Morocco, Essaouira – Beaches, Camels and Lost Manuscripts

essaouira from beach

“The camel and his driver — each has his own plan.”
African Proverb

The day started badly and it was my own fault.  Entirely without question my own fault.  After an excellent breakfast in the Riad Chakaris the plan was to visit the beach.

This meant walking once again past the fishing port and this morning by chance straying into the boat building yard.  I was admiring the boats when a man appeared and beckoned me over.  I wasn’t sufficiently alert and wandered across and he invited me inside a wooden picket fence to take a closer look.

To be fair he gave me an informative ten minute tour of the yard but then at the furthest point from the fence he asked me in a rather threatening way for 200 dirham (about £15).  I said no way but he was big and smelly and blocked my way.  I stood my ground but even so eventually handed over 50 dirham which was still too much and money that I would have preferred to give to a street beggar rather than a thief.  Lesson learned!

Essaouira Boat Builder Con Man/Thief

A very good reason for visiting Essaouira is to take a walk along the beach at Tensift-El Haouz just a short stroll south of the town.  This is a magnificent beach, Blue Flag of course, curving like a crescent moon with lush caramel sound that is washed continuously clean by lashing waves as strong winds blow in from the Atlantic Ocean and bring in the foaming rollers.  I have always said that Cofete Beach in Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands is my favourite but this one will now always come a very close second and the only reason that it doesn’t get my top spot is because there are a lot more people on it.

The beach stretches for a couple of miles or so and about half way along there are camels, lots of camels.  Once they used to carry trade goods from the Sahara to the port but now their job is to provide rides for visitors and tourists.

I have always thought that some things should only be done once in life and for me a camel ride is quite high on this list.

I took a camel ride in Lanzarote in 1984

Camel Train Timanfaya Lanzarote

Having very quickly forgotten my lesson in the boat yard about being easily hustled I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself negotiating with a camel owner for a one hour ride along the beach and before I could say Lawrence of Arabia I was sitting on a shaggy carpet on the back of a dromedary and being hoisted into the air!  It is a long way up on a camel so once on board there is no realistic opportunity of changing your mind that won’t involve a sprained ankle or a broken leg!

To be fair I was happy with the price – 150 dirham (£12) for one hour and one mile which compares very favourably with £2.50 for a five minute and two hundred yard donkey ride at home on Cleethorpes Beach.

And so we set off at a leisurely pace along the beach with the camel man persistently trying to persuade me to spend more and extend the ride to two hours.  I refused and held out.  I was proud of myself for that.

“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian (if there is such a thing) Joe E. Lewis

Essaouira Camel Ride

In my pocket I had brought with me some pages from a note book so that I could make a record of the day and at one point I thought of something so brilliant, so Brysonesque that I felt I needed to write it down immediately in case I forgot this potential literary gem and I reached inside my pocket for pen and paper.  Unfortunately it was quite windy and as I clung on firmly to the wooden saddle with one hand I was surprised by a strong gust that separated me from the paper and it went back-flipping across the sand like an Olympic gymnast and it was lost.  Now I would have to rely on memory.

As it happens, this was rather like Lawrence of Arabia himself.  Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the First-World-War and he began work in 1919 on the manuscript of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.  By December it was almost complete but he lost it when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station sometime in the following year.  It was never recovered and he had to start all over again.

At least Lawrence still had his notes but he did have to rewrite four years of memoirs I only needed to recall four days!

T E Lawrence

Another famous loss is the story of Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’.  In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read for his comments.  Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it as a convenient source of material to get the kitchen fire going one morning!

Unlike Lawrence, Carlyle apparently kept no notes at all and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory.

Picture_of_Thomas_Carlyle

Anyway, the camel ride continued until it reached a block of stone in the sand – a ruined red brick fortress, battered by the years into submission and collapse by the unrelenting waves.  At some point in the late 1960s Jimi Hendix visited Essaouira and stayed a while in a nearby hippy village and they like to tell you around here that it was during this sojourn that he was inspired by the ruin to write his song ‘Castles in The Sea’ but sadly the dates don’t quite correspond and it turns out that he actually wrote the song two years before ever setting foot in Morocco.

And so the camel ride had reached its turning point and then returned me as promised to the start where I was mugged for a second time today when the owner told me that we had been out for an hour and a quarter and that I owed him 200 dirham.  Second lesson learned!

Castles in the Sand Jimi Hendrix

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18 responses to “Morocco, Essaouira – Beaches, Camels and Lost Manuscripts

  1. Nothing irritates me more than being ripped off. But a camel ride might be worth it. I am sure the camel was amply rewarded for returning you late. Lawrence would have switched the camel back to the starting point with a minute to spare. 🙂 –Curt

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  2. The boatyard incident must have been pretty scary! Camel owners are like taxi drivers – always scheming ways to make a few extra bucks out of you….

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  3. I seems like a very expensive mugging to me.

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  4. At least with the camel bloke you got something out of it!! The other chap sounded a lot more scarey…

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  5. Ah, this morning you have given me fond (and not so fond) memories of Egypt. The Marriott booked a car and driver to take us to the Pyramids. Instead we went to the papyrus museum (read that gift shop), where my husband refused to buy any papyrus. So instead of taking us to the Pyramids, the driver took us to somebody’s house, where they sold rides to the Pyramids on a horse and a camel. My Egyptian husband wasn’t happy, but all of this had already taken a couple of hours and he just wanted to get the Pyramids off my to-do list. So we rode to the Pyramids in the off hours and didn’t go to the museum. When we got back to the house, we were offered the work of silversmiths and glassblowers, but Bill’s willingness to play along had been used up and he wouldn’t spend a cent. After a LONG conversation in Arabic with “our host”, the driver was called and he took us back to the hotel. Bill had been really nervous, which made me very nervous. He was getting worried that we were simply going to disappear, but not nervous enough to buy any native handicrafts, of course. After we got back, Bill sent me to our room and he had another long talk in Arabic. This time with the concierge. I seriously doubt they ever booked a tourist with that driver again.

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    • Sounds awfully like Morocco – book a sightseeing tour and it will involve at least half a dozen selling opportunities for the local shopkeepers. In Fes we were told that it was essential to have a guided tour because without it we would surely get lost and wander around the labyrinth for days before finally making our way out into the desert and die. It wasn’t of course and we wasted our money!

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  6. Wheelers and Dealers.Kind of funny in an entertaining way but not my cup of tea. I had been followed in Mexico and badgered to buy but nothing like what you experienced and the man and the fence. Yikes!

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  7. Haha, these are Moroccans for You. It’s kind of cute in a way. Negotiating is paying respect, though it is difficult for us, tourists. First day I arrived in Morocco I was ripped fine by a taxi driver, who drove me around the city to get me to a hotel a couple of streets away. That was my first lesson learnt 😆

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  8. Not one of your better days! 😦 The image of you on the camel with your notes fluttering away in the breeze is a dire warning to me! Fortunately not too many camels in the Algarve 🙂

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