Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Heading west

01-06.02 - Hassi Labied - Agdz - Zagora - Taroudant - Agadir; 858 km, seventeen rides.

We leave Hassi Labied with a wistful feeling that we could have stayed longer. Every moment of the trip is amazing but last days were hundred times better.

After four rides with Dutch tourists, a local in Rissani (my shortest ride ever - this guy must have understood we're looking for a bus station and dropped us off after around 300 m), couple from Rabat and Italian tourists (a torture for my eardrums; the couple and Guido yell while they talk, as befits the Italians) we get to Agdz. Neither Guido nor I considered this town as a spot on the way to the coast but the route we want to follow later to Taroudant doesn't appear very frequented and doing a span of over 550 km in one day might be a challenge on Moroccan roads.

In Agdz couchsurfing brings us an experience we'd never expect: first ghost-hosting ever, since our host Salah is in Marrakech righ now. However, his cousin welcomes us home but has to work, so it's the perfect opportunity to take it easy without having to entertain anybody.

Afternoon walk. Not even 10 minutes pass when two men accost us on the street, asking where we come from. We say Italy and Poland, as soon as they hear the answer, crooked grins appears on their faces. One of the men says about his relative living in Italy, about some family affair that's going to take place soon, about a letter he'd like to send them but can't write in Italian. Guido agrees to help him, the man takes us to the dental office where he works (undoubtedly he makes a mint, taking into consideration the severe dental problems that affect many Moroccans, from kids to old people). The translation is made and another guy in gratitude invites us for a tea... in his shop.

As usual in a situation like this, some transaction is up in the air but I hold my ground, they won't get even one dirham from me. The shop owner tries to shove some bracelet to Guido who has to get a gift for a friend anyway, it's just the matter of negotiation. Another guy tries to charm me with "jolie fille, très charmante" but these advances won't work anyway. He ogles me all the time, his eyes don't drift from me, his hands almost touch mine, I move them away. When I go away to escape his importunity, he follows me and says:
"Listen. I want to give you very good massage. It's just for your pleasure."
"But I have a boyfriend in Poland."
"Your boyfriend is not here so he can't be upset about it."
"But I don't get close with people I don't know! Even if it's just massage. La shukran!"
Forget about white lies. If they don't see your partner here with you in flesh and blood, he doesn't exist to them. Even my steadfast refusal doesn't discourage him. When Guido (deprived of 120 MAD and his carabiner, but with a beautiful bracelet) and I leave the store, he tickles my palm while giving me a handshake. "In your dreams," I think.

Instead of spending more time in Agdz, we go for a day to Zagora, the biggest town situated in the desert Draâ Valley and probably the hottest place in entire Morocco with maximum temperatures reaching over 50°C . It boasts the famous sign "Tombouctou 52 jours," by camel or on foot. There's also a small yet beautiful mosque whose internal features are visible during the prayer time through the open door - floor covered with a colorful carpet, separate entrances for men and women. It looks impressive but I don't want to disturb the praying people, so I refrain from taking photos.

All mosques in Morocco, apart from Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and some mosques that no longer hold their function are closed to non-believers. Why what is allowed in other Muslim countries doesn't go down here? The reasons are historical. During the French occupation many soldiers behaved disrespectfully in these sacred places (eg. drinking alcohol), the result of which was that Marshal Hubert Lyautey forbid all non-Muslim people access to the mosques. Even after Morocco had regained its independence, this rule still applied.

The safety of working at height...

Surrounded by palm groves, Zagora is a paradise for date lovers.

In Agdz a brilliant idea is conceived. Looking at the map of Morocco and reading Lonely Planet guidebook on pdf, we think "why don't we go to Tarfaya?" It doesn't sound like a very special place to visit, but we're tempted to go there anyway, just for the fact of being so far south. And maybe Dakhla will follow? This is goddamn far and the traffic is sparse for sure, but can be reached with grand taxi. If I have to choose between spending my money on a very touristy camel tour and spending it on the taxi to a place far enough to discourage swarms of picture-taking tourists from going there, I prefer the second option. Dreams breed dreams. Are we crazy enough to go to Dakhla? Yes, we are!

