Photographs taken in Taghazout, Morocco. Read the full post: Hanging Loose in Taghazout.
North of the city of Agadir, in the south west coast of Morocco, is located the small fishing village of Taghazout, where sun bleached hair surfers showcase their skills on the ocean curls and where camels lounge peacefully on the golden beaches.
Mostly of Berber origins, the residents have become to be local surfers, blending with an increasing number of tourists who come to experience the Atlantic waves. Along with tourism, fishing and the production of Argan oil are the main source of income. French is the main language spoken after Arabic, but it is becoming common to hear English spoken by locals, whom learned from visitors.
There are many consistent and generally uncrowded breaks to choose from, whether you are a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced surfer. As well as the rest of Morocco, Taghazout is famous for its long right hand point breaks. With the right conditions, this point can offer a 2km ride, surfing from ”village to village”, starting at Anchor Point, meeting up with Hash Point and ending at Panorama’s beach break.
A few restaurants are lined up on the main street, offering a variety of food, from Moroccan dishes to International cuisine. You will also find souvenir stalls and small convenient stores with non-aggressive and laid back sellers.
Many surf schools have grown in recent years offering lessons and guidance, with packages including accommodation, lessons, authentic meals and rentals. If you don’t want to book a package with one of the surf schools, you can simply rent one of the many apartments, most of them oceanfront. If you choose that option, I highly recommend to rent a car to give you the freedom to travel from break to break, do a trip in town, explore the coast and its surroundings, or simply chase the sunsets.
The coastal city of Agadir is approximately 20 min drive South from Taghazout. You will find a variety of large malls with grocery and liquor stores where you can pack up on what you need (remember that Morocco is a Muslim country where the consumption of alcohol isn’t openly tolerated. So be wise where you drink and how you act. Be a smart tourist and respect the locals). The city center is large and dynamic with tons of shops and restaurants servicing a diverse clientele. For souvenir shopping, the Agadir Souk is a great stop, although be ready to pay more than other cities. The beautiful and clean waterfront promenade offers a lovely stroll where you can glimpse at kids playing futbol and families gathering.
If the water is flat and the waves are shy, a nice day trip to Paradise Valley is in order. About 45min drive through a winding mountain road and you arrive at the entrance of the trail. The Valley was found by a German couple who took refuge there for a few years to recover from illness. They were cured by the peacefulness and natural surrounding of the Valley. Hence the name, Paradise Valley. Hang out on the rocks, cool off in the refreshing turquoise pools, show off by jumping off the rocks.
Taghazout is a beautiful, peaceful and friendly surfing destination. Whether you come here to learn how to stand on your board, or are in search of the perfect sea surf, this little coastal village is sure to satisfy your adventurer’s needs. Conquer the waves, taste the salt on your lips, feel the sun warming your face and hang loose on the beach amongst fellow surfing enthusiasts, friendly dogs and lounging camels. You’ll leave with new friends, improved skills and fascinating stories to tell.
The impressive red walled medina is an extensive labyrinth of tangled tight streets, unfortunate homeless, everyday survivors and kids calcitrating donkeys. A city of snake ‘charmers”, monkey entertainers and aggressive sellers. Sore for the eyes, arduous on the heart, but it is the reality of the place, whether you like it or not. Despite the poverty of the people and the cruelty towards mules, the 11th century built city is a beautiful destination with a lot to offer. Once the capital of the kingdom, the imperial city now serves as a major economic center and is one of the busiest cities in Africa, attracting visitors from all around the world. The Red City, given the name from its red sandstone walls and buildings, is also an important cultural, religious and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.
Avoid getting lost for fun in the medina. Grab a map and familiarize yourself with the area. The fortified city is a seemingly endless maze and will bring you to less desirable places; areas you don’t necessarily want to see. If you stay around the Jeema el-Fnaa square and the Souk, you’ll have plenty of streets of markets to meander through and eye-popping things to see.
*** Tip: don’t follow the directions to the square from the souk. They will mislead you and make you go around the whole market. From the souks, keep a right to get back to the square.
The souks are a panoply of alleyways of tiny retail cubicles. Each sections specialize in local goods: carpets, maroquinerie, crafts, pottery, blankets, thuya fabrications, and the list goes on. Marrakech also hosts the largest traditional Berber souk in Morocco.
- When you enter a store, walk with blindfolds. Don’t look straight at items, especially not something you might be interested. Look wide and uninterested.
- Once you are really sure you like something with the intention to buy, have a look at it. The vendor will be standing next to you in a heartbeat.
- Ask for the price. They will start with a number. When it’s your turn, cut by a 3/4. Then you will meet each other somewhere halfway between the original price of the seller and yours.
- If he doesn’t play along, or keep his price too high, start to walk away. Most likely they will chase you and let the item go at your price. Example: you are interested in buying a pair of babouches (Moroccan shoes). The seller will start at 150dh. Your turn: “50dh”. “120dh”. “70dh”. “100dh”. “80dh final price”, you say. “Ok 90dh”. “No, I’m sorry, 80dh was my final price”. Then, walk away. “Ok, ok, ok”. The seller puts them in a bag. Hand over the money. Done.
