“The mind is free and the slightest thought has great influence. It is, therefore, important that you think enlightened thoughts.”
“If at noon the King declares it is night, behold the stars.”
We are now in Venice but I thought I would share some of our thoughts about our second stop in Morocco, Essaouira. Essaouira was a bit of a relief for us after Marrakesh. While we had gotten used to the hectic energy of Marrakesh as we settled in, thankfully, Essaouira was much calmer. The drive through the countryside was fascinating in of itself. While the landscape itself was very barren and brown, with scattered orchards of green olive trees spread thinly throughout, the little towns and villages were very interesting. Our tour guide pointed out several places to us including a shop that converted ancient cars to use propane tanks as gas. They couldn’t go very far and were mostly used as taxi’s but were very dangerous, our guide told us with a shake of his head. None of the villages or towns looked very prosperous but they were all bustling and filled with people going about their business. After our three hour drive through the Moroccan countryside with our tour guide, we arrived in Essaouira and eagerly set off to find our new Riad. It did not get off to a good start, however!
Arriving in Essaouira
After wandering around the streets a bit, we eventually found our Riad in a dark alleyway. Stumbling through the door with all our bags, we presented ourselves to the receptionist, who looked a little taken aback to see a family of four looking at him. Seeing his startled look, we should have known that this did not bode well for us. When Deanne told him that we had a reservation for four for the next four days, he started talking about a group reservation. He was assuming that we were with a group that was supposed to be arriving later that day, hence the surprised look when we showed up sans group. After finally convincing him we were not with any group, he proceeded to tell us that we did not have a room as the group had reserved the whole riad. Somewhat taken aback by this, we insisted that we had a reservation, we had made the reservation last November, had received a confirmation and had been sent a reminder four days ago about our reservation. We showed him the email with the confirmation. At this point, we were getting very annoyed and it clearly showed. He made a phone call whereupon a lady showed up to tell us that they do not work with our booking company anymore. Convincing her that that was not our problem and that they needed to honour the reservation, she was able to get us into a Riad not too far away. We headed over with all our stuff and found ourselves in a large, delightful looking Riad with large rooms. There were two beds for the kids and a loft where there was a larger bed for us. There was a sitting area with a window that looked over the main market street.
We could sit there with the cool breeze floating into the room, and smells from the local cooking stall wafting in and the sounds of the street gently filling our room with the sounds of Essaouira. It was a very nice room. In the end, I think we ended up getting a better room than what we would have had at the other Riad. The room also included breakfast which was quite funny. You always knew you were going to get a wonderful cup of coffee but breakfast consisted of a variety of different bread products. There was a lot of bread to eat. You had a small baguette cut in half, a bun, some sort of fried bread and another type of pancake-like bread. We certainly got all our carbs at breakfast every day! While it had been a difficult start to our time in Essaouira, everything turned out for the best and we were able to enjoy the rest of our visit.
Wandering the Streets
As soon as we started our adventures into the streets of Essaouira, we immediately felt the difference between here and Marrakesh. First of all, there were very few motorcycles and bicycles racing through the narrow streets. Every time we left our Riad in Marrakesh, we felt like we were setting off to a battle dodging motorcycles here and bicycles there. You had to keep a constant eye out. In Essaouira, it was very different. The alleys were, for the most part, not as narrow leaving more room for walking. And while there were a few motorcycles that would pass through, there were very few compared to Marrakesh allowing us to relax and enjoy the scenery. The other difference was that the market was far less hectic. People were not constantly badgering you to buy something, look at something, or come into their restaurant. When they did, they were very pleasant about it. It made walking through Essaouira much more relaxing to explore.
That old city of Essaouira is a very small area, also made it very easy to get around. By the end of our four days, we felt we had seen just about everything there was to see and that we had gone through every single little narrow alley and sussed out all the little secrets of Essaouira. Of course, one of the main attractions to Essaouira is the fishing harbour and one of our first days, we headed over to see it in action. The first thing that strikes you is the smell. It’s like a wall hitting you. The next thing that strikes you is the people. There are fishermen bringing in the catch, there are others repairing and repainting boats, and there are men cleaning the catch and throwing the remains out to the cats and seagulls. There are no hungry cats or seagulls in this area! You could actually choose a piece of seafood from the fisherman and have it cooked right there in front of you. We didn’t try it but we several people choosing their catch and sitting down to eat it. As your nose gets used to the smell, the beauty of the place is something to behold. Now, I know what you are thinking. How could a fishing harbour be beautiful? While it is a working harbour, the blue boats bobbing in the waves overshadowed by the ancient city walls that still outline the old town are very picturesque. The days we went there was also fog covering everything which helped to fuzz the harshness of the place. The smell though……
We also wandered over to the ramparts of the city wall. There is a paid area you can go to but you don’t see much. Plus, they have a separate rate for Moroccans and for tourists, which really rubbed Deanne the wrong way. We found that in a few places and we didn’t bother going to those places as the tourist price was usually seven times the Moroccan price. However, there is a piece of the city walls you can climb up to and view the ocean from and we went there a couple of times. The sunsets from there were particularly beautiful with the cool breeze hitting you (You must have noticed how many times I have mentioned the cool breeze. We were so happy to get somewhere that was a little cooler than Marrakesh!).
