Usually people are incline to consider all the Arabs like Middle Easterners. So, when I am asked to share a story about the Middle East, can’t be sure what the real expectations are. How Morocco came up? The last time, I tried to recall a funny story from Jordan, Lebanon, Dubai, Bahrain or Qatar. But my friends impatiently interrupted me by saying:
“No,no, that’s enough, we already know in details this region, now tell us about Morocco”
It’s a bit weird to consider Morocco as part of the Middle East. Firstly, because it’s in the opposite direction, secondly – it’s located in Western North Africa, the area is called Magreb. But because of the desert and the mysterious romantic impression, Morocco could be added somehow to the Middle Eastern spirit and atmosphere. That’s why I did not argue and just asked myself where to start from. And then, suddenly came a direct question:”After three trips to Morocco, what’s your most vivid memory of the country?”
“The goats, living on trees, of course ”
was my immediate response. Confusion and deep silence was the reaction to the sentence above. Probably my listeners questioned themselves if they have correctly heard it and what did I mean by “goats, living on trees“. To be precise, the goats are getting off the tree time to time, but in fact could spend whole day up. 🙂
There is a pre-history of that affair. It was my second trip to Morocco. From the very beginning it was clear the journey promises to be quite unusual. I got lost at the moment of landing in Casablanca, but it was definitely not my fault. The welcoming guide drove me somehow to the capital Rabat, instead of to my actual target – Marrakech. I later found out that some people never make difference between Marrakech and Morocco, because it sounds similar. While I was thinking my business trip is precisely organised from the office, someone who doesn’t make that difference, “delivered” me by mistake to Casablanca and Rabat, hundred of miles away from my desired check point.
The driver was as surprised as me, when at the entrance of Rabat city I made him turn back and drive 240 km extra to Marrakech. That’s the power of language barrier and misunderstanding. I believed that speaking English and some Arabic, would make me feel quite comfortable in Morocco. But the local Arabic language is a very distant dialect of my Qatari Arabic. In addition, it’s complimented by too many French words, which made it mission impossible to shorten the gap for just several days.
Finally, arriving in Marrakech after midnight, I expectedly found there is no reservation under my name in the hotel. My room was wrongly booked in the same hotel chain, but in the capital Rabat. Do you know what could be the benefit if someone else did the mistake? I had no idea as well, but discovered it quite rapidly. I took advantage of the situation, with no regrets. The direction and hotel misunderstanding actually improved my personal experience.
Speaking about improvement, I got a beautiful pool view apartment, because the hotel was fully booked. Not only this, but lots of extras, added to my stay. The apartment upgrade was approved by my office, when they realised the city confusion mistake. The extras were added personally by the hotel, they almost felt guilty I have no reservation, but have expected to have one. That’s why I generally adore critical situations, they hide so many unexpected opportunities. Briefly – no drama, no regrets, no harm and
Let the adventure begin.
Next day. A sunny morning, about 25 degrees C, birds sing, great breakfast, all green around, and I am breathing at last after the double daily temperatures in Qatar (my departure zone). Today I go hunting for…argan oil. That’s the real aim of my trip. This time I came to Morocco, the homeland of the best argan oil of the world, to find, pick and buy the highest quality of this precious liquid.
There is an area, nearby the city of Essaouira, where plenty of argan oil factories and work shops are established. The Moroccan argan oil is famous to be the best not only because of the quality of the trees and seeds, but because of the ancient traditional handmade methods and techniques, still applied to its extraction.
I promise to tell you more and explain in details, with lots of images, about argan oil in the next article, because it’s really an impressive and inspirational story. I was truly amazed by what I have seen on site. The feeling is like I have been teleported instantly about two centuries back in time, completely bewitched by the environment, habits, way of manufacture. And least but not last, the incredible Moroccan tea, served to the guests. I won’t go any further. Now I’ll tell you about my adventures on the way to the sacred land of argan oil.
The camel ride terrace
The distance from Marrakech to Essaouira is between 160 and 190 km. The difference of about 30 km depends on which road is open and which is blocked. There are sections under construction and some detours, so if you are lucky will hit the right time when the direct route is available. The argan oil sacred land is located about 20 km before reaching Essaouira. It means average about 150 km drive from Marrakech. The terrain around is nearly deserted but still some low grass and single bushes could be seen.
