell of my hand. “It’s the steering wheel!” I cried. “It’s not my fault!” An american tourist in Fez thought I was a vet. When I asked why, he said: “Your hand smells so bad I just assumed that it spent a lot of time deep inside pregnant cows.” Great. We had stored a few coins in the cup holders but we couldn’t use them. Even beggars threw them back in our faces.
Honestly, we would have felt cleaner if we had been dragged around Morocco behind the overflowing arse of an incontinent camel.
*Ah, the luggage. When we got back to London the baggage handler in heathrow stuck his head through the door and shook his fist at the crowd when he delivered our bags. We had to wait ten minutes for him to withdraw back outside before we could snatch our luggage in shame and scurry away. When we got home the concierge refused to let us into OUR OWN building. We had to unpack our bags on the sidewalk and then leave them at the kerb while we stumbled inside balancing precarious piles of dirty clothes. And do you know the most amazing thing of all??? Those bags of ours have been sitting beside the road for almost two weeks now and no one has stolen them!!! Do you have any idea how unique that is? If you’re not careful in London, someone will reach under the toilet door and steal your trousers while you’re taking a crap. But nobody wants our old luggage…
Shame Europcar, shame.
Suffice it to say, the car was filthy. We have attached some pictures for your perusal but please keep in mind, these photos were taken at the very start of our journey right after we had already spent 20 minutes cleaning the car ourselves using tissues and wet wipes.
You call yourself “Europcar” in a clumsy attempt to drape yourself in the allure of European quality and standards. But the name itself is not enough. You need the systems and processes and infrastructure to back up your claims. I can’t say that I have visited all of your locations around the world but I can say for sure that in Morocco you really need to do better…
Fly breezy, roam easy, Live Messy!