Saturday, February 25, 2017

Essaouira

It took me a while to learn how to spell Essaouira. I finally realized that if I start with Ess and then just throw in every vowel (except y and w, which, after all, are 
really just Fake™ vowels anyway), I’d come pretty close. (But don’t forget the …ira at the end.)

However you spell it, we’ve been here for three weeks; only one more to go! We’ve gotten around a bit, and seen most of what there is to be seen. Essaouira is a small town. People come here mostly for the beach, to swim or wind- and kite-surf. Of course, the locals, for the most part, don’t have the luxury of travel as entertainment; they’re just trying to make a living. There are many small villages in the surrounding countryside, and farmers come to town to sell their produce. On a few occasions while in the medina we’d see a cart arrive, piled high with tangerines or other produce, with buyers crowded around.

Events like that are a constant reminder that the medina is the downtown area; lots of shops and hotels and restaurants cater to the tourists, but it’s also home for many locals. Tucked in among the leather goods and ceramics and brightly-colored cloth are produce stalls and tiny hole-in-the-wall grocery stores. We find these tiny stalls far more convenient for milk and yogurt and bread than trekking to the supermarket at the far end of town.


Shop stalls in the medina

Colorful ceramics and spices on display. Prices are in Dirhams, 10 = $1USD

 Finding our way around the medina here turns out to be relatively easy. It’s small and straightforward, with two main, parallel streets and numerous smaller streets crossing at right angles. Many of these smaller “streets” are alleyways, narrow and tight, with merchants’ goods spilling out of shops into the pathway. And there are enough “mystery” passages – covered alleys that curve away into the darkness – to keep explorations of the medina interesting.

A colorful doorway

Just another side street in the Essaouira medina


All in all, while there is always more to discover, we are satisfied with our time here. We have met a number of interesting people, expats; British, mostly (no language barrier!). One woman conducts nature hikes around the area every Thursday. A couple of weeks ago we walked for several kilometers along the beach (which extends much further south than I’m willing to walk!), watching the waves and the occasional tourist camel caravan. Last week we headed into the nature preserve that runs along the town’s eastern edge; rolling hills (ancient sand dunes, really) covered with scrub trees, extending up into the hills surrounding the town (and with a few camels hiding out).

A lake! Just beyond the edge of town

A sad camel hiding out

Yup, Morocco, as far as the eye can see


Last week Diane, who organizes these weekly hikes, hired a car and driver, and the three of us spent the day exploring the area around Essaouira. The driver, a highly experienced and knowledgeable local who spoke excellent French, took is to places we never would have found on our own, and gave us a context that really helped us understand what we saw. We visited a couple of seaside communities with incredible beaches; went to the oasis that provides water for the extensive agriculture in this area; walked on the dam storing drinking water for Essaouira; and watched goats climb Argan trees to eat the leaves.

A common mode of travel in Morocco

Moulay Bouzerktoune, about 30km north of Esaouira

Contemplating the view at Moulay


Diane and Paula behind a ruined wall
The Oasis at Ain Lahjar, about 10km inland


Goats eating argan leaves

Goats climbing trees to eat argan leaves

Nice doggy! Not really, touch his goats and you're in trouble!
Spillway of the dam that holds water for Essaouira; the driver told me Morocco is building one dam a year to ensure adequate water supplies

We were taken to a women’s Argan cooperative (more on this in a future blog), and had lunch at the driver’s recommended restaurant in a town with a stunning beach. Now, it’s highly probable that our guy got some kind of commission for these stops, but I’m ok with that. Our driver was pleasant and friendly, and I was very glad he was driving and not me as his ancient Mercedes ground up those hills and around sharp curves, dodging donkeys on the shoulder of the road. All in all it was a good day, and well worth the $50USD it cost.




The classic view of Essaouira, through the hole

Up Next: Gosh, there's more to be said about Essaouira, but we will soon be in Fez! Stay tuned...

1 comment:

  1. So a total of 4 weeks in Essaouira! Wow. But you've given my an impression that it's a pretty chill place. Only a few days planned but after my Marrakech adventure I may prolong in Essaouira and just arrive back in Marrakech to take that flight home
    No idea you guys had stayed so long in Morocco.

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