Regardless the way of transfer, all vehicles – car, rented minivan, taxi, bus, stop at the very popular spot on the route – the camel ride terrace. It’s a beautifully located hill, with a stunning view to the valley and the ocean. The tourists get off to enjoy the view and to rest a bit the long ride. Using sensibly that stop, some local camel owners are waiting on site with their colourfully decorated animals, providing short camel tour to the foreigners, who have seen camels only through the fence of the zoo.
There is no fixed price and you should negotiate the cost of the camel adventure. Just remember what I have warned in my previous articles – in the Arabic world all is negotiable and it depends on you to achieve the best cost (for you, not for the seller). So, don’t be shy and bravely decrease the offered price. I would highly recommend reoffering it even doubly reduced. Usually that way the trader is still on profit.
The kids would enjoy the baby camels, provided on site not for a ride but to be touched, fondled and taken on memory shots. If you pay for a ride, taking pictures is usually for free. But don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay in addition for taking photos with the animals, in case the camel ride is not your desire. The locals are very clever. They know the tourists’ habits and learned to take advantage of them, which I can only admire, because it’s a valuable business flair.
Moving beyond the splendid camel terrace, you already think nothing else could surprise you most. But on the same route there is another, even more spectacular attraction – a row of crooked curved trees, having
Goats instead of fruits
In my life I have seen enough phenomenons, but I should admit it was one of the most impressive ever. Firstly – because it’s highly unexpected, secondly, because the goats feel so comfortable on the tree, like they were born for living up, thirdly – those “goat trees” are in the middle of nowhere and you expect to face nothing alive around.
Believe me, it’s impossible not to stop. Everybody stops, attracted by the view. My chin literally fell down like it happens in the movies. It takes time to consider and comprehend the seen. The goats are so used to the visitors, that they keep doing their daily routine, not caring at all about the intruders. And that’s exactly the charm, because they could be observed naturally, while jumping and getting off the trees, eating the dry leaves, clanging while moving their little neck bells.
For the goats it looks so usual, natural and ordinary, but for the visitors goats living on a tree is an extremely outstanding case. I still regret for not making a video, but at least some photos captured the moment. I felt like I was able to watch that type of “cartoon” for ages. And an inexplicable happiness was streaming out of my person. Briefly said – at that moment I looked, behaved and reacted as a well known psychiatry patient with a long medical history, who was released for a while among other humans.
It was difficult to retract my lips, stretched from ear to ear. I was running from a tree to a tree, eager to check and watch each goat. The relief – I was not the only crazy person between those trees. It seemed like a common temporary decease, spread at the time of the arrival among the visitors. What I am trying to say is, it was unforgettable, out of time experience, which I would highly recommend not to be skipped.
Going further to Essaouira and the argan factories area, you would know you are almost there, when a variety of
Tagine roadside vendors
start popping up. The reasonable and very expected question is “What tagine means?” Right! That’s the most popular local traditional Moroccan pot for cooking or keeping food warm. Tagine or also written as Tajine, looks unusual, especially the cover, but as I have been told, the form is related to the aim to preserve the food temperature. I have no idea how it works, but I know that whatever food is placed inside, this pot will keep its temperature as it is, for quite long time.
Some of the tagines are made to be cooked in. The simple ones are created from clay or a similar material. Their price is affordable to everyone. The pots are frequently used in the local households. The cost of tagine could vary, depending on the material and level of art. Some of them look really like an expensive piece of art, covered by semiprecious stones and impressive metal lace.
It’s a matter of prestige to have different kind of tagines at home and of course, to know how to use, present and place them in front of the guests. The western tourists buy tagines rarely, mostly like an exotic decoration. But the visitors from other Arabic countries appreciate those pots as a desirable part of their party food presentation.
If you speak French or Arabic, the local vendors will explain with pleasure how and where to use tagine in the right manner. English speaking traders could be possibly found, but mainly in the city, right at the big markets. called Medina. Be aware, the price there will be triple times higher than in the roadside shops.
Well…I have already arrived at my argan oil factory, after plenty of adventures, emotions and surprises, collected just for a day time. Next time I’ll let you know more about how argan seeds look like, where they grow, the tough and long way of oil extraction, with no machines included at all.
I should also take the time to tell more about my other surprising adventure in Essaouira, the city on Atlantic coast, where the visitor is welcomed by key clattering. By the way, Essaouira is lately known as one of the leading windsurfing and kitesurfing destinations, but I won’t be surprised if you have never heard about it. Wind never stops there and whoever comes to Essaouira, immediately falls in love with. But let me tell you about this love next time 🙂