Things I’ve learned recently.
- Goats can climb trees
- Sonia knows the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne’
- ‘Azul’ is Berber for ‘hello’.
- Agadir is the world sardine capital.
- About 700,000 people live in the Greater Agadir area.
- The French abbreviation ‘supo’ means ‘suppository’.
- There are ski stations in the Atlas mountains.
- In Morocco you tell if a woman is married by examining her feet.
We went off on an excursion today to Taroudant, also known as ‘Little Marrakech’. There were seven of us in the minibus, apart from the guide and driver: German grandparents and grandson, a French-speaking Belgian couple and us. So the guide had his linguistic work cut out. Though he was very good, his accent wasn’t always clear, but he was interesting and likeable.
Our first stop was to look at Argan trees. At first glance, they appeared to be growing wild and a second look didn’t change that impression, but the acres and acres of the higgledy-piggledily-placed trees were in fact being farmed for their fruit and many of them had goats climbing through their thorny branches. The farmers are quite happy about this as the animals feed on the trees and their argan-fed meat is apparently very good. It’s still a bit odd to see goats up in trees though.
Next stop was an orangery where the farmer grows… but you’re ahead of me. There were also lemons, limes, grapes, avocados and olives. Pleasingly, there was still no attempt to sell us anything, though Sonia had tossed the goatherd a groat or so.
Next stop was the town of Taroudant. We were quite taken with this place. Its old city wall, renovated in places, still stands in near-perfect condition with a glorious ochre hue beautifully complemented by the green palms and blue skies. After a few minutes in a big square outside the walls, we were led into the winding passageways of the markets.
I have been in bigger markets and ones with more hassle from stall-holders, but they haven’t usually also been frequented by cyclists and motor-bikers working their way through the crowds, taking sharp turns, stopping suddenly and behaving as though they owned the place. Which they certainly had more claim to than we did! We were warned by our guide not to take pictures of people, so I have no visual proof of having seen Radegast the Brown in his eponymously-coloured robe and clearly escaped from the set of LOTR. This was very definitely a local market for local people and outlying villagers. There were a lot of henna-related products on sale, including stencils to help d-i-y henna-ists. Our guide explained that some were for hands, others for feet. Only married women put henna tatoos on their feet, so that at social functions men can tell if a woman is married by looking at her fee. Certainly cheaper (and less permanent) than a wedding ring!
I have to admit to not having been at my best in the market: I have been suffering from lower back pain for the last week or so and, although I had dosed myself before leaving the hotel, I was in some discomfort. Sonia, probably sick of my grumping, suggested I find a pharmacy and try to get a tub of cyanide or – failing that – some more pain-killers. Off I went, described my symptoms and nodded vaguely when the pharmacist asked “supo?” Luckily, I spotted “Voie rectal” on the packet and renegotiated something more mundane. You will be glad to hear they worked.
The next stop was an argan-oil producer’s place in the town. It was fairly crowded, so Sonia and I sat outside seeing as we were experts after the previous visit and I grabbed the opportunity to self-medicate. Once again there didn’t appear to be any great pressure to buy.
Back on the bus again and off to a wee Berber village for lunch. This was a great experience: the low table we sat round, the chicken tajine and cous-cous, panoramic view over the plain to the distant Atlas mountains still with a smidgin of snow on the top. And all of this in an ancient castle now turned restaurant.
After that, things got a bit more awkward. We were passed on to a local guide who was very pleasant but clearly out to make money for himself and the village at large. I don’t blame him really, but we were steered towards a group of withered crones who were pretty keen to charge us for rides on their donkeys. None of us wanted a donkey ride. Maybe the German grandson did, but he wasn’t given the option. I said I was quite happy to pay something to not have a donkey ride, but the village guide pointed out the obvious problem: if I took up the offer, I would pay the donkey-owning crone but whom would I pay for not having a ride? This was a valid objection and had me stumped until Sonia came up with the very sensible suggestion of paying to be photographed with a donkey. A handful of sub-Dirham smush was handed over and the photo taken, though the multi-centenarian owner seemed puzzled and concerned that she might appear in the photo. As I type this up, I’ve not looked to see whether the hurriedly snatched snap has either Sonia, the donkey or the crone in the picture.
Our fellow tourists milled about, determinedly not giving anyone anything. After this little cultural conundrum we followed our now rather surlier guide through the fields to the oasis. Arrival here – after passing a couple of artisan soapstone carvers (sales: nil) – perked us up considerably. It was beautiful, but quite different from the pictures on the date packets back home. Bubbling water laughed through irrigation channels, vast pergolas of foliage threw shade over tiled courtyards… I could easily have stayed and had a coffee from the wee shop, but that didn’t seem to be an option as we were shepherded back to the minibus. On the way back the less-than-photogenic crone had another go at extracting money and clearly didn’t recognise Sonia from a few minutes earlier. Either that or she was saying in Berber “You didn’t get my good side”. We were relieved to see another delivery of fresh meat arrive as we headed back to the minibus and the crones circled once again. Our village guide made a determined effort to be more upbeat as we reached the end of the tour and his efforts were rewarded – as I’m sure he hoped – by being tipped.
I was about to say the journey back was uneventful and then draw this to a close, but I can’t stop without reference to the music. I’m sure Spa Coaches in Strathpeffer etc. play the Alexander Brothers as they ferry visitors around from one place to the next, but I suspect they’d have at least a whole CD. We had to listen to the same two Berber songs over and over again. You may have detected a slight antipathy on my part to Berber “music” and I have to confess to preferring almost anything else (Alexander Brothers always excepted), but this was truly dire. Not only were the two songs repeated ad nauseam but they were, within themselves, tediously repetitive both lyrically and melodically (if one can use such a word). Sonia was almost at the point of taking my Swiss Army Knife corkscrew to her ear drums when we finally approached Agadir and the music was drowned out by the melodious honking and hooting of the traffic.
Looking back on the whole tourist-milking and tipping business, I can only reflect on what a demeaning business it is. That people should be so poor and desperate that they go to such lengths to scrape a few coins together highlights the inequity of the system. We, in our woolly-liberal way were uncomfortable and angst-ridden over the business. Relations between “us” and “them” have certainly not improved and it’s hard to know what to do. Answers on a (virtual) postcard, please.
Despite this down-beat assessment, we had a great day. It was super to get out of the concrete jungle that is Agadir and to see some of the hinterland. The landscape was superb, the food good and the whole experience very worthwhile.
I meant to mention in the previous post that our taxi-driver – knowing Sonia is a music teacher – wanted her to sing. Given the snatches of Berber “music” coming from his radio, this was particularly welcome and she sang “Auld Lang Syne” very sweetly. I half-expected Mohammed to know it, but he didn’t. He seemed very taken with it, though.