These African goats feed on grass, leaves and in particular the foliage of the Argan tree. Their ascent and descent balancing on the thin branches seems quite precarious, but they are sure-footed and adept at obtaining their food, without falling off. When lower branches are already stripped of reachable foliage, even by standing on hind legs, a black leader goat starts to climb the tree, the others, anxious not to miss the feeding, quickly follow him, until the entire flock is perched on the upper branches.
Sometimes in Diabat village, two kilometres from Essaouira, local shepherd boys offer to lift and place the goats on the branches as a tourist photo opportunity for ten dirhams or so, but if the goats are left to their own routine they will climb on to the trees, unassisted.
I've noticed many enquiries on the Internet from desperately thirsty newcomers to Essaouira, trying to locate the local "bottle shop" to purchase a bottle of wine to accompany their dinner at their lodgings. Morocco being a muslim country means that in deference to local custom, the sale and supply of alcohol within the Medinas is forbidden (harram!) but in the Nouvelle Ville outside the Medinas there is always a thriving trade, it's just a matter of knowing where to go....
So, there are three such outlets in Essaouira, the street names won't be much help, because they are not signposted, but directions are as follows.........
The best new self service off licence is in Avenue al Masira, exit the Medina through Bab Doukalla and take the second street on the right, it's on the right hand side about half way down.
There are two long established ones side by side on Avenue Moulay Youssef, exit the Medina through Bab Doukalla and take the first street on the right, the two are on the left hand side.
Another long-established one is in Rue Charif al Idrissi, a street running parallel to the beach road Boulevard Mohammed V, and behind Cafe/Restaurant Mogador.
The alcohol shops are "low key" in their street presentation to avoid incensing devout muslims, and are easily by-passed by the casual observer, confusing them with ordinary shops.
Always take note that these shops will be closed on Fridays, Ramadan and any other religious holiday, so be prepared and stock up on essential supplies. Some bars and restaurants may offer to sell carry-out alcohol supplies, but this is purely at the managements discretion, although the prospect of a nice tip to the waiter will often sway the balance!
My regular daily walk among the dunes behind Essaouira's north (Safi) beach reveals the local livestock feeding and recreation territory. The camels and bulls rest and graze contentedly on the dry plentiful vegetation and turgid succulents at the sides of the piste leading to the waste water station, only supervised by a lone gardien sleeping in the shade of the bushes.
A pleasant and peaceful atmosphere prevailed until I sneaked up and disturbed a sleeping camel, intent on obtaining a close up photograph, but noticing the control ring pierced in his nose, I realised he was one of awkward temperament prompting me to back off as he ground his teeth in displeasure, making aggressive 'honking' camel noises.
However, not before I got my photograph!.......
This year, on my walkabouts in Essaouira, I noticed the Synagogue in Rue Mellah was open to the public, I poked my head cautiously through the front door, everything seemed quiet, so I ventured inside, a gardienne was in attendance and allowed me to look around, climb upstairs and take photographs, unsupervised. The many pictures hung on the walls and the prayer room were interesting.
There was no formal admission fee, but my tip of five dirhams was gratefully received.
The Christian cemetery is situated just outside the Medina main gate, Bab Doukkala, its location is clearly identified by a cross carved into the wall above the door. A close examination of the graves reveals an interesting era of history, when the city was under Spanish administration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although the graves are supervised by a gardien who charges ten dirhams admission fee, the graveyard is in a dilapidated condition, overgrown by succulent weeds. The engraving on many headstones is illegible, the stonework has succumbed to the corrosive coastal weather, but a few stones have survived and can be read.......
I stayed here in 2005 with friends when we drove over from Marrakech for a few days in Essaouira for the Gnaoua festival.
Once a fishing village this small village is a quiet haven amongst the stones that originally the small houses and walls are made with and a number of these houses have been restored as holiday homes - there are still the remnants of others as ruins around the village and a number of newly built 2 storey houses but otherwise not a lot change since our recent visit last week in May 2013.
Still very popular with windsurfers there were quite a number out on their boards at the time, a shop handy for rentals and repairs this unprotected beach has a good amount of wind that Essaouira attracts surfers for.
