Saturday, March 24, 2007
The guide book said the Atlantic Coast town of Essaouira has laid claim to being the windiest city in Africa. They were right! I have just returned to Marrakech from Essaouira after having spent 4 days, mostly within the walls of the old city. The old city, which dates back to the 16th century is a small town enclosed by daunting fortifications. The town essentially runs on tourism and fishing. The fish port is a marvel in itself with about 20 stalls offering you your pick from a large variety of fresh from the sea delights. Each stall has a greeter (to put it mildly) doing his absolute best to entice you to eat at his stall. It is fish bedlam to say the least. Once enticed you pick your selection and it is cooked on the spot for you.
Tourism in the town is centred in within the city walls. Some tourists venture beyond the walls but few do as I witnessed when wandering about the newer section of town. Most tourists keep to the main streets of old town but the gem of the city, or better still, the heart of the city exists in the tiny alleyways that honeycomb the town. Many connect with other streets but one can get 'misplaced' every once in a while. No matter how misplaced you get you will always eventually find your way out, unlike the old city of Marrakech where there are legends of tourists never returning from their explorations.
The main streets are the shopping centres of the town. When busy you can hardly move. At the same time the noise level of hawkers, loud music, motorscooter buzzing,
and the general din associated with large gatherings of passionate people increases as the crowd swells. Like at Alice's estaurant, you can get anything you want. Sheep heads on planks, chickens killed and plucked while you wait- guaranteed fresh the sign says, spices ground in front of you, and everything else from rubbermaid to diapers.
The food here is similar to everywhere else- Tajines, CousCouis, or Brochettes. Most restaurants also have a complete italian menu of Pizza and other dishes. Moroccan fare tends to taste a little bland surprisingly since one would expect spicy food. Even the italian food tends to be bland, almost like Chef Boyardi with some curry throw in. They will spice things up for you but beware as the cooks often do not know their limits. It turns out that Moroccan salads and vegeterian dishes are really delicious and affordable.
Finding accomodation in Essaouira is done by reserving ahead,if you are smart, or wait till you arrive there and search, which typically, I did. The search ended as son as it began. I was picked up by one of the 'accomodation opportunists' who frequent bus arrivals. Despite the usual catastophic results of being led around by one of these characters, I had heard that sometimes they turn out all right. Luckily my guide, Jamel, was good and I was soon parked in a 3 bedroom apartment. A little seedy and dusty from the unglassed skylight, it was still pretty cool in a hippie kind of way. The best of all was the price- 200D a night which is 28 dollars, a little pricy considering my Marrakech digs that were costing me half that. As with all no-star accomodations this had it's drawbacks in addition to the sand blowing in the skylight - I did mention the Windy City tag. The hot water was an adventure in pyrotehnics, My neighbour often cooked with his porcelain bbq just on the steps outside my door, and Jamel keeps coming back with excuses to ask for some extra money. People do this a lot here- ask you for money for no real reason at all except that you will be helping their families.
The photography here has been incredible. Every new street offers something interesting. The colours, the architecture, the clothing, the stores, the life bursting around me all make up a kodak mosaic that I am feasting on. Talking about feasting it is time for me to do so as feasting is a good excuse to hunt down a beer. And in this town it is a hard hunt to find an affordable pint