The Argon Forest, outside Taroudant, was once a space teaming with life, and overflowing with vegetation. 5 years of drought and centuries of overgrazing, however, has left it a collection of scraggly trees. As a result, the locals have developed an alternate form of grazing for their goats. They get their goats up into the trees! And not just into the lowest bits. Right up into the top! It was the most amazing thing! Funnily enough, about two weeks before I went I saw an HSBC advert about "What do trees mean to you". One of the responses was, "Grazing". I totally thought it was fake! And then, one of the very first things I saw upon arrival in Morroco was . . . Goats in trees! Totally cool.
The Argon Tree is very interesting. It produces a nut which kind of looks like a rounded Almond on the outside. However, when you break it open, it's got two sides, with a husk dividing it in the middle. Naturally Morocco has helped several groups of women start a couple of different cottage industries and co-ops. In this case, it's a women's co-op to extract and process Argon oil. The ladies sit on the floor in a tiny little room, cracking the nuts. They put the nut end up on an anvil stone. Then they take a rounded oblong stone and smack it on the nut. This results in the nut splitting open. So then they pick out the meat from the husk, flip the meat into the waiting basket, brush the husk off, grab the next nut, and begin again. And they're so fast at it! They invited me to have a go, so I sat down next to one of the ladies. Just about crushed my finger the first time! But after a few tries, I more or less got the hang of it. No where near as fast as those ladies, though. Lois had a try after me, and she did a very credible job. She's the better nutcracker, apparently. Must be all that time doing fiddly sewing bits!
After our visit to the Argon Oil Co-Op we headed out to a Palmery in an Oasis to have lunch. The oasis is just a green blip in the middle of the desert. The Palmery refers to the area right by the water where families have an allotment for a bit of a garden. Many of them actually have Palms! However, mostly they grow barley and alfalfa. They can get 5 crops of alfalfa out of one planting! It's quite amazing, really.
I discovered that if you sit next to the irrigation river, in the shade, it's really quite cool and pleasant. Our guide took us up to the old Kasbah that's been redone now, opened as a big restaurant (we didn't eat there, just went up for the view.)