Morocco… Over and Out

Morocco… Over and Out
Our three weeks in Morocco has come to an end and we are now in London, UK. I enjoyed our time in Morocco but in the end I was craving some different food. Too many restaurants in Morocco and eating the same food over and over… couscous, tajine, pastilla. It is good to have some variety which in this case means something more like home for me. Fish and chips and roast beef should do the trick.
When last I posted we were in Marrakech. We stayed at the Rainbow Hostel right in the Djema El Fna Square in the Medina. It cost about $13 each for a 4 bed dorm. I know that would not be many people’s idea of a holiday, sharing with strangers. However, when you are travelling for a long time it is nice to be able to socialize with other travellers and share your experiences. Staying in a hotel can actually be very antisocial. Sitting in the common room in the hostel is a great way to find out what to do and what to see. It is also a good way to find other people to do things with often to keep the costs down by sharing taxis, etc.
I told you about our first couple of days in Marrakech and we spent one more day there before we went to Essaouira. We bought our bus ticket to Essaouira for 70 MAD each (just under $9) for a 2.5 hour bus ride. It was a pretty low key day really. We sorted out a few more travel plans for the future and then wandered around the square and souqs.
The next day we were up early and headed to Essaouira. The square was very quiet at this time of the morning. Compared to the afternoons and evenings this was a pleasant change. No monkeys, snakes, touts. We took a taxi to the bus and then the bus ride was uneventful. When we got off the bus in Essaouira we had to find the medina where we were staying. As we stood there trying to figure out our bearings, an American couple came up to us and asked us if we knew where we were going. It seemed that they were equally confused with where exactly we were. The bus dropped us in the Nouvelle Ville but we thought we were much closer than we actually were to the medina. They asked us if they could tag along to find the medina. Now we were four wandering around lost.
Since coming to Morocco I have had to use my limited french. I actually began to start enjoying trying to speak french with people. It really tested me but I felt like in most cases I was able to communicate my questions and comprehend their answers. I asked multiple people along the way how to get to the medina and we were able to get there quite directly. I think when Nic and I have travelled in the past we have not been to french speaking countries until now and have been to more spanish speaking places. Nic has always been the one talking to people and now it was me. Made me feel much more useful.
Safely in the medina now, we actually decided to spend the day with Kim and Shawn from the US. Shawn is a lawyer and Kim a paralegal. This trip was to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and they were only in Essaouira for the afternoon before returning to Marrakech. We left our big bags in Marrakech and only brought our day packs for the few days in Essa. We wandered around the medina looking for the El Pacha Hostel. Once we found it we dropped off our bag and continued to roam.
For lunch we went to the port area. There are tents that cook up fresh seafood right there in front of you. Essaouira (pronounced Essa Weera) is a seaside town on the Atlantic Ocean. It is well known for its seafood. As we wandered through the tents, guys attempt to lure you in with promises about price, quality, freshness, and (arguably most importantly) guarantees not to get you sick. For four of us, they loaded a cafeteria-style tray with a mountain of sea bass and other fish, shrimp, prawns, and crab. The price? For four of us, including salad, bread and drinks, was 200 MAD (about $25 or $6.25 each). We upped the deal a bit by adding another large crab for an extra 50 MAD. There was so much food we could not possibly eat it all. Definitely a must-do in Essaouira.
After lunch we explored a small port side fort and then wandered up the beach. Everything we read about Essa said that it was too windy to spend time at the beach and the water is too rough for swimming. Actually there was little wind and there were many people swimming. The water however is very cold… cannot imagine you could get me in it. 
After strolling around for the day with our new friends, it was time to say goodbye. They had to get back to the bus station for a 5pm bus. Again, it is nice getting to know new people and exploring new places together. 
Nic and I headed back to our hostel. We had a private room this time but still had a shared bathroom. Our biggest complaint however about this and most of the hostels we have stayed at in Morocco is the smoking. Most of the people staying here are Europeans. People sit in the common area and seem to chain smoke. A couple of times we have not been able to stay in the common area because of the smoke… it can be gross. We actually felt sick a couple of times from the smoke. The internet is usually only available in the common room and it can be frustrating when you cannot sit there. I think we really only noticed the smoking once we arrived in Marrakech. They really need to do something about that.
On our second day in Essaouira we pretty much just wandered around. I am happy to report that there was no sickness from our lunch the day before. We explored the medina some more. We did not buy anything but talked a lot about what, if anything, we would buy in Morocco and send home. We explored the beach a bit more. We stepped in the Atlantic Ocean to see just how cold it was. We sat for a while watching some teenage boys tumble on the beach. They are quite amazing. It was like watching a gymnastics display. They can jump and do flips in the air. Awesome.
