Casablanca – Errachidia – Goulmima

I have just returned from an unforgettable Moroccan experience and I want to tell you about it.   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 to celebrate the end of the date harvest at the end of October each year.   I can highly recommend a visit at this time to see the real Morocco of the south.  The ambiance is festive and the other bonus is 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.   This made the A$65 airfare more than worth it!

I was met at the airport by Mouna, a young science teacher, who with her friend, drove me the 60 km to the small oasis town of Goulmima.   Mouna’s French is fabulous, her English not quite so good.   I speak some French so we were fine, but I was not very communicative on the journey to her town after my long flight, which she completely understood!

   

Homestay

A highlight of my trip was a chance for a homestay experience at Goulmima.   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.   This immediately solved the problem of any language barrier and Nissrine loved the chance to talk 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. She 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 4 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 by our table to chat with Rachida and make my acquaintance. Later that day I was driven to the Elkhorbat museum about 20 km away, displaying 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.

Hammam

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 was to prove to be like experiencing a poor man’s version of a hammam depicted by orientalist painters such as Eugene Delacroix.

It cost about 10 dirhams (or circa 1 euro) to enter and another 10 dirhams to be scrubbed by Khadija. All the women are at least topless and children run around naked.

In the hammam itself, there is the (green) change room, (which is pictured) at the entrance. Then there are 3 other steam-laden rooms. The innermost room is where we obtained the hot and cold water in large buckets. Then we sat on our plastic stools in another steam-filled room with other local women and children 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-mits and soaps that we had brought. Like us she was topless. Overall being in the hammam is a hot, lengthy  (around 2 hours) and sensual experience and I needed to be able to leave my modesty (but no one cared anyway, so neither did I) and any other concerns I may have otherwise 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, who incidentally 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 by 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 and often converted into boutique accommodation)

   

Watch out for part 2 of my travels coming soon – Erfoud, Rissani, and Merzouga