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Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Essaouira
December 22nd 2017
Published: January 5th 2018
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Dec. 22nd – 25th

Well, from here on out this whole things slows to a crawl and we drop into the sleepy beachside vibe of Essaouira. We slow roll the alleys, stopping to dig on street food and street cats. We climb across the rocky sea wall surrounding the ancient walls of the fortress that contains the medina and marvel at the coast, the Atlantic and the seabirds. The tide is starting to come in and around each curve the wall keeps coming and an entrance back into the medina is not visible. It’s a high wall with parapets and some cannons that we are given to believe is where Calisi first addressed the Un-Sullied. Game of Thrones is so good that this actually feels like a historical location! UNESCO is going to have to open a TV division. Our intention is to spend our last vacation days doing nothing and eating everything. But then we find a way to do less than nothing... after we find a broken wall that lets us escape the shortening beach and approaching tide.

Soon after we get a hammam and massage. A hammam is a sort of Turkish bath/spa treatment thing. It’s social and traditional here that happens at all levels of price. At the public range, it’s a bathhouse. Genders are separated and locals go there to get a deep clean. Before Village People music starts thumping in your head, it’s totally not like that. The men wear something like a towel or shorts and when they don’t the other men get uncomfortable. The women, however, do go naked, but it’s not like that either (actually, Julie's masseuse did kiss her… but we’ll get to that in a second). The women actually go to the local hammam, not only to bathe and chat, but to find wives for their sons! If the girls are naked, the mother can make a more, um, thoughtful choice.

This particular tourist-oriented (read; expensive ) hammam had their couple thing worked out. So, we are shown to small shower rooms with lockers and given our treatment garment. For Julie it’s a paper g-string thing that looks kind of nice on her in spite of its crappy-disposable-ness and for Steve it’s these weird puffy briefs that fit like a combination of Musketeer pantaloons and Richard Simmon’s gym shorts. They are clearly designed to ensure that the all-female staff of treatment therapists will not in any way be attracted to the men.

First stop, a small steam room with stone benches on either side. The benches have indents to surround whoever lies in them and the stone itself is heated, as are the walls and floor. We are splashed with hot water and smeared with some oily glop and left to lay there for fifteen minutes while the room packs with thick, hot steam. The ladies come in every few minutes and ask, "Ca va?" Just as we’re beginning to understand the discomforts of asthma, the ladies return and we are lead to another warm room where the scrub begins. Using a fresh scrubby (very important, this. Julie was scrubbed with what must have been a used scrubby at the Korean version of a hammam in Koreatown, LA and found herself with a skin condition the name of which, if shared, would have you hesitant to hug her the next time you got together) the women start, well, scrubbing. Because of sexual mores in the Muslim world, Julie is getting a more thorough scrubbing than Steve, but it’s all good. Next a little rest in a robe with a cool beverage, then massage time.

It’s kind of Swedish kind of thing with much rubbing, and little knot removal, but it feels great. At the end of the hour, we’re kind of swaddled and, as Julie’s masseuse pulls the hood around her face, she kisses Julie gently on the cheek. WTF? First, the masseuse in Fes covers more massage real estate than our laws back home allow, then a kiss? Clearly, Julie has these poor women questioning everything they thought they knew about themselves. Julie is far more flattered than bothered by the attention and is not questioning anything about herself.

Anyway, what else? We eat at the local gourmet restaurant where the décor and the plating are the work of some Frenchmen and that’s cool. There’s live music, which alternates between a Kenny G-style, smooth sax player who disturbs our digestion and a Reggae dude who brings everything back where it should be. We continue spending our days just meeting shopkeepers, grazing on street food and having tea and eating more stuff and, basically just futzing around. We've become ferocious negotiators as we learn that walking away is the only way. They go high, you go about 50%!l(MISSING)ess, they tell you they cannot possibly. You say you totally understand and respect that and that you didn’t mean to insult them and walk away and they drop 40%!a(MISSING)nd you buy. Over and over. This technique got Steve a lovely pair of real* RayBans to replace the pair of sunglasses he gave to Driss.

Let’s just fast forward a little bit.

Dec. 26th

It’s time to leave Essaouira. We make the executive decision to spend a lot more than the bus and hire a grand taxi to drive us the 6 hours to Casablanca. It’s just easier and it's on our time schedule with door-to-door service for our next hotel. And the plan works well. The drive is long but we’re resolved to those now and find our countryside-whizzing-by zen. The drive is like a curtain call of Morocco as we pass wide farms with teams of horses (or a horse and a mule, or a donkey and another hoofed something) pulling plows, horse or donkey-drawn carts hauling whole families or teams of workers up the dirt shoulders of the two-lane highway. Towns having their weekly markets bustling with the comings and goings of home raised products. Shepherds directing their flocks of goats or sheep around sparse patches of green growth. Two Comicon geeks arguing loudly about the adherence to the original texts in the second Guardians of the Galaxy film – - SEE!? See what disconnected from life bullshit all this pop culture is? Of course there weren’t two geeks – there are NO geeks, because being a geek is a luxury virtually no geek will ever know they’re enjoying because they live in geek world and this is world world. We’re headed home and we know the culture shock will be intense because we don’t live in America; we live on Earth and most of Earth isn’t media-driven, brainwashed bullshit. It’s survival on a day-to-day basis and embracing the real things like a human interactions that are generated by actual life, not TV writers. That said, the whole having a house and well-stocked stores everywhere is nothing to sneeze at. The trick is balancing humanity with modernity and it’s not an easy one.

