October 17th, 2018, Le Boheme, Essaouira


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Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Essaouira
October 21st 2018
Published: October 21st 2018
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October 13th, 2018

Altight! Here I am writing again. I would have done so in the car last night, but the road from Essaouira to Agadir was unexpectedly winding and narrow. In the dark and in the backseat my stomach rebelled. Yup, I came very close to upchucking my supper. Also, the day in Essaouira was so all consuming both mentally and physically, that my brain turned to oatmeal by the end of the day.

So let’s back up. Essaouira.

Ok, so I told you already that seeing too many tourists irks me. I mean, if I wanted to see white people everywhere, I’d stay in Canada. Sorry my white peeps, but we are a boring and entitled bunch; a glaringly obvious fact when you observe “our kind” in non-European dominated countries, taking in the local culture like connoisseurs.

On our way to Morocco, Hassan and I had an eleven hour layover in Frankfurt, so we took the train downtown for a little taste of the town. Germans are an orderly and well behaved bunch. There were even public toilets on the train! Pristinely clean toilets because Germans are clean. I imagined toilets on the Skytrains in Vancouver and could visualize exactly why there are not toilets on the Skytrains in Vancouver.

Downtown Frankfurt was lovely. Beautiful, old buildings and churches; upright and upstanding citizens everywhere; and of course the lovely sandwiches and coffee we came looking for. We were sitting in one of many cobblestone streets eating our perfect lunch, when on the breeze came the distinct smell of sewage. App-e-ti-zing. At first the breezes were infrequent, so the smell passed quickly; but soon the breeze was persistent and I’d had enough. I jumped up, turned around, and spotted a man hole with little vent holes in it upwind from us. Nothing like the smell of feces to remind you that we are all the same. We all shit, and yes my fellow Europeans, our shit stinks, no matter how hidden beneath the orderly streets.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten my political incorrectness out of the way, back to my original point: Essaouira is a very cool city in so many ways. Way cool. Therefore it is crawling with tourists. Where there is tourism there is cleanliness and order. Well, more like more cleanliness and more order, with high end restaurants and spas.

Essaouira is known both as the City of Music and the City of Hippies. There are hippies everywhere. Hippies from all over the planet. I think this is largely because Jimi Hendrix visited Essaouira and fell in love. I can understand why. This is a truly bohemian city. Morocco has been a spiritual and artistic refuge for many a western musician, poet, writer and artist throughout history. Even ol’ Bob Dylan mentions Tangier in one of his songs.

This city has festivals constantly. We had just missed one the previous week and left before a huge Gnaoua festival that’s happening this coming weekend.

So, in my last post I spelled Gnaoua “Ignawa”. I had it wrong, but I’m not going to go back and change it. This blog is going to have imperfections. I used to be a maestro of punctuation, for example, but I’ve lost my touch somewhat. There will also be words like “and” missing here and there. I’m just going to leave my posts that way. I get intensely OCD when I edit my work and can go down the rabbit hole for hours if I allow myself. I’m finding all of this writing on an iPhone pretty challenging too! It’s all a labour of love my friends. Love, love, love.

Our introduction to the city of Mogador (Essouira’s original name) was a ridiculously overpriced seafood meal at one of several mini seafood restaurants lined up between the parking lot and the ocean. It was recommended to us by the guy working in the lot when we arrived. Oh sure, it’s an especially excellent restaurant. You better believe all those guys know each other. Making money off of tourists is like shooting fish in a barrel for them.

So, we sit down after picking our seafood, and soon after that we discover that the lobster I ordered was gonna cost us the equivalent of $169.00 CAD. Haaaaaang on just a minute here. Ya. I’m a white tourist. Hassan and Aziz are essentially Canadian and Austrian respectively; but we ain’t that freakin’ stupid! Fuck your lobster anyway. Let it sit there for another couple days, ya con artists. We stuck with the sardines, a snapper and a flounder. The meal still cost us 400 dirham - way too much for this country.

These guys sniff us out everywhere. In the Marrakech market, a shop vendor followed after Hassan trying to redirect him toward his inventory. Trying to be familiar and build some fast-thinking rapport, he repeatedly asked Hassan if he was Canadian. When Hassan finally conceded that he was, he asked while continuing to walk away, “How did you know?” The guy told him he could smell it on him. Hassan laughed and told him he was a very bad man.