You can go for a camel or horse ride on the beach. We did neither. The wind in Essa makes it ideal for wind sports like surfing and kiteboarding. We walked and watched much of it.
What I like about Essaouira is how much more laid back it is than Marrakech. As you walk around the medina, if you are not interested in buying or seeing the goods they do not push you. That can be quite tiring in Marrakech. However, in Essa the low pressure atmosphere is much more easy going. That doesn’t mean they are not asking, just that they do not try to manipulate you the way they do in Marrakech to come in and see… and then buy.
Just up from our hostel we saw a sign for “North Africa’s greatest burger.” I had to check that out. Turns out that it was actually run by a couple of older British women. They were quite lovely ladies and were quite helpful with our plans to get back to Marrakech. They gave us maps and helped us gain a bit more perspective on getting around the medina. There is a different bus company that is quite a bit closer to the medina so it was much more convenient.
After two nights in Essaouira we were back to Marrakech. Once back in Marrakech we were returning to the Rainbow Hostel where we had left our bags. We had three nights before our flights to London. It was probably too much time in Marrakech but I think ultimately I was reasonably done with Morocco. We decided to walk from the bus station to our hostel… 3km away. I used my gps watch to chart our course. A quick stop at McDonald’s for some comfort food along the way.
Along the way we hoped to check out the Artisan Ensemble. This market is a place where you can buy traditional Moroccan crafts at fixed prices. We felt this would be a good way to gain perspective on what things are worth before we tried to buy any in the souqs. It was Sunday however and it was closed.
The next day we went to the Artisan Ensemble. Nic bought a pair of purple leather handmade Ali Baba shoes. I call them Ali Baba shoes because of the pointed toes and a guy on the street commented about her Ali Baba shoes. Hard to imagine getting handmade leather shoes for $17 but that is what she paid. She did not and could not barter for them… fixed prices. We did not buy anything else there but got a good idea of what things cost.
On another day we were on the search for a few souvenirs of our time in Morocco. Specifically, we wanted a Berber rug and a lamp. We bought a round metal lamp and on our last day we bought a small blue rug (maybe 3 ft x 5 ft). We also bought a puff (a square stool that is made of material that you fill with stuffing). A few other things like brass hardware for a door and a scarf made of pashmina rounded out our purchases.
The guy at the Rainbow Hostel helped us find a box but by the time we wanted to head to the post office to ship it off it was closed for the day. Luckily we were able to take it to the post office before we left on the 25th. We probably spent about $180 on stuff and it cost us about $70 to ship the box. We had agreed before we left for our year away that we would ship some stuff home… no matter what it cost. It was not cheap but now we will have some souvenirs of our trip. Jane Arychuk you can expect our box in about a month or so.
Besides shopping in the souqs in Marrakech, we did some other wandering around in the square. We ate one evening in the night market in the square. I will admit that I was rather worried about it after my experiences in Zanzibar. We went to tent #25 mainly because their lure was Eat at 25, Stay Alive… Guaranteed no diarreah for 2 years. Not sure that they could stand by that for two years. The food was actually pretty bland. We had become used to paying about 60 MAD for a set menu which included soup or salad starter, a main usually tajine, and a dessert. At the tents however everything was separate. Even bread and olives which we always got for free were 10 MAD each. All in all it was rather a let down. Especially for Nic who was really expecting something amazing. Did not happen.
All in all, the last week was not the adventures we have had until now. That said, we did get many arrangements finalized for the next couple of months. We flew yesterday from Marrakech to London and are now visiting Nicola’s sister and her family. I will save the highlights for my next post. That post will probably come when we arrive in Madrid next week.
The road to Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains was quite scary… winding switchbacks with tight curves
Horse and Buggies for hire in Djema El Fna
Nic bought a pair of pants in the souqs and the guy tried hard to sell me some headwear
Want to buy some snails? A big bucket … buy in bulk
A box of sweets for 30 dirhams
On the ride to Essaouira we often had to go around the donkeys on the road
The fort in Essaouira
Atop the fort
Cool cats
The seaport from the fort
You used to be able to go over to this island but not anymore
Classic porthole on the bridge photo
Now with my lover
Lunch with Kim and Shawn
Seafood feast
The beach in Essaouira
The tight lane ways in the Medina
The Dar El Pacha… our hostel
Tumbling teens on the beach
They are quite amazing
Camel ride on the beach?
The gates to the medina
Seagulls perched on the fort
Fishing boats ready to go
Fishing off the breakwater
The Emperoress’ new shoes
Snake charmers in the Djema El Fna
The snake charmers work as a team… you had better be prepared to pay if you take a photo
Our new berber rug
The turtles at the Rainbow Hostel
I needed to put my turtle video up here to rival Jeff and Carolyn’s turtle video