Essaouira Morocco An African Seaside City
Alain who (along with his wife) is the owner of Riad Al Nadine was kind enough to drive me to the bus station (which is down the block from the train station) and I hopped on the coach bus full of tourists and Moroccans alike to the seaside city of Essaouira.
Thankful for the bit of air conditioning the 3 hour trip was a cooler ride than the one the day before, there was one stop for refreshments and use of the facilities. Upon arrival if you plan on going back the same day you need to buy your return ticket at the bus station right away or you definitely risk having to stay overnight or find another way back to the city that you’re staying in.
The one striking thing about Essaouira is that in a country of many reds and ochres it’s a city in love with the color blue. A rich Bedoin indigo shade.
After leaving the area of the bus station I turned the corner and went right, walked straight on and made another right. Now I had no idea of what was where, I’m a rather unprepared traveler in the sense that I rarely use maps and there’s often not something in particular that I’ve come to see, rather I simply go to an area of interest and wander around until I find something interesting.With that in mind it’s with happiness that I realized it was a great direction. I walked along the beach front taking photos of kids playing football and Moroccan families on the beach.
As I kept walking as the sidewalk gradually turned, I crossed the street walked on for another 5 minutes and voila! A large square through a pair of large doors, I continued for another few seconds and it opened up into a Plaza with restaurants and shops. Instead of going in that direction I went left into the area of the old port. It’s where all of the fishermen and families buying what they caught that day are at. The brilliant blues of the wooden boats are simply spectacular. It’s such a “real” place. While there are travelers around its mostly inhabited by the men that make their living bringing in the sea goods from the Mediterranean.
There’s also a Fort in the area that cost 10 dirhams and is worth checking out for the views that you can get from the top. Feeling a bit hungry I decided to head back to the Plaza to see what I could find. I was about to sit down and order a Veggie Tagine but changed my mind and went a bit further along. I. Glad that I did because it turned into a lane full of shops with prices that were better than most in Jma El Fnaa. I bought a few handsomely turned and polished wooden items.
Along the road I found a little crepe shop that offered them with vegetables, so I decided to take a load off and have that along with some Moroccan mint tea.
Let me stop here to say that Moroccan mint tea is heavenly. It’s strong with lots of flavor and seems to make your whole insides smell like Mint. It’s one of the items that I did not buy on this trip but plan to dutifully stock up on my next trip here.
After the refreshment I continued along the road doing a bit more shopping and wound up with Cous cous spices and a large orb shaped wooden box. I fell in love with it the minute that I laid eyes on it. The burl of the wood, and the high shine was just impossible for me to resist. It also allowed me to purchase something from a vendor without a shop who was disabled, and when visiting poorer countries I like to make sure that at least some of my purchases directly benefit those that are often in a harder situation than others in life, women, children, disabled, older people, as it could make a larger difference in their life.
Strolling along a bit more I found some of the bluest doors that I’ve come across since Mykonos and Santorini and indulged by clicking away.
As I bought a return ticket for four hours later and nearly three had passed it was time to start heading back the way I’d originally came. I spent a little time wandering into the large square that I’d seen earlier and a then strolled back along the beach where I quickly encountered a woman sitting down and covered from head to toe except for her eyes who beckoned me over so that she could apply henna to my hands. I started out by saying, “no, no” and then figured “why not”.
I sat down on a small stool and she showed me designs in a book and asked what color? While I asked how long. She told me ten minutes and I chose true Henna and its bold desert orange color when she suddenly took out a hypodermic syringe and I nearly jumped up. Then she filled the tube with the Henna, and pushed it through to the tip so that it could come out at a fine point in the end and she could proceed with her artistry.
I still seriously thought about paying her but walking away when I realized that I probably encountered worse in most public bathrooms and provided she didn’t go rogue and jab me with it I’d be just fine. She started with the back and my hand to the lower part of my arm then worked on my palm and up to the same spot on that side.
I paid her 50 dirham and she told me to hold my hand open for about an hour and let it dry. It then occurred to me that not only would I be getting on a more than likely crowded bus in less that an hour, but I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Just dandy. So I strolled over to the ladies room on the beach inadvertently saying hello to everyone passing with my lifted open palm.
The bathroom attendant found my predicament hilarious and took my shopping bags from me and put them to the side while I went into the stall. This could only get funnier if instead of this being a traditional toilet it was a “cop a squat” over the floor no toilet seat style. Lets just say the story became funnier.
I then spent the rest of the time there sitting on a wall “waving at people” while hoping that the hot sun would speed up the curing process. As I saw parts drying I flicked them off determined not to get on the bus with intensely pigmented still slightly wet Henna on my hands.
The journey back to the Riad was uneventful short of my seat mate nearly jabbing me in the ribs each time he took out the Quran to read.
I’ve only had a very small taste of Morocco on this trip. There’s so very much more to do and see in Marrakech and all over the country. I didn’t even touch the new city of Gueliz or explore most of the old city, but I’ve had a chance to sample what the country has to offer and I look forward to going back a few times so that I can experience it more fully. Not to mention that I now have a huge shopping list of things to buy and I now know where to find them!
Note: There are Africans from various parts of the continent in many shopping areas, so if you’ve looking for some gorgeously hand carved pieces from countries more south you can find them here, though they’re not in the abundance that Moroccan items are of course.
There are plenty of beach front places to stay in Essaouira and it’s a clean laid back town that probably worth spending a couple of days of relaxation in far from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.