Tag Archives: Essaouira

Morocco, Essaouira – More Blue Doors

Doors of Essaouira

The custom of painting doors blue extends across Europe and beyond and is common across the entire world.

Even today in provinces of Spain buildings are decorated with blue bands and designs, houses in Egypt, in the Arab villages of Israel, and entire villages in Morocco, have blue walls.  The same colour decorates the houses of Mexican Indians and in the United States the Amish in Pennsylvania paint their doors blue because, just as in Greece, many folk magic traditions and customs maintain that a witch cannot cross a blue threshold and according to such belief, a blue door is an effective barrier against evil, much like laying a broom across the thresh hold, putting salt on the windowsills or a hanging a horseshoe above the door.

Read the Full Story…

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Blue Doors of Essaouira

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Morocco, Top Travel Tips – The Souks

Fez Colours

“I believe that Marrakech ought to be earned as a destination. The journey is the preparation for the experience. Reaching it too fast derides it, makes it a little less easy to understand.”  ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: ‘A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams’

And so our quick visit to Morocco was suddenly over all too quickly.  I had previously said that I wouldn’t go back again but the truth is I enjoyed it.

Flushed with enthusiasm I have decided to put together some top tips for visiting this beguiling and welcoming North African country:

First – Be sure to visit the Souks

This extract is from a previous post about a visit to the city of Meknes…

The journey from Moulay Idriss to the UNESCO World Heritage city Meknes took about thirty minutes and when we arrived in the city Abdul stopped first at a lay-by on the edge of the city with a panorama of the city.  The word panorama makes it sound picturesque or interesting but I have to say that from here it didn’t look terribly exciting at all, just very similar to Fez with a jumble of off-white concrete box buildings and a forest of satellite dishes and TV aerials.

Fortunately we didn’t stay long and Abdul drove us into the centre of the city and took us directly to the central square of the Medina, which, although much smaller reminded me straight away of Marrakech.

Abdul parked the taxi right outside the gates of the Royal Palace and I was concerned about that, but I needn’t have been because Abdul seemed to know a lot of people, probably even the guards and there was no problem.  He certainly knew the owner of the restaurant the ‘Terrasses Pavillion des Idrissides’ and before we knew very much about it we had been led to a terrace table overlooking the square by a couple of eager waiters.  We examined the menu carefully before making our selections and then we enjoyed a simple meal at a very agreeable price.

The main square was moderately busy but didn’t feel crowded and we walked past the snake charmers and the men with Barbary Apes all trying to sell photographs, fortune tellers and soothsayers and my favourite the tooth puller who would have provided dental surgery at a fraction of the cost of the National Health Service if we had been brave enough to allow him.

Meknes Souk Morocco

There were rows of market stalls selling fresh and dried fruits and others competing to sell a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and all around the square were cafés and restaurants with high level balconies where people were sitting and just enjoying the random entertainment.

“By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls, There’s a hidden door she leads you to, These days, she says, I feel my life just like a river running through…” 

Rather like Al Stewart in the ‘Year of the Cat’ we slipped into the souk and walked past carpet shops, elaborate lampshade stores, slipper shops, silver and pottery workshops, shops selling leather, silks, ceramics, spices and pastries and our senses were under constant assault from the colourful sights, the rich aromas and the chatter and noise of the traders.  Occasionally a donkey and cart would send people scattering as new supplies were delivered and the shop owners were probably glad of this because the only place to go to get out of the way was inside the shop doorways where someone was waiting to pounce.

Fez Carpets

Threading our way through the heaving twisting lanes we elbowed our way through the crowds and nodded politely as we rejected invitations from all sides, trying all the time not to make eye contact and declining inducement to go inside the shops and look all the time trying hard to remember the way that we had walked so that we could get out again without getting lost.

We seemed to be the only tourists here so we weren’t too adventurous and soon we were back on the sunny street which led to another souk, this time the food market which, maybe because it was Saturday, was exceptionally busy.

There was large butchery section here and there was an overpowering smell of blood, offal and sawdust.  Whole goats hung from metal hooks, there were bulls’ heads in various stages of being dismembered and sheep heads carelessly discarded and lying on the floor for anyone who wasn’t paying attention to trip over.  Along one of the internal lanes there were cages and cages of live chickens just waiting to be selected, purchased and killed.

