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Week 6 in Morocco

MAP

Week 6 had us driving 297kms from Mirleft beach, through Tiznit (we didn’t stop here this time) to Tafroute then on to Taraoudant, an area called the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we tour through the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco, we visit our first souk accompanied by a local and learn how to exchange the Moroccan way.

Spectacular Souk

Day 36: Mirleft; Monday 4th March

We’re in for a special treat today. Our friendly Moroccan kidnapper, Mo, whisks us away to the Mirleft souk (weekly market) where we come across the unexpected…

For a small town Mirleft packs a punch when it comes to their souk, selling outstandingly fresh fruit and vegetables. You would have thought that after 36 days of travelling through this wonderful country we would have properly experienced a souk before, but we have either missed them by one day or turned up too late in the afternoon when most of the sellers had left. This was one of those occasions where the early bird catches the worm, or at least the freshest vegetables, fruit and herbs.

We are told that if the sellers arrive and set up, and the expected crowds don’t appear, they simply pack up and go back home. Luckily today, the buyers are out in force so the stall holders stayed put.

Set up in a dry dusty paddock, that is empty six out of seven days a week, is today’s home for this market. Only a fortunate few have makeshift tables to display their wares, the others just spread out a tarpaulin for their merchandise on top of the dirt.

Goodies Piled On Top Of Cloths For Sale In The Souk

It’s mainly men who are the sellers here and the souk appears to be an opportunity to catch up with friends.  The men greet each other; they chat, laugh, drink tea, and eat while watching out for their next sale.  The Moroccan people are always smiling and seem genuinely happy which makes hanging out here a real pleasure.

Men Hanging Around Mirleft Souk Sharing Secrets

Date Seller Asks To Have His Picture Taken

The quality of fruit and vegetables was the best we have seen in Morocco, bar none.  The cauliflowers must have just been picked this morning, as they still looked vibrant and alive.  But the real treat today was finding some much-longed for green spinach, again freshly picked this morning.  What a treat!  Now I can, once again, have green smoothies for breakfast.

It’s not just seasonal local groceries that can be bought here, another special treat was finding pineapples (imported from the Canary Islands) and fresh ginger.  I paid three dirhams (€.30 or NZ$0.46) for the ginger and handed over a five dirham coin.  Instead of money I asked for the change to be given in fresh soft delicious dates.  The vendor laughed at me saying ‘that’s the Moroccan way’ and Mo commented that we’ve been in Morocco long enough now to think like a Moroccan and that we should be applying for our residency status.

The souks don’t just sell fruit and vegetables.  There is also fresh honey from cactus, clothing, tea pots, tools, car parts, jewellery, belts, leather items, household items like plastic buckets, couscous pots, electronics (used and old), fabrics, melhafa (the traditional daywear of the ladies), sweet roasted nuts, dried legumes and more.  We saw an old xbox and a Dell computer that must have been twenty or thirty years old. Goodness knows how long the vendor has been carrying this stuff around and who he expects will buy it (apart from a museum curator).

TIP:  If you’re in the market, buy a Berber necklace early in your travels and wear it.  That way you will not only have a great souvenir, but you will please the locals, have a conversation starter and a valid excuse to politely decline to buy another.  Everywhere you go, you will find people selling ‘genuine’ Berber jewellery and artefacts and they are clever and relentless in their efforts to sell to you.

TIP:  Be careful eating the honey from cactus on its own, as it’s very strong and burns in your throat.  The bees know you’ve eaten it and they follow you around which isn’t good when allergic to bee stings!

In 2018, just two days before the clocks were due to be turned back one hour at the end of daylight savings, the Morocco Government decreed that they were going to stay permanently on daylight savings time (GMT plus 1 hour).  This caused mass confusion because the announcement was ‘totally out of the blue’ and even mobile phones automatically reverted to the old standard time as they were programmed to do.  Appointments and flights were missed – chaos!

Mo told us that many of the people have not accepted this new time zone and still use the old system, which is currently one hour behind the official time used by the Government and Government departments, schools, hospitals, airports and the like.

Ah, that explains why our iPhones and computers showed one time and our GPS a different time.

