A little over a month later, I am writing about my first great Moroccan adventure of the spring semester. I’ve been putting this off for so long because I tend to write a lot in my chronicles, but I will try and keep this short, sweet, and to the point, since I have to be up in six hours to go to class (don’t worry, I only have one and I actually go right back to sleep afterward). This trip to the south of Morocco included two cities, Marrakech and Essaouira, but we spent a little more time in Essaouira and I enjoyed it much more, so I will focus on that. Furthermore, I was traveling with five other girls, my friends Rachael, Angie, Aya, Emily, and Dania, all of whom I will be referencing throughout this post.
After spending the majority of a Thursday riding a train from Fez to Marrakech, then waiting around in Jamaa Fnaa for a few hours, we boarded a bus to Essaouira in the late afternoon. By the time two and a half hours had gone by, the sun had set and we were dropped off in the front of one of the entrances to the medina. Thankfully Angie had befriended a nice British lady named Louise who knew her way around Essaouira. She helped us to find a guide to our hostel and made sure that we got there safely.
Hostel Essaouira is where we stayed, and it was a pretty great place for being so cheap. The owner was extremely nice and gave us maps of the city. An employee also showed us to a restaurant that had live music that night. We stayed there for over two hours, eating couscous and salads and pizza while listening to a jam session with a couple of other tourists in a small room. It was a great atmosphere and just the thing we wanted to kick off the weekend. We returned to the hostel quite late, but the streets of the medina were well-lit (albeit deserted), so it wasn’t too unsafe to be out.
The next day, Rachael, Dania, and I woke up around 9 and went out to explore the city as the other girls slept until noon. We first went to the north-western medina walls and walked along the ancient ramparts until we reached the large square that opened to the port. We walked along the port, photographing fishing boats, seafood stalls, and eventually picked a restaurant at which to eat. Dania and I split a plate full of cheap seafood, such as calamari, shrimp, sardines, and various other types of fish that I can’t recall the name of. We even got to try a sea urchin, which is pretty good when doused in lemon juice.
After we had our fill of great seafood, we headed back into the medina and let ourselves get lost. Literally. We had a map, but for about half an hour, we toured the city without its guidance, which actually led us into the residential and full-fledged Moroccan half of the medina. We figured out quickly that one half of the main road contained shops that sold practical household things, while the other side sold touristy things like scarves and jewelry. It was so interesting to feel the different atmospheres that were merely separated by an open archway.
It was in this touristy part of town that we went to buy Rachael a scarf. She wanted to have a dark colored one to bring back to Ifrane, so we looked around for one at a decent price. As you may have read in my previous post about being a woman in North Africa, the harassment western women get from Moroccan men is frustrating, and the men in Essaouira are no exception. After a while, we would refuse to even look in a shop if a man called out to us, choosing instead to enter shops where the owner didn’t bother us. So we entered one shop upon this principle to buy Rachael a scarf. Soon enough, a man not much older than us came up and started talking to us in fairly good English about the scarves. Dania, who is Palestinian, refused to speak to him in English and kept speaking to him in Arabic, which he found amusing. This led to a conversation about how he had been to the UK with his friend on business and how he was going to the US in March to work at Disney World. Rachael eventually bought two scarves (snagging quite a good deal), and the guy (Otmane) invited us to have tea with him and his friend.
So we went to his friend’s shop to have tea. His friend, Talib, sold spices and was excited to tell us in English all about the kinds he sold. This was the friend with whom Otmane had gone to the UK. So we talked and had tea and eventually planned to have dinner with them that night, along with the other girls.
While aimlessly walking around again, we accidentally ran into Louise, the nice woman who had helped us the following night. Apparently she was waiting for the other girls so that she could show them around the city, but we quickly figured out that they weren’t ready and still wanted to get lunch. So instead, Louise showed us around Essaouira. We entered lots of beautiful riads, discovered a local auction going on, and found out where to buy practical items like shampoo on the cheap. As we left the city walls to find the place where we would catch the bus the next day, we stopped to buy a bag full of sweet peas. We ate them on our way out, and I can say without a doubt that those were the most delicious peas I’ve ever eaten. We said goodbye to Louise as it was approaching sunset, and went to go meet up with the other girls.
A little while later, we met with Otmane at his shop, gathered Talib and a few of his friends, and then went to a nice little restaurant where they had already gathered and prepared a delicious meal of tagine. We sat around and talked and laughed, then decided to go to a very fancy rooftop café called Terros, where we ordered only drinks. It was great to be able to be in the company of nice Moroccan men who didn’t treat us in the chauvinistic way most others did. We enjoyed good music and lots of laughs, then returned to our hostel for the night.
The next day we were to leave Essaouira around midday, so Rachael, Dania, and I dragged ourselves out of bed at 8 AM to take full advantage of beach time. On our way there, we bought a box full of sweets that were drizzled in chocolate or honey or both. And as we sat on the windy beach and talked, we ate those delicious pastries with gusto. After a while, we left to explore the city one last time before half-heartedly boarding the bus back to Marrakech.
I absolutely loved Essaouira and hope that I have a chance to go back before my time studying here is up. Why, oh why is it so far away from Ifrane?