Onward To Essaouira

We were to leave Agadir for Essaouira today – after just a one night stay (as opposed to our usual two nights in most of the towns we stayed at). We were scheduled for a later than usual start for our travels for the day.  There was time for a walk along the beach in the morning. It was a clear, cloudless, sky. The surfers were out there.Some others were exercising or taking walks.There were what looked like fishing boats in the ocean.

Some magpies had landed up close to us as we were hanging out next to the beach. I don’t think we have ever had them come this close to us in the past. The blue color behind the eyes was striking.

Breakfast in the hotel was a disappointment after the experience in Marrakech. I tried the fresh fried crueller – did not like it very much.

After checking out and boarding the bus, we were surprised to hear that we would not be leaving town just yet. We were to be dropped off at the entrance to the marina, the place we had walked to the day before,and would be given relaxation time for an hour, to hang out on the promenade. This was somewhat disappointing since we had already walked to that point the previous day. We had to occupy ourselves some other way.

We started out walking within the marina itself.The kasbah on the mountain is located very near the marina.We had previously inquired with Youssef about climbing up to the top of the mountain. He must have thought us crazy – perhaps he had never heard such a request before. We were dissuaded from that attempt without any hesitation.

After the visit to the marina, we walked on the promenade along the beach to the other end of the road beside the promenade.This is a picture of our tour group.

And then we were on our way to Essaouira. We were stopping at an argon oil processing place on the way. This part of Morocco is the only place in the world where the argan tree can grow freely. They have tried to cultivate it in other places without success. Half of the argan oil produced is shipped to Israel.

We were told that Essaouria is recognized for its seafood. The sardine dishes are supposed to be well known. We were given a warning about some of the seafood restaurants in the city. Apparently they show you the fresh fish that they say they will cook for you, but they then swap it out before cooking your meal.

It was a long drive up the beautiful Atlantic coast. There were a few people on the beaches. Also, a few surfers. Little coves appeared along the way.

The road occasionally meandered away from coastline where the remnants of the High Atlas mountains approached the waters of the ocean.Eventually we we got back to the coastline.

Sometimes we were in the mountains for extended distances, still not too far from the shoreline. The soil is light brown and looks very dry. The vegetation is sparse, mainly argan trees.

We are on the lookout for goats on trees!

We had a long lunch stop, evidence still of how relaxed the pace of the trip had become at this point. The place we stopped at was not prepared to handle the numbers of us when we landed up – in spite of Youssef having called them up ahead of time with specifics of some of the orders that could take a longer time to prepare. Youssef had to also fill in as waiter and server – services which he did with good cheer! He tried to keep things moving along, somehow managing to keep his wits about him without appearing flustered.. Some people had ordered goat or lamb tajines. It looked like a helluva lot of food, but also mouthwatering! I had to survive on my mixed grill plate.

As we left the restaurant, Youssef mentioned that places like the one we had just eaten at had suffered because of the COVID pandemic. They were having difficulty restaffing.

We continued our journey at a relaxed pace after lunch.

There was much excitement when we saw goats on a tree and managed to pull over to the side of the road to observe them more closely. The goatherd who was shepherding his flock to a safe area beside the road was really nice about a bunch of us strangers, random tourists from some distant land behaving in strange ways, being there and distracting his goats.We were able to get pictures while Youssef conversed with him.Note that this is not the classic picture of goats on a tree in Morocco that one finds on the Internet. Those pictures are usually taken from a distance from the tree, and show the whole tree full of goats. Sometimes, unfortunately, this kind of setup may be created just for the entertainment of the naive tourists.

The relaxed drive continued – with the dry land, the argan trees, the goats, and the donkeys relaxing under the shade of the argan trees along the way.

The next stop was at an argan oil cooperative operated by women. It was on the outskirts of the city of Essaouira itself.

After showing us how the argan oil was extracted, we were taken to a showroom where the focus was more on the beauty products that the cooperative made using the argan oil. There was some joking around about how young the argan oil products could make you look!

We drove on to the hotel. It happened to be next to the beach.

We had the rest of the today to ourselves before it was time for all of us to go out to dinner together. We will do a walking tour of Essaouria with a local guide in the morning tomorrow.

The hotel room itself looked small but nice, but closer examination revealed that the good looks could have been covering up some issues, including the possible presence of vermin, one sample of which I proceeded to squash under my foot and dispose outside the room.

