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Published: December 1st 2019
The sun cannot be covered by a net ~ Moroccan Proverb
Today we were travelling northwest from Tafraoute to Taghazout
We’d fallen for the charm of Tafraoute (a remote mountain village high in the Anti-Atlas), but it was time to leave. However, we needed to breakfast first, so we made our way to the formal dining area of our hotel (Chez Amaliya) and enjoyed tea, orange juice, yoghurt, msemen
(flaky Moroccan flatbread), khobz
(traditional round bread), boiled eggs and honey.
We had a long day of travel ahead. We were descending from the Anti-Atlas on route to the Atlantic coast, so we loaded our packs into the minibus and left Tafraoute at 9am. As we started winding our way through the mountain roads, I was drawn to the Anti-Atlas peaks towering above us. They were shrouded in mist, and I was only able to glimpse them through occasional breaks in the clouds.
It wasn’t long before the sun was shining brightly and the sky was cloud-free. Sediment lines in the rugged hills revealed the geological age of the region. Brown rocky outcrops dominated the foreground, while high mountain peaks soared in the distance. Mountainside caves were inhabited by nomads, and small villages dotted the arid
terrain. Colourful rugs hung from the rooftops of stone and mortar houses, while makeshift soccer pitches stood abandoned in rocky fields. Women climbed mountain tracks with heavy loads of wood on their backs, while others collected wild herbs from the side of the road. As we descended into valleys, sheer cliffs jutted into the sky above us.
We stopped on the roadside and gazed at a distant hilltop village, perched on top of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the valley floor. We saw many old kasbahs on this journey – some crumbling, some restored to accommodate foreign travellers, some barely discernible (having disappeared into the very earth that once supported their grandeur). Oud music played softly through the audio system of the minibus, which heightened the ambiance of this remarkable Moroccan adventure. There were steep drops to the left side of the road, and I often found myself staring into deep valleys with no safety barrier between me and the dry river beds snaking below.
We eventually emerged from the Anti-Atlas into a vast flat plain surrounded by brown hills. As the high mountain peaks disappeared behind us, we sped towards the Atlantic coast along roads
lined with agave plants. The terrain was dry and arid, and as we approached Agadir on Morocco’s western coastline, argan plantations began to monopolise the flat landscape, while various crops cluttered the undergrowth. The road straightened, palm trees jutted strategically from median strips between lanes and the traffic became much heavier.
High density apartments dominated the outskirts of Agadir. This was our third visit to Morocco’s seventh largest city, and we were approaching the coastal metropolis from a different direction this time. However, it didn’t take long for familiarity to set in. As we made our way into the heart of the city, we recognised the seafood restaurant (Azyam) we’d lunched at a few days earlier.
We dropped into a local supermarket (Marjane) around 1pm to gather some supplies for a picnic lunch. We’d visited the same supermarket a week earlier on our way to Essaouira for precisely the same reason, but our food choices had not been very successful, so at least we knew what not
to buy. This time we opted for a selection of cooked dishes from a bain marie (chicken, potato balls, rice, eggplant and cauliflower), plus a small ice cream (cafe nous nous
and date flavours) to tide us over until we stopped for lunch.
We left Agadir at 2pm and headed into the hills just north of the city. We were detouring to a river-fed swimming destination known as Paradise Valley for the afternoon, then returning to a surf resort near the coastal fishing village of Taghazout – our accommodation for the next two nights. I was seriously looking forward to the surf resort. From the moment Ren mentioned it when we were planning our Moroccan travels, I’d been trying to visualise the waves of the Atlantic coast. When I shared my excitement with a crusty old Tasmanian farmer who’d visited Fes (and only Fes) back in the 70s, he scoffed and declared – with drooling arrogance – that if surfing had become ‘a thing’ in Morocco, he wouldn’t bother returning. What a sanctimonious old fool.
I wasn’t going to let his ‘Oh, Morocco was so much better when I visited
’ attitude rain on my parade. In fact, it made the surf resort all the more alluring. Maybe I should send him a postcard of me smiling on the beach with a surfboard under my arm. 😊
to Paradise Valley. We wound our way up into the hills, jumped out of the minibus and traversed dry river beds and rough mountain tracks to reach a cluster of rock pools nestled in a steep narrow valley. There were tourists and locals everywhere, and we were all back-to-back along the walking tracks. This wasn’t my idea of paradise…
We settled at a makeshift café along the way for lunch, where the local cats were more than a little interested in our picnic supplies. The food we’d gathered from the supermarket was fairly ordinary, so we didn’t eat much. The Marjane in Agadir was fast becoming our Achilles heel! However, not to be disheartened by a lacklustre lunch, we continued along a series of rough narrow tracks into the valley, following a dry river bed for part of the way.
