After breakfast we head down to the Supratours station to head off. The good folk at Dar Sofia are looking after most of our bags until our return, so we are relatively lightly packed.
The bus trip is 3.5 hours so empty bladders before the off. Just as well too as most of the road is either patchy or being remade with a few small stretches of good road. By the time the road is complete it will be a much faster and more comfortable trip. But the locals complain that the road workers take forever to get anything done and the now new bits will be needing replacement by the time the current work is done. At one river crossing, Lotfi complained that the group had been working there for more than a year and a half on a simple bridge, and had to stop work every winter as the water came down.
In Essaouira the feel of the place is different. The first thing we notice is the buildings are painted white, unusual compared to any other town we have been in Morocco. The medina is much smaller, and has some streets that make the backbone of a grid system with little alleys and dead ends mixed in. There is a much more laid back feel to the place, picked up from decades as a surfing/windsurfing and more recently kiteboarding centre. We wander into the port and pick up the sights and sounds of the operating port. The fleet that goes out looks like a real rag tag bunch, but it is part of a long held tradition that this is what Essaouira does.
Fishing Boats, Essaouira
There are people in the port selling what appear to be the leftovers, small sardines, some Dorado and red mullet. There are also some eels including what looks like a leopard eel. What there is plenty of is seagulls, that wheel in the sky, calling and diving, and always crapping. I know it is said to be lucky to be hit by birdshit, but right here you are lucky if it misses!
And there's loads of them
We are in need of a bit of food, so we head to one of the grillades near the port where they cook the fish straight off the boats for you. Some of it looked good, but not all. We pick up some calamari a emporter, and head down to the beach to eat it. It is not that tasty, and we will look elsewhere for the specialities of the region. We walk for a while on the beach, tossing stones and watching as a kitesurfer tries to get going. We talk with the instructor who tries to interest us in a course, who explains he has been doing this around the world and that he had the same student when he working in Thailand! He is struggling to get the kite up in the ‘light’ wind (which had blown my hat 30 metres down the beach), and we watch for a while, but he seems to be getting himself in more of a tangle. The beach is less protected further down and there are some sails going full bore. There is also a wind farm in the distance to the south, this area being known as windy city, Africa.
Wind City Africa
Back into town and we wander right through. The area by the sea walls at the north end, the jewish quarter, is very run down and dilapidated. Otherwise there is plenty of rebuilding going on and lots of accommodation as the town goes from surfie hangout to an expected stop on everyone’s itinerary. We pick out a couple of possibilities for dinner, but when investigated, look like tourist spots. We settle on a little place with some seating upstairs, an unlikely looking place. But the owner has a set menu without choice for 55DM, about $7.50. And it is great. We have salad with a soft cheese for entree, a squash stuffed with beef for mains and a magnificent orange mousse with chocolate sauce for desert. Amazing! This is Elfarane at 34 rue Etaouahine (or Tahaouhen depending on your map 06 10 77 63 77), not far from the bastion in the sakla. Go there.
Satisfied, we head back to Lalla Mira.
The next day L is booked into a hammam, so G and I take the footy to play down the beach. It is a bit flat so we drop into a motorcycle shop to pump it up. Mistake. A loud BANG!, a stunned and sheepish mechanic and a shocked child. The footy is torn open, the bladder burst through the rip. No more footy.
So back to the streets to get a new one. Surprisingly, there is not a lot of footies available in Essaouira – an obvious niche market is there for the taking. We get a soccer ball instead and head down to the beach to play. I have to go in a couple of times when the ball gets taken by the wind.
We give L a couple of hours for her hammam then wander around Essaouira again. Nigel – do not let Kell come to Morocco or you will be taking home around 3 million stray cats and dogs which seem to be everywhere.
Strays for Kell
A lot of the shops are the same as found elsewhere in Morocco, but there is a definite beach culture influence, and sea faring has also meant that thick woolly jumpers are seen in the shops for the first time. There is a relaxed atmosphere and it is very pleasant to be on the wall as the sun sets and rises (ok, I never saw it rise). Get a fill in crepe until dinner. Look in a few art galleries at modern African art – some of it I like. Generally we stroll happily about the place.
Head back to Lalla Mira. G and I head down to have a hammam – ours is a do it yourself that comes with the accommodation. In the hammam you steam up for a while, then you are sluiced off and steamed again, all whilst lying on the floor. After a bit longer, you give yourself a scrub down with black soap with argan oil, and an argan oil shampoo. Last is another sluice off to get you ready to go. You can book in and pay (ladies and men, but at separate times) to have extra treatments including scrubs and massages – top cost of 180DM - 25AUD.
real men Hammam
Fresh and pink, off to dinner is at a little place, Restaurant La Decouverte, where I order fresh John Dory. The catch must have been a bit light on as the fillets are only about 8 cms long. But very nicely cooked. A lovely (but un Moroccan) apple pie finishes off the meal. A stroll through for tired people, then bed...