Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The road back to Casablanca & beyond

We left Essaouira, and backtrack slightly to one of the argan oil cooperatives that we didn't have time to get to on our drive into town. As we enter, we are greeting by singing Berber women, and our guide Amina begins to explain the processes. Extracting the oil (for either cosmetic or culinary uses) is a very labor-intensive, and fairly primitive process. One woman cracks the nut on a rock, another removes the outer shell, exposing the seed, another begins grinding the seeds with a mortar & pestle-type device (she toasts the seeds first if producing oil for culinary uses; untoasted only for cosmetic), and another collects the paste that is formed from the grinding. About 50 women are part of the co-op (argan oil production is purely women's work), and Amina says they enjoy the work, hang out, etc. Some in our group do question the methods of extraction. Surely there is something more mechanized that would result in greater yields, but she says no, this is the only way.

Moroccans have been using argan for centuries, and here at the co-op they have all different kinds of products to purchase (what a surprise!). Amina explains how in cosmetics, it's used to keep the skin smooth & elastic, takes away wrinkles, etc. Foodwise, they have both the oil, and a nut butter thing called amlou, which is the oil, ground almonds, & honey; we get a taste & it's delicious on its own, but is usually used in desserts.

Returning to the bus, we head up the coast to Safi, a town known for its pottery. We stop first at a museum of pottery, and then to the pottery market where we can wander for a few. You can see the kilns just up the hill from where we are. Continuing up the coast, the landscape is interesting. Rolling green hills, with innumerable low stone walls.... they're go on and on, as far as you can see! The walls mostly made small quadrants, or I am guessing pens for the animals, but they weren't very high. I wonder how many generations they have been there.... On to a seaside town called Oualidia, where we have lunch at hotel called L'hippocampe, or Seahorse. We sit on the patio overlooking the water, and are treated to a nice meal of soup (I think it was some sort of pureed lentils in a fish broth), a whole grilled fish (dorado) drizzled with basil oil, and a pretty good flan for dessert. Don't know why, but I was fascinated with the fishbones!

Onward to Casablanca.... the area just past (and before) where we had lunch is a rich agricultural area, including the mining of sea salt, which you can see the pools from the road. (I was on the wrong side of the bus, and couldn't get a picture, but I thought it was neat!) There were mounds of salt, that I'd say were the size of 4 tractor trailers put together. Now I know where my sea salt that I found in the souks comes from! We make it to our hotel, the impressive Golden Tulip Farah, a luxurious accommodation, especially after our last place. Jen, Susan, Louise, Peggy, Mom and I decide to have our last meal of the trip at the onsite Moroccan restaurant. Kefta, kebobs, lamb & veggie couscous, and some nice pastries for dessert. A good meal to end the trip!

The bus leaves for the airport at 8 am. Casablanca seems like a total maze of streets and traffic, and 45 minutes later, we're at the airport. Getting through security is surprisingly easy, though they don't board people in a orderly fashion, like back of the plane first. It takes almost an hour to get on and seated. Once we take off for NYC, a very a pro pro meal of beef couscous & sauted veg. Not one of the more satisfactory meals on the trip, but heading home is a good thing. It's been a great trip with fun people, but my own bed calls!