September 19, 2009
Our travel plans: Ten of us new teachers from the school decided to travel from Casablanca to Essaouira for the 4-day Eid weekend (a Muslim holiday). We took at 4:58am train to Marrakech. From the train, we enjoyed a sunrise over the dry, rolling hills of Morocco. We see giant cactus plants that serve as fences, stone homes, shepherds with sheep.
Left to right: Jim, Jenny, Philippe, Rohan, Linda, Tom, Will, Pauline
In Marrakech, we waited in a slow line only to find that the daytime busses to Essaouira were too full for ten of us. So, Philippe haggled with a cab driver to get us a ride; this included walking away “angrily” to consult with the group. We ended up paying a reasonable price for the 2½ hour drive, and crammed 5 people each into cars that by Moroccan standards, should hold 6 plus a driver. (By US standards, that would be 4 plus a driver).
As we drove, the street traffic changed. Donkeys carried people and wide basket loads. Horse or donkey-drawn carts held people and goods. Venders sold Moroccan lamps or fruit on the side of the road. You could see any type of person on the side of the 2-lane highway, from boys carrying baskets to old ladies hobbling on canes.
We approached the Argan trees that I have been curious about. The Argan trees only grow in Morocco; they survive despite the harsh climate. When the trees’ nuts are in season, goats climb up the trees to eat the nuts. After the nuts have gone through the goats’ digestive system, they are ready for human use. Argan oil is among the rarest oils in the world, and here we use it for eating and for the skin. Tom and I enjoy buying Argan oil mixed with honey and almond butter- it is called Amrou and is delectable.
The taxi driver pulled over, and we got out of the car to see three goats in an Argan tree. Mind you, the men trying to make money off of people like me put them there, but I couldn’t resist a photo opportunity…
There are many women’s co-ops in the area for producing and selling Argan products, and we stopped at one such co-op. The women let me photograph them working, and one woman was so kind as to offer me a gift of nuts and let me try to break them apart with the rock. My Argan-cracking skills are poor, but she was nice to me anyway.
Our first evening in Essaouira was pleasant. After a 25-minute wander through the medina trying to find our apartments, we spent the rest of the evening enjoying a sunset from the roof.
A bit of history: Essaouira is also known as Mogador (as named so by the Portuguese). We are told that hundreds of years ago, shipwrecked victims were held for random at this central location. Different groups of people since the 7th century BC have called the location a base, port, and spot of trading. The city was built in 1760 by a sultan and designed by a French architect. Remnants of Spanish cannons and Portuguese structures are everywhere. The old architecture, the comfortably-planned medina, and the Moroccan locals combine to make this a fascinating place.
Boys fishing in the port
A view of Essaouria from the Port
Tom in a Medina. The walls are crooked! We loved the architecture here- no standard sizes for doors, windows, or stairs.