Other than that, Essaouira was all alleys and doorways. It is not a big place so by the end of the four days we had pretty well seen everything we wanted to see there.
While we enjoyed the food in Marrakesh, the food in Essaouira was even better. We went to three different restaurants (one of them three times!) and they were all fabulous. One of my favorite dishes was the beef tajine with dried fruit. I had that a number of times and it was delicious every time. Deanne had a dish that was chicken and spices, including a fair amount of cinnamon, which she really liked. The kids really enjoyed the beef tajine and asked for their own after the first try. There is a fair amount of range in the restaurants. There are the main square restaurants which are nice but often overpriced and the food is often mediocre. The expensive restaurants are further back. We didn’t go near those ones. We ate at very reasonably priced restaurants that had been recommended in a couple blogs we had seen. They were very small restaurants with very little seating. In fact, the one restaurant we went to had seating for probably no more than 10 people and that would have been very tight. The kitchen was upstairs in a little tiny loft overhanging the eating area. They also made mint tea for the various businesses around the area and you could see errand boys coming in and out taking tea and bringing back the cups. To make the tea, the lady had a propane tank that had been outfitted with a little range on top of it to put the kettles on. It was a very ingenious solution to the lack of a grill but couldn’t have been very safe! The other restaurant was quite unique in that they served pigeon and camel tajine, neither of which I was tempted to try. All the food was great and none of us got food poisoning or anything.
Taking A Chance with the Horses
On one of our days in Essaouira, we decided to do a horse ride on the beach. Essaouira has a lovely long beach that we walked along a couple of times. The kids spent some time building a sand castle there as well. There were many people swimming in the water and Siena desperately wanted to go swimming as well but there were many signs saying no swimming which we didn’t think boded well so we just settled with walking along the sand. Many people came up to us as we walked, trying to sell us things including rides on horses or camels but we stayed away from those operations as Deanne had heard stories that the animals there were not treated well. We also heard that sometimes these operations would take tourists half way then, just as they were turning to come back, the operator would force the tourists to pay again just to come back. So instead, we booked through a separate company recommended by the hotel receptionist. We got picked up and driven out to a nice little ranch where we were matched with a horse. We each got our own horses and were accompanied by two guides, one of which was from Germany. She led Liam’s horse pretty well the whole time and spoke great English, which made Liam happy. He talked to her the whole time! She happened to be from the same area of Germany we had visited when we had done our Christmas Market trip. Going on the horses had made me nervous at first as I was worried about my allergies. The last time I had ridden on horses, my allergies had been so bad I looked like a dead man standing by the end. I had been taking my allergy pills every day and had been fine at the pony place in Holland so I was hoping everything would be fine. As it turns out, I didn’t react at all which was great. We all had a great time on the horses and the beach ride was quite lovely. We saw lots of dung beetles and the remains of an old sultan’s palace.
Coming from Marrakesh, we weren’t sure what to expect from Essaouira but ended up really enjoying our time there. The food, the atmosphere and the picturesque moments will certainly stay with us for a long time. I may even buy a tajine to try my hand at some Moroccan cooking!
Postscript: Getting anywhere in Morroco is a bit of a trial and our trip through Casablanca is a bit of a blur now. Security is very tight in Morocco. To get into the airport you have to go through very onerous security gauntlet. Our security guard to get into the airport was very picky and went through all of our children’s toys questioning what each one was. Both guards were very confused about the Harry Potter wands that we had brought to use in Orlando. Strangely enough, they didn’t bother looking at our backpack filled to the brim with computers, ipads, etc. It was very strange. One neat thing that happened though, was that, while sitting in the waiting lounge, this large and loud entourage proceeded through our waiting area. It wasn’t until they had just about gone through the gate that we realized that one of the people in the entourage was Chris Hemsworth of Marvel movie fame. He was there filming the new Men in Black movie and was leaving on a chartered plane.
From Marrakech, we flew into Casablanca which wasn’t exactly the easy stopover we had thought it would be. We had hoped that we would be able to see the second largest mosque in the world but ran out of time and had to get to the Casablanca early enough to brave the gauntlet of security and customs again. They take their customs very seriously here and check your passports very, very carefully. However, we made it onto the plane on time. As we were on our flight to Venice, we were surprised to find the stewards passing out trays of food. There was an in-flight meal service! How long has it been since that has happened??!!! The meal was actually quite good. They didn’t have much in the way of in-flight entertainment with old Charlie Chaplin movies being played on the screen but we had good books with us. It was just a relief to be heading to Venice. We were all looking forward to our next leg of our adventure!