Learning from our first fruits of the sea experience on day one, day two we decided to go to the market where locals buy their fish. At the back of the fish market, there are little restaurants where they cook your fish and serve it to you with bread, har (hot sauce), French fries, an abundance of olives and pop or tea. The meal cost us $110 dirham for all of us. Travelling with citizens has many benefits.

There are very, very few motorized bikes within the old city walls. Their presence is regulated. I appreciated that fact greatly. Walking through the quiet, maze-like streets without the stench of exhaust and the constant buzzing of motorized vehicles was a very unique experience. It felt like I was experiencing the original atmosphere of the place. Walking along the inside of the ancient city walls in silence gave me goosebumps.

The old city is breathtakingly beautiful and we were lucky enough to find a gorgeous, apartment for rent inside. It belonged to a friend of a worker from the $169.00 lobster restaurant. Everyone here knows a guy and their recommendations are reciprocal. They’ve got the hustle in their bones. So hey, expensive seafood aside, every experience leads into another, doesn’t it? A real life “choose your own ending” story.

That apartment blew the first one out of the water. Staying in a building that old almost made my head explode. So, so, so, pretty! Bohemian beyond belief. Authentically bohemian! Wood ceilings; Moroccan lantern pendent lamps and wall sconces; small, cozy rooms; and character to spare.

We spent the entire second day walking through the market. I must warn you if you visit the city, these Essaourians drive a hard friggin’ bargain. They deal with boatloads of tourists every day. I’ve never experienced such firm bartering here, and this is my third time in Morocco. The market is the creme de la creme of markets. It is filled with gorgeous leather bags (I picked up a lovely one while there) and the best of all the artisanal goods from around the country; but the one thing the city specializes in is woodworking with a hardwood from the Arar tree. Furniture, lanterns and an abundance of other things are made with both the trunk and the roots of the tree. Anything made of the roots is more expensive. The root wood is filled with bird’s eye and is characterized by a darker colour and a rock hard consistency. It is absolutely beautiful. Tabletops are made with intricate inlay patterns that are extremely labour intensive and aren’t cheap, even when you buy them here. The inlays are often adorned with pieces of mother of pearl.

The city has an interesting history. It was the home of many Jews, and was colonized by both the French and the Portuguese, making different parts of the city look a little bit different. French colonial windows are square. Portuguese colonial windows always have an arch on the top.

It is noteworthy to mention that the mayor of Essaouira, appointed by the king, is Jewish. What I love about this Islamic country is that it is so progressive. Freedom of religion is a right of the people. The current king modernized and opened the doors and windows of his country. There is a reason why Morocco didn’t get swept up into the “Arab Spring”. His country is a democratic monarchy and during the Spring, when the people said, “We want the monarchy to give more power to the elected government,” he immediately obliged, diffusing all tension within the country.

Women can be seen everywhere in public life. There are women in the government, in the army, in the police force, on the TV news anchoring, in traditional clothing, in Western clothing with or without make-up...and they all walk proudly in the street, heads held high, without male escorts and completely equal to men in every way.

The police force is educated and paid properly, so there is no need for them to take bribes and survive through extortion. They feel honoured to hold their positions like members of the police force in Canada and the people do not fear them.

There are bars and nightclubs even though Islam forbids drinking alcohol; because the country relies on tourism as a major contributor to their economy and because the king has given the citizens the freedom to choose. To paraphrase the king, he said that he was not going to govern the private lives of the people. If you drink be discreet and in all things that you do, be respectful of others. Respect public life.

Homosexuality is not illegal and violence towards homosexuals is not tolerated. Again, in everything you do, be discreet. It is equally disrespectful for heterosexuals to engage in public displays of affection as well. To prevent others from feeling uncomfortable and to respect others’ beliefs, discretion and modesty are expected while in public. To be honest, I don’t mind it at all.

Free speech is a right and people talk politics in cafes without the fear they lived with under the former king’s rule. The current king is a wise king. He knows that if you open your country to outsiders, outside ideas and ways of life will come in with them and that fact cannot be avoided. He himself was educated in France, and I must say that he has his country moving in the right direction.

But now I must sign off. Next stop Agadir, where Hassan’s brother and sister-in-law (both doctors) live.

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