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Two kilometres North of Sid Kaouki, a little village of fishermen’s huts is nestled on the beach in the hollow of the dunes. The fishermen themselves live on the heights in the village of Ouassene or in Sidi Kaouki.
You can access this village by a trail situated at about 500m from the village, after the junction where the tarred road forks to Ouassene, or on foot along the beach.
A strange kind of fishing …
During the summer months, and practically every day, the space at the back of the fishermen’ huts and opposite the remnants of a film set, is completely covered with small or big heaps of red and black seaweed. These colours make a stark contrast with the scenery of stones, sand, water, eucalyptus trees and white gorse.
The gathering of these seaweed called “gara gara” or agar agar” is restricted to the months of July and August: the other ten months being part of the necessary biological cycle of dormancy .The “agar agar” is an iron rich gelling produce obtained by dehydrating the shiny red algae and has, by derivation, given its name to the very seaweed harvested for its fabrication.
In Tagenza, only the yellow boats are entitled to harvest; the rest of the year, the boats rest on the sand in the shade of eucalyptus trees and in the company of donkeys. During hot months, the blue boats take their place. The men practically abandon every other kind of fishing, as this one is much more profitable: on this occasion, the fisherman becomes half sailor half farmer.
The seaweeds are unloaded from the boats, and brought to the village on camels’ backs; they are put to dry and then bundled up and loaded onto trucks. One can assist to an endless round of boats, men, camels and trucks. This industriousness brings to mind the intense activity of seaweed gathering in the North of Brittany.
The algae contains between 60% and 80% of water: the dune soil, the sun and the wind are the necessary conditions for a successful drying out process. A few hours of exposition in the sun are enough to give the seaweeds a beautiful aspect; they are then piled up on the already darkening heaps before being packaged.
The gathering of the seaweed is still done mainly by hand all along the coast from Oualidia to El Jadida as well as in the South of Essaouira where the seabed is full of rocks. In order to gather gara gara, men, rarely equipped with a diving suit, dive by holding their breath.
Industrial outlets are numerous: transformation into gelatine, use in cosmetics and plastics. On full moon dates, the strength and amplitude of the tide leave tons of algae all alongside the beach.
If you happen to stroll around here, you may take the opportunity to pause in this little village to admire its impressive scenery and its immense beaches. The violent thunderstorms, storms and heavy rain fall of last winter got the better of practically all of the film set and its artificial village that had yet survived against all the odds in the last few years. Nevertheless, some scattered ruins of imitation stones and some cheap pieces of mock antic style columns and vaults still remain.
On a clear day, standing higher on the cliff, the panorama all around Ouassene is a pure marvel to contemplate. Cape Sim and the surfers’ cave can be reached by the near coastal path. A few hour walk is necessary to reach Essaouira along the coast but ramblers will enjoy the surroundings: sand dunes, woods of mimosa and eucalyptus trees where turtles live, empty beaches, lone fishermen on isolated rocks and in the distance, standing out like a mirage, the town and the Purple islands.