After enduring enough bone-chilling winter in England, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, we were well and truly ready for somewhere warm. Not only were we yearning for some heat, but as Anita’s been travelling with her Australian passport she is only permitted to travel within the Schengen Area for 90 days within a total of 180. What this all meant was that we needed to find somewhere out of Europe and closer to the equator to wait out the remainder of the 180 days. We found a cheap flight to Agadir and before we knew it were on our way to a five week workaway in a mountain riad guesthouse behind well-known surfing village Taghazout on Morocco’s central coast.
When we arrived we were greeted by our host Sam and volunteer Leanne, and given a tour of the beautiful three-story riad which overlooked the rolling mountains out to sea. The Mountain Riad was situated in a small Berber village about 3km outside the more touristy Taghazout, so it really felt authentically Moroccan. After dropping our bags at the staff house next door, the very talented Youssef cooked us all a delicious welcome dinner of chicken tagines with plenty of bread, olives, harissa and hummus.
The following days were spent familiarising ourselves with guesthouse procedures, relaxing in the sun, and hiking through small villages in the surrounding mountains. The locals were all so friendly, waving hello and sometimes even stopping to speak with us, ignoring the fact that we couldn’t understand 99% of their Arabic, French or Berber. Our village even had it’s very own celebrity, Hassan, who was not only the riad caretaker but also seemed to have a key for every house in the village. He’d often invite us into other people’s houses when they weren’t home for a mint tea, to watch a game of soccer, or to simply show off their garden. He always had a smile on his face, which was from either his wonderful perspective on life or the cheap weed he’d smoke through his long bamboo pipe.
After a week or so of hanging around Taghazout we decided it was time to escape with a day trip to Paradise Valley, a popular spot full of walking tracks and natural swimming pools. After a few hours exploring the valley it became clear that it no longer was as beautiful as the pictures had led us to believe. Rubbish littered the valley throughout and the pools weren’t exactly inviting, so we left at the end of the day feeling quite dissapointed.
A few days later our six year anniversary had arrived. We wanted to make it special by doing something a little different so decided to hire a scooter for the day. We fired up into the mountains and then back up along the coast, gliding through town after town and along beautiful stretches of coastline. We rode all the way to the top of a distant mountain peak for a fantastic view back across the coast, before deciding it was time to turn around and head back for a late but delicious tagine lunch.
We spent our Australia Day on our friends Hugo and Adlai’s newly-built hotel terrace in town. The day had all the right ingredients for a perfect Oz Day – sun, beers, BBQ and the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown. We continued to party late into the afternoon as we watched the sunset over the ocean. It was definitely one of our best, and from all the way on the other side of the world. Who would of thought?
As the weeks went on the days started to slow. Our host Sam had to fly back to the UK leaving us to manage the riad in his absence, but as the waves weren’t as big as previous years the bookings started to decline. We managed to keep ourselves busy with walks, books, teaching ourselves Spanish and a bit of yoga with new volunteers Marlee and Alex. I also loved having a kitchen to experiment with the new techniques and flavour combinations I’d picked up from Youssef, who was more than happy to teach us.
Anita and I also spent one of our more quiet afternoons at a traditional Morrocan hamam, which is essentially a body scrub in a steam room. These types of luxurious experiences don’t come along often when backpacking so we made sure to savour every moment. We opted for the hamam followed by a massage, and despite having to endure the slight awkwardness of completely stripping down and getting scrubbed by a large sweaty woman, left feeling like we were walking on clouds – with skin just as soft as one.
Argan oil is also massive business in Morocco as the trees grow natively and in abundance. The cold-pressed oil is used for hair and skin while the roasted argans are used for cooking. Our lovely guesthouse cleaner Fatima and her family make the oil from scratch, so Anita and the other two girls joined Fatima for a day of picking, cracking and pressing. From what the girls told me and the bruises on Anita’s thumb, it’s no easy task. Following that the girls were spoilt with a tagine lunch, henna painting, and a lesson in traditional dance. They had such a great time getting to know Fatima outside of work, as well as her warm and welcoming family.
Youssef one day also decided to invite us all to his house in Aourir for a seafood lunch feast. We walked there after our weekly visit to the local souk (market) for fresh charcoal-grilled sardines and spiced sheep fat sardine balls, plenty of salad, and of course, more fresh bread. It was so nice of him to invite us into his home and we had such a fantastic time enjoying great food with him and his family.
So after having such a wonderful introduction to Morrocan culture and making so many great new friends along the way, our final day in Taghazout had arrived. Sam had returned from the UK, the other volunteers had taken the reigns and the riad was the busiest it had been in weeks. As much as we didn’t want to it was time to move on, so we packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and hit the road once again. Next stop, Essaouira.