When I decided to go to Morocco, my images of the country were more of what I encountered when I got to Marrakesh (though Marrakesh was so pretty that I didn’t expect every town in the country to look like that). But, after an overnight in Marrakesh, we left the next morning to the coastal town of Essaouira (once known as Mogador a long time ago and pronounced something like “Ah swear” as the final vowel sounds silent to English speakers). I had signed up to do my third trek with Trekking for Kids to help improve the lives of orphaned or at-risk children around the world and the center where we were going to work was located in this seaside town. (Check out the work done at Bayti Centre here.)
The town of Essaouira – not the Morocco I expected
Upon arriving in Essaouira, it felt different. That was likely due to it being a coastal town with nice beaches and the accompanying tourism infrastructure (I suspect the main source of tourists is domestic followed perhaps by those from neighboring Arab or European countries). It looked clean and was not too crowded. The town, currently with about 70,000 inhabitants, was a fort originally established by the Portuguese centuries ago and was coveted by all major European powers. The town proper was begun to be built in the 18th century by Mohammed III. I learned after leaving that scenes of the movie “Othello” by Orson Wells were filmed in the streets of the city.
We got to our hotel, the Riad Zahra Morgador, and I was very pleased. It was beautiful and the staff very friendly. I enjoyed our stay there in every way, except the wifi only really worked in the lobby.
Among the many surprises was the climate. Of course, I expected being on the coast meant sea breezes and slightly cooler temperatures than Marrakesh (which had hovered round 100 F when I was there). But they were much cooler, like in the low 70s for THE HIGH! A strong sea breeze contributed to actually feeling a little cold even before the sun set as we walked along the beaches one day. And on the beaches for the visitors, there are camels… for the ride. Some of my fellow trekkers decided to try their hand at riding a camel but first… one must successfully get on one!
Essaouira’s Old Medina
Another big surprise was the general personality, if you will, of the town. People were not all over you like in Marrakesh. They were more relaxed, I’d say. Even in the market (or “souk”), I didn’t feel hounded. People would certainly invite you to look at their wares, etc. but once you stepped way or said no, they were very respectful. Given my temperament, this was more conducive for me to actually engage in more meaningful dialogue with store clerks than I would otherwise be inclined to be. It led to a more enjoyable experience for sure. It also led to me buying more as I normally shy away from aggressive sales tactics (which I understand are normal in some places).
I found it fascinating to see guys pushing these massive carts loaded with fruit through the throngs of people – masters of their craft! I enjoyed walking around the Old Medina where I felt very safe so I could admire the details of the architecture around.
A sweet tooth is always one in the U.S. or in Morocco!
However, all is not architecture and fruit carts. A stop at a local patisserie on the edge of the Old Medina towards the beach (Pátisserie Driss) delivers delicious sweets and coffee!
Essaouira’s old walls
On my first day, we explored the North Bastion with its old Portuguese cannons and the sea walls. On another day, we got to spend time along the South Bastion next to Bab Marrakesh (the gate to Marrakesh from the walled Old Medina) where I took some of the sunset pictures shown later in this post.
And the sunset photos…
So, all around, Essaouira was a pleasant surprise; different than the Morocco I expected. Here is to good surprises!!!