The school holidays have descended on Morocco, which means my quiet days are now a thing of the past. Screaming children! Screaming children everywhere! So last weekend was the perfect time to get away on my own for a few days, and what better place to forget it all than the sunny seaside town of Essaouira?
An easy two and a half hour bus ride from Marrakech was all it took to leave the hustle and bustle of Morocco’s biggest tourist attraction and find myself on the coast with the sea breeze in my hair. Although still a popular tourist destination, Essaouira is certainly a city with a slower rhythm. The markets are less crowded, the people less pushy and you can spend all day at the beach drinking freshly squeezed orange juice watching surfers ride the waves or kids building sand castles.
As I was only staying for one night I found a cosy little riad right in the centre of the medina. The privacy of my own room was a welcome reprieve but I didn’t feel locked away from everything like in a hotel. It was a nice balance. Plus the free breakfast was super tasty!
I spent the first day walking around the ports and along the battlements of the city. The walls are lined with cannons from the 1700s, still gazing out to sea in search of marauding pirates. This was my kind of place! Little fishing vessels and large ships lay scattered over the docks and stalls selling fish jostled for space. I can’t say the smell was overly appetising but it was certainly a great atmosphere.
On my second day, having suffered a rather bad bout of sunburn and feeling like I could guide Santa’s slay no matter how dark it was, I stuck to the markets and winding streets of the medina. Here I came across a small store selling an assortment of metal jewellery, ornamental knives and all sorts of other examples of Moroccan craftsmanship. The young man told me to take a seat by a low table and with a feeling of “uh, what’s going to happen now?’ I sat.
Explaining that he was from the Sahara he proceeded to show me necklaces with pendants in the shapes of traditional compasses, the hand of Fatima, and other African artefacts. Having recently been to the Berber museum in the Majorelle gardens, a necklace with Berber alphabet caught my attention so when he asked which one I’d like that was the first that came to mind.
He drew up a grid with our names in Arabic on the top and wrote a price on his side. Not sure that I wanted to commit to buying anything I put a much lower price and to my surprise he accepted it, no further bartering needed. Damn, I should have gone lower! But I was beginning to enjoy myself as he chatted in stilted English about the places he had worked and the different languages he had picked up through his encounters with tourists. He gave me a leather strap for free and showed me how to tie it if I got sick f the other string. Then he brought out a gas cooker and set about making us some tea.
We chatted for a while more as he showed me the ins and outs of making Moroccan tea and then we drank, completely ignoring the outside world. Didn’t he have work to do?! When we were finished he showed me how to wear a turban in the Sahara fashion and said I was worth 3,000 camels. I tried to take it as a compliment instead of feeling offended at being referred to as property that could be bought and sold. Then it was time to be off. I thanked him for a lovely morning, we shook hands and I headed back into the colourful street.
I had a plate of couscous before setting off for the bus. Back to the real world.