If you need to get away from the hustling and bustling of the Red City, why not enroll in a cooking class? You’ll spend a day out in the country testing your knowledge about spices and learning to cook delicious authentic Moroccan dishes. Enjoy your concoction outside in the garden with fellow students. Perhaps a glass of wine will be offered. For more information, visit Michel’s webpage: www.faimdepices.com
And how about treating yourself at the spa at the end of your stay? Marrakech has a variety of spas offering a wide range of massages, facial services, body treatments and beauty work. The best is to finish in a traditional hammam. Try out Hammam 1001 Nuits located at the entrance of the Jeema el-Fnaa.
The raw reality is apparent and harsh to admit. From wealthy tourists photographing poverty in the streets, to sellers fighting severely over a sale. Tourism has a huge impact on the people of Marrakech and it is hard to know if it’s for better or worse. For instance, those snakes aren’t charmed by the charmers. In fact, not only are they tranquilized, but their mouth is also sewn to prevent bites. The reason why they stand straight is because they are scared. Becoming extinct animals, they are most likely to die after 3 months of work. And how about those cute little monkeys? Their life isn’t so cute. Taken away from their mothers at an early age, they endure months of cruel training, such as chains around their necks, hands tied behind their back, food denied until they adopt the right acrobatics. Their teeth are pulled out and the animals are then kept in cramped boxes all day under the heat, making them suffer from heat stroke and illness. At night, they are forced to perform for the tourists, the latter to be smiling towards a proud picture to show off friends and family. Please, please, please, show consideration towards the cruelty for the animals. Don’t encourage such tourist traps. Marrakech is a lovely place, with more to offer than cruelty towards unprivileged animals. Be a smart traveller. If you wish to help and donate, visit Fondation Helga Heidrich SOS Animaux.
If you are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary holiday, an out-of-your-comfort-zone stay, or simply are thirsty for a cultural adventure, visit Marrakech, the city that never sleeps. Wander around the colourful alleys illuminated by candles and lanterns. Find your way through the smoke from the cooking stands in the middle of the square. Be charmed by the sounds of flutes erecting the snakes, the rhythms of the locals jamming in the public place, and the prayer chanting from the minarets. Maybe you’ll find some magic intriguing your senses.
The soaring and screaming of the seagulls accompany the melody of the sea. Inside the medina, white are the walls and majorelle blue are the old windows and wooden doors we see. The air is fresh, the pace is slow, the colours are soft and the people are hassle-free.
Essaouira is a small fishing town located in the western coast of Morocco. It is inhabited by Arabs, Berbers and Gwanas, giving a rich cultural mix to the town. The bay is partially shielded by the island of Mogador protecting the peaceful harbour against strong winds coming from the sea. The medina, wrapped around with white ramparts, is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city making the town a must to add to your itinerary.
Shopping the tranquil alleys of the medina is a great option for souvenir hunting. The non-agressive vendors make it for a nice and peaceful stroll, giving you the proper time to shop stress-free. Follow the aroma of spices floating in the damp sea air. Search for argan oil, natural medicine, Thuya crafts or maroquinerie while shopping in a mellow atmosphere. The prices are already low, but there is always room for bargaining.
There are several restaurants offering Moroccan cuisine, although a lot are also serving European meals, such as pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and fries. Most riad will include Moroccan breakfast with the stay. Most will also offer a homemade dinner, at a fairly good price. Eating at the riad is a very attractive option. While dining in the comfort of your hotel, you will taste authentic dishes made out of fresh local ingredients (purchased on the same day). If they don’t sell alcohol, they will most likely let you bring a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner. It is a cheap, convenient and delicious option!
Feline strollers seem better nourished and healthier than other Moroccan cities. Volunteers come twice a year to fix the females. Restaurants also spoil the furry companions with left-over foods and fresh water.
People don’t come to Essaouira for a sun vacation. Even though it is shinning here most days of the year, the town holds strong marine winds that could make some visitors unpleased and bothered. With an approximate 25km/h wind everyday, the town is known as the character wind city of Africa and has grown in becoming one of the best place to come windsurfing. Hundreds are seen defeating the wind, jumping the waves, and racing the gulls. I won’t suggest having a picnic on the beach with that kind of air current, unless you like crunchy bits in your sandwich. However, a few restaurants offer a good break from the wind, offering comfort food and refreshings.
At the end of the beach, camels and horses are found, ready to provide you with a scenic ride along sand dunes while admiring the sun setting over the ocean. If the idea doesn’t attract you that much, the images of these gorgeous animals strolling in front of the sunset make up for great pictures.
Essaouira is a purely tranquil holiday. Stroll the hassle-free medina, eat the catch of the day on the quay, have a mint tea on one of the terrace watching people go by, take culinary lessons with the cook at your riad, take a walk on the beach, admire stunning sunsets while sitting on a camel back. This little fishing town is a perfect retreat by the sea (and a natural exfoliant).
Photographs taken in Rabat, Morocco. Read the full post: Rabat: Exploring the Neighbourhood
Photographs taken in Marrakech, Morocco. Read the full post: Marrakech: Where the Magic Happens. Or Does It?
