Argan Oil and Essaouria - Castles made of Sand

After an exhilarating stay in Marrakech we headed to the Atlantic Coast to the town of Essaouria where a steady sea breeze keeps the town cool evening summer.

Goats climbing argan tree 

En route we passed fields of irrigated palms, enormous olive trees, and the local star - the Argan Tree. For those of you not familiar with the oil of the argon nut it is one of the most sought after skin care products in the globe.  We stopped in a women owned co-op to see how the oil was extracted using the traditional method of grinding stones.

The oil is then used in a multitude of ways including infusions with orange blossom (our favorite) as a skin cream, as a food product mixed with almond oil called Amlou (think nutty Nutela), and much more.  After stocking up on various delightful products which will come in handy in the desert environment, we continued on to the coast.

Grinding argan nuts in traditional stone mill

Arriving into laid back Essaouria was like traveling back into the 1960s.  It was totally laid back with street artists playing music on funky banjos, tie dye head wraps, and a cool beach scene with kite surfers screaming up and down the waves along the beach front.  The old town is contained within a walled city and unlike unruly Marrakech these streets are laid out on a grid pattern so you can’t get lost.  It is a small town full of artisans, restaurants, hammams, bakeries and cafes.  We checked in to our lovely “riad” which was built around a historic courtyard and set out to find dinner.

As most of you know, we are foodies but we eschew the trendy restaurants in favor of low key, preferably home cooked meals.  Essaouria is renowned for its wonderful fresh seafood and we soon encountered numerous fancy restaurants with beautiful settings and high prices to match but we just weren’t feeling it so instead we walked to the old port outside the city walls and lucked into a wonderfully simple shack where locals and a few travelers were dining on freshly caught fish cooked on site over mesquite grills.  It was just a simple place with plastic tables and chairs set on the ramparts by the sea with a breeze blowing in.  The catch of the day was displayed in ice crates and choices included sea bream, sole, crab, shrimp, and calamari.  We selected our favorites and the staff weighed them on the spot - $35 for 3 people including fries and a drink.  Soon we were feasting on the most tender white sea bream, crunchy blackened grilled calamari, sweet shrimp, and were seated at a shared table with some other travelers.  One of the magic things about travel is the serendipitous experiences one has - we met a couple from France and a half British half German solo traveler who by chance had grown up in the diplomatic quarters in Istanbul.  We hit it off immediately and soon were exploring the town together in search of gelato (scored some great home made flavors) and then discovered a totally cool roof top bar overlooking the city that was low key but had live music and great atmosphere.  We sat overlooking the city sharing travel stories and listening to wonderful local music called Gnawa which emanates from Africa.  The rhythms were hypnotic and the band wore these great fez hats with a ball attached t a string on top so that when they swirled their heads to the beat the ball went round and round their heads.  What fun!

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