Ait Benhaddou is a ksar or fortified village on the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech, in between the Atlas ranges. It’s dubbed the Hollywood of Morocco as quite a number of blockbuster movies like “Alexander”, “The Mummy”, “The Gladiator” and the Bond movie “The Living Daylights”, as well as “Game of Thrones”, have been shot there. The principal film studio is open to visitors and was apparently well worth a look, but I was feeling so ill I could only sit and wait for the rest of the group. The local guide suggested prickly pears, the fruits of the opuntia cactus, that are sold everywhere by vendors wearing heavy duty gloves to protect their hands from the almost invisible spines. They cut the fruit open for you, so you don’t need to touch the skin at all, making it very hygienic. But even though I hade eaten several each day, there was no improvement and finally, I had to resort to some medication bought at a pharmacy.
Crossing the High Atlas was no mean feat. From the highest pass, Col du Tichka at 2260 metres above sea level, the narrow road winded down in hairpin bends for what seemed like hours. This we would have needed the motion sickness pills for! As we finally approached the coast, we spotted an almost absurd sight; a flock of goats in a tree! These turned out to be argan trees, endemic to the area, and an important food source for the goats. They only eat the flesh of the fruits, and the almond-like seeds are cracked and ground to produce argan oil for cooking or cosmetics. We visited a women’s cooperative where the whole process is done by hand to provide work opportunities for local women. The roasted oil tastes much like sesame oil, whereas the cosmetic oil is unroasted and used in a variety of beauty products.