Some of us knew we wanted to go to Essaouira, a UNESCO World Heritage listed city, on the Atlantic coast. (It is pronounced: Eh-swear-uh.) We waited until Sunday to go, the very last minute, in hopes that Marianne and Susan could join us. But they had other tasks they needed to complete: they were searching for tiles for their bathroom at home and needed to select it, buy it and haul it – – and we only had a couple of days left, so they passed. On Sunday morning Barbara, Richard, Mokhtar and I headed west to the seaside village Essaouira. It was fun to be on the road again and to head out of Marrakech.
Soon out of Marrakech I started feeling relaxed again! Marrakech is a fine enough place but is not my favorite. I found things to enjoy about it quite easily and I always had fun whilst there but I was definitely happier in the rural parts of Morocco. Today was no exception! I was thrilled to be 1. on the road again, 2. going to the sea, which I love, and 3. spending time alone with just the four of us. All day.
We passed through small towns along the way all aflutter with Sunday markets, to which the men attend but not the women. It was a fun drive. For us passengers, at least. Mokhtar might have another opinion since we got stopped by police along the way. Twice. The first time I noticed a guy in a truck give a signal of some sort as we passed him. His signal seemed angry yet he didn’t appear to be, so I put two and two together and figured out we were going to get stopped and I knew it would probably be for speeding. Shortly after that I heard Mokhtar groan as he spotted the police up ahead. And sure enough, they waved us over. When Mokhtar came back to the car he said it would have dinged him 4 points on his driving record but he ended up paying the cop some amount of money to expunge the fine – – something that happens all the time in Morocco, I’ve heard. The money never goes to the government but rather right in to the pocket of the officer. We continued on, sailing through the other patrolled spots until on our way back when we were pulled over for the backseat passengers not being buckled in (Barbara and me). We had no idea. Ugh. Again, Mokhtar paid his way out of that. How much he paid I have no idea. But I’m sure it wasn’t inexpensive.
We continued driving through villages. I tried to not take pictures so that I could really just enjoy the ride; be in the moment. But soon we approached goats in trees and all of that went out the window. I screamed about the goats! I had heard about this and really shouldn’t have been so surprised about it. I mean, after all, goats climb things. Why would they not climb a tree with low-hanging branches? But still, I was excited to see it. Mokhtar was unimpressed and nonchalant. “There’ll be more up ahead,” he casually commented. How can he be so sure, I wondered? Here’s how. While goats really do climb argan trees, you’d have to drive around to find them so these particular goats in trees, close to the road, with men selling stuff or holding a baby goat as a photo op with big smiles on their faces and collecting money from passersby were placed in these trees for tourists. Argh. Must I always be reminded that I’m a tourist!?! But at that moment all I could think about was how my nieces had told me that goats climb trees in Morocco and I knew all that mattered was that I get a photo of the whole situation. As soon as I got out of the car a man brought a baby goat to me and offered it for me to hold. A baby goat! Oh my gosh, who can’t resist any baby thing especially a little tiny goat?! So me, always leery about what kind of money I’m going to have to fork over for this kind of photo-op, turned to Mokhtar and asked, “Am I going to have to pay money to hold this little goat?” To which he responded, firmly and kind of annoyed I might add, “Hold the goat.” And then he handed the guy 10 dirham or something for the opportunity. So I got to hold an adorable little snuggly goat that seemed totally at home in my arms. Richard took my iPhone and tried to take a photo but he pressed the wrong button and shut the thing off so the guy who handed me the goat showed him the right button to push and I had my photo. (I love how iPhones are universal! Clearly this guy owned one, as did so many people I met). After a time I gathered myself together and gave back the baby goat and promptly sent a text with the photos to my sister so she could show the girls when they got up that morning.
We continued on toward the coast, stopping at the women’s cooperative where they demonstrated all things argan and talked about the cosmetics it is used in as well as the consumable products it is made in to. It was interesting, but because I’ve already discussed it in an earlier post (See March 31: The Argan Tree and Its Bounty) I won’t go on about it now. I enjoyed the stop very much and Barbara and I had fun shopping for products, both cosmetic and edible! And we all got free soap out of the deal! Plus, they had some gorgeous rugs on the floor as well as beautiful flowers all around the building.
Continuing on toward the coast we could finally see the sea spanning the horizon in front of us! It was beautiful, albeit hazy. And the air started to change. There was a welcome cool-off and a different, fresher smell in the air! Ah, the sea! I love water. And I was excited to see this rocky coast as well as the medina that prohibits cars (although allows motorbikes).
We parked and walked along the sea wall where I was mesmerized by all of the boats, nets, freshly caught fish, fishermen, and beautiful architecture! I think I could have stayed there for hours on end and filled an entire 8 MB camera disk just there alone! I love Essaouira and am so glad we visited! Since the 16th century the city has also been known by its Portuguese name of Mogador. The Berber name means ‘the wall’ in reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city. Archaeological research shows that Essaouira has been occupied since prehistoric times. The bay at Essaouira is partially sheltered by the island of Mogador, making it a peaceful harbor protected against strong marine winds. Although we found it to be quite windy. Wikipedia says: ‘Around the end of the 1st century BCE or early 1st century CE, Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory, processing the murex and purpura shells found in the intertidal rocks at Essaouira and the Iles Purpuraires. This dye colored the purple stripe in Imperial Roman Senatorial togas.’ Interesting.
Wiki also says, ‘During the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer the locality. Essaouira remained a haven for the export of sugar, molasses and the anchoring of pirates.’ As for the foundation for the modern-day Essaouira, Wiki says, ‘The present city of Essaouira was only built during the 18th century. Mohammed III, wishing to reorient his kingdom towards the Atlantic for increased exchanges with European powers, chose Mogador as his key location. One of his objectives was to establish a harbour at the closest possible point from Marrakesh. The other was to cut off trade from Agadir in the south, which had been favouring political rival of Mohammed III, and the inhabitants of Agadir were forced to relocate to Essaouira. For 12 years, Mohammed III directed a French engineer, Théodore Cornut, and several other European architects and technicians, to build the fortress and city along modern lines. Originally called “Souira”, “The small fortress”, the name then became “Es-Saouira”, “The beautifully designed”.’
And more from Wiki: ‘From the time of its rebuilding by Muhammad III until the end of the nineteenth century, Essaouira served as Morocco’s principal port, offering the goods of the caravan trade to the world. The route brought goods from sub-Saharan Africa to Timbuktu, then through the desert and over the Atlas mountains to Marrakech. The road from Marrakech to Essaouira is a straight line, explaining the King’s choice of this port among the many that the Moroccan coast offers.’
So there’s some history of the place! But what I experienced was a city full of energy and beauty! The people were friendly, the souk and medina were easily navigated, even if a bit crowded, and it felt like a real working city where tourists visited but didn’t overtake the place. I saw a lot of locals out for the day and I like that. The less I feel like a tourist, the happier I am!
And we walked further to where they were selling the fresh catch! For some reason they didn’t allow me to photograph the fish, but I had already taken a few photos of them.
What beauty! And it didn’t hurt that it was only partially sunny, which allowed for some great lighting in general for photography. I will show a few more shots of the marina area and will end this blog post. I will continue with more verbiage and photos in another post. Fortunately or unfortunately, nearly every single shot I took of this place turned out beautifully! So I will attempt to not bore you with too many photos…if that’s even possible…