Observations from the Road

July 14, 2007 at 2:55 pm 1 comment

Goats sometimes stand in trees.

It is possible to make a left turn across three lanes of traffic.

Maybe lane lines are a hindrance.

Upscale restaurants play bad American 80s music.

The tea is great (hot, sweet, minty and green), but don’t expect to find good coffee in a Berber village.

It’s cool to be Tuareg, or at least Berber and nomadic, especially if you want to sell jewelry.

“Share the road” is taken seriously in Morocco.

Love the tagines, but I miss the Ottomans at dinner.

Back in Marrakesh, which now feels welcome and familiar. A week of driving introduced us to terrific people, wondrous places, amazing sights. We stayed in quiet places, villages where internet was available only 27 kilometers away, where there were only two satellite dishes (ubiquitous in most of the country), where we saw large groups of women walking together along the streets up the hillsides in their best jalabas, obviously going to some celebration. We saw the remains of the Glaoui Pashas’ efforts, the beginning of the desert, sustainable small-scale farming, and markets that were unlike any I had seen. Throughout the small towns of the south, people have organized into cooperatives to make and sell crafts and agricultural goods. There are many cooperatives specifically for women. I have no idea how successful these are in alleviating some of the poverty we have seen in Morocco.

Driving here is a remarkable experience by itself! Any vehicle is assumed to have use of the entire road, especially the middle, until meeting another vehicle. Our car’s gears were a bit old, which made driving through the mountains even more exciting. Towns brought different challenges. The roads are used by children playing, people walking, sheep and goats crossing, bicycles, motorbikes, and donkey carts. Considering the huge numbers of people and animals on the road, and the propensity for cars to try to pass on hills, curves, and across many lanes of traffic, it is quite remarkable that we saw no traffic accidents. The system really does seem to work: everyone, drivers and pedestrians, expect driving to be a fluid project. Rigid lane markets would be quite unhelpful. William actually drove in the old city of Marrakesh as we returned, where you can reach out and touch someone, and someone else, and their donkey, from the windows of the car.


When we blew a tire on the highway, we found that tires have many lives in Morocco. There seems to be a resale market for tires–the owner of our car was surprised that we actually bought a new tire to replace the old. The third time around, tires are made into the buckets that we saw for sale in the markets in the south.



We got pulled over once for speeding–lots of police check points and speed traps on the roads here. The officer was astonished that we really didn’t have enough dirhems to pay a 400 DH ticket. He explained that he couldn’t take all of our money–what if we needed some down the road? So he took 200 DH and sent us on our way.

I asked Ian to write about the remarkable music he and Katie have been groaning at when we go to mid-range restaurants in Moroccan cities. “So, about the restaurant music here. Let me just say that I haven’t heard a DJ as bad as whoever makes the music mixes for upscale Moroccan restaurants since I stopped going to middle school dances. So in the last six or seven years. Every single mix includes Hotel California-which is a good song, don’t get me wrong, but it seems a little strange to constantly have it stuck in my head while traveling in northern Africa. Especially since I didn’t bring my ipod. They also love music from the eighties-particularly Brian Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting; every time we eat at a nice restaurant, we hear at least two of the three. And there was one song last night that I swear I wanted to get up and start slow dancing to. Middle school slow dancing; that’s what it reminded me of. So, if you’re going to a nice Moroccan restaurant, expect great food, great service, and good decor. But absolutely terrible music.”

Goats in trees are part of the process of creating argan oil, which seems to have many medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary uses, recently in much demand in Western cities. The argan nuts have a coating which can most easily be dissolved by the digestive system of a goat. At harvest time (now), the goats are in trees eating the nuts. Farmers acquire the seeds from goat dung, and press them into oil. I admit to being less than excited about eating the salads advertised as coming dressed with argan oil.

Alas, the Ottomans never ruled Morocco. Dinner here comes either grilled or cooked in a distinctive pottery vessel, a tagine, that apparently turns a stovetop into an oven. Moroccan food is terrific, but the lack of Ottoman presence is quite apparent in the menu. All over the eastern Mediterranean, rice is served hot; the milk of sheep, goats and cows is made into white cheese; fermented milk (yogurt and dried yogurt) are important dietary staples; and the leaves of grape vines are almost as important as the fruit. Throughout Morocco, rice is served cold, I haven’t figured out where milk goes (except to baby animals), and people seemed shocked to think that one could roll food in leaves.

Entry filed under: Food, Middle East, Morocco, Travel, Uncategorized.

Zagora Full Circle

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Liz  |  July 15, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Haha sounds like Morocco has some similiarities with Argetina — mainly the lack of lane lines and the bad 80s music. No goats in trees here (at least as far as I have seen) and I doubt y’all have any snow (not like we have much).
    Miss y’all!


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