The drive to Essaouira from Marrakech is about 160 km, but somehow takes 3 hours. The reason is the low speed limits, with speeds never exceeding more than 60kph, which means a slow drive through Marrakech’s suburbs and every other town and village on the route.
Along the way, you’ll spot an assortment of vehicles, all determined to drive at their own pace, and policemen stopping cars on a whim – often to say hello the their friends and bum a cigarette – as well as a sizeable number of distractions including herds of sheep, random carpet sellers, and donkeys and carts that you would assume (until now) would only be a mode of transport for the souq until you spot them slowing down traffic on the ‘highway’.
There are myriad small towns to drive through where the air is heady and heavy with the smoke from brochettes cooking over coals and the streets buzz with locals going about their daily business. No mall culture here. Each shop often sells only one thing. Gas bottles. Water and soft drinks. Cigarettes. Spices. Vegetables. Car parts. Motorcycle parts. Lanterns. Carpets.
Out on the open road, as the unique Argan trees start to dominate the landscape, we search for the famous goats that climb the trees to dine to produce Morocco’s famous tasty Argan oil. We spot some and our driver stops. But it’s not like it was last time we visited five years ago. Before I can even get my lenses together a man appears from behind the base of the low-hanging tree bearing a baby goat which he offers to me to hold – for a few dirhams of course!
Sadly, even the shepherds seem to have cottoned onto the fact that they can make some extra cash by turning ‘goats up a tree’ into a business. We’re appalled at being ambushed but I fire away anyway and hope that this trend of trying to make a dollar every time a tourist presses the shutter hasn’t made it to Essaouira.