On arriving at the rock pools, I was underwhelmed. Very much so. I kept asking myself a recurring question: Why have we wasted half a day visiting a few stagnant ponds in the middle of a dry valley? Paradise Valley had little aesthetic appeal, due in part to the tatty tourist infrastructure scattered along the valley floor. I
floated in one of the rock pools for a while, but the appeal of slipping around on slimy green rocks soon wore off. The water was cold and the day was hot, so at least there was a positive…
With the afternoon sun beating down upon us, we sat on the edge of a rock pool with our feet in the water until 5:30pm, and I kept wishing I was surfing the beach break at Taghazout rather than being trapped in this poorly named valley. Ren was enjoying the fish nibbling the soles of her feet, and she was also enjoying the company of a stray dog who had convinced her (with much cuteness) to hand over the remains of our picnic lunch. Ren is easily convinced to do things by stray dogs and cats.
We retraced our steps out of the valley, found our minibus in an over-crowded car park and FINALLY began our much anticipated journey to Sol House (the surf resort I’d visualised in so many distracted moments in the lead up to this trip). We arrived in the early evening, and the coastal drive to the resort had been far from scenic. Unbridled development
and unfinished resorts scarred the beautiful arid hills that stretched down to Morocco’s vast western coastline. Speed bumps, building materials, construction rubbish… this was not the Atlantic coast I’d been expecting.
Sol House, on the other hand, was something else. The sprawling resort’s beachfront footprint is enormous, so it took us a while to get to our room. When we finally opened the door, we couldn’t believe what lay before us – a very modern room with a view of the surf. There was a double vanity (something we’ve never experienced in any of our travels) and a separate shower and toilet… pure luxury, but not really pure Morocco. However, we’d been traveling around the country for the best part of a month, so we intended to relax. 😊
After showering Paradise Valley’s stagnant green slime from my skin, we headed over to the resort’s large dining hall for dinner. To our surprise, it was an all-you-can-eat buffet with only two traditional Moroccan dishes (a chicken tagine and vegetable tagine). Everything else was typical European fare – pizza, pasta, Anglo salads, fried chicken, bruschetta, pumpkin soup… it was depressing. However, the tagines were really good, and we enjoyed
them with fresh khobz
, so all was not lost.
Ren enjoyed the extensive dessert selection, while I settled for a bowl of dates, prunes, apricots and sultanas. We also shared some fresh watermelon. It was our first since arriving in the country, which was surprising, as we’d often seen piles of watermelon for sale on the side of the road. On returning to our room, I finally opened the bottle of red (Safir de Guerrouane) I’d been carrying in my pack since leaving Marrakesh four days earlier. It was from a vineyard in Meknes, and it was fantastic.
After a very comfortable night in a very comfortable bed, we managed to sleep in. This was, after all, a surf resort. We headed down to breakfast at 9am (our latest breakfast to-date in Morocco) where I helped myself to a bowl of oats, cold milk and yoghurt, along with fresh baguettes and jam. We also sampled some spinach and banana juice (bloody hippie surfers) and fresh carrot juice, both of which were fantastic. Unable to find any mint tea (it was there all along!), we had to settle for normal tea, which we hadn’t really bothered with since making
cups of tea in our apartment in Casablanca. This was our first ‘European’ buffet breakfast since arriving in the country, and it was certainly not what we were expecting. Many of the dishes didn’t look appealing, especially the fried eggs on cold toast.
After breakfast I headed off for my surfing lesson. We were assigned wetsuits and longboards by our too-cool-for-school instructor, and it took a lot of persuading to get a smaller surfboard thrown in. When I asked for a smaller board, old mate smiled and said – to no one in particular – ‘We’ve got a Kelly Slater’. Sure we have. I also asked for some body boards (just in case the waves weren’t great), but the smaller surfboard was the limit of his goodwill. After waiting ages for our minibus to turn up, we drove through construction zones to a small beach break further along the coast towards Agadir.
After our warm ups, stretches and surf lesson (all of which were heaps of fun), we hit the water. The waves were small and the boards were soft, so it was hard to surf the shore break. However, it really didn’t matter, because I just loved
getting into the ocean. After a few hours in the waves we headed back to Sol House, where Ren and I settled beside the resort’s popular pool with a Mai Tai (Ren) and a Flag Spéciale beer (me) in the mid-afternoon sun. The sea breeze began to pick up as the afternoon wore on, but the sun continued to warm everything in its path.
