Tender is the night in Taroudannt


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Africa » Morocco » Souss » Taroudannt
April 16th 2019
Published: October 27th 2019
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Three things cause sorrow to flee; water, green trees, and a beautiful face ~ Moroccan Proverb


HE SAID...
Today we were travelling west from Sahara Camp to Taroudannt.

Cramped in the back of a speeding 4WD, we emerged from the stony parched Sahara into the sleepy market town of Foum Zguid. Our minibus was parked at a local cafe (Restaurant Chegaga), so we bid farewell to our Saharan hosts, refreshed with a few cold drinks and continued our westward journey through the sandy Moroccan terrain towards Taroudannt.

While the journey out of the Sahara had been breathtaking, it was great to be in the relative comfort of a minibus on a bitumen road. Every so often we’d pass a tiny oasis of palm trees on the side of the road. However, the landscape we were traversing was harsh. There was just sand and dirt stretching to nearby hills and mountains which jutted abruptly out of the desert and into the sky. At one stage we followed a river, but it had the barest amount of water trickling through.

As we slowly made our way along the narrow and winding R111 road, arid rocky hills towered above us. Sawtooth patterns of sediment in these exposed hills proudly displayed the geological age of the area for all to see. There was little vegetation here, and few (if any) signs of life. We were immersed in the sandy desert terrain of southern Morocco.

Every now and again we’d pass through a small village built from mud, stone and mortar. While the buildings were visible, there were no people walking the streets. Occasionally we’d see a small child standing beside the road, waving at our minibus. We were possibly one of the few vehicles to speed by that day. It must be a harsh and isolated lifestyle on the Saharan fringe.

After a while power lines started to appear along the side of the road, and we even started passing other cars – tell-tale signs that we were approaching civilisation. We began our ascent into the Anti-Atlas mountain range and eventually drove into the small village of Tazenakht around 1:30pm. Bab Sahara Cafe Restaurant was to be our lunch stop, so we clambered out of the minibus, settled at an outside table (perched perilously close to the edge of an empty swimming pool) and refreshed with mint tea, orange juice and avocado juice. It was thirsty work driving through the desert fringe, and the sun was hot. We opted not to eat lunch, deciding instead to head over the road to a pharmacist to pick up some cold and flu tablets and some more paracetamol. I was feeling a lot better, but I still couldn’t shake the cold I’d picked up in Chefchaouen more than a week earlier.

We left the village and embarked on the final leg of our journey to Taroudannt. The landscape was much the same for the first hour – rocky desert plains and valleys, all shrouded by hills and distant mountains. The terrain was arid, and the stark ochre desert showed little signs of life. After a while, green vegetation began to appear, along with flocks of sheep and roughly ploughed land. It wasn’t agricultural in any sense, but it offered signs of things to come.

The arid sandy earth soon became tinged with green, and basic rock fences (which I assumed marked land ownership) suggested the presence of agriculture. The ubiquitous mountains remained arid, and their distinctive ochre hue stood out against the green. Barren creek beds were evidence of where water once flowed. In between fits of broken sleep, I woke to winding narrow roads – some ascending, some descending – through Morocco’s unique and ever-changing landscape. The number of small villages began to increase, as did the number of small olive groves.

In the late afternoon, argan trees began to dominate the landscape – we were entering the argan forests. The trees grow naturally in this area of Morocco, and goats love to eat the outside flesh of the argan nut. As we stood on the side of the road and watched the goats climbing the trees after the nuts, the goats’ owner (a nomadic shepherd) came up and shook my hand. His friendliness epitomised the people we’ve met since arriving in this country – so welcoming and eager to share their culture.

