I have now been out of Australia Roaming about the planet since February 2019. Starting in Malaysia and the island of Borneo, then Thailand followed by South Korea, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I am now located in the UK and have booked a flight to Seattle USA and fly out in few weeks time. In the meantime Ill complete my story Roaming around Morocco, this is Essaouira.
When I returned from the Sahara I spent a night back in Marrakech and the following morning I was on my way to the Moroccan coast and the town of Essaouira. It had been a few weeks since Id left Lagos Portugal and I wanted the beach and this destination is favourite for backpackers and surfers. The population of the town is around 80,000 is surrounded by walls and is a port city sitting on the Atlantic Ocean and has a beach so it sounded like the perfect destination. The bus took a couple of hours and when I arrived I walked through an arched gate to my Riad (hostel) where I would be staying for the next four nights.
When I entered the wall “Call to Prayer” was being sung (prayed not sure I know the difference) and there men scattered about praying on the street itself instead of being in a mosque, Id not seen this before. After checking in I walked through the streets, the majority of shops were selling local arts and crafts including clothes, jewellery and food. I could immediately tell it was a much more relaxed atmosphere then Marrakech as nobody was gesturing or yelling at me,, instead the vendors were going about their business either talking with each other or looking at their mobile phones. Within the walls is Essaouira old city which appears to bve one huge Medina (market place) and while there were plenty of tourists about, they tend to not be so prominent as the locals going about their business. I could already tell after 20 minutes that I was going to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
To the south of city walls is the port itself, its full of local fishing markets, fishing boats which are predominantly blue in colour and there is an extended wharf which, a great place to watch locals go about their business of fishing and trading. I then walked along the beach to the north of the port onto the rocks that surround the west of the city, walls standing tall separating the Medina from the ocean, it looked quite surreal and is a filming location for Game of Thrones, there were also a few islands to the south. I then walked back into the city through the maze of streets which was easy to get lost in. Again this was a pleasant experience as no one was offering me guidance for a fee unlike my confrontational experience in the Marrakech Medina where locals were more than willing to give me directions and asking for tips (see my blog in Marrakech for more information regarding this).
Essaouira is a great place to shop and is the main location for wood craft and jewellery making for the whole of Morocco so there are a lot of products of high quality and are beautiful. There are cheaper goods such as knock off sports shirts / bags but the majority of shops appeared to sell quality products. The Medina sets a very casual pace and the easy to navigate lay out (once you know it) was much more pleasant shopping experience than what I had experienced in Marrakech. I walked through the maze, some of the passages had an enclosed roof, looking at the art on display, I then reached the city ramparts which people are allowed to walk on top of. This city wall makes for a good view of the Medina to the east, the city walls to the north and the islands to the south. There are a lot of old cannons no longer in use scattered along the rampart.
The city walls and buildings within the Medina are quite tall, lot of the buildings are 5 to 6 levels high and predominantly are white in colour with large blue doors, and open roof tops which can be accessed. A lot of these buildings were housing, restaurants and Riads, the city is a tourist hot spot so there is all different quality of Riad for five star to the hostel I was at, Essaouira caters for all levels of budget tourism. The hostel I stayed at had five stories and has a open roof space covered in Moroccan rugs, chairs, tables and a great view of the city. It was excellent for meeting other backpackers and watch the sunsets west of the city walls. The hostel also had live music every night, Moroccan with a bit of Rastafarian Jamaican flare, there was also a meal available every night of local tagine of great quality. Hanging out at the hostel was one of my highlight experiences in Morocco, talking travel in a sober environment which has an alcohol ban in place.
One of the main reasons people come here is water sports and the beach, the beach area is actually one huge bay with plenty of people taking advantage of the ultra-white sand and the beautiful clear blue ocean. There were a lot of kite and windsurfer to the south of the bay where the winds were high but the north of the beach near the city wall the ocean was very calm and not surf-able while I was, it appeared to be protected from the high wind by the city itself. I was not particularly keen to learn kite surfing so when not wandering through the Medina I spent most of my time laying on the beach, ignoring children attempting to sell me soft drink and spending time on the roof top of my hostel talking with other backpackers, it was all very chilled out.
At night is when the city really lights up, during the day particularly the morning, there are not many people about, the city starting to get progressively busier after Call to Prayer at 1pm. At night the city is very busy, the locals wandering around bargaining for local goods whether it being fish, clothing or live animals such as chickens and rabbits. The restaurants do a busy trade so whether you want something classy to really cheap street food, it caters for all and all tastes great. There was also an added bonus, the city has a cheap local bar, Morocco is a difficult place to find alcohol for sale in a shop let alone in a restaurant and when you do find a restaurant with booze prices are relatively expensive, so finding a cheap bar was like winning the lottery. The bar itself wasn’t the easiest place to find, unmarked behind a large ominous looking black door with a couple of non-de script locals standing out front. Once inside however the bar was light up and in full swing with locals and travelers alike drinking, drunk, singing and dancing. Well most the singing and dancing were local men with backpackers watching on, this was not something Id encountered in my few weeks in Morocco and really good fun.
After four nights I said goodbye to the friends Id made there and headed south on a bus to the city of Agadir. I’d been told that Agadir isn’t exactly a backpacker destination with a lot of resort style complexes and up market shopping, when I arrived I found this to be true. It was the quiet season apparently and I had booked a cheap hotel with a large swimming pool by the beach. After Marrakech, the Sahara and Essaouira, Id decided on pampering so I took advantage of this relatively cheap high-class accommodation. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the city and is comparable to any European sea side resort, the beach promenade with nice restaurants was quite pleasant.
The only traditional activity I engaged in was going to the local Medina and see if I could find something to purchase. Much like Essaouira the atmosphere was laid back and non confrontational, the market was huge and quite modern compared to other Medina’s Id visited and it sold all different types of crafts from cheap to expensive. There were a lot of jewelers and Id already decided I wanted a Moroccan ring, I entered a store and after some bargaining which was more banter than confrontational, we agreed a price. The ring did not fit so the vendor took me to another jewellery stand to resize it, we had a cup of mint tea, conversation about Morocco and Australia and after finishing up I walked away quite content with my shopping experience.
After a few days of relaxing I headed back to Marrakech as my flight to the United Kingdom was from there. I spent a few more days walking the Medina, but now that I was more experienced with Marrakech and had experienced other places in Morocco Id learnt to handle the hustle and bustle of the place and appreciated the market for what it had to offer. I was now comfortable in ignoring locals I did not want to speak to and was now experienced in handling Marrakech and the most amazing Medina of them all. I really enjoyed my Roam across Morocco, I have not traveled to some of the other popular destinations but I was comfortable with what I’d experienced and now have a better understanding of a very different culture that revolves around shopping, bargaining, beautiful places and little alcohol. Whether it’s the frantic in your face experience bartering experience in the beautiful and diverse maze that is Marrakech to a journey through the Atlas Mountains to the magical Sahara Desert for a night in a Bedouin tent or the beautiful Moroccan coast and the city of Essaouira with its walls, wonderful arts and crafts you can choose any or all, it just takes time. Hope you enjoyed the blog, next up will be my week around Ireland, some highlights of the United Kingdom and then its onto the USA…