In the late afternoon we headed to our scheduled yoga class. Yes, I was attending a yoga class. Had it really come to this? Had I surrendered every last bastion of rational thought to the frenzied madness of this hippie sub-culture? I’d managed to avoid the yoga bandwagon for the entirety of my life, and yet here I was. As we walked into the room, a woman from a previous yoga class was ‘coming out’ of her meditative state, and we all had to tiptoe around in silence until she was sufficiently back on the same planet with us. Oh please! Why not read Plato in a room by yourself. It’s just as rewarding and nowhere near as exhibitionistic!
When the meditator finally returned to the empirical world, we were able to find a
place on the floor and start the class. Our yoga teacher was very welcoming, and she was not in the least judgmental of our differing abilities and capabilities. In fact, she was a very good teacher. As the class progressed, I began to see the fitness benefits of yoga. For a start, it was physically demanding. I was perspiring as much as I would on a full-on bike ride! Luckily a window overlooking the ocean was open at the front of the room, and the cool sea breeze tempered the energy we were expending.
For someone who’d never understood the point of yoga, I was now seeing the discipline in a very different light. I was enjoying it. I was possibly converted. And then it happened. As the class came to an end, the teacher put on some relaxing hippie music and started chanting. And she asked us to chant. Oh please! I think I’ll stick to reading Plato in a room by myself. Sans the chanting.
In the early evening we walked to the small fishing village of Taghazout, located about 1km along the coast from Sol House. We passed heaps of locals on the promenade which
joined our resort to the village, and we loved its family friendly atmosphere. After wandering the rambling streets of Taghazout, we settled at a table on the seafront and sipped mint tea while watching the young surfers and old men in our field of vision. The former were making the most of a small shore break, while the latter were basking in the evening sun as they painted their fishing boats. And all the while, dogs played feely on the beach. While I appreciated the comfort of Sol House, I would have loved to stay in this crumbling little village.
We were feeling more than a little peckish after a relaxing day of surf, yoga and poolside drinks, so we strolled back along the promenade and made our way to the resort’s large dining hall for dinner. It was a European buffet again, but it seemed a little better this time around. Was I getting used to it? In terms of the limited local dishes on offer, I started with harira
(Moroccan tomato soup) and khobz
before helping myself to the mouth-watering tagines (lamb and vegetable). I sampled some bruschetta, cauliflower gratin and pizza, which I enjoyed with a
Flag Spéciale beer.
With the buffet behind us, we settled at a table beside the beachside pool and ordered a Mai Tai for Ren and another Flag Spéciale for me. After relaxing in the cool evening air of the Atlantic coast, we retired to our room to select a few travel photos. We eventually crashed at midnight.
Despite sleeping in the previous morning, we managed to wake early – routines are hard to break! After responding to a few work emails, we headed down to breakfast at 8:30am. The buffet offered a number of hydration choices, so I opted for a spinach and banana juice, carrot juice, tea and latte. I even managed to find the mint tea station (by asking the friendly staff). I also enjoyed a bowl of oats, cold milk and yoghurt, along with baguettes, croissants, ham and jam. I was definitely getting used to the buffet…
After breakfast I headed down to the beach and hired a hard (fibreglass) surfboard and a wetsuit. It was low tide, and the surf in front of the resort wasn’t fantastic – the waves were just closing out on a very shallow shore break. I copped the
board on my chin at one stage, and I was also rammed into the sand by a particularly nasty wave. Despite the lack of catchable waves, I absolutely loved being in the ocean – it’s such a good way to start the day. The guy I hired my surfboard from was teaching his two kids to surf (aged about 5 and 8), and they were loving themselves. As was I. The sound of their excited squeals over the roaring surf reminded me of days long past. There are a few things from my childhood that have never lost their appeal, and surfing is one of them. It would be a sad day to find the gloss had gone. SHE SAID...
Today we were travelling from Tafraoute to Taghazout
, via Agadir
, by minibus.
We woke at 6:30am, far earlier than we needed to be up. When I eventually wandered over to the dining room, I was happy to see that breakfast was a marked improvement from the offerings we’d had in Sidi Ifni… purely because they had servings of my favourite msemen
(flaky Moroccan flatbread)! We also had crusty baguettes with the usual condiments of honey, jam,
butter and laughing cow cheese.
Our minibus driver Mustapha was late again! This was something we never experienced with our other driver. It was another day on a long and very winding road on the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and we had two stops to stretch our legs and give those feeling carsick some fresh air. The landscape was quite stunning, and it gradually changed from red granite boulders to red soil. The hills and valleys remained stark, with the only interruption being small argan trees. The intermittent villages continued to be mud brick painted pinky-red with white trim, which blended into the red earth.