We're staying in an nicely upscale efficiency apartment hotel in Casablanca, so we're hoping for AM coffee before heading down to the breakfast buffet. But things don't go as planned when Julie burns the electric kettle on the electric cooktop. Oops. We ventilate the room and avail ourselves of a pretty great breakfast buffet at the hotel, then pack but leave the bags in the room because we actually have time to visit the Hassan II Mosque. This is kind of a must-see for a couple of reasons, first, it's so big you could park Notre Dame in it like a garage and still have space to put the church on a lift and change its holy water and second, because as non-Muslims, we're not usually allowed to walk into any mosques. The building is right around the corner, and it should be noted that its 690 foot minaret is not far from us at all. However, unlike the scratchy, mega-decibel fuzz box of devotion we were saddled with for the last four nights, this call to prayer is cleanly mixed, lower volume, much shorter and melodic. The building itself is quite a thing. It's basically hollow inside but trimmed with ornate carvings, spectacular columns and Morano glass chandeliers. It's so wide and high the Statue of Liberty could walk around in this place in her underwear looking for a late night snack (pork rinds are out of the question!). It's dramatically large and the tour is informative enough, but we're suddenly surrounded by Americans and feeling anything but patriotic. Have we always been such a mess of square-headed dolts.. oh, yeah, right?

Okay, so now we go get our luggage and, seeing that Uber services the area, and we'd love to charge the ride, we hook ourselves up. When the ride shows, we make the mistake of not pretending he's a friend and have to hurry into the car with apologies to the doorman and the fast-approaching cab drivers. Our driver is another reasonably devout Muslim and we have about forty minutes to discuss our beliefs, or his and our lack thereof. He's a very bright guy who has spent a couple of years in Canada and speaks five languages. We're able to agree that the golden rule (Do unto, etc.) is the most basic tenet of all religion and that we practice that, which beats saying we're a member of a religion and acting like dicks.

No problem at the airport, though security
Vegan jointVegan jointVegan joint

Charming Abdul Maumoon and the girl at the restaurant he's probably not supposed to be seeing pose for a picture. The soup we ordered took about 45 minutes to make because she made it from scratch.
is tight and we go through various check points. No problem on the two hour flight to Istanbul. Turkish Air has an offer where if you have a long layover, they’ll put you up in a hotel overnight and if you have the time in the morning, and we do, they’ll take you on a 2 ½ hour tour of the city! So, we head to customs to get to the Turkish Air desk to take advantage of the offers and (sound of breaks screeching… )

Apparently, a pair of shit head fascist presidents got into a pissing contest and now visas aren’t being issued to US citizens. Remember when we were the gold standard of visitors around the world? Why do you think the Turkish Tourist Board wants to roll out the red carpet in the first place? But now, we’re undesirables! I know you’ve made it this far, but if you actually support the waste of cholesterol who won our last presidential election, get the fuck off our blog. Thanks. So, now what? Fifteen hours, no hotel. What we need is a miracle (cue the harps).

Thanks to our frugal collection of frequent flyer miles, we have been traveling business class on this trip. This means we've had access to the first and business class lounges at the various airports, which would include this one. But this one isn’t like the others. It’s massive and so unthinkably well-appointed that it should have a Michelin star! Honestly, a proper written treatment of this place would double the length of this blog, so here is a link to a proper review; https://travelcodex.com/lounge-review-turkish-airlines-cip-lounge-at-istanbul/ . The review will show you the booze we drank, food we ate and the great little suite they gave us to sleep in! Of course that was followed by a breakfast buffet, espresso and a private shower room. We may be a little under-traveled and not know that this is standard in other places, but we’ve never seen anything like it and the fifteen hours was, of all things, a pleasure. Oh, and, since we’re not adding more blogs, we’ll flash forward; it turns out the visa ban was lifted the next day. DOH!

Okay, that’s it. As we nestle into our business class cocoons for the 14 ½ hour flight home, we thank you for following our adventure this year – and previous years if you did – and wish you all success or at least survival in 2018**.

*Totally not real. However, the lenses, which did not pass the Polarized test, cut glare remarkably well, so re-visit your bootleg sunglass guys if you’re on vacation and need a pair. These were about $20, but they actually work!

**If you’ve been following the blog, please take a second to leave a quick comment. We’re just curious to know how many people were with us. Thanks.

Additional photos below
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5th January 2018

Terrific blogs
I have thoroughly appreciated every blog, as usual. Glad you had such an exotic trip and glad you're home. Your writing is a delight both for the descriptive date and for your writing skills. Love you
6th January 2018

another great adventure
We really enjoyed the entire journey! Thanks for letting us come along!
6th January 2018

Is it wrong to say I'm sorry you're home?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my travels with you both! Your descriptiveness, humor, photos...I almost feel as though I was there! Thank you for sharing your incredible journey. Again I say...I really do see a book in these blogs. You have brought to life places that most will never get to experience like you have. Kudos to you both! So proud to call you family and friends! Much love!!
30th June 2020

Spain and Morocco
I just binge read all your blogs from this trip! For the most part, we seem to have had similar thoughts about Morocco and its people. Sorry to read about your panic attack, that would have been awful. Nice recovery in Essaouira though :)
2nd July 2020

Thanks for reading
I'm happy to say it was my first and last severe anxiety attack, which given the state of the world is surprising! I'm looking forward to reading your next installment(s). If you're curious about our SE Asia (it includes my directing a show that stars landmine victims) or India/Nepal including a surprise (really) visit to Kashmir, let me know an email address and I can send the files. Where are you hoping to visit first once you can travel again? As you know, you may have been instrumental in our likelihood of it being Loas. Best, Steve

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