After our short visit in Taroudant, we leave the Anti Atlas behind and for the first time during our trip head towards the windswept Atlantic Coast.

On the contrary to previously visited towns or remote reaches of Sahara, Agadir lacks traits of rich history and tradition. It was rebuilt after the disastrous 1960 earthquake that reduced the city to dead heap of rubble, so vast majority of its architecture is very modern. It lives up to its reputation of following Westerners' footprints - its cube-shaped white houses, thriving luxury hotels that local people can't afford, marina full of tourists dressed in fashionable clothes, bustling nightlife. Still, some parts of the city retained their Berber charm. Such place is Souk El Had which seems to be more aimed at the inhabitants of Agadir than flocks of tourists who prefer the touch of civilization provided by local hotspot, Carrefour (however, we take advantage of the commodities of a big city - Nutella for Guido and peanut butter for me are a must). Most of my attention goes to multi-colored olives (for the first time in my life I see olives that aren't black or green) and mounts of spices. How do they manage to keep these wonderful shapes so stable? We also have a chance to see the traditional way of making amlou - Moroccan dip made of argan oil and almonds, sometimes referred to as "Nutella du Maroc."

There isn't whole a lot to see in Agadir so together with our host Hasnaa (the only female host in the entire trip) we eliminate it from our itinerary. Instead we go to Taghazout, the surfing Mecca of Morocco. It's an opportunity for Hasnaa to have the first crack at hitchhiking, but only on the way back. The corniche of Agadir extends for many kilometers and to spare ourselves the trouble of finding a good hitchhiking spot we take a grand taxi that costs 7 MAD per person. Hasnaa doesn't seem to be in a whole new ball game situation - she's a chatterbox as usual and does all the talking; when asked about her European companions she explains that I came all the way from Poland hitchhiking and embellishes a little saying that after Morocco Guido and I are heading to Mauretania, Senegal, Mali etc. When she says this, all three men's stares are on us. For some Moroccans even Dakhla is the end of the world. Next time we'll go further, inshallah.

At home we get coddled by Hasnaa's mum. She's the perfect example of Berber hospitality, a woman who knows the secrets of any recipe, wants to spoil your taste buds and does succeed in it. We get treated to the finest crêpes I've ever tasted but also layered pan-fried msemen, spongy baghrir (diferent kinds of crêpes) and delicious pain perdu. The amount of oil used to make this kind of bread is appalling - my meals have never been so greasy. However, this time I venture off my usual path and don't regret the decision I make - it's so imim ("delicious" in Berber). So are the minuscule cookies made by Hasnaa's mum at her baking factory and Berber tajine. There's also another famous local specialty, argan oil, straight from an argan oil-producing company where Hasnaa's mum works as well.

It comes from the argan tree that is endemic to Souss Valley between Essaouira and Agadir. Limited growing area of argan trees, perfectly adjusted to harsh arid climate, makes it one of the the rarest kinds of oil. It's slightly darker than olive oil and and has nutty taste, though first comparison that came to my mind while tasting it was French cheese. Apart from being a popular ingredient in Moroccan cuisine it's also used in multiple beauty products. Mostly, argan oil is still produced the traditional way, which is a lengthy procedure usually done by women who grind kernels using quern stones to receive a paste. Afterwards, it's kneaded by hand to extract the oil. It's said that it takes 20 hours to extract one liter. I'll for sure take some of this liquid gold with me as a souvenir.

Happiness is as simple as Nutella.

Thanks to Hasnaa's kindness we'll travel lighter for a couple of days; the days that might be the biggest drudgery since the beginning of traveling in Morocco. We rearrange our stuff and pack everything, including clean change of clothes and cookies from Hasnaa into Guido's two backpacks, leaving mine behind. Civilization will soon become nothing but a distant memory.

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