I really need to be careful about making bold statements because upon returning from Morocco in December 2011 I said that I would never return there. This is what I said…
“I enjoyed the experience of Fez, the Riad was excellent, the food was good, the sightseeing was unexpected and we were treated with courtesy and respect by everyone associated with the Riad but I have seen Morocco now and I think it may be some time before I return to North Africa as we resume our travels through Europe.”
Well, now I have to eat my words because our first overseas trip in 2016 was to Essouria on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Why did I go back on my statement – return flights for less than £40 each are just too good to resist and nothing beats getting on a plane with temperatures hovering around zero and then getting off again three hours later into 20°, blue sky, sunshine and swaying palm trees.
Essaouira is only a small airport, it only gets two flights a day but there was a lot of congestion at passport control and an entry form to fill in which was probably the worst designed official form that I have ever encountered. Despite dealing with all this bureaucratic nonsense however the queues actually went down very quickly and when it was our turn to be processed we were given our unique identity number which was theatrically stamped into our passports and waved through to where a supervisor checked them for a second time presumably to make sure it had been done properly by the first official.
Before travelling I had read some advice that said watch out for taxi drivers in Morocco who will gladly overcharge unsuspecting tourists. That is no different from anywhere else in the world of course but I was mindful of that and took the second piece of advice which said when arriving for the first time it was advisable to take a pre-booked shuttle service because finding places for the first time in Morocco can be difficult. At €25 it was a bit expensive but our driver was waiting for us as promised in the arrivals hall and he quickly loaded our bags and set off for the city just twenty kilometres away.
It was mid-afternoon and gloriously sunny so after checking in we didn’t hang around and made straight for the streets. Immediately we were set upon by young men who wanted to help and by shop keepers who were convinced that we needed to spend all of our money in one go so we walked purposely forward as though we were wearing blinkers and went directly to the main shopping street.
The town is well laid out on a grid system which I guess is very helpful for visitors from the U.S.A. and it is much easier to navigate than either of the big cities of Marrakech or Fez so we quickly got our bearings and strolled around with some confidence and spent the remainder of the afternoon just getting familiar with the place.
Essauoira is a fortress town enclosed by high walls, crenulated ramparts and battlements, originally called Mogador the town was renamed in the eighteenth century to become ‘Souira’ (the small fortress), and then the name became ‘Es-Saouira’ (the beautifully designed). We couldn’t argue with that and we walked from east to west and from north to south and then outside the gates and into the adjacent market place which was curiously quiet today. Except for one persistent man with a tray of small cakes who constantly followed us around trying to convince us to buy a pastry.
At about the fourth attempt we were about to give in to his pestering sales technique but as we stood debating the choice there was a rather unfortunate incident. There are a lot of seagulls in Essaouira on account of it being a busy fishing port and at this point one singled me out for target practice!
I know that a bit of bird poo on your shoulder is supposed to bring good luck but there is a world of difference between a little bit of sparrow dropping and a full load of seagull slop. I wasn’t being particularly observant at the time because I was too busy looking at the cakes as the bird dropped a belly full of excrement from its bomb hole that exploded on the pavement around me rather like a family pot of yogurt being thrown from a third-story window and a splash or two achieved a direct hit on my head!
To be perfectly honest I over reacted at this point. Once in Spain I was relieved of my wallet in a distraction robbery which involved some piece of low life squirting mud on my jacket and then blaming a bird and while he helped me to wipe it off he skilfully robbed me. With instant recall I immediately suspected foul play and a blazing red mist descended. I leapt back to a space on the pavement where there was no chance of human contact and adopted a kung fu killer pose with my hands raised as deadly weapons ready to chop first and ask questions later.
I eventually conceded that this wasn’t a robbery attempt but now with some unpleasant head wear was obliged to hurry back to the Riad to take a shower and that was the end of the afternoon sightseeing and we stayed safely inside until it was time to go and see if we could catch a sunset coming in from the Atlantic Ocean and from the chilly battlements of the town we waited with others to watch the end of day show.