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Essaouira Morocco

Before The Coast, There Are the Goats!

 

Argon tree

Goats in an Argon tree. Yes, goats climb trees here.

Ok so why am I starting this post with a photo of some goats? Well, I’ll tell ya. Halfway between Marrakesh and Essaouira (I’ll help you pronounce that later) the traveler passes through a large forest of argan trees. Yeah, so? Well argan oil has become a major part of the economy of this part of Morocco.

The goats like the skins from the seeds. They climb the tree and eat them. Then, depending on who you are talking to,  the seed itself is either passed out in the dung or spit out.

The argan tree grows wild in the semi-arid soil. The tree’s deep root system helps to protect against soil erosion and the advance of the Sahara. You cannot plant an argan tree. It only grows from the roots. People tried to grow it in Mexico and failed. Therefore argan oil remains one of the rarest oils in the world due to the small and very specific growing areas.

Before modern times, the Berbers of ancient Morocco would collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats. The pits were then ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. However, the oil used in cosmetic and culinary products available for sale today has most likely been harvested directly from the tree and processed with machines. They took all the fun out of it.

argan seed

These seeds are the raw material for a wide variety of cosmetic and cooking uses.

argan oil production

Berber ladies like these work all over the region roasting and then grinding the seeds. The amount of roasting determines whether it will make cosmetic or cooking oil. Then the seeds are hand ground. The process creates one kilo of oil for every 30 kilos of seeds. It is an awful lot of work.

argan oils

The oils are then packaged. They make a wide range of products, including oil for  wrinkle removal, muscle relaxants and shampoo, just to name three.  The cooking oil has a nutty flavor, but that is as close to any comparative description I can give you. I am using the shampoo and I like it, even though it makes my hair smell like goat dung…not really.

Next time you are in some boutique cosmetic store and you see argan oil, buy some and support some little old Berber lady in Morocco.

Onto Essaouira

I promised, so here is the pronunciation that I like most. Yeah, there are more than one, but I am giving you the Berber pronunciation…eshWEERah.

Essaouira

Our first view of Essa…ah hell..Eshweerah was from the road leading out of the argan forest. It seemed to be what Santa Barbara must have looked like about 1920.

 

Essaouira is also renowned for its kite and windsurfing with the powerful trade winds blowing almost constantly onto the protected, almost waveless, bay. The winds, which we were warned about, were not so bad while we were there. They added a nice touch, a refreshing breeze with an attitude. At least I was not tempted to show off my windsurfing expertise. NOT.

This is the iconic shot of Essaouira, found in all the guide nbooks, although of course mine is better. The day fishing fleet is all the same color blue. This blue is the standard color for window trimmings and doorways all over town.

This is the iconic shot of Essaouira, found in all the guide books, although of course mine is better. The day fishing fleet is all the same color blue. This blue is the standard color for window trimmings and doorways all over town.

Why So Blue?

About the time of Christ, the Berber King Juba II established a Tyrinian purple factory using local shells and rocks. This became the purple used exclusively in Imperial Roman Senatorial togas. It was the first economic boom in Essaouira and I think that is why the color is so prevalent today. I am sure they just buy it at the hardware store now, but heh, tradition is tradition.

blue doors

Blue doors, even door #1 is blue.

Art is more than blue.

art gallery in Essaouira

Essaouira is known as an art town. Art galleries abound.

The town is also known for the wood carving artists.

For centuries Essaouira has been known for the wood carvings they do from the root of the tetraclinis tree. This tree is a type of evergreen, found in semi arid mediterranean highlands. I found the wood nicely grained and wonderfully warm, but with five rugs already in tow, we just could not buy a big ghost.

But we did buy something from this nice young guy. As sisabled as he is, he could have joined the cadre of beggars in town. Instead he set up an easel and painted scenes of Essaouira with his teeth. A post card sized oil..2 bucks.

But we did buy something from this nice young guy. As disabled as he is, he could have joined the cadre of beggars in town. Instead he set up an easel and painted scenes of Essaouira with his teeth. A post card sized oil…2 bucks.

Work is more than art.

You cannot have a cup of coffee in the town square without a musician playing local tunes, and asking for a few Dirham

You cannot have a cup of coffee in the town square without a musician playing local tunes, and asking for a few Dirham.

At its core, this is a fishing village. These are fishermen on the way home after a day at sea. Their livelihoods are at serious risk from foriegners violating Moroccos teritorial waters, and the pandemic over fishing of the world's oceans. Catches are down, demand is up, and with the restaurants buying up the good stuff to feed us tourists, the locals have it tough.

At its core, this is a fishing village. These are fishermen on the way home after a day at sea. Their livelihoods are at serious risk from foreigners violating Morocco’s territorial waters, and the pandemic over fishing of the world’s oceans. Catches are down, demand is up, and with the restaurants buying up the good stuff to feed us tourists, the locals have it tough.

Now a staple. Where have all the sea bass gone?

Now a staple. Where have all the sea bass gone?

Taros restaurant

Well this is one place the good seafood goes. If this is not the best restaurant in town, I missed the best. The rooftop dining requires that you dress warm. If you forget to, they have ponchos for the tourists, and all is well.

They have really good and obviously fresh fish, shell-fish, and a wonderful bar. I continue to search around the coconut for a great Bloody Mary, and the Taros bar comes in second.

essaouira sling

But their signature drink is the Essaouira Sling. I’m not sure what is in it, but it tasted like nectar and kicked my butt. Maybe I should have stopped at three.

Seagulls and Sunsets

The seagulls here, known as silver gulls were really big. This guy is hiding behind a lamp the size of a bowling ball.

The seagulls here, known as silver gulls were really big. This guy is hiding behind a lamp the size of a bowling ball.

Sunset from our hotel room. Seems like time for a beer.

Sunset from our hotel room. Seems like time for a beer.

My wife enjoying a Casablamca beer in Essaouira wind.

My wife enjoying a Casablanca beer in Essaouira wind.

Parting Shot.

Barbary pirates

A Spanish cannon, in a Portuguese fort in Morocco. Essaouira needed protection because it was a main port of the Barbary pirates, or as local lore refers to them, privateers.

My overall impression of “Eshweera”  is a wonderful vibrant city with friendly industrious people. I was naive to think at first that this town was “Next Best Place”.  By that I mean a destination unspoiled by tourism. A place that travelers whisper about to each other, “have you done ____ yet?” But it is not. Hawkers try to sell you sunglasses or watches when you are already wearing both. There are too many people with their hands out. On top of that, every year there is a huge live music festival featuring everything from Berber music to Raggea. An estimated 450,000 people attend. It is not that big of a town. It is certainly not undiscovered.

Supposedly there are other fishing villages further south that are not touristed out,  but have the same over-all vibe and beauty. I would like to see them on another trip.

Another trip? Yes, I would love to return to Morocco. If you go to the website of the agent we used Kensingtontours.com. your wanderlust will be tempted by many other places in this wonderful country.

My next post, and last on Morocco, will be a pictorial of doors and ceilings in the country. They take a great pride in mosaic ceilings.

Until then, keep the coconut spinning by sharing this with you FB and real friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Joellen says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing all the info you learned. I really hope to go there one day.

  2. Leeann says:

    Hey Forrest,
    Ever thought of writing history books for High Schoolers? They would be entertained while getting that comprehensible input we call education. I so enjoy learning something, most times many things, as I read your posts. When I asked myself “I wonder why blue?” I scrolled down to continue reading and there it was. Thanks for another great ‘trip’…

    Love you both

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