My fascination with these tree climbing goats made me reassess my own reaction to tourists back in Tasmania. When we drive into our capital city (Hobart), we always see tourists parked on the side of the road taking photos of sheep, and I’ve struggled to understand this. We are surrounded by sheep. We see them every day. What could possibly be interesting about a herd of stupid sheep? However, when I looked over at our friendly shepherd, I could see the same question in his eyes. Why on earth are these tourists interested in a few goats up a tree? They must lead pretty boring lives back in their own country if a goat up a tree gets them excited. Touche…

We jumped back into the minibus and continued our westward journey on the quiet and uncrowded N10 road towards Taroudannt. Argan trees dotted the landscape, and it wasn’t long before we were driving through endless orange groves. After more than eight hours on the road, we finally arrived at our accommodation (Riad l’Arganier d’Or) in the late afternoon. This large sprawling riad was about 20km northeast of Taroudannt, and while its majestic outdoor pool and surrounding orange groves were tranquil and relaxing, I would have preferred to be in the market town of Taroudannt itself.

We dropped our packs in our large comfortable room and wandered the gardens and orange groves before making our way to the riad’s large informal dining area at 8pm. Dinner comprised a very nice pureed vegetable soup and small basic salad for entree, followed by two tagines – beef with prunes and chicken with preserved lemon and green olives – both of which were excellent! We enjoyed fresh oranges sprinkled with cinnamon and bowls of fruit salad for desert, and (as always) we finished the meal with mint tea. I’d been travelling with some old currency and noticed the riad accepted Euros, so I decided to use it to cover the meal. I’ve accumulated so many notes and coins over the years, and I rarely get the chance to use them again. 😊

This had been a long day of travel. We’d left our Saharan campsite early in the morning and arrived at our sprawling riad late in the afternoon. We wandered back to our room, finished the remaining vodka from our previous night in the desert and caught upon our travel notes. Feeling exhausted, we retired at 11pm.

We slept well and woke late for a late breakfast. We settled at a table in the riad’s large dining area and enjoyed mint tea, orange juice, boiled eggs, baguettes and apricot jam. It was a basic breakfast, but nice enough. We checked-out, clambered into the minibus and left the tranquil riad at 9am. The first part of our journey was short – a 20km drive southwest to the township of Taroudannt.

Taroudannt is surrounded by striking red-mud walls known as ramparts, which once formed the defensive boundary of this fortified Berber town. We stopped and climbed some crumbling stairs to the top of one of these ramparts and found ourselves standing above one of the gates into the town. Cars sped underneath as we wandered the ruined rampart, and I couldn’t help but notice the lack of safety rails…

We carefully navigated our way down the crumbing stairs and walked to Taroudannt’s medina to explore the souqs (markets). I have to admit these were a little underwhelming, but I was comparing them to the much larger souqs we’d experienced in Fes and Marrakesh. On a positive note they weren’t crowded, so it was easy to browse the various sections at a leisurely pace without any bustle and noise.

After picking up some cough syrup from a pharmacy, we settled at a table outside a local cafe overlooking a small square. It was a fantastic place to refresh with mint tea as we watched the daily life of this quiet market town play out before us.

It was late morning already and we had a long day of travel ahead, so we jumped into the minibus and made our way to Agadir on the Atlantic coast – we were taking the scenic route to Essaouira.



SHE SAID...
Today we were travelling from the Sahara Desert to Taroudannt, by 4WD vehicle and minibus.

After an amazing experience in a Sahara desert camp, we had spent most of the morning crossing sand dunes, rocky desert and salt flats in a 4WD. The landscapes were out of this world, and our Tuareg driver had enhanced our desert experience with his great music choice, confident driving and impressive knowledge of the land.

We finally pulled into the town of Foum Zguid. We tumbled out of the dusty 4WD and into a cafe where we were meeting our minibus. After joining a long queue for the lone toilet in the cafe, we stocked up on cold drinks and packets of chips for our onward journey. As much as I enjoyed the 4WD experience, it was nice to be back on our comfortable minibus with our fun-loving driver Lahssan.

At midday we left the town and continued driving through desolate looking dusty landscapes. The brownness of the earth blended with the dusty air and the occasional small mudbrick village we passed. The tiniest bit of occasional greenery really jumped out of that brown landscape!

