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Published: October 25th 2018
I wouldn’t be having the full tourist experience in Morocco if I didn’t ride a camel, I thought.
Up at the top of the mountain where the original city of Agadir was located before a massive earthquake levelled it in 1960, there were young Berber men offering camel rides to visitors. Not the authentic riding-through-the-bleached-sand-dunes-of-the-desert kind of camel ride; but the short-walk-down-the-asphalt-road-and-then-back-up-again kind of camel ride. Tourist camel ride extraordinaire. No complaints though. Believe me, I felt the history when that camel stood up. Being near to that huge animal with big, blue eyes and then perched up high upon his back - and I mean, wa-a-a-ay up high on his back - felt sensational! I immediately imagined what it would be like to travel extreme distances in this way. It’s not a smooth ride, but I did find the saddle comfortable. When the camel stands up from its kneeling position so that you can get on, it first unfolds it’s back legs, which if you aren’t anticipating could throw you forward right off the saddle onto the poor camel’s neck. When the camel unfolds and stands on its front legs, you feel yourself going up much higher than you would expect.
The young man leading my camel struck up a conversation with me in English. He wanted to know where I was from and when I told him Canada, he asked, like everyone here, Montreal? I explained that I was from the Pacific Coast where almost no one speaks any French. There are a lot of North Africans in Quebec because Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia were colonized by the French, and all three, like Canada, have two official languages. They begin learning French right from the beginning of their school careers, and their pronunciation is quite lovely. When I asked the handler if he learned English in school, he told me he hadn’t. All the English he knew he picked up interacting with tourists for fifteen years doing the very same job. I was genuinely amazed at how well he spoke and how clear his pronunciation was, picking up a language in small, camel ride length interactions with tourists. He flashed me a huge smile with a shrewd look in his eye when I told him this, as if to say, I’ve got a lot of tricks up my sleeve sister.
Talking to berbers about trips to the Sahara. Man says, “The camels belong only in the Sahara. The pavement, this is a problem for them. This camel is not happy,” he said gesturing toward his camel with is chin. “See? Look at him.” I looked at the camel and honestly could not read a thing from his face. Nothing. I guess I don’t speak camel.
Agadir is a new city; and when I say new, I mean it. Like 1960 new. That must be why the city has a different feel from all the others. It has a feel very similar to Vancouver. It is without roots deeply anchored in history. The other cities still have the hearts of their medinas beating within them.
After the earthquake, the city had to rebuild. The old site on the mountain was abandoned and rebuilding began at sea level. The old city’s name basically meant, “the highest city.” It was built up high in order to spot intruders including the pesky Portuguese, far off on the horizon; affording the city plenty of time to prepare and mobilize its defence. Sadly around 900 inhabitants were killed by the quake; and there is nothing left but piles of rocks and some remnants of the city wall. It is now a national heritage site where geological research is conducted.
After heading down the mountain back to town, it began to rain. It didn’t just rain. It RAINED. “It hardly ever rains here,” Hassan translated into English for me after Yassine spoke. Look at that, I thought, we’ve brought the ol’ bringing-the-rain-with-us-from-Vancouver cliche back to life again. It’s a good thing I got that camel ride in when I did.
I pictured the camel handlers up on the mountain, packing up and cutting their work day short. I wondered where they went with their camels at the end of each day. Did they ride them down the mountain and all the way home? If so how far did they have to go? Was there something like a stable up there on the mount? Did camels need stables?
The next day Hassan and I headed to the market to do our shopping. The market in Agadir isn’t particularly exciting. A lot of it is filled with cheap imitations of name brand, western clothing imported from China. This very new city is very modern and very fast growing city. Young people want to look like Europeans and Americans. No one seems particularly phased by the pretty young women wearing clothing that reveals their shape. Of course young men check them out when they pass by, like they do anywhere in the world; but it’s obviously become the norm here. No one is falling over, psss-psss-psssing like they are calling a cat, or yelling out, “whore!” The young prefer imitation Gucci bags to the gorgeous, handmade, leather bags made in their own country. It’s a shame really.
Yassine and Zineb, as pregnant and tired as Zineb was, came with us to help out with our shopping. They know where to shop and what the right price is. It is excellent to have tough locals, who know exactly what time it is down here, backing you up when you are bartering. They also knew of a smaller market outside of the main market and across the street, that sells only the terracotta pottery that I was after. The prices were honest and the salespeople friendly. My most cherished purchase so far is a big, hand-painted serving bowl that I will carry in my arms like a baby when I get on the plane back to Canada.
The one thing that we did not negotiate a price for, is pure argan oil. The price is the price. We really lucked out because we got ours freshly pressed from argan nuts that were harvested only three days earlier. It tastes like heaven. The taste of argan oil can only be described the same way you would describe sesame oil: it tastes like sesame oil. Argan oil tastes like argan oil. It’s flavour is unique and distinctive. I asked the merchant if he had any kernels I could look at. The woman who extracted the oil gave me a handful of argan nuts both with and without the shell. I tried eating a nut just to see what it would taste like. At first it tasted good, but then came the bitter aftertaste that wouldn’t quit. Nevertheless, it was worth trying.
So, the bad news is that we’ve hit a roadblock on our way to the desert. Hassan has caught some kind of flu and is out of commission. I’m not sure what will happen next because our hosts are travelling to Marrakech tomorrow. Yassine has a neurology conference to attend. Apparently the conference will last for almost a week.
Ouarzazate, which is further south and the first stop Berbers made right after crossing the Sahara desert, may be next, or maybe not. We’ll see...
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