North Africa’s answer to Cuba’s cars

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The Place des Grand Taxis is more than a simple taxi rank: it’s a main transport hub, and each city in the country has one. A chief broker, usually found in a prominent position surrounded by assistants, orchestrates operations. In Essaouira, he stands near the entrance of the walled compound, loudly barking orders at drivers, his helpers and even the passengers. Travellers going to a particular city up north are ushered into one taxi, those going south into another and so forth. Then, when all the seats in a car are taken, it can leave on its journey. Generally speaking, the further the destination, the earlier the departure – as most drivers like to return to their home base each night despite travelling upwards of 1,000km per day, but this isn’t always possible. “Look at the green taxi parked over there,” says Mesfar. “That’s stayed overnight from Taroudant [a city to the west of Essaouira] and that one over there is from Rabat as it’s white. Each city in Morocco has its own taxi colour scheme that makes it easy to spot and here in Essaouira it’s just like our fishing boats: sky blue. A proud colour that once upon a time made us rich.” In Essaouria, this unique shade of blue originally came from crushed seashells, and nearly everything in the city has been painted with it, from horse drawn carriages to people’s front doors – even the Petit Taxis. This last point is unusual as most other Moroccan cities chose different colours to differentiate Petit Taxis, which are smaller cars (usually French hatchbacks) that are only allowed to take a maximum of two passengers on much shorter rides within the urban perimeter. (Credit: Sam Christmas)

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