That would make a great title for a Moroccan children’s book, don’t you think? At least 3 times now, harried merchants have told me I haggle like a Berber girl, and I’ve taken to warning them, using that as a bargaining tactic from the beginning. And at least as many times, men have burst into a grin, patted Keith’s red-bearded cheek, and called him Ali Baba.
And so it was that on Monday, Ali Baba and the Berber girl headed to the beach in Essaouira. Essaouira is a port town on the west (Atlantic) coast of Morocco. It is an old Portuguese port with intact 18th century walls and ramparts encircling the medina. The town feels very European too, with fewer mosques, more skin showing, and alcohol more commonly served in restaurants. It was also recently used for filming some memorable scenes in Game of Thrones, and Keith and I recognized the setting immediately.
We took a 3-hr bus-ride (for $7 each) from Marrakech, and when we arrived I insisted on finding our hotel by myself, ignoring the dozens of “porters” with carts offering to guide us. The street our riad was on was not in my Lonely Planet guide, but I found it on a larger map at the bus station and circled the general area in my smaller map. It was a small town, and I was convinced we could find it easily. Ali Baba was not so confident. But sure enough, within a 10 minute’s walk, I had found our street and soon after our riad. Triumphant, I banged on the knocker, and we were ushered into the calm, cool interior.
Like the town, the riad and its owners, Carole and Gerome from France, seemed very European. Over mint tea on the terrace, Carole went over a map of the town, giving me recommendations and warnings for banks, food, shopping, and sight-seeing. She even recommended a spa where I could get my eyebrows done; I was long overdue and the situation had become serious. Carole and Gerome ended up being truly lovely hosts – laid back but always concerned for the welfare of their guests, and, as it turned out, for the local animals as well – they ended up taking in a tiny kitten and puppy while we were there!
I left Keith in the room for a rest, while I went out to explore and hunt down the spa. Although I got lots of calls, I kept my glasses and scarf on and paid no one any attention, and made it to the spa with little trouble. Emerging 20 minutes later with resplendent brows, I headed back to the hotel to collect Keith. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent exploring the small town, and finally getting down to the business of buying gifts for people back home. Being less touristy than Marrakech, we were able to find better quality things at more reasonable prices… which became even more reasonable, of course, after my haggling.
We ate dinner on the rooftop terrace of a restaurant, with live music, a bottle of wine, and freshly caught and fried fish. I had been so excited to have fresh fish in Essaouira, but I forgot that meant it would come with eyes and tail and all, and so my enjoyment of the experience was tempered by my squeamishness.
I had the best sleep of the whole trip that night, and woke feeling refreshed and less sick than the past few days. Then Keith and I were off to the souks again, completing our gift-buying and buying a few more things for ourselves. Truly, it will be a feat of engineering if I get everything into our bags.
Around lunchtime, we headed down to the port and up on to the ramparts, to gain some incredible views of the port, town, and sea. Fishmongers supply local food carts with the day’s freshest catches, which are then fried up right on the spot. Lobsters, eels, sardines, you name it – they’ve got it. I had been hoping to have lunch there, but after my experience with the fish and its eyeballs the evening before, I decided not to chance it. So I will leave you instead with just a few of the dozens of photos I took of the port, easily one of the most striking places we’ve visited in Morocco.
Tonight we hop the bus back to Marrakech, and then Wednesday evening it is on to Rabat, our final stop!
A note to readers
As you may have noticed, my travel blog posts are written quickly, with no small amount of typos. With days packed so full of exploring, I have very little time – if any! – at the end of the day to jot my thoughts down and edit a few photos. My hope is to revise here and there once I am back home, add in some insights from the books I’ve been reading, and share a bit more of my own thoughts and realizations. For now though, I hope you’re enjoying the ride!