We pull in at 5 am and sit quietly for an hour or so at the bus station. Behind us a young man is feeding a hard boiled egg to a hard boiled kitten. In front of us a man punches another man in the face and all around us there is a strange calm. Or maybe we are slowly adjusting to the rhythms of Moroccon life.
The Atlantic mist and bewildering medina of Assilah lay twenty bus hours behind us. Four hours to Casablanca, a hectic six hour stop there and then another ten or so to Inezgane, the main travel hub in the Agadir province. It is already seventeen degrees. We watch the kitten finish the egg and trot away before hopping onto a bus to Agadir, which we promptly leave. We haven’t come to Morocco to shop in Zara or knock back beers with the English in Dreams Discotheque. It might be appropriate to vomit on the pavement, maybe smash a bottle. Instead we take a bus to Taghazout.The sun has fully risen by the time we arrive. I’ve become strangely accustomed to men offering me a good night in their room, but I haven’t slept since Assilah so I even scowl at the small man who offers a genuine smile from the cafe terrace. It is probably for the best that Emma does the talking.
“120 Dirhams.””Can we see it?”We follow Abdul up to the apartment, fifty metres from the shore. He shows us around, we hand over the money and he gives us the keys.
“I live upstairs, but you can use the terrace. Please, come up.”
A generous shard of sunshine covers half the terrace. Finally, I can dry my pants.We drop our bags and, at last, our guard. Not trusting people can wind the coil tight.
Taghazout is, essentially, the Morocco I had painted in my mind, the Morocco not distorted by touts, sun burned European men in short shorts, Westerners in too few clothes and their mothers, depressed and sweating in coaches:
The Atlantic ocean pulses forever against the dried out precepice of the great continent. Surfers ride it in, and further beyond them the fishing boats linger. Scattered lackadaisically behind the shore are squat, sand coloured buildings and the odd glass hotel. Cats scavenge among the rocks. Dust floats over the road, as do the locals and tourists, seemingly unaware of the museum of sixties era European transport that only just doesn’t kill them. Watching over this all are the mountains. As I look up at them I wonder what this place must look like from up there.
Emma and I wonder through the little alley ways by the shore, looking lazily into the surf shops which are nestled amongst the usual, wonderful Moroccon mainstays. We head back to the cafe where we met Abdul and order a vegetable cous cous each. As we poke at olives with tooth picks Abdul comes over and greets us like a long lost friend. He is with a European lady, an actual old friend, perhaps.
“How are you? Do you like it here? We are headed up into the mountains to see my mother.”We tell him that we love it here and wish him a good day.
“If you want, you can come with us. You are very welcome.” Despite the British umbrella poking me in the back I really do feel welcome.”We would love to, but we’ve just ordered lunch.””No problem,” he smiles, “We will wait. I’ll just go and order a Berber taxi. Bon apetite.”
The Beber taxi is another, wonderful relic; an old van of some sort with a couple of benches chucked in the back. We growl out of town a short way and then turn off onto a collection of pot holes with the odd bit of road. Soon, we are on the real road that the Berbers built, with their own money. On the way up Abdul points to the odd house on the horizon and tells us who lives there. He tells us where the hippies used to camp before the king decided they weren’t allowed to anymore and he tells us about his mother, who we will soon meet.Mari, the European lady, a Fin, slides about on the bench as she tells us that she used to live just a street or two from us in Brockley, London. She has been traveling for quite some time, here and there. She was a tenant of Abdul’s for some time. All around us the hills open up. Scattered amongst the rocks, or maybe the other way around, are countless argan trees. The mountains seem to grow as we trundle on.”It is a little green this year.” Abdul says. “Not so green. All of this used to be green in the winter. If there is rain then there is green, but there is less rain now.”
The Berber taxi drops us off and we stumble out. Abdul says it for me:
“It is quiet here, no?”
