While traveling through Morocco, I was going through an "anti-guidebook" stage. I didn't feel like investing in another $20.00 heavy travel book. Since I didn’t have a book about Morocco, I was learning things as I was experiencing them, as well as learning about things through my other travel partners who had ample books on Morocco. After the first week, a woman in my group mentioned in passing something about the Moroccan goats that climb trees.
“What?, What did you just say?”
She went on. “In southern Morocco there are goats that climb trees to eat the fruit. Wouldn’t that be cool to see?” She then proceeded to show me a picture in her travel book of about 14 goats hanging out high in the branches of a tree.
"How can a goat climb a tree? How is that possible? This HAS to be photo-shopped. Seriously – how do they get up there?" I was adamant about not believing that this was possible, and I was astonished that the rest of the people in my group weren’t as utterly amazed about this as I was.
My travel companions looked at me, surprised that I was this worked up about the topic. One of them said, ”I don’t know how they get up there, I never really thought about it. Maybe they just walk up the tree.”
My jaw dropped and I answered, “What? They can’t just walk up, they don’t have opposable thumbs. How do they grip onto a branch?”
This was the beginning of my pilgrimage to see this "wonder of the animal kingdom". I couldn’t get it out of my mind, like the time I heard that the Russian Cat Circus was performing in Tribeca. I HAD to go and see these crazy Russian housecats do tricks! I was obsessed with the goats, I couldn’t come up with any feasible explanation on how they climbed the trees. My brain was constantly trying to solve this puzzle. Sure, mountain goats are definitely nimble, but climbing a mountain and climbing a tree seem totally different. I mean, how do they get up the tree trunk to the first branches?
As my group traveled throughout Morocco, I sort of rallied everyone’s interest in the goats, and they too started questioning the goats in trees. I talked about it all the time. We came up with a number of theories on how the goats got up in the trees.
I thought that they were maybe similar to reindeer; flew up in the trees somehow. Rob considered that perhaps the goats just grew on the trees. When they matured, they simply fell out of the tree and started walking on the ground – king of childbirth of sorts. Janelle said they took a running jump. Sara figured they hopped up in the trees, from branch to branch. Someone also threw out the possibility of retractable, special hoofs that would enable them to grip the tree better. Of course there was the Spiderman theory – sticky stuff on their hoofs. None of them seemed to make sense, but we had no better explanations.
Apparently, the goats climbed specific trees, Argan trees, mainly found in the southern part of Morocco. They are a thorny evergreen variety that grow in drought-ridden areas. They are hearty. They have fruits that the goats like to eat. Actually, I think the goats are driven up into the trees in order to find food to graze on since it is so dry in these areas, the true definition of adaptation. People use these fruits to make oils that are healthy and nutty tasting. Plus they make lotions, and other cosmetic products out of the argan oil. Many of the local women have formed a cooperative to manufacture the oil by hand, a painstaking but prosperous job for women in the country.
For some reason I kept on having the vision of a Monty Python movie – the Quest for the Holy Grail. It seemed like a goofy cartoon they would use in such a movie – goats in the trees, have them fall out and start walking around. Maybe I should talk to John Cleese about this.
The only problem with my quest to see the goats was that during my 21-day tour of Morocco, we weren’t heading to the south, where the goats supposedly hang out in trees. We seemed to be going everywhere else. We experienced every bit of culture, but the goats weren’t on our itinerary. I was hot on the idea of seeing these goats, my singular focus. I would pay large sums of dirham to anyone who would take me to them. Karina, our guide, mentioned that the closest we’d be to that part of Morocco was when we were in Essaouria. She went on to say that she would ask around and see if there was anyway that someone would take me to Agadir to see the goats. I was so excited at this prospect.
When we arrived in Essaouria, Karina contacted one of the local guides who said, “Yes, you can see the goats. They are around this area too, about 25 kilometers away”. I was ecstatic. Since I had talked about the goats throughout the trip, I had peaked everyone else’s interest too. They also wanted to come. I asked the guide if we were guaranteed to see goats. His answer, Inshallah, If God wants it, a popular saying among Moroccans. Throw it at the end of any sentence, you will feel like a local. The Inshallah answer dashed some of my hopes. What if God wasn’t on my side and I wandered in the dessert for 40 days looking for goats with a taxi driver. I felt I should gamble, Moses did, why shouldn’t I.
We agreed to hire a taxi to drive us. We were to leave at 9:30. However, that night we had a call from the man who organized the trip telling us that a 9:30 departure would be too late; it would be too hot, odds of seeing the goats in the trees would be decreased. So we left at 8:30.
I armed myself with my cameras and lenses. The six of us took off in a a little four-door Mercedes grand taxi. It was a painful, cramped ride, already sweltering at 8:30. I felt like Dorthy heading off in search of Oz and the Wizard. As we made it deeper into the country, we turned down roads lined with Argan trees. We peeled our eyes, searching. We saw donkeys standing by trees, we saw camels hanging out in bushes, and we saw goats on the ground – but none in the trees. The driver turned around saying it was too windy where we were. I was impressed with the taxi driver’s knowledge, a good sign, Inshallah. Who knew the goats were so finicky about the weather.
A bit later, we saw plenty of goats, just none in the trees. I was starting to feel like I had led everyone on a wild goose chase. We were like sardines in the grand taxi, we were sweaty and hot, and no one had eaten breakfast – and no goats. Just when I was giving up hope, we rounded a corner and saw a goat herder with a large group of goats. They were huddling around the bushes and a big tree in the center of a field. I scanned the tree quickly and then I saw it – a white furry shape in the tree, then a black furry shape, then another, and another. We screamed in excitement. The taxi driver pulled over, quickly got out to cross the road and get a closer look.
I was outfitted like the paparazzi: telephoto lens, getting as close as possible, without scaring them out of the tree. I wasn't sure how jumpy they were (no pun intended). We watched the goats for about 20 minutes, climbing up, climbing down, jumping from branch to branch, and losing their footing. None fell out of the tree, though, they were nimble.
It was easy to see how they got in the tree. They simply climbed up the trunk, normally low to the ground. The young, agile ones went up into the small branches to eat the fruit as if it were a tightrope. They were fearless and probably hungry. They would leap, getting their front or back legs airborne. Quite a sight. They didn’t appear to have special hoofs, and I certainly didn’t see any thumbs! The locals were probably as amazed to see us there with our cameras as we were to see goats in the trees.
The herder had to move the goats along, so we thanked him (I’m sure he was confused as to why). We crammed back into the taxi for Essaouria. I was so happy about our find that I was giddy all day. My trip felt complete – one of my highlights of the 21 days I spent in Morocco. My pilgrimage was a success. Next, I may part the Red Sea! Humdulilah, Praise God.