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As the gnawa-music is presented in another tip on Essaouira, I can just add, that I've been visiting a couple of times during the music-festival in June -- and for sure, it can be recommended !! The music of cause is wonderful -- but there is also a great atmosphere of joy and exitement in the town during these days.
If you want to have a greater knowledge of the music and have a sense of playing yourself, I can recommend you a visit in Hamid's shop in the center of the old Madina.
He is selling instruments for gnawa and other kinds of African music, he knows a lot about it -- and he loves to tell about the music, and even better - he likes to make his visitors play it, and it's really funny ! You will not get into som unpleasent situation or feel any kind of pressure to buy anything, just enjoy and relax. And play the music! Hamid is working hard to learn english -- and he is pretty good at it.
I can not remember the name of the small alley where his shop is located -- but it is easy to find: Go to the main street in the madina, right in the center, close to the silver-market - I think that if you ask for Hamid and his "African Shop" you will find it. In one of my photos you can see Hamid pointing to the alley from the main street ! -- Good luck, and enjoy.
Updated Jan 23, 2010
We stopped along the road north of Essaouira to visit an olive press. The grinders turn the olives into a mush, which is put in baskets that look like small tires. After the baskets are filled and stacked, they are squeezed in a press to recover the oil.
One grinder was electric, but the other one ran on camel power. A blindfolded camel walked around in circles turning the wheel. There was another facility just across the road, and it looked more modern, but this one was more interesting!
Written Jan 11, 2010
It is traditional for widows to come to the port and wait for the boats come in because the men give them fish. If you are there at the right time of day, you will see these ladies waiting patiently with their baskets.
Written Jan 10, 2010
Much of the landscape between Marrakesh and Essaouira is scrubby desert, used by Berbers for goat and sheep farming. Some crops grow in the more fertile parts – we saw maize, olive trees and also argan trees, native to Morocco. Later in the week we were to visit an argan oil cooperative in the Ourika Valley where we learned about its production and the variety to uses to which it is put. But it was here, about an hour out of Essaouira, that we first heard about it and saw the trees growing. It was also here that we encountered the curious sight of “goats in trees”. Of course we stopped to take a few photos and to tip the Berber herdsmen standing by for just that purpose. I had more than a strong suspicion that these goats had not chosen to climb the trees but had been lured up there by their canny owners to await passing tourists. Maybe so, but certainly goats have been climbing these trees for many years of their own accord as they have a fondness for the argan fruits. Indeed, the production of argan oil started when the Berber people learnt to collect the undigested argan pits from the waste of goats and to grind these into a paste and press it to make the nutty oil for cooking and cosmetic purposes. These days the fruit is harvested and the pits removed before the goats have had a chance to eat it, but the sight of the goats climbing the trees is popular with tourists so they are allowed (or encouraged) to continue to do so.
Written Nov 22, 2009
The Thuya trees which grow in the area surrounding Essaouira, are unique to this area. The fragrant wood is used in different wood craftings. Essaouira provides the best craftsmen, and their work is highly regarded through Morocco.
The trees however, are now becoming an endangered species.
Examples of this woodwork can be seen in the many craftshops and Co Operatives in Essouira. (Where you can be sure of getting the genuine article!)- there have been reports of fake Thuya wood articles on sale in other outlets.
Updated Nov 13, 2009
Argan trees grow prolifically in the area around Essaouira and on down through to Tafroute. Its a nut much like an almond, with a hard shell that needs to be cracked to get to the nut inside which is sought after mostly for the oil that can be obtained.
Products made with Argan oil are in demand and reach quite a high price - its usually women that work in enterprises and cooperatives obtaining and processing the crops - as cooking oils, skin and beauty products and delicious concoctions to drink.
Amazingly goats like these nuts too and will climb up into these trees to eat the leaves and the green fleshly skin that covers the young nut still growing. Its quite a sight to see and glad to have had at least 2 sightings of goats up in Argan trees chomping away merrily during my most recent visit enjoying the stunning coastal drive between Agadir and Essaouira.
