Casablanca – Errachidia – Goulmima
I have just returned from an unforgettable Moroccan experience. If, like me, you have visited Morocco in the past, you will have dashed from place to place to see all the sights – long drives, organised tours and all the usual tourist traps.
This visit I opted for a more authentic experience. I timed my trip to coincide with the date harvest and just before the International Date Festival in Erfoud, which is held at the end of October each year to celebrate the end of the harvest. I can highly recommend a visit at this time to see the real Morocco of the south. The ambiance is festive and it is an added bonus that it is cooler and much more pleasant to travel at this time of year.
This trip I flew from Australia to Casablanca and opted to fly to Errachidia in the south. This saved me about two days of driving and made the $A65 airfare more than worth it!
I was met at the airport by Mouna, a young science teacher, and her male friend (in Berber culture, women do not drive alone). They drove me the 60km to the small oasis town of Goulmima. Mouna’s French is fabulous; her English is not quite so good. I speak some French so we were fine, but after my long flight I was not very communicative on the journey to her town, which she completely understood.
A highlight of my trip was a chance for a homestay experience at Goulmima where I stayed for a few days at Chez Rachida with Rachida and her family. Rachida’s daughter is an English teacher and lives at home, so this immediately solved the problem of any language barrier, and Nissrine loved the chance to talk in English.
Chez Rachida is a mansion by Goulmima standards. It has a lovely large palm garden, beautiful mosaics on the interior walls and even a western-style toilet for guests! Rachida was to be one of the most hospitable people whom I have ever met. She opened her house to me and made me feel like part of the family. She is also a wonderful cook and a creative person who owns and operates both a small cake shop and a fabric shop adjacent to her home, near the centre of town. Rachida is happy to include guests in her preparation and cooking of Moroccan food too, if they would like to learn something about Moroccan cuisine.
Breakfast each day at Chez Rachida was sticky, sweet caramel dates, about four varieties of nuts, cheese, fresh bread, eggs, honey and pastries as well as coffee and Moroccan tea. It was delicious and everything was so fresh! Even the walnuts tasted particularly fresh and were served out of their shells, but whole.
On the second day after breakfast, I joined Rachida for a stroll around the neighbourhood and some grocery shopping. We sat and enjoyed a mint tea together at a local café and watched the world go by with locals stopping at our table to chat with Rachida and make my acquaintance. Later that day, I was driven to the Elkhorbat museum about 20km away to see artefacts reflecting the history and way of life of the Berber people, before returning home to a delicious Moroccan dinner in the cool of the evening.
On Sunday, Mouna’s day off from teaching, I visited the local Hammam with her. Goulmima has a traditional hammam, not a Europeanised-version of one that you will find in many riads*** run by expatriate Europeans. We took our soaps and shampoos, our large buckets for water and small plastic stools on which to sit. It would prove to be like experiencing a poor man’s version of a hammam as depicted by orientalist painters such as Eugène Delacroix.
It cost around 10 dirhams (about one euro) to enter and another 10 dirhams to be scrubbed by Khadija. All the women were at least topless and children ran around naked.
In the hammam itself, there is the change room at the entrance (the green room pictured). Then there are three other steam-laden rooms. In the innermost room we obtained our hot and cold water in large buckets. We then moved into another steam-filled room with other local women and children, where we sat on our plastic stools and started to bathe ourselves by scooping out the water from our large buckets before Khadija approached and scrubbed each of us using the hand mitts and soaps that we had brought. Like us she was topless. Overall being in the hammam is a hot, lengthy (around two hours) and sensual experience, and I needed to leave my modesty – which no one cared about anyway (so neither did I) – and any other concerns I may have had about communal bathing, at the front door.
Once we returned to Mouna’s home, we ate some late lunch prepared by Mouna’s mother. Incidentally, she had faded traditional Berber facial tattoos that she told me (with Mouna translating) were applied when she was 11 years old, to indicate that she had reached puberty. Then Mouna and I fell asleep for the afternoon siesta in the salon lined with richly embroidered and colourful cushions, Moroccan-style – our bodies and minds in states of total relaxation.
(***A “riad” is a large, traditional house, built around a central courtyard with a garden and water fountain and often converted into boutique accommodation)
To maximise your enjoyment of your trip talk with us at Aussies In Morocco Tours ™️ about the aspects to consider when choosing your own hammam experience in Morocco.
Next up: part 2 of my More Depth Less Surface journey through Erfoud, Rissani, and Merzouga.
Refreshed November 2020