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Published: November 4th 2011
On the coast of Morocco there is a picturesque and beautiful fishing village called Essaouira. We had not heard of this town until a few weeks ago when we had Dave and Suz over to our apartment for dinner (The Overlanders). This is one of the towns they explored when they came to Morocco and we are so happy that they mentioned it or we might not thought to stop here. We admit that a first glance of this town was reminiscent of some Greek villages due to the generally white buildings with blue trim that we have visited, but this place definitely has a Moroccan personality. As you approach the smallish harbor, seagulls en masse greet the returning fishing boats in the harbor. Our guide Mustfa tells us this town is nicknamed the “windy city”.
Strolling along the docks you see many venerable wooden fishing crafts and find vendor after vendor offering fresh fish, shrimp, crab, lobster that can be taken home or thrown on their grill for a fine lunch or dinner. We could not stop ourselves from sharing a grilled lobster that was fresh and sweet and provided us a fine meal.
We are always drawn
to the sea, we love the water and Essaouira is a must see if you find yourselves in Morocco. It is located several hours south of Casablanca. We are told it was a famous hippy hangout in the sixties and seventies, frequented by stars like Jimmie Hendrix and Cat Stevens. Orson Wells is said to have lived here for quite some time during the filming of Othello. The village is very, very windy and is well know for surfing and wind surfing. Each June 450,000 people flock to Essaouira from around the world so they can attend the four-day Gnaoua World Music Festival, otherwise known as the Moroccan Woodstock.
Our ryad is once again located within the town’s medina(walled city) and this type of lodging has once again proven to be a wise choice. This one is but a stone’s throw from the public square and the ocean. It also has a rooftop deck where we were able to watch an amazing sunset. By the number of photos we took you could surmise that we were enthralled.
In this town it looks like you can purchase a nice apartment for about 120,000 Euros or rent an apartment for
Fish for dinner
about $700 US per month. We imagine the ones with water views might cost a bit more. We understand why hippies of the 70’s and rock stars have been drawn to this quaint seaside village. This town is a back packers paradise because of the inexpensive meals and housing.
We’d like to back up for a moment and provide a bit of information because when you look at our photos you are going to see some goats in argon trees. Yes, this is not a misprint and we didn’t accidentally ingest some hallucinogens from a street vendor. Seriously.
On the drive from Marrakesh to Essaouira you will find these argon trees. Apparently they don’t grow just anywhere, with Mexico and Morocco being where the majority of them are located. Anyway, the argon tree produces a nut that is turned into oils for cooking and used in cosmetics. As this is a desert area, it can be difficult for the goats to find enough to eat so they have learned to climb the argon trees for the nuts. Very Darwinian, no? These are small goats that don’t weigh very much and the trees are sturdy enough to hold their
weight. We’ve seen these postcards all around the country and wanted to take a look. The tree we came upon must have had six goats in it and two guys waiting along the road to take photos of any visitors who were interested. It does not take much to figure out that this is a tourists trap similar to the guy in the turban with the camel.....but none the less.... we stopped and enjoyed taking pictures. We suppose it is possible that the goats originally made their way into the trees for the nuts but we assume that they are now helped into the trees and enticed to stay there so the locals can gain a few tips. MJ was excited to see the goats in the trees – a bit of the luster wore off after Dave mentioned that the “only” tree with goats in it was right by the road. OK, it was a tourists trap.....but sometimes that is just ok. These goats are seriously cute and the locals need to find creative ways to earn a living.
We published our last blog on our last afternoon in Marrakesh thinking there would not be any additional comments
concerning Marrakesh. This proved to be incorrect thinking on our part. Our last night we went to the square to have dinner. If you have not experienced the Marrakesh square at night you have not experienced Marrakesh! This particular evening was even more crowded than usual with locals because of the upcoming Muslim holiday. The square has three mosques, many restaurants and trinket shops, there are vendors galore—food, toys, and clothes of all kind. It is captivating to see a square this large packed with travelers and locals enjoying the moment and haggling for goods. We enjoyed the sunset and views of the square from the corner open window at our restaurant where we enjoyed one more fantastic Moroccan meal. We have simply run out of apt description and compliments for the food in this hypnotic and bewitching land.
A few more notes before we end it here…….In Morocco public education is free kindergarten through high school. Some parents choose to send their children for a private education. There is one private university in the country but all others are public and offer a free college education for Moroccans if they can pass the entrance exam and have good
marks. We were surprised to learn that in university classes are often taught in French rather than Arabic. The French influence in this country remains strong. Many Moroccans are multi-lingual speaking Arabic, French, English and often times Spanish or Italian. All of these languages are taught in school and if you encounter a Moroccan who is not conversant in these languages they more than likely did not complete school or choose not to talk with you in your native language.
Social security starts at age 60 and as in most countries it is not enough to live on. One must save enough money in their life to be comfortable in old age. It is traditional to live in multi-generational homes and the older folks are taken care of by their children oftentimes.
Early in our trip we noticed a plethora of cats but not many dogs in this country. Being animal lovers we had to question this and learned that Muslims don’t view dogs as clean animals and because of they are such considerate people they do not want to own them because they would not want the barking to disturb their neighbors. Cats roam free all over
this country. In Marrakesh we saw more dogs than in any city we visited. Here in Essaouria, the dogs look great, are clean and look like house pets. Perhaps this is due to the Europeans, who come and stay here for extended periods of time.
Moroccan architecture varies from region to region. There are some 16 districts and they are all somewhat unique. There are many beautiful doorways and windows, and it not unusual for the exterior of the home to be quite unassuming, while the inside is quite nice and well appointed. Our guide also mentioned that many houses of new construction appear from the outside not to be completed. This is due to the fact that if a house is “unfinished,” there is a savings on taxes for that dwelling. Hard to imagine this type of concept in the western world.
As we mentioned in our first Moroccan blog was stayed in ryads on this trip. They are wonderful homes shaped in a square with a center courtyard, generally with a fountain and often, open air in the courtyard. Imagine if you will that you are strolling down a non-descript lane in within a walled city
and you come to a very nice wooden door. This could very well be the entrance to a ryad. Once inside you are normally delighted with the design and 15 foot ceilings. If you are coming to Morocco we recommend staying in a ryad. Send us a note and we can recommend the ones that we have stayed in.
From Essaouria to Casablanca is a lovely five-hour drive along the coastal highway. The weather report for the day was cloudy, windy and stormy. We are generally lucky where the weather is concerned and the day was far sunnier than expected. Once again we were surprised by the changes in topography along our drive. We saw beautiful sandy beaches, rugged cliffs with winding roads, a forested section with tuya trees and rich fertile farmlands where tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and a few grains are grown. We passed salt fields, oyster farms and a fertilizer processing plant. Seems phosphate is the leading mineral export and used quite heavily in fertilizers. Morocco is one of the world’s leaders in phosphate.
We also made a stop on the way to our hotel in Casablanca to the Marjane store. This was interesting as it
He loves tourists
Would you like to get my goat
was somewhere between a mall and a Walmart Superstore equivalent in Morocco. It had everything the discerning modern Moroccan would want. Computers, washing machines, clothing, fresh fish, spices, you name it.
Ask us about our last night in Morocco, on the 15th floor of our hotel--
all the lights went out. No power for more than an hour........interesting.
As we conclude our journey, we have been enriched yet again by another diverse culture, which continues to teach us more about the citizens of this planet and how they cope with the issues and challenges around them, all the while being amazed at the friendliness of most through it all. We highly recommend Morocco.
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