Where the city meets the sea

Days: 469-470 (7 October 2015 – 8 October 2015)

Total distance travelled: 124,804.3 kilometres (77,518.17 miles)

Today was one of promise, the prospect of being able to breathe in cool sea air by days end very real, however first we had to get there.

Given that we’d begin the morning in the High Atlas Mountains, this meant a long day of travel lay ahead.

Still, it wasn’t the worst morning, nor were they the worst views to wake up for…

Starting our morning in the High Atlas Mountains

Starting our morning in the High Atlas Mountains

From these dizzying heights (somewhere around two thousand, two hundred metres), it was all downhill, and our path even took us back through the outskirts of Marrakesh.

It was inevitable that we’d eventually stop for lunch at some point, but stop to check out some trees (that didn’t look all that special), that seemed a little odd.

Turns out this was an Argan tree, endemic to Morocco, and the nut of which is used in both food and cosmetic products (often called Moroccan Oil, instead of Argan Oil).

It should come as little surprise that we also visited a nearby co-operative where after a brief tour and demonstration of the oil extraction (all by hand), there was a brief tasting of the peanut butter like paste produced (as well as the oil), before the hard sell began.

The Argania spinosa, more commonly known as the Argan tree (left) & Women grind the nut for its culinary and cosmetic uses (right)

The Argania spinosa, more commonly known as the Argan tree (left) & Women grind the nut for its culinary and cosmetic uses (right)

As a result of our various stops, the mornings winding mountain roads, and the sheer distance we were travelling, it was late afternoon before we made it to the coast and our destination, Essaouira.

This UNESCO listed city would be home for two nights, and it was immediately noticeable how much cooler we already were, with the wind rolling in straight off the Atlantic.

Sure the day was late, but that didn’t mean there was no time for us to explore both this new city, and the options it presented for dinner.

The world game...

The world game

Immediately this place felt different to every other Moroccan city we’d been.

It’s not that the city and its people were more liberal, however as a coastal town, it attracts a lot more European tourists who, rightly or in my view rather wrongly, display a lot more flesh than the average Muslim (I’m not remotely religious, but I do think respect for the locals is of paramount importance).

A higher tourist presence however, also brings with it, higher tourist prices.

With gulls screeching above, we opted out of the many overprice restaurants we found, instead opting for a cheaper street eat, before calling it a day and retiring relatively early.

A pre-dinner explore of this city by the sea

A pre-dinner explore of this city by the sea

With a light schedule for the day to come (as in group commitments), there was little urgency in rising early, so after a relaxing breakfast, it was a case of retracing our steps back to the old city and enjoy the opportunity to explore it during the day.

The gulls were no less present (or quieter) by day and when we discovered where the posses of fisherman gutted their catch, it did honestly make me wonder how much bird shit made its way onto the fish and men below, as a flight of gulls seemingly hovered in place above.

The poachers of the sky

The poachers of the sky

It was actually pretty awesome to behold.

Our explorations centred initially around the harbour, we’d already wandered enough medinas already, the attraction of something different winning out.

At first glance, the place was a sea of blue, and that wasn’t the water we’re talking about, in a scene that felt to me, very west African.

The harbour , a sea of blue

The harbour of Essaouira, a sea of blue

The area was a hive of activity, as fisherman returned with their catch, boats were being scrapped or repaired, fish were being sold, tourists wandered, and gulls and cats alike lingered in the hope of finding a tasty morsel.

Then you insert the smell.

A combination of raw fish, salty water and finally the delicious aroma of barbecue.

It was a small regret that we’d so recently eaten, as a series of grills were set up nearby where one could purchase this ridiculously fresh ocean bounty, and then pay one of these entrepreneurial locals to cook it over hot coals.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

Where there's ocean, there's fish (usually)... (left) & Where there's fish, there are seagulls! (right)

Where there’s ocean, there’s fish (usually)… (left) & Where there’s fish, there are seagulls! (right)

The smell was something pretty special, and it had us adamant that dinner (or lunch… or both) would most certainly be some fare from the sea.

With languid being the order of the day, once we’d concluded our explorations of the waterfront, it was back to the hotel to while away the day in a pretty lazy manner, night providing an opportunity to catch up with the group for a potential dinner with the complete posse.

Our desire for the fruits of the sea however weren’t universal, so whilst we three plus another went in search of seafood, the others, completely spent with Moroccan fare, opted for an expensive feed at an Italian joint.

We had an idea where to head, having sighted a series of barbecue shacks not far from the harbour precinct, a sumptuous sunset offering a lovely finale for the day.

With more than a dozen seafood shacks, our selection was made a little easier by the fact that at this time of year (or day), not all of them were actually open.

Our final selection, based on a combination of price and apparent (to our untrained eyes) quality.

It’s entirely possible it wasn’t the best selection, but given there were soon four satisfied customers, we were certainly not left disappointed!

The sun sets in the west (left) & Enjoying the bounty of the sea (right)

The sun sets in the west (left) & Enjoying our ocean catch (right)

Morning saw us up early, after concluding our previous night with a single beer at an overpriced, rooftop bar, today our wanderings taking us beyond the souk and into the ‘real’ Essaouira, the place where the locals live and breathe.

A lovely mix of colour, ruin, dirt and sound that was a nice escape from the typical tourist crowded streets closer to the waterfront.

A splash of local colour (left) & Putting it all on the line... (right)

A splash of local colour (left) & Putting it all on the line… (right)

A final lunch and we were all aboard the party bus and on our way back to Marrakesh

 

Notes:

* Our flights from London Gatwick to Marrakesh (via Casablanca) with Royal Air Maroc cost us £88.09 per person.

* Our 15 night Morocco tour was booked through On-the-go travel, and costs per person vary depending on the season.

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9 Responses to Where the city meets the sea

  1. We loved our time in Essaouira. We ended up extending our time by 2 days to take in more of the relaxed and beautiful atmosphere.

  2. What a beautiful city! The splash of colourful and the sea of blue are a sight to behold. The sea gulls flying above and the wonderful streets are charming. Absolutely loved the pictures! Could feel I was in the city, reading your post.

  3. Sounds like a really great dinner, fresh fish grilled by the harbour, surrounded by real local life. Memories like that are golden. Funny about all those gulls though. I guess it would be inevitable that some droppings would make their way onto the fish and fishermen.

  4. Tami says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your narrative on Essaouira. I could almost feel I was experiencing it along side you, and I could totally imagine the smells as you described them! Your photos capture the thoughts well. Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful city with us.

  5. Elena Nemets says:

    Wow, you are really counting the miles traveled!!! What a thorough approach!

  6. Ami Bhat says:

    Sounds like quite a cultural experience. I would love to team it with Marrakech. Thanks for sharing it

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