We depart Ouarzazate for Taroudant. We call the hotel for directions to the medina, and are directed to a street so narrower that we fold in the side mirrors on the van and wonder how much paint we’re going to lose. Doug’s GPS isn’t matching the streets. We call the hotel again, who offers to send a guide.
A few moments later, our guide arrives, a dark haired 40’ish year old, wearing a black jacket and jeans and riding a bike. He rides in front of us and gets too far ahead a couple of times but Mohamed is able to catch up. Usually. We continue to drive down this alley, up that alley, and around a corner …
…and into a plaza where there must be at least 20 dark-haired guys in dark jackets and jeans, on bikes…
After what felt like an hour but was really only a few minutes, our guide circles back and slowly escorts us to our destination. Doug starts laughing because his GPS was trying to give us directions “to a location that cannot be driven to.” We have arrived at the Riad Dar Dzahra.
Another wonderful riad! I’m in “Caid-7” – a second floor room with a sitting area, cabinetry covered in metal repousse, and a bathroom with yet another of those cool sinks.
The next morning, I discover the courtyard is surrounded by a specimen garden. I look up to find a poinsettia intertwining with a banana tree. There’s a cotton plant in the corner, the first one I’ve ever seen, as well as an agave, a prickly pear, a papyrus, a yellow rose, and a towering wall of bouganvillea.
We visit the Aladin Treasure antique shop, situated in what looks like an old caravansari. I find brass locks in the shape of a camel and a lion, and a china plate with metal overlay. “This piece represents two cultures,” the shopkeeper says. “The painted porcelain is Arabic, the silver overlay is Berber.” They are among the best finds of the trip.
We stop at a souk catering to residents rather than tourists. I watch a furniture maker as he applies metal sheeting to a table. He signals “no camera,” so I try to soak in with my eyes his process of laying down adhesive onto a pine base, and then a thin metal sheet, burnishing it with the handle of their tin snip. I was fascinated at the absence of nails and brads, and although they did not do any repousse work while I was there, I assume that the pine is soft enough to accept the hammered designs that I saw on the cabinet in my room.
Back on the road, we see fences separating the farm plots, some are brick with crenelated tops, others are burlap and brambles. There are beehives here, and orange groves, and a couple of peacocks. We’re on our way to visit a grain storage system that was not totally destroyed in a recent earthquake.
We turn off the road and head up a hill, the road becoming more dirt-path the further we go. We stop at an argan grove – a nut that only grows in Morocco, which is processed into an oil for cooking, medicines, and cosmetics. Mohamed shows us how to smash the green nuts between two rocks in order to expose the inner kernel, which is white, about the size of a pumpkin seed, crunchy and a little bitter but with no other discernible flavor. Learn more about argan, and the health benefits here.
We find the spot Doug is looking for, and spend the next little while walking through the remains of an old grainery.
Then it’s on to Agadir, a centuries old fishing town that was completely rebuilt after the original city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. It’s population is principally Berber, and claims to be the largest sardine fishing port in the world.
We check in to the Palais des Roses, patterned after a Berber ksar, though it feels very French Protectorate, with around 800 rooms on 5 floors that surround an open air courtyard, and a sweeping view of the pool and water gardens from the restaurant terrace. It’s a nice hotel if you like resorts, but I’m now so spoiled by the more intimate riads, that I am happy we are only here for one night.
See the full details of the day at August Phoenix Hats.
Next stop … Marrakech.