When I was first told, “let’s go to Essaouira”, I was like.. who? That’s the expression that I get from everyone when I tell them of this glorious place I’ve been to. It’s not the first time I’ve walked on roads less travelled and I think that’s now my mission, as it allows me to see places that I haven’t already seen tons of pictures of or memories created by millions of others and I promise to not be like “wow this is amazing” to every place I go to unless it truly is.
I’d been to Morocco before – to Marrakech and Agadir. It was memorable but it not for the right reasons; I recalled being haggled constantly and stalked on occasions until I gave in and gave up my cash. I avoided eye contact and even exploring, which is a shame because that is why I travel. I thought I’d give Morocco one more attempt after being reassured that Essaouira is different. I decided to get there via Marrakech and as expected, paid double the fare for a taxi to the bus station(after negotiating). The bus journey was 3hrs, including a 20mins break in between.
I arrived at 11pm so I didn’t see much that night but what I did notice, was that the temperature was almost 20 degrees cooler from the 45C that I left behind in Marrakech. Navigating my way to the Airbnb that I stayed at was easy enough at that hour, without internet. It was a lovely Riad that offered breakfast in the morning.
The first thing I realised after walking the deserted streets in the early hours, was how safe I felt. Despite the dilapidated buildings and ruins, which usually lends itself to adversity, the people themselves were quite jovial and warm. Most importantly, for me, I wasn’t treated like a tourist that had a target on his back. That may, in part, have to do with the fact that I was taken for Moroccan on pretty much every encounter I had. That said, my friend that I travelled with felt the same so did other white travellers that we met. There weren’t that many foreign tourists if I’m honest and I was relieved that this wasn’t one of those sort-after destinations but it should be and at the moment, it’s my #1.
I keep describing it as something from the movies. Several come to mind: Game of Thrones, Gladiator etc. and most recently John Wick 3 which were all, in fact, filmed here.
Wandering down the side alleys of the medina, you’d smell the fragrant air, enriched with flavours of local dishes. Mostly fish, which there is plenty of, as the Essaouira Citadel (Port) was just a short walk away so I took full advantage of the availability, at a very cheap cost. We settled down for lunch in a spot where 90% of the crowd eating were locals; it must be good.
That night, we discovered this nightclub of sorts which was not expected for obvious reasons. It seemed like a place for locals and visitors to mingle. The night started off with Gnawa Music and Dance. Described by the Lonely Planet as an “Afro-Moroccan group whose music, culture and traditions are the heartbeat of Morocco”.
I leapt out of bed the next day excited to see what more I will discover inside and out of the medina that we stayed in. I must say that my favourite time to walk these streets was in the early hours.
These paths on the outskirts connect to a central spine where the souks are laced on either side; kind of like the main stretch, the center of the medina. It was really an experience shopping alongside the locals. In a lot of places, they don’t even haggle and whatever the price is, you pay it – whether you’re a local or tourist. I liked this.
I never do tour guides but seeing as this one wasn’t expensive, I thought to give it a try. It was worth it – that bit of extra knowledge really extended my view of this place. Said represents Urban Adventures in Essaouira. Apart from being a super nice guy, he took me round to some spots that I walked past and didn’t even bother to venture into.
The Mellah: Mellah is a walled Jewish quarter of a town, a ghetto. Jewish population were confined to mellahs in Morocco beginning from the 15th century and especially since the early 19th century.
The term mellah connotes not just the physical space where jews lived but also the communal space of the Jews. The mellah was usually walled with a fortified gateway. Frequently, the mellah was located to a corner of the city, having its own gates, allowing full segration between Jews and Muslims.
As with every gorgeous day, when it ends, there’s(should be) a beautiful sunset by the sea. A bit more history about this village: ‘Essaouira was built as a coastal fortress in the 16th century by the Portuguese who held it for many years, despite the attempts of many other European nations to occupy it, until Morocco took it back as a main trading port for Marrakech. Its high walls and ramparts still protect the shoreline today; the cannons pointed at the Atlantic are constantly straddled by tourists looking for a photo opportunity. However, Essaouira is not a place of historical pilgrimage for visitors, but more a painful reminder of progression and waning heritage for local fishermen’ Extract. This is one of those places that I must visit again and encourage others that are looking for a chilled week in Morocco.