We then started crossing the Anti-Atlas to our next stop in Tazenakht. An hour and a half after we’d left Foum Zguid, we piled into the large courtyard of Restaurant Bab Sahara for lunch. Very strangely, Andrew and I weren’t hungry but tackled our dehydration with mint teas, an orange juice and two avocado shakes – one blended with orange juice and one blended with milk. We left everyone at lunch and went hunting for a pharmacist to replenish our stocks of cold and flu tablets.

Back on the minibus, I had a nap at some point and woke to a dramatically changed landscape. We were in the Sous Valley, between the Anti-Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coast. The valley is a vast fertile plain, and one of the main agricultural regions of Morocco. We began passing orchards of almond trees and fields of young crocos plants (from which saffron is harvested), but the plants wouldn’t bear their beautiful saffron-filled purple flowers until September.

Eventually we hit a plain that was full of spiky little argan trees as far as the eye could see. The argan forests are endemic to Morocco, and particularly to just the Sous Valley. The argan tree is highly valued for the oil extracted from its nut (which is purported to have medicinal benefits). The oil is highly sought after by the global cosmetic industry and also locally consumed as an edible oil. Another reason the argan trees have become popular is that the herds of goats who graze in the fields have seemingly learnt to climb the trees, and have thus become a tourist attraction and internet sensation.

I was ambiguous about the whole ‘goats in trees’ thing because I had read reports that goat herders were tying goats to high branches of the argan tree to attract tourists. However, when we saw a herd of sheep and goats grazing and pulled over to watch their behaviour… the goats eventually climbed the trees of their own accord. Even though seeing goats climbing trees is an extremely unusual phenomenon, it wasn’t until I saw the goats that I made the connection that these goats are used to climbing mountainsides when their nomadic owners move into the hills for the summer… so it wasn’t that much of a stretch that they’d be able to climb a small tree full of evenly spaced branches.

The goats only eat the fleshy pulp of the argan fruit and spit out the nut when they ruminate, making harvesting (and removal of the pulp) easier for the humans. And apparently, this seed dispersal method also helps with the propagation of new trees. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the goats were indiscriminately stripping the trees of all their young leaves too! I can’t see the argan forests lasting very much longer if the climbing goats are going to be used widely as a harvesting mechanism. Khalid (our group leader) told us that last year had been a bad year for the argan trees, and the farmers were happy to have a healthy crop and harvest this year.

Taroudannt was essentially a pit stop on our way to the Atlantic coast, and I was very glad when we finally reached our hotel for the night. Riad L’Arganier D’Or was 20km out of the city of Taroudannt, and set within a private orange grove. It was unique to say the least. It had a collection of main rooms set around a central garden, and our room – Suite Jawhara – was an orchard room, beautifully surrounded by orange trees laden with ripe oranges.

We intended to use the pool to cool down, but instead spent the time organising ourselves and getting sand out of everything we’d taken to the Sahara. We were dusty from the 4WDs and hadn’t washed for more than 36 hours! It took me two showers to get all the sand out of my hair. 😱

Given our hotel was so far out of town, and with no cultural explorations possible, we were forced to relax in the afternoon. We walked through the orange grove and then searched the property for wifi, with no luck. Even though I really liked the relaxed nature of this open country riad, we were literally in the middle of farmland, and we really wished we could have popped down to the shops to stock up on drinks and snacks. 😊

Our pre-ordered dinner was served in a large dining tent. I started with a Moroccan salad, my main was a chicken tagine with preserved lemon and green olives, and for dessert I ordered a fruit salad. Andrew had vegetable soup for entree, a beef tagine with prunes for main, and sliced oranges with cinnamon for dessert. We ended the meal as we always did – with mint teas. The food was really lovely, and it was also good to see Mike starting to feel better and enjoying food again.

As much as I enjoyed the camping in the Sahara, life is so much better when you can have a long hot shower at the end of the day and get into a bed that isn’t crunchy with sand! We were quite tired from two long travel days, but we stayed up and caught up on some writing… enjoying the last of the mandarin vodka as a nightcap. Andrew’s cough and my sore throat didn’t allow for a perfect sleep, but regardless, it was a good night’s rest.