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Carpenter Day

Day 37:  Mirleft; Tuesday 5th March

There’s excitement in the air today as we patiently waited for our local carpenter to turn up with the two new shelves we’d ordered.  These were installed under our bed where our Truma gas heater system is installed.  The vulnerable pipes, valves and hoses are now protected.

The carpenter made an excellent job and if you are wanting any work on your motorhome while travelling in Morocco you can expect craftsmanship quality.

Our Ikea wooden chopping board has been modified to securely sit over the sink, thus increasing our usable bench space.  There’s never enough bench space in a motorhome when one likes to cook and bake.

From the land of cheap labour, all this work costs us just 250 dirhams (€23 or NZ$38) including a 20 dirham tip.

Food, Wine & Great Company

We had new neighbours park beside us today.  Roger and his wife Andy are a friendly retired couple from Germany.  Roger was an interpreter for a submarine manufacturer and speaks fluent English, Spanish and Norwegian as well as his native tongue.  They had so many stories to tell from their interesting life, which included 12 years full-time on a yacht in the Caribbean.

Tonight as a special treat I made my “Australian Chicken and Date Tagine” with Couscous as a treat and thank you to Mo.  This dish is one of my all-time favourites and I was proud to be trying it out on a real Moroccan to check how it stacks up against the local dishes.  

You know how sometimes it’s those unexpected, impromptu events that turn out to be a real treat?   The dinner was washed down with Roger’s Sardinian wine (water for Mo) and the food receiving a standing ovation.  Indeed a night to remember.

Goats Eating Their Favourite Food – Argan Nuts

Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco  and Goats in Argan Trees

Day 38:  Tafraoute; Wednesday 6th March

We went from being kidnapped by a friendly Moroccan/Canadian for six days last week to being shown the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco and favourite haunts of our German friends, Roger and Andy for the next ten days. 

One of the touristy ‘must sees’ in Morocco is none other than the goats in argan trees.  We are lucky enough to see this sight in the anti-atlas mountains of Morocco.  The nutritious argan nuts and freshest leaves are out of their reach from ground level but the clever little beasts have learned how to climb the trees for a tasty snack.  Normally these are seen around Essaouira where enterprising locals have trained their goats to scale the branches and pose for photos in return for tourist’s coins.

Driving to Tafraoute we came across some self-taught goats in paddocks strewn with argan trees.  Unfortunately, by the time we found somewhere to park and walked back across the field, the shepherd called the goats away so our photos were a little average.  However, be sure to check in next week to see argan trees seemingly growing goats on their branches as they munch their way through the delicious argan nuts.

Stunning Scenery Photos in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco

Stunning Scenery Photos

Stunning Scenery Photos

The camper parking at Tafraoute (GPS coordinates 29.72197, -8.98352) is as picturesque as anything we’ve seen in our travels.  High mountains are all around us, lighting up red when the late setting sun kisses the rocks.   There must have been 200 motorhomes here, many of which are set up to stay for what looks like most of the winter. 

This camper parking area is quite unusual for Morocco, where proper campgrounds are the norm.  There can be up to 500 motorhomes here at the busy times, and this seems to support a lot of the local economy.  The cost to park is just 15 dirhams (€1.30 or NZ$2.28).  For such a handsome sum you can park anywhere you fancy, dump your rubbish and dispose of black water. 

If parking here for a while take note at the direction those who are well set up are facing and do likewise.  The wind can come in at night and you will want shelter from the sun’s daytime heat. 

Fresh bread and pastries are delivered fresh every morning around 7.30am by a man yelling ‘baguettes, pan(bread), patisseries’ at the top of his voice.  If you don’t want to get up, you can leave your money in a bag tied to your door handle.  The colour of the bag tied to the door handle indicates the order from the previous evening.  In our case yellow was for one loaf of bread.  Unfortunately, the loaf was half the size we were used to for our 2 dirhams. 

A water truck comes here daily and for 2.5 dirhams he will fill your water tank and every empty water containers you can find.  Or if you miss him, there are young boys collecting and returning 5-litre bottles of water.

Local women come around offering laundry services.

Local men offer to paint murals on your motorhome or make side covers for your awning.

A significant, low cost, motorhome repair and refitting industry has established itself in Tafraoute and a lot of motorhomers take advantage of this.

Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

Sunrise at Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

About Argan Oil 

Mo arrived later in the day to deliver us a very special bottle of argan oil.  He had ordered this for us a few days earlier, putting the local ladies to work on our order and then collected it from a friend living in a small village inland from Tiznit.  This precious ‘hand-pressed to order’ liquid, in a re-used one litre plastic bottle, had travelled many kilometres just to reach us and for 220 dirham (€20.25 or NZ$33.50) was a very reasonable price.  As a comparison this oil for consumption sells on Amazon for US$119.96 per litre!  

TIP:  Not all argan oil is equal and we are told that some dodgy people sell a blend of argan oil mixed with ‘other’ oil, instead of pure argan.  Buying from someone knocking on your motorhome door is considered particularly risky.  If you want the real stuff then ask a local for a recommendation and expect to wait for a day or two, or even three, for it to be specially made.

What does argan oil taste like?

As best I can describe it, this oil has a toasty, roasted nutty scent and flavour, much like sesame seed oil but not as strong and without the bitter after taste.  From experimenting it’s best added to dishes, both savoury and sweet.

How do you eat it?

Hmmm, we had to look it up.

One way is to blend it with ground almonds, honey and salt to make something called ‘Amlou’ which is like a dip or paste that you then spread on fresh Moroccan bread (khobuz).

You can also dip bread straight into the oil itself, although I found that a bit strong in flavour.

Apparently, it is awesome when added to tagines or other savory dishes but we haven’t tried that yet.

I have made date and walnut balls using argan oil and it was particularly delicious.

Why eat argan oil?

It is believed to have anti-aging properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated and smooth.  The celebrities in American are said to be keeping the prices high with their demand for such products.

Cosmetic Uses

I’ve also seen it being used as a conditioner in hair and have tried this twice without success.  My hair looks and feels greasy, so it doesn’t last long before I use regular conditioner for cleaner feeling hair.  I do however use it on my skin (face and hands) more successfully.

Click here to read more about Argan Oil.


Tandilt – A Town Built Under Suspended Rocks

Day 39:  Tafraoute; Thursday 7th March

Despite the offer of a water tanker, Roger had other plans for us.  Having been here before and stayed in the neighbouring camping ground, he made friends with the manager and used that very good relationship to gain free water for us all (with permission of course).  So, loaded up with every water container we could find, we jumped on our bikes and headed next door to fill up.

Some of the French motorhomers camped in the campground seemed to think that we were stealing water and looked concerned or upset.  One lady even approached me wagging her finger.  She spoke no English but understood the word ‘permission’ and sulked back into her home muttering (insert French accent here) permission.  The French seem particularly interested in other people’s business and are never slow to show their displeasure at something they are unhappy with.

We cycled into the neighbouring town of Tandilt today to see the famous imposing rock, called Napoleon’s Hat, a bunch of huge red rocks precariously perched overlooking the homes and buildings of this town.   One small earthquake, shock wave, or decent storm and it appears that this baby would come crashing down pretty quickly.

Can You Imagine Building A Town Under These Rocks?

On our way out to Tandilt we first stopped off to have a bite to eat from a local cafe called Espace Harbaz.  I ordered a beef taco which was regrettable as the meat was mainly gristle and later that night it came back up again.  We are told green tea or sage tea is good for ‘Moroccan belly’. 

When we arrived at the Cafe, Espace Harbaz, the lovely Anita, Gavin, Judy and Henry from the UK were there just finishing their meal.  We’d connected with Anita through the Motorhome Adventures Facebook page and realised we were all going to be in the same spot, so it was a good opportunity to meet up in person.   We also met Tim Rust and his wife Ali.  It’s so nice to put faces to names that are seen on Facebook, it makes the connection extra special.  

TIP: Social media is a great tool for meeting other people when you are travelling.  If you want that sort of contact then join some relevant Facebook groups or forums and start reading and posting.  You will often find people at the same spot as you and are happy to have a chat over a wine or three.

The footpaths here make me laugh, who decided it was a good idea to plant trees right in the middle?  Take a look at the photo below and tell me how would you walk on this footpath, let alone push a pram or wheelchair?  It’s no wonder that pedestrians mainly walk on the roads over here!