There were quite a number of campers on the crest above the beach - and a small manned police booth near them. The policeman was friendly enough when we said hello and had a bit of a chat.
The restaurant cafe La Wama on the cliff top overlooking the beach and out to sea is still there - all in nice condition and with stunning views and balcony seating and tables to make the most of the views. They have roof top viewing as well. The restrooms were notably clean and handy.
Its about 20 mins drive north from Essaouira on the road to Safi and El Jadida - the road is marked on the Michelin map as scenic route as there is a highpoint that you can stop and look over the road as it inclines down to sea level with great views for quite a way up the coast. The road takes you through forestry land with a few argane trees and quite a number of donkeys along the road sides.
When I first visited Essaouira in 1999, staying at the Hotel Tafoukt, I was intrigued by the sight of an old fort on the horizon at the end of the beach on Bvd Mohammed 5.
From a distance of one kilometre, it was evidently some sort of fortification and when I walked down to investigate it turned out to be a small lookout post for the main Portuguese fort further inland amongst the sand dunes.
At that time the lookout post could be explored at low tide, and much of its stonework bore inscriptions in Portuguese and the defensive crenellations were still intact, but sadly, on my return visit this year, I was disappointed to see the structure disintegrating and slowly sinking into the sand.
The tide has also changed, at no time during my ten-day stay could I wade out to explore the ruined remains, the water was too deep, so a distance photo had to suffice, plus an historical one.
For as long as anyone can remember there has been a Jewish community in Morocco, they were encouraged by the Arabs to settle in the cities, to act as intermediaries in trade and commerce, and enjoy the protection of the King's police.
Although their numbers have been in decline in recent years, there are still "Mellahs" (the Jewish quarter) where they prefer to live among their own people. Essaouira has a sizeable Mellah and it's own Synagogue and Hammam (bath house), but many of the ancient buildings are being demolished, as some are in generally unsafe condition.
Until recently, Essaouira's Mellah had a bad reputation for illegal alcohol consumption and drug dealing, some deaths were recorded by intoxicated men falling from the sea wall on to the rocks below, but this situation is improving, with the worst area along Rue Mellah being demolished.
A stroll through the narrow medievil streets provides a fascinating insight into a different culture from centuries before.
Essaouira's, "Industrial estate" Avenue Mohammed el Akkad, a side street off Avenue Moulay Hicham, on my daily route to the north beach, on foot.
Morocco is essentially a third world country, and the disparity of extreme wealth and extreme poverty are easily observed on any street corner........
As such, low incomes and the ever-increasing cost of living, inspires much entrepreneural activity. Commodities which I, in my comfortable first world lifestyle are taken for granted, with easy bank credit, are eagerly sought after in the backstreets of Morocco and facilitated by "recycling".............. useable spare parts can be employed to remanufacture or repair a broken essential household item in daily demand for families in impecunious circumstances, unable to afford the luxury of a new refrigerator, cooker, or any desirable household object to make life easier for housewives, already struggling to pay for clothing and schoolbooks for their children.
The Medina shops can provide the essential low-cost basic items such as clothing, by haggling and negotiation, but "Industrial Estate" offers more technical support for someone reliant on an inexpensive mode of transport, in terms of spare parts for old cars and other vehicles, motor bikes, pedal cycles and horse carriages.......
This is where "Industrial Estate" appears out of necessity, to provide these commodities and services........
I know this area of Essaouira from way back in time and have always been sternly warned not to use my camera in this sensitive locality, the appearance of which always provoked an adverse reaction, much aggressive shouting and wagging of the right-hand index finger from side to side, with the utterance "LAA" (no!). I discerned that the legality of some business activities here might be suspect!
But Benny doesn't scare easily, so I pressed the camera button on this location, in defiance of the "avertissement" (warning)..................and survived to relate the experience!
Near Essaouira is Diabat an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It's best visited in the early morning and then return to Essaouira via a short and very romantic walk on the beach, past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame.
If you are a lover of trees or just have 15 minutes to kill this hidden treasure will not only take you by surprise but will also offer you a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the street.
