|It is now Saturday and time to leave Marrakesh and move on to Essaouira, which is a beach resort on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. It was a 3 hour drive on a 4 lane “super-highway” where the fastest legal speed limit was 60 m.p.h. and sometimes as slow as 12 m.p.h. so the progress was not so swift. The only significant stop we had was at a cooperative where Argan oil is produced. Have you ever heard of argan?? We never heard of it so now we had a learning experience that we will share with you. Argan is a tree that grows a small fruit that looks like an olive. This tree grows only in the southwest part of Morocco and in some parts of South America. The fruit is not edible by humans. When the fruit is ripe it is removed from the tree and the meat on the outside is used as animal food. In fact, some farmers even let their goats climb the low trees and eat the flesh of the fruit while it is still on the tree. We saw this once as we drove along and it was really funny to see about 10 goats in a tree eating the fruit. After the flesh is removed from the fruit, a nut in a hard shell is left. The hard shell has to be removed and then inside it is a small nut the size of an almond. This inner nut is ground up to make the argan oil. If the nut is ground up in its raw state, the oil it produces is used as a salad dressing. If the nut is roasted before it is ground up, the oil is used as a skin lotion or beauty aid by women. The outer shell of the nut is used as animal feed for camels and goats and the inner shell is burned as fuel. Nothing is wasted.
So much for the product. Now we talk about how it is made. The product is mostly made by hand by either widows or divorced women for whom the cooperative is a life line. Women here in Morocco, especially poor ones are really treated badly. Widows and divorced women have little chance to remarry unless they are very rich. They get no government support and are generally reduced to becoming beggars in order to support themselves and their young children. Some are lucky enough to get a job at the cooperative where they can earn a very little bit of money as their share of the profits generated from producing and selling the oil and beauty products. There is no machinery and every step of the process is by hand with tools that look like they are out of the Stone Ages.
About 29 miles from where we stopped at the cooperative we reached Essaouira. As you look down on approaching the resort you are struck by the beauty of the setting, with a coastal city, sand beaches , a long curving coastline with large rocks sticking out of the water. The city itself has a main beach area with restaurants, hotels and various small businesses and then a medina area, which is the old city in which many people live and there are numerous handi craft shops and other small businesses that cater to locals and tourists. It has a feeling of being in the 1700’s or 1800’s. Our riad is in this area and faces out on the water. The view is spectacular as you can see from the photos we attach. Part of this medina is an area known as the “Mellah” which is the area or ghetto in which many of the Jews lived prior to the founding of the State of Israel, when many of them started to emigrate. Now the area is really run down and inhabited by the poorest of the poor.
In the medina no motor vehicles are allowed and we had to park in a large parkig lot outside the medina and hire an Arab with a large 2 wheeled cart similar to a wheelbarrow to move our luggage to our riad, which was as far as one could walk from where we parked, about a 10 minute walk. For this he was paid 25 Dirhams (about $3).
Shortly after we checked into our riad, we met a guide who gave us a 2 hour walking tour of the medina, the mellah, the port which is a very large fishing port and the ancient city walls. Then we went back to our room, showered, went out to dinner and went to sleep.