Tafraoute has some very cute shops and is apparently ‘the place’ to purchase babouche shoes.  ‘Babouche’ are brightly coloured traditional Berber handmade goat or sheep-leather shoes which are traditionally worn during certain ceremonies such as holy days or at weddings.  The yellow colour is worn by men and the red colour reserved for women. 

Babouche (Shoes) Anyone?

TIP:  Fillet steak in Morocco is far cheaper than in most other countries but you won’t often find it in the butcher’s display.  The price ranges around 120 – 150 dirhams per kilo (€11-13.75, NZD$18.20-22.80) so it is too valuable for most butchers to stock. However, many butchers will order it in for you to pick up the next day – provided you buy the whole fillet.

Roger and Andy keep their freezer filled with fillet steak to take back home as at €50 per kilo they feel it is virtually unaffordable in Germany.

Fresh Beef Eye Fillet

What to See and Do In Tafraoute

Day 40:  Tafraoute; Friday 8th March

I was laid low today recovering from my dose of Morocco belly, so I spent some time researching about the local area.

Tafraoute is a town in Tiznit Province, Souss-Massa region, Morocco, in the central part of the Anti-Atlas mountains. It had a population of 4,931 at the 2004 census, some fifteen years ago, and judging by what we saw the population has grown significantly.

For more information about this area, here is a great summary blog I found in my research which includes where to eat, which day the souk is on, and things to see and do in the region.  This is so well written that there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel.


Is BYO Wine Okay In Morocco?

Day 41:  Taroudant; Saturday 9th March

Sadly it was time to leave Tafroute and keep heading inland towards the town of Taroudant that we’ve heard so much about.  The trip took 5¾ hours due to the distance, the windy roads, and a number of photo stops.  Ah, travelling with a keen amateur photographer can be slow going but oh the rewards are so worth it.  Check these out…

The Road Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The Scenery Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The reward for Betsy at the end of our day was a wash at the local Total Service Station carwash where for just 30 dirhams (€2.76 or NZ$4.57) plus ten dirham tip each, two men hand washed Betsy (and our bikes) from tip to tail and she was sparkling white again.

There is a brand-new camping ground, Grand Camping de Taroudant – 80 dirhams per night (€7.35 or NZ$12.15) plus 30 more for electricity built beside the Total Service Station (GPS coordinates 30.49734, -8.81879).  It was here that we stopped for the night.  The showers and toilets were shiny and new with hot water, ah bliss.

There is a restaurant adjoining the Station, which was welcome after such a long drive today.  We took our bottle of wine and ordered two pizzas.  I usually have very low expectations of restaurant purchased food but I have to say the pizzas here were great with lots of topping and large enough for two.  They were so good in fact that they had been scoffed before I thought about taking a photo!  Before the pizza arrived, we tucked into a Moroccan salad comprised of red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley.  Yummy.

TIP:  Ask permission before taking your own alcohol into a restaurant; some welcome you with your wine, some tolerate it and as we found out tonight some forbid it.  Or is this a case of asking for forgiveness rather than permission?  If you’re like this couple and fancy a wee drop with your dinner take it along and see if anyone says anything?

Roger, Yachty & Andy

Terrific Taroudant

Day 42: Taroudant; Sunday 10th March

We had just a short journey today into Taroudant where we parked literally just outside one of the gates of the old town. The camping ground was almost full, primarily with French vans that were once again set up for a long stay. And why wouldn’t you? This town has everything you need, including heat. It’s reportedly the warmest place in Morocco in the winter and I can tell you that it is bliss waking up on a winter’s morning to warm weather and sun.

The souk is vibrant, with people everywhere. The traffic is chaotic, the footpaths non-existent for the most part, and street vendors have set up anywhere they can. “But it’s only Sunday.” Roger tells us. “Just wait until you come in here tomorrow when the real traffic arrives.”

Roger and Andy have stayed in Taroudant many times and have established a routine for their visits. First, they make a beeline for the fresh juice man who sends a big wave and smile from about fifty metres away as he recognised his foreign friends. By the time we are seated on the bench behind him, he is already well on the way to freshly squeezing their grapefruit juice. We had orange juice and the following day tried a half and half mixture, which I can recommend. At 3 dirhams (€0.28, NZ$0.46) for a large glass of the freshest juice this has to be the best value drink around.

Then it was off to the tourist medina, followed by the Berber medina.

