Having experienced the magic of Marrakech, the riveting road trip, and the delights of the desert, what else could there be to see? Well, I really wanted to visit a seaside town before leaving Morocco so we paid our 70DH each and boarded another Supratours bus, this time to Essaouira. It was a very comfortable and relaxed journey, which took no longer than 4 hours from Marrakech.
As we alighted the bus, we were surrounded by locals who were all talking at once and very keen to show us places to stay. I wasn’t interested but my friend was so, against my better judgment, I reluctantly agreed to go along. It became quite clear very quickly though that these locals were not going to leave until they got their commission from ‘placing’ us somewhere. I always like to go for a walkabout when I arrive in a new place to orientate myself and see what accommodation is on offer so I did just that while my friend waited for me. I wasn’t by myself though. I tried so hard to lose the guys who were following me around but it seemed impossible. Everytime I thought I had, they would turn up again and take over any conversation I was having about accommodation. It was really irritating. I asked them politely to leave me alone on a number of occasions but they didn’t. I didn’t want to be rude because I know how tough it is to make money and that was their way of doing so. The problem was they were harrassing me and they just didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand. The other difficulty I had was that the old-walled city is a maze of alleyways and narrow streets and, in my bid to shake off the ‘commission hunters’, I was really concerned about getting lost and not finding my way back to where my friend was waiting. In the end, I was tired and fed up so I admitted defeat, as it was only for one night, and returned to my friend. We checked in and the local guys finally got their commission. Well, they really had to work for it in the end! To my surprise, they weren’t content with that and had the cheek to ask us for a tip. After harrassing me, they had no chance! I believe that you can learn from any situation and this was no exception. I learned to go with my gut instinct (it’s always right) and steer well clear of touts because they will stick to you to like a leech until they get their commission. I also found out that there is a wide variety of accommodation to suit every budget and style of traveller.
After settling into our riad, we wandered around the narrow streets and found what seemed to be a small, quirky eatery. We ascended the winding narrow stairs, which took us up to the third floor of the tall, narrow restaurant. We settled down at the end of the room on a bench-like seat. The lighting was low and there was some live music. Whilst munching on a rather small pizza, we chatted to a well-travelled Danish family who were staying in a hotel outside the walled city. They had been horse-riding on the beach that day.
The next morning I woke up about 6am so I decided to go for a walk. I didn’t know where I was going, I just started walking and ended up outside the old city. It was really quiet at that time. People were just beginning to stir. I heard a French man asking someone where he could buy a coffee but everything seemed to be shut. After walking around aimlessly for a bit, I decided to head back in the direction of the old city. It was then I sensed a man following me. I tested my theory by taking a few lefts and rights and he was still there. I don’t know if he really was and had no idea if it was a problem but I decided not to take any chances and walked purposefully back to the riad. I’d had a pretty good walk by that point anyway.
After the walk and a good shower, I was ready for brekkie. We wandered about the walled city until a menu caught our attention. We ordered our breakfast of pancakes, fresh orange juice and coffee. As we sat waiting patiently for our food, I was fascinated by everything around me. There was a woman sitting diagonally to me, facing the street, making what looked like dough. She kneaded and shaped each piece so quickly and conscientiously before leaving them stacked for another woman to collect and cook. Two men sitting at the next table were chatting while one of them ceremoniously poured the tea into a glass and then back to the teapot a few times until he was satisfied it had the correct amount of froth. Right in front of me were a row of teapots, all lined up. It was like a picture.
Essoaouira might be relatively small compared with Marrakech but, as we explored it further, it seemed to have a lot to offer. As with the rest of Morocco, there are innumerable things to buy: carpets, textiles and spices. However, Essoaouira had a real ‘arty’, almost hippy feel about it. Maybe it’s because there are lots of artisans crammed into a smaller area, I don’t know, but we saw local artists painting and interesting sculptures made from recycled bicycle and car parts. Alongside that, I loved the architecture of the walled city with its many arches and not knowing where you might end up next as you navigate your way through the narrow streets, with decisions of ‘do I turn left, right or go straight on?’ If you don’t travel light, there are local people who have carts to transport your luggage and guide you to your destination.
It was great to wander around the port, drink fresh citrus juice from one of the many stalls, and watch the local fisherman sorting through and selling their catch for the day. I don’t think I have ever seen so many seagulls in one place but, with such a strong smell of fish in the air, I suppose it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.
There was, of course, the reason I went there… the beach. Since it was February, no one was sunbathing but there were a few kitesurfers making use of the wind. One sight I wasn’t expecting to see, but confirmed I was still in Morocco, was camels. Yes, that’s right, camels on the beach. Well, I suppose if they can have horses and donkeys, they can have camels!
I’m really glad I had the time, albeit limited, to visit Essaouira. It has a completely different vibe to the other places we visited and has so much more to offer than just a beach.