Recharging in Essaouira

Published: July 5th 2009
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The view from Hotel Smara is enticing, but it's the only good thing about it.
Essaouira is an oasis in all the ways that Marrakech is not. The sea breeze eases the scorching heat in even the narrowest alleyways, the locals are wealthy enough that they only hassle half-heartedly, and the accommodations are top notch. Ironically, this is where myself and friends have endured some of the scourges of Morocco: bedbugs, stomach bugs, and belligerent street confrontations. But, at least we were able to retire to some relative comfort afterward.

The only complaints I can muster up about this town is that it is perhaps too perfect. The Frenchman who works at our hotel described it as being ^like a movie.^ Indeed, the smooth, clean brickwork in the streets seem to be transported from a Hollywood set and all the alleys and squares buzz with legitimate extras, despite the tourist enclaves. The woodworkers and tailors and ironworkers on the side streets hammer and stitch and weld as though they are in establishing shots of the city. The city walls, frequented by jamming musicians in the evenings, sport antique cannons and seem to meld with the sea rocks below.

***Beware of Hotel Smara. The guidebooks praise it as a worthy budget accommodation and describe it as being clean and acceptable, but this was far from my experience. The front desk was indifferent and misleading from the start. The clerk claimed that the place was full and that they are always busy, eliminating the possibility for negotiation and coercing us into paying for two nights. We soon discovered that the place was nearly empty and later learned that there is a 12AM curfew. The tiled floors of the rooms seem to have never been cleaned and the sheets are raspy and clearly not cleaned. When I informed the front desk that the toilet was clogged, the clerk was unconcerned. We comforted ourselves in the solace of the terrace view (see photo below) and planned to find somewhere new in a few days. After the first night, however, Kit awoke with horrifying bites all over his back (see photo below). Since I had none on mine, we figured it must have been from only the one bed and requested to change rooms. Again the clerk was unconcerned and tried to blame the bites on the bus... he changed his tune when he saw the evidence, though. The next night the same thing happened to Kit, but

Luckily this is Kit's back, not mine. Apparently I was getting eaten by the bugs as well, but I didn't have an allergic reaction to them. Actually, the day after this one it was far worse, but it was no longer humorous, and I didn't ask to take a photo.
he was in too much agony to even request a new photo of his back, but it was actually worse than the one I took. To top it off, a French girl and Spanish girl we met stayed in the luxury suite and had pieces of the ceiling falling on them while they slept.

*** Instead, drop some extra cash for Riad Sidi Magdoul Hotel; 21, rue Abdesmih Essaouira (Medina)
+212 (0) 24 47 48 47 I could praise this hotel until the disgusting mouse pad on this computer dries, but essentially it is the opposite of Smara. The staff is friendly and helpful and are music connoisseurs, arranging live performances for many nights and playing music throughout the day.


Make friends with the alcohol shop. To get there, walk out of Bab Doukkala (the exit from the Medina on the NE side of town, past the open sewage pit) and make a right. There are two shops right next to each other, and other than on the black market, these are the only places to buy take-out booze. They are closed on Friday.

The tourist bars are mostly poor Miami imitations. For a real experience, ask about Le Trou (The Hole). Tucked way at the end of a winding alleyway, this smoky, raucous drinking hole was cheap and real. My friend Stavros described the place as being like the bar in Star Wars and I can certainly see the similarities, except if you are a woman, you will certainly be the only one there.

For food, at least one night you must make it to the docks (in blue stalls on the way there) where you can haggle for some fresh grilled fish (see photo). Visit at least two of the stalls before choosing in order to better your price. Choose the freshest looking fish and make sure that they grill up the ones you request. For basically an all you want to eat meal, expect to pay about 60 or 70 dirhams (6-7 euro). The price should include some very good French bread, Moroccan salad, and drinks.

More to come: day trip south, encounter with the moroccan police, tea with shopowners, "Camel? Taxi? Later?"

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