It is perfect. The view is awesome. You can see the argan woodland, the ragged, rugged rocks and the lush green clearings all the way down to Thagazout and, of course, the endless Atlantic. The wind barely disturbs the argan trees and the cacti sit still like bundles of fossilised slugs. Even the flies respect the quiet here.
The house is sturdily built and painted a pristine white. From behind a patterned curtain his mother emerges. Abdul kisses her on her forehead and holds his hand to his heart. She shakes our hands and ushers us to a row of soft benches around a couple of tables. Abdul’s brother Hussain and his wife, Latifa are there too. They greet us warmly.Latifa lays the table for us; a traditional tagine pot and glasses for tea. She tosses bread in front of each of us, tenderly somehow. There is something in the way she holds herself; a pride and kindness and something else that I have not encountered before. She goes about things with a calm that feels like a hand on your shoulder or a smile of encouragement, though she doesn’t quite smile.Abdul’s mother pours the tea. She is in amazing shape, a mountain woman. Tiny and old yet so obviously strong. I can only see her eyes and her hands, but they tell of something else, that same thing that Latifa possesses, yet even more refined.
As we eat they push their food towards us. They want us to be full, to be happy.
The honey is so dark and rich that I feel like a happy bear and the goat’s butter is like nothing I have ever tasted before.
“Mum, she doesn’t speak English or Arabic, but she understands what you are saying to each other.” Abdul tells us.She does not look at me much, but when she does I feel young, silly, infinitely welcome.
After the meal Abdul takes us to the roof and around the land. The views are gob-smacking. I have a huge urge to just start walking and ask silly questions:
“Have you been to that one over there? How long would it take to walk to that one over there? Is it possible to get there in a day?”
Abdul only smiles and answers politely. He has been to them all. He is mountain people.
Over there, and there, he shows us the house of this family and that, and in the valley over there, that is where the Berber souq happens.”You can get anything there. It used to be that if you had this you would trade for that. You had honey they had fruit and you would trade. And if you were hungry they would help you and you them. Now, with money, things are different.”
His brother takes us to see the bees that made the honey we ate earlier, and the goats that provided the butter. Next we meet their cousins, under a small thatched shelter. They are breaking open argan pods to get at the seeds. All around us is a deep carpet of cracked argan pods. Years of work. The cousins, two elderly women, do not look at their work but at each other and us, and I’m fairly certain they don’t stop smiling. They speak to me in Berber. I look like them, they tell me. I explain that I would happily learn Berber and sit under here cracking argan pods with them. They laugh, and one of them tells me that she is my mother now.
Then they take us to see their father. He is an ancient man, his eyes barely open and his teeth little more than remnants. His skin is thick and the wrinkles on his face deeper than those in my cupped hands. His hand trembles as he shakes mine, but I can feel a strength in it that mine are yet to know.
Abdul asks him why he doesn’t stop working with the goats. He chuckles:
“I love my life.”
On the roof of his mother’s house Abdul tells us that things are about to change.
“From there to there,” he says, motioning to a pristine expanse of argan woodland, “will be a golf course. And from there to there,” he points down into the valley where everything is exactly where it should be, “will be houses for the rich.”
The king, he tells us, has a place nearby and he wants to bring in more money and more rich people.
“I always seem to be at the next place to be redeveloped.” Mari says.
All along the Atlantic coast of Morocco Emma and I have seen signs for grand new developments, for royal golf courses and tourist complexes. And we have seen abandoned half built resorts and the destruction that prefaces these “developments”.
On the rooftop we all stand together, part of the quiet.
“Yallah!” Abdul says, and we begin our descent back through the mountains to the town. On the way we bump into some of his shepherd friends with their flock of goats. They rise slowly to their feet and greet us like old friends. The goats chew on the argan seeds, many of them climbing into the trees to do so. The warm wind rustles the foliage and I listen to Abdul talk with his friends in Berber. I feel full and happy and for a short while forget that soon this place will be a bolt-hole for all the king’s men.
Pictures by Emma.
Anthony, Taghazout, 28 November 2012
*I have changed the names of the people I talk about because apparently that’s the done thing.