In spite of a very determined wind, which the area is know for, we all loved the vibrant laid-back, artsy port and resort town of Essaouira, situated on the Atlantic coast.
Our day started with a city tour led by one of only two lady guides in town. Seems men dominate this field as they do most others in Morocco. Our guide was very knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. We started by strolling to the harbor where we visited the eighteenth century citadel and enjoyed terrific views of the sea, city walls, town, and colorful fishing port with its insane number of enthusiastic gulls. Almost all the small fishing boats were painted a beautiful blue. Combined with the fishermen and their piles and piles of nets it collectively looked like a live picture postcard.
Our guide reminded us that Morocco was one of the countries (along with Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) whose pirates and slave traders dominated the Barbary (or Berber) Coast from the 16th to the 19th century. The stuff of legends.
When asked about the abundance of well fed, content, healthy cats we saw everywhere, she explained that they were originally imported to kill plague causing rats. The notch in one ear indicates the city has neutered them. They roam the city freely and are fed by anyone and everyone. As usual, we saw few dogs.
Essaouira has a vibrant musical past, thanks in part to the easy accessibility of hashish, and proudly boasts of having hosted the likes of performers likes of Jimmy Hendricks, Cat Stevens, Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane. Murals, paintings, and signs are evidence of the pride the town takes in their love of music. It still hosts an array of music festivals to include classical, jazz, and gypsy and flamenco-based. There were no festivals in town when we were, but we saw numerous eager performers in full swing playing on the street.
Besides music, artists have been drawn to the area. We visited a shop that specializes in silver filigree jewelry. Apprenticeships begin at 12 years of age. Girls are welcome for a change. Surprise of surprises, I did not buy a single thing.
Once the walking tour was over, we were uncommitted for the rest of the afternoon. As it turned out Cyd, Barb, and, I, intent on roaming around to see what fun would fall in our path, had one of our favorite afternoons of the whole trip. Mixing it up with four random strangers was the backbone of our delightful, laugh-fill afternoon.
Character number one was Amin, a cute, young guy who caught our eye no doubt because he had beautiful teeth (a rare thing here), dreads pulled off his face, and a hoodie with the word Brownies printed on it. We ran into him four or five times during the afternoon and ended up finding out that he is a musician. (He had two gigs later in the day and …wait for it… we were invited to drop by.) At one chance encounter we caught him smoking and told him to cut that out right then and there. He laughed and did as he was told. On a role, we told him to quit smoking altogether. He loved practicing his English which was miles ahead of my French, so we easily settled on English. Amin gave us advice on a music store, an herb and tea shop (his uncles’s I think) and a tip on a Berber jewelry store only open a couple days a week.
Barb was in the market for a flute; no cobras, just a flute. Character number two was the proprietor of a musical instrument store we happened upon. YouTube needs to come calling! He was a small man with a huge, friendly smile dressed in the native hooded robe and a knit cap. He made up a little ditty on the spot centered on each of our names and said we were free to take his picture or a video if we wanted. He danced along to his songs while accompanying himself on a tambourine. He told us we were all young and beautiful. We said we knew better than that. What a little salesman! We overstayed our welcome, insisted on multiple demonstrations of the different flutes, and had a fabulous time. Barb decided on one made of local tauya wood with cow horn at the end. She paid half the asking price. He insisted he wanted her to have it no matter his financial loss because he really liked us; we had great smiles; and we seemed so happy. The bargain was sealed with him hugging Barb, our resident magnet for the hugs and kisses!
Character number three was a tall drink of water with two teeth in front who talked as fast as a snake oil salesman. We found him hard to understand but enthusiastic and delightful. He totally worked us, although we didn’t realize it until an hour into a royal tea demonstration. Where are we from? We bought the flute from a good man. Do we like tea? How long are we in Morocco? Before we knew it we were answering his questions while seated on cushions in Amin’s uncle’s shop waiting for boiling water to arrive for the tea. It would be a shame for gals who are way off the Wonderfulness Scale to leave the country without understanding royal tea and so on and so forth. We had a terrific time, drank delicious tea, and learned a lot. An hour and a half later he was mixing tea for us to take home. What could we afford? We asked the price. Don’t worry was the answer. Then we were each handed a bag of hand mixed tea valued at $40 per bag! Barb said she spent the last of her money on the flute (true) and couldn’t buy any. I decided to take one for the team and forked over $40 without even bargaining. Cyd said she didn’t have $40 and gave him $30. I’d say he had a good afternoon!
Character number four was at the Berber jewelry shop only open a couple days a week. At our request Amin showed us the way. It was a beautiful shop with fabulous antique Berber jewelry as well as new Berber jewelry. I took a liking to a new bracelet and offered one third the asking price with the caveat that I understood a fine piece like that could never be sold at the price I offered, but that was all I had. We left the shop with me saying I hoped I had not insulted him. He said no, no, no, it is just the way of business; never apologize for making an offer. We left and three seconds later he came after me saying OK, OK, he could let it go for $10 more than my offer. I said it was a deal if we met in the middle. He took my hand and we walked hand-in-hand back to the shop. So fun.
To celebrate our spirited afternoon we decided to have hot chocolate at a place near the water that is known for their twist on this rich beverage. And rich it was … like chocolate pudding just before it sets up. Whoa! We laughed at our purchases and how we got taken on the tea all the while enjoying the traditional music of a street musician singing and playing the liar.
We had a light dinner that evening in the courtyard of the riad where we were staying. Safi had arranged for music, traditional dancing with audience participation, and henna painting for anyone interested. Barb and I hustled right over and got scroll work on our hands.
6 thoughts on “Essaouira (March 23, 2018)”
I will miss your blog Schele..it’s like going on the adventure with you. I love the free afternoon you had with Cyd, Barb. Did the cats bother your allergies? Sounds again like a lovely journey. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you Deb. How lucky am I to have so much fun?
The cats were all outdoors plus I didn’t touch any of them, so they didn’t bother me in the least.
Loved reading about the four characters! I think they went home and told their families about the three American characters they met! 😊
No doubt you are correct!
Another good one. Every interesting about there not being many lady guides and I love that Barb wanted a flute. I love you joke about the flute too.
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Thanks Matt, for coming along vicariously. And yes, women and girls are just now climbing their way out of the trenches in Morocco.