Breakfast was basic with baguettes, boiled eggs, laughing cow cheese, butter and jam and mint tea. However, it was exactly what I felt like. Despite the fact that we were literally in an orange grove, I still passed on the orange juice. But as we walked around the grove after breakfast, I picked a few oranges for snacks on our minibus trip later that day.

We checked out of the country riad and drove into Taroudannt. We started at one of the gates of the old city wall, which surprisingly, we could climb and walk along for a short distance. It was a pity that it was an overcast day, because the High Atlas Mountains are usually visible from these dilapidated ramparts. I kept seeing Taroudannt referred to as ‘Little Marrakesh’ and I wondered if it was because of the faded red mudbrick walls of this once fortified town. After Ineke and I had the pleasure of using a seriously manky toilet in an old man cafe (needs must!), we walked to the souq (market) that Taroudannt is famous for.

We stopped by a pharmacy to buy cough syrup, and thankfully Sien was also with us and could explain in French that I had a dry cough. The only thing the pharmacist had was a honey and herbal syrup called Fitopolis. It tasted like crap, but it seemed to help.

Taroudannt is the main trading centre for the produce grown in the Sous Valley, but the souq was also crammed full of dates, spices, tagines, very bright modern and traditional clothing, biscuits, oils, woven products and random leather items. Most souqs we’ve explored have had specific allocated areas / rows for produce, clothing, household goods etc. However, this doesn’t seem to be a thing in the Taroudannt souq… we could buy a kilo of biscuits right next to a women’s underwear stall, or adorn ourselves with highly perfumed oils and potions next to the stinky butcher’s stall.

The spice stalls were the highlight of this souq (for me). There were many versions of ras el hanout for sale, Morocco’s version of India’s garam masala. It’s a spice mix created from a combination of 20 or so spices, and even at a distance I could smell cumin, ginger and cloves… and see turmeric and paprika. Apparently Moroccans call it the spice mix for those who can’t cook. 😉

Even though the souq wasn’t as impressive as others we’ve experienced, I really appreciated the quieter and calmer atmosphere. We ended the souq walk at the main square – Place Assarag. We sat in the sun with Mike and enjoyed a lovely mint tea while watching the lively local life on the square. The main entertainment was an old guy who had fashioned a musical instrument from an old biscuit tin, and played it with a bird on his head. We made sure we avoided eye contact with the human and the bird. 😊

Next we travel northwest to Essaouira, a laid-back fishing port on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

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28th October 2019

Short stops
I have been following your travels and I think I should also keep a journal of my travels too. I can jog most of my memory with my photos, but I have forgotten the names of the short stops and small places we transit in.
28th October 2019

Re: Short stops
Hi Melanie. I think that's a good idea. We forget so much if we don't record details of each travel day, and we really love re-reading our old blogs from years ago :)
28th October 2019

Goats in trees
I had never seen or heard of this phenomenon. It must have been an interesting spectacle!
29th October 2019

Re: Goats in trees
Hi Chris. Yes it was very interesting watching the goats climb and balance on those branches! I hadn't realised how smart and persevering they are :)
3rd November 2019
chicken tagine

Tangine
We had a chicken apricot tangine that I still dream of.
4th November 2019
chicken tagine

Re: Tangine
I had many tagines on this trip, but still think I could have had more :)
12th November 2019

Goats in Trees!
It looks like you had a much more authentic "goats in trees" experience than we did. That's so great that they really do climb the trees of their own volition, it must have been amazing to see! And then to Essaouira, what a great place it was :)
13th November 2019

Re: Goats in Trees!
All the goats in trees we saw were very much climbing of their own free will - they were really loving the argan fruit! :) However I heard that when the argan trees aren't in fruit, some 'enterprising' locals tie the goats onto the trees to attract tourists :(

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