Essaouira – magic cookies, viagra and fish

Posted on January 31, 2015

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Essaouira is a beautiful. It has a wonderful classy charm about it. The harbour is filled with small battered fishing boats, men selling their freshly caught catch of the day and al fresco dining everywhere. The beach is sandy and if you walk away from the medina gates trendy cafe and bars are dotted along the front. Here you can sit and watch the kite surfers; camel riders and quad bikes race up and down.

There’s also a bohemian feel to the place where in the height of summer I can only imagine surfers and beach-bums are tripping out as the sun starts to set.

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My riad was gorgeous and in the heart of the medina very close to the principal gate – Bab S’baa. Arriving at night was not ideal but I’d called the riad ahead of arriving and got directions how to walk there on foot. Ten minutes later a tall, lanky Moroccan called Abduallah was gangling a bunch of keys and unlocking the stunning, ornate heavy front door. I was the only guest for the moment staying there.

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I had booked the room decorated with Berber instruments hung all over the walls. Inside it was cosy and comfortable. A hot shower and a soft bed were just what I need to fall into a deep sleep. Bus journeys really do take it out of you even though you are sat on your rear doing bugger all.

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This Arabian trip has been hijacked by a number of different people. First was The Actress, someone I have known for the best part of 14 years, who was with me for my first leg in Marrakech and the mountains. Then I flew solo for ten days until Casablanca where I joined by the trumpet-blowing charmer from East Sussex and tomorrow another addition was jetting in to piggy-back off my last leg.

The Singer is someone I met in Congo last February. She’s American and her husband is a diplomat who has just been posted to London. I had dinner with them shortly after Christmas and a plan was hatched after too much wine that perhaps she could crash my adventure. She has never been to Morocco or indeed had much solo travel experience without hubby.

Naturally I was apprehensive in case we didn’t get on, but my reservation was so small, it was hardly worth worrying about. I am seven years and four days older than her, but she is bright, funny, game for anything and can talk.

After a wonderful breakfast on the roof terrace with the seagulls and the sun shining brightly I headed back to the room to wait for her. She had landed in Marrakech the night before and was taking the superatour bus this morning so was due to hit Essaouira around midday.

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Sporting winter woolies and a compact rucksack on her back I gave her an awkward squeeze and showed her our room. A quick catch up and un pack we hit the medina and port. I was keen to see just how bloody marvellous this place actually was. As we navigated through the medina, the usual remarks from hawkers were called out. I have adopted a stoney face over the last 3 weeks which is “please don’t bother going on because it will get you nowhere and I have no intention of stopping”. My default answer to everything is “non merci….non…..non…..NON!!!!!”. This response elicited a reaction from the pair of us that left us giggling hysterically. One guy annoyed with my retort yelled out as we passed “you an angry Indian!!”. I suppose on some days this is true, especially after my experience in Fez.

Along the beach we were first offered ‘magic cookies” paraded in a basket like the local girl scout had hand-lovingly prepared them, then came the cool super chatty Senegalese guys trying to flog their wooden African figurines. Politely declining all of these we stopped for a quick snack of boiled chickpeas with salt served in a paper cone and continued to amble a bit further, talking and eating.

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Eventually we hit a perfect lunch stop and ordered nouss nouss, orange juice, calamari and wok fried veg taking in the salty sea air and fierce sun. There are cats everywhere. I do like animals but when it comes to food I do not share. Not even with my nearest and dearest. It’s a trade, so unless I can taste something you’re eating do not even think about putting a fork, spoon or your fingers anywhere near my plate! These felines didn’t have a hope in hell.

On our way back through the medina we passed the souk, here you can buy the usual stuff and herbal viagra. It’s actually galangal – the root that the south east Asians cook with – could explain population numbers. I ate a lot of that in November…..hmmmm. The locals here swear by it and encourage you to blend it into tea and consume vast quantities of it. I didn’t…. we swiftly moved on and popped into a record shop instead. Here we both bought some local Berber music, and then hit a well-known patisserie for sweet mint tea and a sticky cake.

So far I have not had a Hammam. These are the baths that women and men use. Some of the traditional ones are used by both men and women at different times, while others have separate ones for different sexes. We wanted a massage and a “gommage” a scrub. We agreed to go local one and read both my TimeOut guide as well as the Lonely Planet guide to gauge which one to pot for.

There are hammams which are pricy like western spas but I wanted to sit among the local women and do it Moroccan style. It was now almost six and the light was starting to fade. The owner of the riad advised us to go in the morning and not the evening. The medina is no place to get lost at night.

Dinner that night was around the corner at a lovely small place serving traditional fare. We ate, soup, tagine and saffron rice. A wonderfully chilled day. The next would involve more bus travel after our scrub. We were headed to Agadir. I had Souss-Massa National Park in my sights and some bird watching.

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