We eventually got to the coast and stopped in Agadir. This was our third stopover in Agadir, a central hub for many highways in southern Morocco. And it was our second time shopping for picnic supplies in the huge Marjane Supermarket. The briouats
(filo pastry parcels with meat fillings) we got last time weren’t brilliant, so we lined up at the hot food bain-marie counter and ordered dishes of chicken stir-fry, eggplant salad, cauliflower, potato balls and rice. We also stopped by the ice cream counter again to get the cafe nous nous
date flavours we loved last time.
Our destination was a surf resort in Taghazout, but we were de-touring on the way to explore Paradise Valley, an oasis in the hills. The plan was to walk to a small cafe on the way to the oasis, have lunch, and then keep hiking for another 20mins or so to the oasis. We parked with a throng of other vehicles, which is never a good sign, and began walking to the cafe. The path was narrow and rocky, and the sun was stinking hot, but luckily the walk was all downhill.
The cafe was a lovely shack overhanging the date palms in the valley below. Khalid (our group leader) had arranged for us to have our picnic lunch on their shady deck as long as we ordered drinks from them – which was a very fair exchange, except my avocado shake was quite gross and lumpy (they’d used unripe fruit), while Andrew’s orange juice never appeared. The food from Marjane Supermarket let us down again, but the resident cafe cats loved the chicken and potatoes very much. 😊
The group was quite laid back and we shared a very similar
sense of silly Australian/New Zealand/British humour. Even though we’d only spent a few days together, there was a familiarity borne from long minibus drives together. Tom had taken on the role of group entertainer, as much to amuse himself as to amuse us… and most of us didn’t bat an eyelid when he started doing an impromptu striptease down to his bathers. It was hysterical! Although there was one set of disapproving eyes among us. Alas, you can’t win them all.
After our unhurried lunch (and lining up to use the cafe’s dodgy toilet), we began walking to the oasis. The walk turned out to be the unexpected highlight of this adventure, and the oasis destination turned out to be totally underwhelming. I had pictured lush nature and tranquillity, but what we found were a series of manky algae and slime ridden rocks pools, surrounded by higgledy-piggledy drink stalls and rubbish. Khalid explained that it was much better when the water levels were higher… but I just couldn’t see how it would have improved the experience that much. Paradise Valley certainly didn’t live up to its brochure hype of ‘the most beautiful body of water hidden in stone canyons’.
Despite the mankiness and the large crowds, our group still embraced the experience and swam in the rock pools. I forced myself to ignore the slime and cool off by dangling my feet in the shallow end where there were many fish waiting to nibble on feet skin! It ended up being a rather entertaining place, as there were many dogs to keep me company, and I passed the time watching the tourists struggling to get into and out of the slippery sided pools.
We eventually hiked back uphill to the carpark and set off for Taghazout, which was an hour away. On approaching Taghazout and driving past the beach frontage, it was hard not to be dismayed by the continuous line of big resorts in various stages of being built. The whole area was a massive construction zone. Luckily our hotel – Sol House in Taghazout Bay – was more of a low-key resort and not anything like the multi-storey monstrosities we’d just passed. It was a sprawling complex of huts, bungalows, bars, restaurants, a spa, surf shop, surf school and yoga studio. It was all built into sand dunes, and not discernible from the road or
from the beach. The resort was about a 15 minute beach walk from the township of Taghazout.
Even though these sorts of sanitised resorts are definitely not our thing, and we’d much prefer to have a cultural experience in a town… it was nice to be isolated and forced to do nothing. We’d been travelling around Morocco at a somewhat fast pace for close to four weeks and this marked the beginning of the ‘rest and relaxation’ phase of our trip. We checked in and were very happy with our amazing room that looked out over the ocean. We were a few seconds walk away from the pool and the gate to the beach.
I was very happy with our plush room – it incorporated traditional Moroccan tiles into a very modern and comfortable room design. As much as I say that hotel rooms are way down the list of importance on our travels, a spacious room with a comfortable bed of crisp white sheets and a well-designed bathroom with thick white towels does make me quite happy. 😊
It was late afternoon, so we explored the area around our room briefly, but didn’t do much else
other than try to organise surf board hire and massages for the next day. I could feel the lazy beachy vibe creeping up on us. 😊
There was a beautiful bright orange sunset over the ocean as we walked to dinner in the main restaurant. Dinner was an included buffet of mainly standard western hotel food, with a token vegetable tagine and chicken tagine in one corner. I overate as I always do at buffets, and sampled every single of the ten or so mini desserts on offer, with the winner being a dark chocolate mousse. Overall, it wasn’t fabulous food, but there was a vast variety, and lots of it.