Warning: This blog post contains images and descriptions that might not be suitable for some readers and some may find the content disturbing. If you do read, please have an open mind and the ability to understand a different culture. Thank you.
Every year, on the 10th day of the Islamic calendar’s last month, falls one of the two Muslim feast holiday: Eid Al-Adha. This Festival of Sacrifice is to honour the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of compliance to command. When the son accepted and the sacrifice was about to be performed, Allah stopped to provide Abraham with a lamb to kill instead. Muslim families from all around the world will sacrifice a sheep or a goat every year on that special religious holiday.
Today, on October 16th, 2013, I witnessed with my own eyes such an intimate and important religious ceremony.
My host family have been preparing for the feast all weekend. They made and baked the mkhamer (bread), dried and chopped the herbs, prepared side dishes of backoula (spinach salad), zarlouk (cooked eggplants) and khizou mchermel (spiced carrots). They sharpened the knife. They got the sheep.
Sheep pushed in carts have been circulating all over town the past few days. Each Muslim family purchased a sheep or a goat and kept them on their outdoor terrace or home for a few days prior the sacrifice. The bleating of sheep was added to the sounds of prayer chanting at night.
Earlier this morning we went to the grandmother’s home where all the rest of the family reunited. Aunts, uncles, cousins, everybody was present as well as 2 students from Senegal. There were also 3 sheep, one for each small family.
Being part of the sacrifice was never planned. I didn’t research well prior my arrival and was unaware of this important holiday. When it was mentioned and described to me, I was put into a strange blend of anxiety and excitement. I’ve never witness death before, therefore this unique opportunity had to be taken with arms wide open. I am not a vegetarian back home, but I always prefer vegetables and fish over meat, by taste preference at first, and also because I don’t know where my meat comes from. It is not for health reasons, but rather for animal cruelty concern. I don’t agree with our meat industry and wished people would realize how much abuse is made towards animals. Being part of the sacrifice was going to be hard, but also a massive eye-opening experience.
Salt was thrown over the drain in the outdoor terrace. The first sheep was brought out. The butcher, after doing his prayer, put the ram on its side and caressed his back. With a sharp movement, he cut the throat. The blood sprayed out its vein. It died immediately. However, its legs shook as the blood tried to rush to the brain, and back and forth. Agony. I found myself in the mix of emotions and placed my sunglasses to hide the tears accumulating at the edge of my eyes. The blood squirting was overwhelming. The scene was perturbing. The death of a living was heart aching. But I held on. I was so fortunate to be there.
The butcher chopped the head off. And then came the hoofs. He sliced the bottom of one leg and blew air into the skin. The inert animal blew up like a balloon, making it easier to lacerate the skin from the muscle. When completely removed, the skin and wool is kept aside to later be cleaned and used as praying mats. The animal was then hoisted by the back legs. It was time for the belly to be carved. He removed the organs and placed them into a plastic basin. They were put aside for today’s BBQ and dinner.
The women took their shoes off and danced barefoot in the bath of blood. They then brushed and hosed the ground, the walls and the doors. We were ready for the second sheep…
And the third…
A cousin grabbed my hand and hurried me inside the house. The Royal ceremony just started and was displayed on TV. The King performed a Sunnah prayer followed by a sermon. It was to Mohammed V, the King, to sacrifice the first sheep (the one for his palace). Then the butcher did the second one (for the country). Celebrations at the palace followed the sacrifice.
The smell of the charcoal burning under the grill dragged us outside. I helped the younger ladies wrap the belly fat around pieces of liver and stab them on sticks to make kotbane (shishkabobs). The women marinated the lungs and the rest of the liver for the dinner later. As a tradition, the organs are eaten on the day of the sacrifice, the meat in tagines the next day and the head on the Friday’s couscous. 1/3 of the meat is kept for the family, another 1/3 to trade to neighbours and family and the rest goes to the poor and needy. From head to hoofs, nose to tail, everything is eaten.
The table was set outside with Moroccan blankets wrapped on its side to diminish the heat of the midday sun. Everybody grabbed a dish and placed it in the center of the table. We gathered for the feast. We laughed, smiled, spoke a mix of Arabic, French and English. A multi-ethnic lunch with various conversation from history to religion to simple joy talks. We spent the afternoon dancing on the rhythms of Arabic music. From the younger son to the grand-mother, everybody showed their moves on the living room floor. There was no time to sleep or be tired. It was time to celebrate.
More than 25 billion animals are killed by the meat industry each year. As soon as they are born, they are put in overcrowded cages, crates or stalls. They are deprived from exercise, sunlight and care. The average American meat-eater is responsible for the death of about 90 abused animal per year. Today I witnessed the raw death of 3 animals. However, these creatures had the best life a sheep could have. They were found in the mountains after living a life of running wild and free. They were brought to a home where they were given respect and care. They were killed quickly and efficiently. Yes, it was hard to see. But I’m glad I did.
This unique experience was given to me as an opportunity to open my eyes not only on another religion and culture, but also on mine.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
-Gandhi, Indian spiritual leader