These days everyone seems to want a new experience that isn’t ‘touristy’ and is ‘off the beaten track’,the town of Goulmima in the province of Errachidia is a real tropical desert oasis the home of an old Berber Judeo Ksar in agricultural land fed by the Wadi Gheris and overlooked by the High Atlas Mountains. You won’t find much on the internet about this place which is part of it’s charm, it is waiting to be rediscovered.
I have been lucky enough to visit twice, and as a place to stop on the way to desert adventures it beats the most popular stop Skoura hands down (unless you have the money to stay at Dar Ahlam of course – but even then, I still prefer Goulmima). So why is it so great as a little town, well you get the full experience if you stay with a Berber family, as this is the home of original Berber tribes who still live in many ways like they did centuries before with the same cultural traditions.
One thing you notice straight away are the tribal shawls of the local women called Taharouyt, every woman has one, embroidered black material, often with additional mirrored features or foil coins sewn onto the edges for a tinkling effect – there are new designs out every year so if you are young woman you want to have the latest thing (a mix of tradition and modern consumerism!).
The people are so lovely in this town, warm-hearted Moroccans to the core, and the best cooks – food and fire is the centre of life here, the baking of daily bread and Moroccan pancakes a common ritual and many houses have their own livestock, sheep fattened up for Eid (the main festival that follows Ramadan), chickens and a couple of goats. I was staying with family there over Eid, I found the preparation and respect given to the animal the night before slaughter quite touching; although seeing the killing was daunting, friends and neighbours come to help with the laborious process of butchering and preserving the animal. I was told a common chat was to ask what you found inside the sheep, the answer usually includes some ridiculous element, a fridge, an oven, a boot, a million dirham…sadly inside our sheep was an undigested plastic bag, a sign of the times.
If you are lucky like I was, you will be invited to a Berber wedding – now this is something else, usually at least 3 days long. The bride and grooms family begin separate celebrations, with a Henna night for the ladies which includes the main females at the party, and features along with henna a big meal of roast chicken and lamb tagine with prunes – ensure you have a kaftan with enough room for expansion! With Moroccan weddings (like my own) everything is arranged pretty quickly, its not like English weddings which require at least a year’s planning, a Moroccan wedding can be turned around in days with a few friends and phone calls to arrange bands, music and a tent.
The stand-out feature is the singing and drumming, the singing ritual involves the women singing on one side and men singing and drumming on the other, this goes on at times throughout the wedding, and creates a kind of euphoria, you don’t need alcohol – you get high from the drumming and energy around you. On the day of the wedding, all the men are invited to eat, and then the women separately – while they are waiting the women sing and start dancing, tying their scarves or Tahrouyt just under their bums, this has the effect of creating the need to wiggle. Big and beautiful shimmying bottoms if you know anyone in Morocco are seen as very attractive – my puny white bum just doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.
All this goes on at the Brides house with her friends and in parallel at the grooms house with all the friends, family and hangers on gathering to enjoy the feasting and dancing. The band gives way to a DJ playing ‘Tschk Tschk music a kind of eletronic arabic beat’ this is a signal for the younger girls decked out in Kaftans to join in the fun. Then at some point in the night well after midnight, there is the dancing of a suitcase, this case is then driven to the brides house to pick up her belongings (and dowry), arriving at her house I saw a girl with her face covered kissing goodbye to her father (a real tear jerker) then we brought her back in a motorcade for a ritual which involves the application of henna to the hands of bride and groom.
We left it there – about 5am after everyone had surrounded me as the stranger for more singing, dancing and drumming, I was suprised it was 5, it didn’t seem so late!
Apart from the local customs and rituals the beauty of Goulmima’s date palm groves is worth witnessing, you can walk for a long time without seeing buildings or from one house to another. This is where the most prized dates are grown and food and fruit are in plentiful supply. You can also explore the old Ksar the origins of Goulmima where many local families began their life here in small dark thick walled houses, now these families have been given land to build houses near the tropical gardens. A short trip from Goulmima there are many nice places to visit; an outdoor Oasis pool between Goulmima and Errachidia full of kids in the Summer, a thermal natural Hammam on the road to Fez, and the Mountains and river for sunset views and picnics.
This is the real Morocco for me – the rural places far away from the main cities and the tourist trail. If you want more tips or a place to stay, tap me up.