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From Sea to Sky

March 30, 2014

Today’s post covers the last two days of our trip.

Saturday, we made our way toward the seaside town of Essaouira. This journey began with a quick stop at an argon oil collective run by a group of local women. The fruit of the argon tree is harvested by hand and dried in the sun. Then, women crack open the fruit to reveal a small, almond-like seed inside. This is then toasted and ground into a paste by hand. The paste separates and the oil is filtered out. This is all done by hand without the aid of any machinery. The result is an organic product that is highly prized for both its cosmetic and cooking properties. Our group willingly supported the collective of women by purchasing many treasures.

After our quick stop we continued on our way to Essaouira. This town started as a trading spot for the Phoenicians. They used an island just offshore as a granary and trading post. As time went on Moroccan kings came to the site and established it as a trading centre. In the 15 and 1600’s, Moroccan Corsairs (pirates) set out from Essaouira and sailed as far as Iceland. They brought back many treasures including European women who were used in the concubines of the rich merchants and royalty. You can see blonde women pictured in paintings from the time.

Essaouira is now a bustling tourist city. There are many beautiful hotels and the beach is one of the best in Morocco. The souk is very quiet compared to the one in Marrakech and our students enjoyed their time here a great deal. We walked through the Jewish quarter, the Portuguese quarter and along the old, reinforced city wall. Again, the students did well supporting the local vendors. After shopping, we made our way back to Marrakech.

Today we left our hotel in Marrakech for good. It was a long day of travel from Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate. This was a wining, twisting journey through amazing mountain country. We all experienced a first – African snow! The kids seemed quite excited to be in North Africa and find snow. I reassured them there is still a great deal in Calgary.

After reaching the highest point, we descended toward the Sahara and a very famous UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ait Ben Haddou. This ancient village was once home to over 800 people. It is built out of mud and straw and has been preserved by the Moroccan government. It is also the site of many films including Romancing the Stone, The Mummy, Indiana Jones, and, most recently Game of Thrones. We spent quite a while here looking around and wandering through the ancient village. After this, it was a short drive to our hotel in Ouarzazate. The students are very tired and are ready for their beds tonight.

Tomorrow, we venture further into the Sahara to spend the night in Berber tents.

All the best,
Sean, Lori, Kim, Desireé and the kids!

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