Its been said though that tourists are reporting goat shepherds actually tieing goats up into the trees with the specific intention of luring tourists to stop for photos and then charging fees. Thankfully this was not the case with the goats I saw up in the trees - they were indeed freely moving about in the trees, jumping up into the trees or jumping out of them in front of me.
At the first place along the road that I excitedly saw goats up in the trees the woman shepherd came running up for money for taking photos of her goats - which is annoying and does make one wonder that giving money for a public landscape shot with someones goats in it warrants payment and if it reinforces to the locals that tourists will happily succumb to their demands .But on the other hand these people who live out in the country eking out a living reliant on their own hands and physical abilities that the small price we pay is an opportunity to help them along a bit.
Written Dec 13, 2008
Gnawa is a mix of Arabic and Berber music, originating in the sub - Saharan, from descendents of slaves who arrived in Morocco in the 1700's from Central and West Africa.
The musicians traditionally performed at public recitals, or in private trance like rituals (to ward off evil spirits)
Common instruments are drums, a reed pipe and metal 'castanets'
Gnawa music can be heard around Essaouira, and in Djemma el Fnaa in Marrakesh.
Essaouira holds an annual 4 day festival, usually mid June, where Gnawa , Jazz , World music etc is played by local and International musicians, day and night. and all for free !!!
I bought a CD of music from the 2004 Essaouira Festival, Which I'm really enjoying! but I would love to attend this festival one day
Updated Jan 1, 2008
In the area around Essaouira grows the tree named argan (Argania spinosa). This tree is unique to Morocco and produces a fruit like an olive, which is pressed for oil. The oil can be used for cooking and for the body.
On our way from Marrakech to Essaouira and on a trip south of Essaouira we visited cooperatives of local women producing products of argan oil. In those places signposted along the road (picture 2 & 5) you can see the production of argan oil (pictures 1, 3 & 4) and also buy the products.
Written Oct 10, 2007
Ramadan does not shut Morocco down. On the contrary, there's a very good atmosphere around, a bit like Christmas. It's a family thing, though, so unless you're invited you'll miss the best parts. Like the incredible "breakfast" Moroccan families share at sunset.
Some shops and restaurants close during the day, others continue to cater tourists as usual, especially in tourist centers like Marrakech, Agadir & Essaouira
Almost all Moroccans fast during Ramadan. They don't consider it a burden, but a celebration. That said, after a week or two some will start showing signs of fatigue and become a bit edgy.
Many shops and tourist attractions have shorter opening hours during the month of Ramadan. After all, working while fasting can become tiresome. You will notice that some people get a bit testy, particularly after the second week of Ramadan.
Restaurants and bars are generally closed during daytime, although in tourist hot spots some will continue to cater to foreigners.
Alcohol shops close one week before Ramadan and re-open one week after. Alcohol can be purchased from large supermarkets eg; Marjanne & Acima during Ramadan providing you show a non-Moroccan passport
There is no law prohibiting non-muslims to eat, drink or smoke during the day and most Moroccans will not mind if you do. On the other hand, they will respect you enormously when you show the courtesy not to do so, at least not in public.
Public transport continues to operate pretty much as usual, although before the evening prayer buses and taxis become very busy with people rushing home for the first meal of the day.
If you're traveling with a tour group, the guide will most likely arrange for activities and meals that work around Ramadan's limitations for foreigners.
Ramadan 2007 is expected to begin in Morocco on September 12 and to end on October 13
The "Eid el-Fitr" festival is expected to begin on October 14.
Note that the exact dates are determined by the sighting of the new moon.
Written Aug 31, 2007
There is a certain conservative touch to Essaouira. Local women are more veiled than in other cities. They walk on a street but never alone. Usually they are accompanied by a husband, children or at least one another woman.
I couldn't take pictures of their faces as they didn't allow me to do it. It's a sin in Muslim religion or some folks just don't like it. And their men looked a bit angrily for my camera as I noticed.
Updated Feb 20, 2007
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