Essaouira, City of Blue and White by the Sea
If Marrakech was like a blast furnace, Essaouira can best be described as a breath of fresh air. The 3 hour bus ride from Marrakech to Essaouira saw the landscape gradually changing, as we headed out from the interior (where Marrakech was) towards the sea port of Essaouira. The harsh desert landscape gave rise to gradually more greenery, the climate became more Mediterranean, with a drop in the mercury and a rise in humidity supporting a greater variety of vegetation. Passing by a large Argan plantation, a curious sight greeted those not dozing away in the bus, what seemed like goats were quite literally up on the Argan trees, hanging from them like Christmas baubles.
Photo by Lottlies
Apparently, the fruits on the Argan tree are so delicious that the goats can’t seem to help themselves although there is sufficient alternative food around. The Argan tree only grows in Southwestern Morocco. Prized for its cosmetic, medical and epicural uses, Argan oil is the world’s most expensive oil at about USD300 per litre.
Essaouira sits on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, a windswept fishing port that has been occupied since Prehistoric times, with a diverse heritage that reflects its varied influences by ancient rulers and more recent colonialists. A North African city with a distinct Arab and European flavour, Essaouira has a character all of its own.
Where Marrakech was a frenetic, noisy, busy and frankly, rather stressful place, Essaouira is the complete opposite. It was pretty refreshing not to have tacky tourist souvenirs thrust in my face everywhere I go. Word has it that the ancient forts and castles surrounded by desert in Essaouira was the inspiration behind Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Castles Made of Sand’. Whether that was true or not, what cannot be disputed was that Essaouira was the hangout du jour of Hendrix and another musical legend, Bob Marley.
Essaouira retains its musical heritage to this day, playing host to the Gnaoua World Music Festival annually, celebrating the best of jazz, pop, rock and contemporary music, and of course, the mystical Gnaoua musicians.
The UNESCO listed medina is much smaller than that of Marrakech and is incredibly laid back, everything seems to happen at a much slower pace here. Children darted in an out of small narrow lanes in the medina and women carried about their chores, whilst somewhere, the tantalising smell of barbequed fish freshly caught off the Atlantic coast wafted about the winding lanes.
I was invited numerous times by various merchants and stall owners into their stores for the ubiquitous Moroccan mint tea, an extremely sweet and potent concoction of sugar and mint leaves. After an elaborate ceremony of pouring out the tea and tipping it back into the pot, the host finally decides that the tea is ready to be served and it is presented in little glass cups. No attempt at hard selling or indeed, any pressure to purchase their wares ever occurs with these occasions, it is simply Moroccan hospitality.
Mint tea in the medina
The strong winds coming in from the ocean also makes Essaouira a haven for wind and kite surfers. Standing on the ramparts of the city walls, looking out to the ocean, you can see numerous colourful kites from the surfers out at sea.
“Down the street you can hear her scream you’re a disgrace
As she slams the door in his drunken face
And now he stands outside
And all the neighbors start to gossip and drool
He cries oh, girl you must be mad,
What happened to the sweet love you and me had?
Against the door he leans and starts a scene,
And his tears fall and burn the garden green
And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually…
A little Indian brave who before he was ten,
Played war games in the woods with his Indian friends
And he built up a dream that when he grew up
He would be a fearless warrior Indian Chief
Many moons past and more the dream grew strong until
Tomorrow he would sing his first war song and fight his first battle
But something went wrong, surprise attack killed him in his sleep that night
And so castles made of sand melts into the sea, eventually
There was a young girl, who’s heart was a frown
cause she was crippled for life,
And she couldn’t speak a sound
And she wished and prayed she could stop living,
So she decided to die
She drew her wheelchair to the edge of the shore
And to her legs she smiled you wont hurt me no more
But then a sight she’d never seen made her jump and say
Look a golden winged ship is passing my way
And it really didn’t have to stop, it just kept on going…
And so castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually”
Jimi Hendrix | Castles Made of Sand
View the photos and read about the rest of my Moroccan adventure here.