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 was asked about the Middle East, 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 part of the Middle East. Firstly, because it’s in the opposite direction, about eight hour flight from the territory called the Middle East. Secondly – it’s located in an area called Magreb, West North Africa. But because of the desert and the oriental 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 the story from. And then a direct question came from my listeners:”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 silence followed my expression above. Probably my friends questioned themselves if they heard me correctly and what did I mean by “goats living on trees“. To be precise, sometimes the goats get off the trees, but in fact they could spend the 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 was at the airport on time and was supposed to drive me to the hotel. I believed we were heading to Marrakech, but he somehow drove me to the capital Rabat, instead of my actual target. I later found some people never make difference between Marrakech and Morocco, because they sound similar. While I was thinking my business trip was precisely organised by the administration of the office in Qatar, someone there, who doesn’t make that difference, “delivered” me by mistake to Casablanca and Rabat, hundreds of miles away from my desired check point.
The driver was as surprised as I was, when at the entrance of Rabat, I made him turn back and drive 240 km extra to Marrakech. I believed by speaking English and some Arabic, I was going to feel quite comfortable in Morocco. The local Arabic language though, is a very distant dialect brother of my Qatari Arabic. In addition, the Moroccan Arabic is complimented by too many French words, which makes it look like mission impossible to shorten the gap for just several days.
Finally, arriving in Marrakech after midnight, I expectedly found there was no reservation in the hotel under my name. My room was wrongly booked with the same hotel chain, but in the capital Rabat. Do you know what’s the benefit when someone else did the mistake? I had no idea, but discovered it quite rapidly and took advantage of the situation. The direction and the hotel misunderstanding actually worked in my favour.
I got a beautiful pool view apartment, because the hotel was fully booked and no standard rooms available left. Lots of extras were added to my stay. The apartment upgrade was immediately approved by my office, at the moment they realised the city mistake was done by them. The hotel stuff on site almost felt guilty, because I had no reservation, but I expected to have one. What I adore in the critical situations is how many unexpected opportunities they could provide. 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, thick greenery around and at last I was breathing. I said “breathing”, because at my spot of departure Qatar the daily temperatures then were about 50 C and it’s not easy to breathe the heat. Today I was about to start my adventure and go hunting for…argan oil. That was the real aim of my trip. This time I came to Morocco, the homeland of the best argan oil in 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 were established. The Moroccan argan oil is famous to be the best not only because of the quality of the trees and the 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 about the argan oil in the next article, because it’s really an impressive and inspirational story. I was truly amazed by what I saw on site. The feeling – I was drooped off a couple of centuries back in time, completely bewitched by the environment, the habits, the 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 the argan oil.
The camel ride terrace
The distance from Marrakech to the city of Essaouira is between 160 / 190 km. The difference of about 30 km depends on the road choice. The road choice, depends on the seasonal traffic organisation – which road will be 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 shorter route is available. The argan oil sacred land is located in an area, 20 km before reaching Essaouira. It means totally 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 kind of vehicles – car, rented minivan, taxi, bus, stop at a very popular spot of the route – the camel ride terrace. It’s a beautifully chosen hill, with stunning views to the valley and to the ocean. The tourists get off to enjoy the view and to rest a bit from the long ride. Using sensibly that stop, some local camel owners are waiting on site with their colourfully decorated animals. The idea is to provide camel tours to the foreigners, who should pay for it.
There is no fixed price for this attraction, so you should negotiate the cost. Just remember what I warned in my previous articles – in the Arabic world all is negotiable and it depends on you to achieve the optimal deal. So, don’t be shy and boldly decrease the offered price. I would highly recommend to re-offer it about double reduced. Usually 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 were asked to pay in addition for taking photos with the animals, in case the camel ride was out of your plans. The locals are clever and quite experienced with the visitors. They are aware of 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, I thought nothing else could surprise me in here. But on the same route there was another, even more spectacular attraction – a row of crooked curved trees, handling
Goats instead of fruits
In my life I have seen a lot of phenomenons, but I should admit it was one of the most impressive and unexpected ever. Firstly – because it’s highly unusual, secondly, because the goats feel comfortable up on the trees, like they were born for living there, thirdly – those “goat trees” were in the middle of nowhere and you expect to face nothing alive around.
It’s just impossible not to stop. Everybody stops, attracted by the view. It takes time to consider and comprehend the seen. The goats were so used to the visitors, that they kept doing their daily routine, not caring for the intruders at all. And that’s exactly the charm, because they could be observed naturally, while jumping on and getting off the trees, eating the dry leaves, clanging with their little neck bells.
For the goats it may look usual, natural and ordinary, but for the visitors goats living on trees is an extremely outstanding case. I still regret I did not make any video, but at least some photos captured the moment. I felt like able to watch this 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 a bit as a patient of psychiatry, with long medical history, released for a while among other humans.
It was difficult to retract my lips, stretched from ear to ear. I was running from tree to tree, eager to check and watch each goat. The relief – I was not the only crazy person by 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, it was an unforgettable, out of time experience, highly recommended not to skip.
Going further to Essaouira and the argan factories area, you know you almost arrive, 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 the food warm. Tagine or also written as Tajine, looks unusual, especially the cover, but as I was told, its form is related to the aim, to preserve the food’s temperature. I have no idea how it works, but the explanation was, whatever cooked hot food is placed inside, this pot manages to keep the temperature high for quite long time.
Some of the tagines are made also the food to be cooked in. The simple ones are built from clay or similar material. Their price is affordable to everyone. The pots are frequently used at the local households. The cost of tagine could vary, depending on the material and the 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 the other Arabic countries appreciate those pots as a desirable part of their home food presentation.
If you speak French or Arabic, the local vendors would explain how and where to use tagine in correct 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 three times higher than at the roadside shops.
Well…I arrived at my argan oil factory, after plenty of adventures, emotions and surprises, collected just for a day. Next time I’ll let you know more about how argan seeds look like, where they grow, the tough and the long way of the oil extraction, with no machines included at all.
I should also make room to tell more about my other surprising adventure in Essaouira, the city on the Atlantic coast, where the visitor is getting welcome 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 🙂