Sunday, August 2, 2015

Africa-Europe 2015 Day 37. Jbel Toubkal (4,167 m amsl)

After a good night sleep 7 of us tackled the mountain. We were going up to the small shrine that serious mountaineers use as base station to climb Jbel Toubkal (4,167). Much to the disappointment of some of my peers, we were not going to attempt to reach the top of the highest peak in northern Africa (I believe the highest mountain in Africa is Kilimanjaro at 5,895 m amsl), but I was delighted at this opportunity to put my feet on the igneous and metamorphic core of the mountains. Incidentally, I was surprised to see abundant boulders of a latite that looks just like our Table Mountain latite with its big laths of plagioclase; I couldn’t get a clear outcrop anywhere, but one of the boulders had a clear intrusive chilled contact, so I am pretty sure it is a shallow intrusion.

Besides the beautiful scenery and the interesting rocks, I enjoyed the hike very much because of the company of my fellow travelers. Truth is that in a random group you are going to find some “strange” personalities, but they all seem to be home bodies, and in the hiking group we have distilled the more amiable and pleasant personalities. I spent a truly delightful morning.

Back at the home of our guide we had an early lunch (Berber omelet, Moroccan salad, and watermelon), which is probably the best we have had so far, and then got on the mini-bus for the grueling drive west to the coast.

After being in the cool mountains the coastal plain felt hot and dusty, and we were all a bit saddle sore and grumpy when we stopped at a women’s co-op, where the nuts of the argan tree are processed into oil and cosmetic products. The argan tree looks a bit like an almond tree, and just like an almond produces a fruit with a hard “pit” or stone, inside which is the nut. The nut, which resembles a fat almond, is then ground into an oily pulp, which is then pressed and rendered to produce the argan oil. This oil was used for traditional Moroccan cooking (it is high in Omega-3), but then L’Oreal discovered that it was a good base for creams, and from there on the production has shifted into essential oil and skin-care creams. Some of the females of the group were excited about the products (although none of them had ever heard of argan oil), but most of us were chomping at the bit to get to Essaouira, one of the main ports of Morocco on the Atlantic coast.

Essaouira was a dream come true! The coastal air is cool, the city has a happy feeling to it, and the drive was over! When we reached the walls of the Medina we had to unload the mini-bus, hire three porters with small carts to carry our luggage, and plunge into the alleyways of the medina to reach our Riad hotel (i.e., an old grand house in the old Medina that has been modernized to serve as a hotel). A shower had never felt so good!

I fell for the trick again and joined on a group dinner “at the best restaurant in Essaouira” recommended by our guide. It was OK, and the menu included fish instead of the ever present tajine, but it was pricey and not really that good. I am sure I could have done a lot better on my own. As soon as I could I separated from the group and went for a late night stroll of my own. Generally Morocco “feels safe”, and with basic precautions I have never had any worries about moving through the deserted alleyways by myself, but after going on for a few minutes it started to feel creepy. Where were all the people? Turning a corner I got the answer: Everybody was in the marketplace, eating, strolling, or buying the clothes the kids will get on Friday. This feels so much like the Morocco I remember from 20 years ago!

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