We had a relatively early night and slept well with the sound of the surf floating in though our open windows. Breakfast was a buffet as well, and while I didn’t feel like any of the usual hotel breakfast protein options on offer, I was very happy to see freshly made msemen
. I was also curiously drawn to the sfenj
(Moroccan doughnut) frying station! Who doesn’t love a doughnut? I know I do! And sfenj
are every bit as delicious as the best doughnuts I’ve had –
light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. I tried all three types on offer – plain, sugar-coated and honey-drenched – and then tried my favourite two again for good measure. 😊
Andrew was very excited to be off surfing after breakfast, and I had a leisurely morning walking the length of beautiful beach right outside the resort. It was relatively empty and I was fascinated by the people who opted for the camel and horse rides on the beach. I thought children would be most attracted to the rides, but the majority were middle aged women in skimpy bikinis.
I had a thoroughly relaxing day, with a massage booked at midday (I had to allow time to digest the five doughnuts!). I had requested a deep tissue massage, but disappointingly got a very light relaxation massage instead. It was nice enough, but not quite what I'd wanted. I had hoped to have multiple massages during our stay, but decided that one mediocre massage was more than enough.
After Andrew returned from a morning of surfing, we spent some time at the pool with beers (Andrew) and Mai Tais (me). The first Mai Tai
was brilliant and set up my expectations, which were dashed when the second one was watery and tasteless… and oddly made by the same barman!
It wasn’t all lazing around though. We had booked a yoga class at 5pm. I hadn’t done yoga in a very long time, and it absolutely showed – I had trouble activating my core, and deep breathing was near impossible because of the tail end of my lingering cough. However, I still surprised myself that I could engage with most of the poses after all these years. I loved the class very much! It was Andrew’s first ever yoga class, and even though he’d been hesitant about it, he loved it. I’m hoping he might even be a convert and agree to start classes with me!
I can only do ‘rest and relaxation’ for a short time, and I get bored with pool time quite quickly, so we decided to walk to the township of Taghazout after the yoga class. The 15 minute walk was along the beach and a lovely beach promenade. Taghazout is predominantly a fishing village that understandably attracts the surfing and hippie type of tourist. However, judging from the
tourist resorts being built at a rate of knots, I’d say it’s going to be a booming high-end tourist market soon.
The part of Taghazout we explored had a strong surfing culture, so it was difficult to get a sense of the real town. We walked for a while and then sat down at an outdoor cafe for a mint tea. We watched the surfers catching waves, tourists doing yoga on the beach, and fishermen painting their fishing boats in dry-dock. It was a lovely way to end the afternoon.
We walked back to the resort and got ready for dinner at 8pm. It was another buffet, and very similar to the night before. However, I enjoyed it far more this time, as I had shelved all my expectations and we’d also skipped lunch. True to form, I tried all the desserts again… and the winner this time was the crème caramel.
The night was still young so we gravitated towards the bar after dinner. Some of the group decided to check out a local nightclub in town (with the local surf instructor they’d met earlier in the day), but Andrew and I opted out of playing
chaperone. There was an advertised ‘dance party’ at the resort that night, but we didn’t linger long enough to check it out properly, and it seemed to end an hour or so later anyway.
I was amazed at how tired I was after a day of essentially doing nothing – we were asleep by midnight. I was equally amazed at how ravenous I was the next morning – it must be the sea breeze. The breakfast buffet was pretty much the same as the day before, but I spotted a semolina porridge that I hadn’t yet come across on our travels in Morocco. Assida
is really smooth and creamy, and works perfectly with added dates. I was disappointed that I hadn’t known about this delicious Moroccan dish until this late in the trip. I couldn’t resist the msemen
, but this time I tried it as a savoury option with cheese and a fried egg, and it was delicious! It really is my all-time favourite Moroccan breakfast.
I’m glad we had this relaxing break in Taghazout, but the unlimited buffet food coupled with doing nothing all day wasn’t a sensible combination. Andrew on the other hand was getting plenty
of exercise while trying to catch waves – one of his favourite hobbies.
Andrew went for one last surf, renting a board and wetsuit from a small outfit right on the beach. I had a leisurely morning walking on the beach at low ride. I also explored the bits of the resort I hadn't seen yet, before preparing for a drive to Marrakesh.
Next we travel northeast to Marrakesh, back to Morocco’s Red City.
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