The sun was setting as we set out for dinner.

The restaurant we were going to was next to the beach and close to the hotel. We walked to it.

I felt compelled to have the fish for dinner. It was sardine!

I was surprised with the presentation of a birthday cake at the end of dinner!Youssef had been planning this for a while, and the celebration had to be delayed from my actual birthday because we had not had the chance to meet as a full group for dinner earlier. The cake was beautiful and tasty. It was made by a friend of Youssef’s. We were stuffed because we had also gotten dessert with our meal.

With some prompting from across the table, we started singing When I’m 64 (even though it was not my 64th birthday). It was unofficially a party! I found out at that moment that one of our fellow-travelers was also in a barbershop chorus. We ended up trying to sing some barbershop standards with two voice parts (instead of the standard four). The electronic pitch pipe on a smartphone is handy in such a situation! It turned out that the gentleman I was singing with was somewhat new to the craft. The effort was a lot of fun nevertheless.

I found out the next day that one of our newfound friends from Missouri had been a barbershopper earlier in life, singing in a chorus with the Sweet Adelines. She said that she was going to try to join a barbershop chorus once again!

How about that! Barbershoppers are not that rare a breed!

Next morning, our local guide, Rashida, walked with us from the hotel to the area we were visiting that day.
Youssef had deliberately picked a female guide for us – just so we would have a different kind of experience.

We walked through the area of the port first.  The fishing boats were all blue. We were told that it is the Jewish color. The fish you see in one of the pictures below is sardine. There were cats and seagulls around attracted by the smell of fish.

We had a group picture taken before we left the port area.

Our next stop was a big square next to the port, on the way to the fort and medina.We took a short break over there.

We heard about Gnaoua, the music of this part of Morocco. (The name is spelt in many different ways, it seems!) They have an musical festival in the square every year, including international participation. I could use my imagination about how the square would have felt with the crowds and the live music. You can also find videos on the Internet.

We next visited the fort. We walked up the ramparts – on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

We then proceeded to the medina. Here are some pictures:

We walked through the fish and spice section of the medina, the location of the “buy your own fish” restaurants, some of which we had been warned about earlier.

Along the way we were pointed to a few other recommended restaurants. We ended up having dinner at the restaurant seen in the picture below, and ending up sitting in the very area of the restaurant where the camera has been pointed to in this picture.

There are apparently three Jewish areas within the medina. We were told that at one point there were more Jewish people in Morocco than Muslims. There are 4 synagogues in town, two still operational. This is the entrance to one of them in the medina.Our last stop before lunch was at a jewelry store featuring silver filigree work done by people with physical challenges.

The area around the store was colorful.

We had lunch with friends at an outdoor restaurant next to the big square. We had crepes. I ended up eating too much!

We went back to the medina for a dinner at Il Mare restaurant overlooking the ramparts of the fort and the Atlantic Ocean.We were seated with our friends on the terrace.We watched the sunset while having our drinksand food.Entertainment was provided by a local artist and his apprentice who danced while spinning a tarboosh on his head. Gnaoua music was being played. The beat is percussive and gets you into a groove. The music is in fact hypnotic and can apparently cause the musician to go into a trance!

The apprentice approached us during a dance, and, while I was not looking, placed his tarboosh on my head. I was supposed to make the tassel rotate with the movement of my head. It was a complete failure. Teresa, on the other hand, was pretty good at it. She kept it going for a short while.I have been listening to some Gwana music at home. Here is an example. This is a video from the Internet of some performers dancing to the music in a restaurant. Read the section on Gnawa music in this article if you are more curious about it. The three-string camel skin bass instrument is called the hajhouj. You can see the use of the heavy castanets, called krakebs, in one of the pictures I posted above.

The musicians continued their entertainment well past the sunset as we enjoyed the food and the drink – and the moment. We were seated in what well might have been the best place to experience and soak in this experience of Essaouria – including the new friendships, the beauty of nature on the seashore at sunset, and a new musical encounter! And it was a unique component of my own personal adventure of life. It was the highlight of the day for me, and a moment in time from this trip, and my life, that I hope will stay with me in my memories till the end.

We walked back to our hotel after dinner, first through the medina, still open for business,and then through the empty streets next to the beach.

It had been another full day in Morocco. We have only one more day of touring left to do in the country!

You can read the next blog in this sequence here.