A geographer (in training) in Morocco

When I chose to study Geography at King’s College London, what I was most excited about was the COMPULSORY fieldtrip in Morocco during my second year which would last a week rather than the whole three years of awesomeness I was about to undertake. If you ask me now, that fieldtrip was probably NOT the highlight of my university days – singing to Barbie Girl on the streets of London was (and that was us being sober) – but it’s definitely up there in my top ten.

The trip had been planned for us down to the T, which meant we didn’t have much to worry about, other than missing the flight – which some nearly did, of course. Or getting stopped at the airport for questioning because we were carrying professional surveying equipment. Yes that actually happened and being one of the few French-speakers, I ended up in the questioning room as an interpreter (should add this to my CV) with my tutor – the responsible adult who was swearing his head off about everything while I enjoyed quite an interesting conversation about Moroccan food with the customs officer who was getting our papers ready. I never did tell him what we ended up talking about, he still thinks it was of the utmost important, but then food is, isn’t it?

"Professional" equipment
“Professional” equipment

Agadir reminded me of one of the touristic “towns” in the north of Mauritius: hotels and apartments everywhere, shops with a very specific clientele, i.e. waiting to rip off the ignorant traveler and a humongous supermarket selling mostly everything. We never did make it to the city centre, if there was one, unlike most who’d take a taxi to go to one of the fancy restaurants charging way too much for a pasta dish or end up in one of the pubs designed after English pubs. Instead we would walk down the beach from our hotel – more like an apartment complex – to the restaurants areas past the pubs and eat at one of the local restaurants which had better food for next to nothing.

Escaping the December cold of London
Escaping the December cold of London
Student's sustenance for the week - I wasn't into that crazy healthy shit then.
Student’s sustenance for the week – I wasn’t into that crazy healthy shit then.
The Agadir skyline.
The Agadir skyline.
Down at the beach!
Down at the beach!
Raisins overload
Raisins overload
So this is a tagine?
So this is a tagine?

The real work started on the second day (they were merciful enough to give us what was left of the day to get our bearings around before working us to the point of exhaustion) as we drove to the middle of nowhere to look at fluvial formations, which I still don’t get – there goes my hope to be able to work as a hydrologist. We were supposed to be studying the fluvial dynamics of the River Souss as well as Argan degeneration and regeneration; all that we needed to know was in the holy handbook which was handed to us during the preparation and which none of us read of course.

Student trying to focus on the subject but...
Student trying to focus on the subject but…
I still don't know what we were looking at.
I still don’t know what we were looking at.

The Argan tree is endemic to the Souss Valley, southern Morocco, and parts of Algeria (grown in other parts of the world as well such as Israel) although now the area they cover has more than halved due to land use change such as mining or grazing of animals. The cultivated areas of Argan have been declared UNESCO Biosphere reserve, to protect them and the increase demands for exports of Argan oil, now highly valued, is the best hope for conserving these trees. Any of you using Argan oil for your hair or Argan-based cosmetics out there, just take some time to look at the label.

The mighty Argan tree. Not fun when you get your hair stuck in there, I have to admit.
The mighty Argan tree. Not fun when you get your hair stuck in there, I have to admit.

We did stop somewhere else for some wave action. I ended up trying to take pictures of waves, not very well, I may add, whilst some just took pleasure in watching others fail to cross the channel to the cliffs – we were young.

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Cracking the myth of the seventh wave. Or just the fisherman.
Too chicken to cross.
Too chicken to cross.

After a few days in Agadir mostly doing fieldwork except for evenings which we had to ourselves to stuff ourselves with yummy Moroccan food, we drove to Essaouira where we would be spending the rest of our time. Some Game of Thrones fan would recognise Essouira as the city of Astapor where the Khaleesi spent some time. Our first reaction to the small town was literally culture shock. Whilst Agadir had this European tourist-y vibe, Essaouira was how you’d expect a small traditional Middle Eastern town to be. I had expected Essaouira to be just another tourist trap and well, it ended up being the reason why I fell so much in love with Morocco. Although it didn’t mean that the locals were on the lookout for the naive rich-looking tourist. ALWAYS bargain.

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Usual day haggling at the market
Colourful
Colourful
More colours
More colours
And even more colours
And even more colours
Want anything, sir?
Want anything, sir?
Moroccan spices, for all taste.
Moroccan spices, for all taste.
At the spice shop, being served mint tea.
At the spice shop, being served mint tea.
Looks comfy.
Looks comfy.
Cat selling a tagine or tagine selling a cat?
Cat selling a tagine or tagine selling a cat?

Before we were left to explore the town, we had some fun (read muddy) times in the dry Souss river taking measurements for more fluvial geomorphology shit research.

Geographers at work
Geographers at work
Spying on the berbers.
Spying on the berbers.

We ended up at some sort of hippie restaurant for dinner with live music and even better food, after which we did some more exploring at the local food market, which was definitely cheaper than we saw elsewhere.

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Introduction to the culture of olives.
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“Hippie” restaurant
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Yummy sizzling tagine
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Can’t get enough of those mini tagine pots
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Past the walls of Essaouira – a UNESCO Heritage site and one of the only remaining walled “cities” in Morocco.

We stopped by for a quick lesson on desert formations – which is an excuse to play with sand – and had some more cliff climbing fun.

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Up in the air.
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It’s just gotten out of control now
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Round up everyone!

We boarded our plane with more than a few scratches (but no one died or even came close to it) and me with a massive argument with one of my best friends because we were both stubborn and refuse to let go of our ways. We didn’t talk for weeks after this but now we just laugh at the stupidity of the whole thing. She blames me for stealing her plane seat. I still maintain it was my seat to begin with. Despite everything, I definitely cannot wait to go back there and finally explore everything on my own schedule.

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4 thoughts on “A geographer (in training) in Morocco”

  1. I’m always amused when I “meet” another geographer. My husband is a geographer and also has training as an archaeologist. Also, I want to go to Morocco.

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