As soon as we stepped inside the medina we were greeted by a very well spoken Moroccan man who welcomed us to his country and enquired as to where we were all from. Roger has this down pat, “we are from Germany and have been here for nearly six months and this couple are from New Zealand, they’ve been travelling for 21 months and have visited 25 countries”, he says enthusiastically. He is always well received and a dialogue often ensues. Roger is very good at conversing with others, most understand him, others just nod and go on their way.

The town is very interesting; the mechanics workshops are small and dark, jammed packed to the ceiling with all manner of spare parts that may be needed one day. How they find anything is anyone’s guess.

Bab Lakhmiss Gate Into Taroudant

                                      Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice in Taroudant

Crowded And Cluttered Shops In The Medina

European Looking Butcher Shop in Tarodaunt

Our tourist guide, Roger, takes us to a European looking butcher, complete with red and white coloured tiles on the floor and a glass cabinet where the meat is chilled and beautifully displayed.  Inside this shop I’ve been teleported anywhere in the world, except Morocco!  Everything looks so inviting and I couldn’t resist purchasing some pre-spiced turkey mincemeat that was so scrummy I went back the following day for more.

The fruit and vegetables here are superb, very fresh and they even sold pawpaw, brussel sprouts, raspberries, pineapples, tiny lady finger type bananas (that are small and sweet) and other more exotic fruit.  The locally grown produce is very cheap but the imported products are still well priced. 

Roger and Andy have a small poodle-maltese mix dog called “Yatchty” who they call their ambassador.  People are constantly stopping and hoping to pat her which makes for slow walking through the town but we don’t mind because it gives us time to look at everything. 

There are terracotta sellers, musical instrument shops, second hand (or maybe third or fourth hand) furniture dealers, leather goods, and shoe salesmen.  Apart from the tourist souk, most of these shops are there for the locals not the tourists so walking around Taroudant doesn’t feel like a tourist destination.  The odd tourist sticks out like a sore thumb, as I am sure we do.

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘it’s an assault on your senses’? Well Taroudant is that place!  Everywhere we look there’s so much for our eyes to see and brain to process. 

Our nose is filled with delicious smells coming from the herbs and spices, the roadside street food, and the incense sellers. 

Our ears take in the sounds of the horses clip-clopping along the cobblestone streets, the tooting of vehicles horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, the happy chatter from the children being released from school at lunchtime and the yelling from street vendors advertising their wares and low prices.  It’s all rather exciting and a little overwhelming at the same time. 

I feel like a kid in a candy shop, not sure where to look first and wanting to drink in every last bit, while dodging the traffic that could and does appear from any direction at anytime.

 

TIP:  If you’re going in to this old town, be sure to take a photo of the gate you enter because like most souks you can easily get lost.  You can then show this to  someone to get directions to direct a taxi.  Another idea is to save a pin in Google maps so you can find your back way out again, if Google maps plays the game.

The next part of the today’s routine is to find somewhere in the shade, out of the sun, and have a cup of Moroccan (typically mint) tea.  There is a square with cafes facing inwards where groups of men (where are the women?) are sitting around listening to storytellers.  The Berber language is largely unwritten and it’s at these events that I imagine the old men pass down the traditional stories of their ancestors.  

There are buskers who entertain for a few dirhams thrown their way and the busker of the day had to be the owner of a trained white dove sitting atop his turban while playing an instrument resembling a guitar.  Check out the look on the Berber’s face, it is priceless.

Busker With His Well-Trained Pet Dove

By now it was getting late in the day and our weary legs needed a rest so Roger thumbed the nearest horse and carriage which, for a negotiated twenty dirhams (€1.83 or NZ$3) took us on a fifteen minute ride to the camping ground.

We returned back to Betsy buzzing from all the sensory stimulation the old town of Taroudant provided us with and we know that we will be back here on future visits to Morocco.

Tired And Weary But Back In One Piece

Costs for Weeks 1 – 6

A low cost week, apart from groceries as we were cooking for three while hanging out with Mo most days.  We also indulged Roger’s love of eye fillet steak and splashed out on some for ourselves.  

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco is €220.50 (NZ$365 or £188).

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Tune in next week for a pictorial blog as we drive through the High Atlas Mountains, stopping every few kilometres to take some of the best scenic photos of our trip so far!

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