At Bab Marrakech is the Complexe Artisanal, it faces the hotel Heure Bleue. Walk through the gate and keep to the right, before you get to the end you will see a dark tunnel, .....I really feel at this point you should put a blindfold on.
Often a polite young boy is hanging around to give you some information about the tree, You will be able to tell him that it is a 500 year old Ficus and comes from Brazil, and like Essaouira once belonging to Portugal.
Sadly this tree is no more, I am told that digging to lay new drains disturbed the roots and it died. Everyone who loved this tree is so sad.
Sundays there is a big market in a small town near Essaouira, Had Daraa. It is really a fine experience to spend a day visiting !
To get to Had Daraa you can take a grand taxi from the place beside the bus-station, it will cost you about 10 dh (1euro). Normally there will be 5 - 6 passengers sharing the taxi.
In the market you will find, in different places, donkeys, dromedaries, cows, sheep and a lot of other things --- and it is rather interesting to see, what is going on -- and nice, just to enjoy the atmosphere.
There are a lot of small restaurants in tents, where you can have a nice lunch for a very reasonable price. All included it might be something like 15 dh (1,5 euro) for one person.
Le Val d’Argan winery is about 15 miles from Essaouira (go north on N1, towards Marrakech) and they have a tasting room. It is in a beautiful setting, and the wine is good.
Hours: 10-6, daily
They also serve lunch, but we didn't eat there.
Argane Afous is a women’s argan oil co-op. The women work in two shifts, and they get paid a percentage of sales instead of a salary. Argan oil can be used for cooking and in salads, and has a really nice flavor. It also is used in cosmetics—face creams, soaps, etc. In either form it is expensive. According to Aziz (our guide) the toasted nuts are supposed to control diabetes, but they are bitter. Producing argan oil is a time consuming process, even in a factory. The nuts have to be cracked open, baked, and ground before the oil can be recovered. The end process is slightly different for food vs. cosmetics.
We were told about the co-op and its products, and given a chance to sample argan oil and a spread they make with oil, honey and ground almonds. Of course we had a "shopping opportunity" in their sales room.
Earlier in the day we had the chance to visit a Berber home where the women in the family were processing argan oil by hand. The nuts are cracked with a rock, one by one, and ground by hand. Six day’s labor only produces one liter of argan oil when done this way. This work is often done by widows so they can support their families, and they can sell their oil to a factory. Nothing is wasted—the outer shell can be fed to the goats, and the inner shell is used as fuel for the fire.
Argan trees only grow in southwest Morocco. Goats like the leaves and fruit, and they climb up into the trees to get them. The goats can’t digest the pits inside the fruit, so they pass through and can be collected under the tree later. This is the argan nut that produces the oil. We drove through the argan forest on our way back to Essaouira, but didn’t spot any goats in the trees.
The village of Had Draa has a huge weekly market on Sundays, and people from all over the area come for the day. It has almost everything—a meat market (including goats’ heads in bloody piles), fruits and vegetables, mounds of olives on tarps, clothing, plastic buckets, donkey saddle bags, building materials, and live animals. There were sheep, goats, donkeys and camels, including a 4-month old baby camel.
You could also visit restaurant stalls or buy services—barbers, people sharpening knives and scissors, etc. Men seeking employment sit in a particular area with the tools of their trade. Olive pickers were being hired the day we visited. In wheat season, the men will be waiting there with scythes.
Camels cost from $500-$3,000 (U.S.) and are priced by size—the baby was $400. I learned that, in general, the more fur on its back, the younger the camel. Also, if you push on a camel, it should move. If it doesn’t, don’t buy that one—it will be stubborn.
Donkeys are much cheaper, which is why there are so many more of them. A donkey costs $35-$200. Men were “test driving” donkeys they were considering buying, and they were running all over. There was also a big "donkey parking lot" where you can leave your donkey while you shop. It costs 1 or 2 dirham, and they will also store the saddle. If you want your female donkey to get pregnant, it will happen there. If you don’t, they will keep her in a separate area.
It was confusing, dusty, sometimes aromatic, but totally fascinating. If you are in the area on a Sunday, go to it! Note: Go fairly early--the camel market ends at 10 a.m.
Had Draa is 35 km north of Essaouira (on N1 road, I think)