Waking from the
Agadir was getting me down – no helpful tourist information and a decidedly un-backpacker-friendly atmosphere – it was time to move on. A bit of haggling, a bit of transferring more money to my bank card, and a bit more sleep (I still felt less than 100%), and I found myself in a small van with a tour guide named Youness from Casablanca and an older couple from Sweden, Jan and Susann.
We drove out of Agadir by the northbound coast road, past the fishing and industrial ports. The sky was blue, the landscape dusty brown on one side, Atlantic Ocean grey on the other. The road rolled under us and I divided my time between dozing in the passenger seat and asking Youness a million questions. He sometimes switched to French when English became too difficult, and then Jan would explain it to me in English. I was reminded of my goal to become fluent in five languages, and promised myself I’d learn more, feeling strongly that no matter how well I know English, it can’t make up for the fact that I can’t hold a conversation in any other language. I felt inadequate.
Surprises on the road
As the hours passed, the hills became more scrubby, until there were argan trees everywhere, and suddenly I saw a goat in a tree. Youness pulled over; I did a double take. There was a whole herd of goats in the branches of half a dozen argan trees! Two young teen-aged girls chatted nearby, and when Jan, Susann and I approached to take photos at Youness’ encouragement, they came to us, palms up, asking for something (money?) in what may have been French or Arabic, but certainly wasn’t recognisable as either. I shrugged my shoulders and almost jumped out of my skin as a goat hopped down from a branch rather close to me. They weren’t bothered by people (though the few dogs that were hanging around avoided us), but rather they stood contentedly on precarious-looking branches, munching argan fruit with gusto.
Another 40 minutes or so down the road, we visited a women’s co-operative, a factory and road-side warehouse for making and selling argan-based products. The argan tree grows only in this small part of Morocco, the south western Sous Valley. The women sat on rugs, legs spread out in front of them, hitting the fruits, removing the shells and passing them to the next woman. The one at the end of the row was using a stone grinding contraption to produce a thick paste. A girl explained what argan is used for, and the different processes for making argan oil for cooking, and argan oil for cosmetics. She took one look at me and lead me to the shelf of anti-acne products. Morocco: not the best country for building self esteem.
In Steve’s footsteps
Back in the car, I looked through my photos – I’d managed a couple of really good shots of the goats. Before long, we came to Essaouira, preferred holiday spot of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens. We enjoyed tagine and fresh sole at a beach-side restaurant, watching boys play soccer in the sand, men leading camels and women wandering by in brightly coloured clothing. Youness gave us a short tour and we were left alone to explore the market, the narrow side streets, the views from the coastal ramparts. I spent twenty minutes taking photos of gulls – they were so unafraid of humans I got some brilliant close-ups and in-flight shots. I saw a cool t-shirt that I’m sure my brother James would’ve liked, but there was no-one looking after the stall, so I couldn’t buy it. I watched the street sellers making their vibrant paintings and wished I could do the same. I searched for Christmas presents for the girls back at Pax, but nothing caught my eye. It was a beautiful sun-soaked day, and we sat under an umbrella and had banana splits.
Marrakech by night
Back in the car and off to Marrakech! It was dark by the time we got there and Jan was feeling awful. We left him in bed with a bucket and Susann and I went to explore the medina by night. There were crowds and crowds of people, it was as though the square itself was breathing and dancing to the beat of the drums. Colours, sounds, tantalising smells. “Hello beautiful ladies, please you eat here.” “Remember my number 117, you come back later, eat here.” “You are so beautiful, I want to look at you for the rest of my life, please beautiful flower…” And then, once we’d gotten through the restaurant stalls to the market place: “Hello pretty girls, look in here, please step inside.” “Look is free, no charge, just look.” The bright colours of the flowing traditonal tunics and dresses were mesmerising. People followed us saying “Gidday mate, Summer Bay High, Kath and Kim, Look at me, Look at me, Yeah, Neighbours is a bewdy, mate.” If I hadn’t been in such a good mood, the rush of stimulants from every direction would have been overwhelming. Susann and I tried on traditional clothing and had our photos taken, we learned all about the different rugs made by the different tribes of nomads, we got lost in the alleys and had boys wave snakes in our faces. It was wonderful and intense and so friendly. One teenage boy ruined the positive vibe though, just as we were leaving, shouting “You have big butts, too big, too ugly. Let me touch your tits. Show me your titties!” … Why are teenage boys such pricks?
We walked past ranks of horse-drawn carriages and almost got knocked over as two horses, previously standing calmly next to each other, suddenly starting fighting.
The taxi driver saw us coming and asked for 100dH to get back to the hotel. We laughed and haggled until he agreed to the local price: 25dH.
Marrakech by day
In the morning Jan was feeling better and the hotel breakfast, though still uninspiring, was more tolerable than that at the Sud Bahia 3, my hotel in Agadir. We visited some of the sights of Marrakesh, including the beautiful Jardin Marjorelle, a garden that had fallen into disrepair until Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge took over and rejuvenated it. The colours are stunning; it’s a place of calm, brilliant design and plants in the middle of the city. The Yves Saint Laurent memorial is there also.
Back to the medina for a day-time look-see, and I was sickened to see monkeys on chains, and the way the snakes of the ‘snake charmers’ were treated was too much for me. I had expected seeing a snake charmer to be an exotic, eery, mesmerising experience. I was sorely disappointed.
Some more shopping, and I fell into the liquid brown eyes of a woman covered everywhere else in flowing black and blue material. She spoke not a word of English and it was the best conversation of my day. I felt like she was telling me ancient secrets and heart-breaking tales. She sold me silver bracelets and even though her whole face was covered, I knew she was wearing an enormous smile as we parted.
Back to Agadir
I slept most of the way back to Agadir, and went straight to bed when we arrived. I promised to send Jan and Susann some of my photos and tucked their email address safely away in my wallet.
The next day dawned bright and sunny. I spent the day pool-side (punctuated with spells of splashing in the water) relaxing and reading my book: The Railway Children. I’d read it years ago, as a kid, but I think I enjoyed it more this time.
In the afternoon I walked down to the souk, met a bunch of nice people on the way, discovered that the writing on the hill says “God, Country, King” and managed to get through the whole souk without having to buy anything I didn’t want, or drink any tea! I saw another top I though James would like, and ended up buying it, after a good 20 minute haggle with the seller, who had the biggest smile in the world. After making him try it on, I was sure I had the right size, but when I put it on later, to see how big it was, it fitted me perfectly, and I decided I actually really like it and am keeping it. Sorry, James. I would never have bought a Ralph Lauren Polo brand jersey for myself, so I have you to thank for my lovely new top.
At seven in the evening, I boarded my bus bound for Fes. And that’s a whole other story.