The process was swift but brutal – the selection made and the price paid the butcher deftly cut the bird’s throat and shoved it unceremoniously into a plastic bucket, head first so that the blood would drain away.  The poor thing struggled for a short while but when it was dead and drained it was dunked first in boiling water and then freezing water and then plucked on a primitive but effective plucking machine.  Micky, a butcher himself, and Kim stopped to watch the macabre process but Christine, an animal lover, and Sue, a bit squeamish, walked on without stopping.  I went with Sue and Christine.

Essaouira Spices

As we turned a corner there were herbalist shops with spices arranged in colourful pyramids and baskets of dried flower heads and quack remedies.  Kim went inside to look at the jars of colourful potions and perfumes and to enquire about the spices and the prices each time making a promise to return later.  I imagine that this is a promise that shopkeepers in Meknes hear hundreds of times every day and probably don’t take them too seriously but after a few minutes we did return to one of them and this probably took the owner by complete surprise.

We bought a few bags of spices and I began to worry about taking these little multi-coloured bags of suspicious looking powder through customs especially bearing in mind that Morocco has a reputation of being a big producer of illegal drugs.

Our heads full of the sights and sounds of the busy souk we pushed our way out through a main entrance and made our way again across the main square which was beginning to fill up and I imagined that it was going to be a big night in Meknes later.  We wouldn’t see this of course because now we had to find Abdul who had promised to take us to see the other important sites in the city.  We found him chatting to the restaurant owner – presumably negotiating his commission!

marrakech-10

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

Morocco, Essaouira – Street Colours

Essaouira ArtEssaouria Souk Fabric

Morocco, Essaouira – Mogadir Blue

Essaouira Door BlueEssaouira Blue CartEssaouira Orange PeelMogador Blue Door

Morocco, Essaouira – Blue Boats

Essaouira Fishing BoatsEssaouira Blue BoatsBlue Boats Essaouira

Morocco, Essaouira – Medieval Time Travel

Morocco Souk

Walking around the Medina and the Souks I got a sense that very little has changed here for several hundred years.

Like almost everyone I guess, I have always been fascinated by the possibility of time travel and in the heart of the old town it was possible to imagine stepping back to the Middle Ages but this, let me tell you, was just about as close to Medieval as I would probably want to get.

There is a tourist attraction in York (UK) which recreates a Viking village complete with sights, sounds and smells.  This I thought was similar except it is for real. There are some curious odours, that’s for sure.  In the butchers souk huge beef carcasses hang and release the aroma of slaughtered animals and blood soaked sawdust while close by fresh killed chickens dangle from hooks, in the fish souk there were more fish heads and guts and in the vegetable market mountains of rotting leaves were piled up behind the stalls.  Everywhere rubbish is left in convenient doorways and alleys and it is going to stay there all day until cleared sometime in the night.

Beneath the street I could see that the inadequate drains were blocked with years of debris and lack of cleaning and must surely be completely unable to deal with whatever is down there.  I reminded myself that this was January and wondered just what it might be like in the in August in the heat of summer!

Morocco Henna Hand Painting

Everywhere there is street food, bread, biscuits, pastries and fast food cafés on every corner.  When I had visited Marrakech in 2009 I had a street-side snack which upset my stomach so I was nervous here but on one occasion could not resist the temptation of a chicken kebab wrap, a combination of meat, cheese, various salads and a secret sauce and it was delicious and thankfully without any unsettling consequences.

Away from the food market there were small shops selling spices, herbs and quack remedies from over a thousand years ago.  We stopped and shared tea with a trader and then felt obliged to buy a bag of various spices and when I reckoned up later I was certain that we had been overcharged.

You need to be careful in Morocco because most of the traders in the souks want to separate tourists from their money as quickly as they can so it is important to have your wits about you and it is important to remember that most of them want to sell you something that you do not really need.

Morocco Spices

As a consequence of the fact that Morocco does not have a welfare payments system there is no financial safety net for those who fall on hard times and there are therefore a lot of beggars on the street.  For me this creates a huge dilemma, do I give to one but not the other or, on the basis that I cannot give to everyone, do I give to none at all?  This is like the film ‘Sophie’s Choice’.  I choose the first option and put some money in my pocket and give a coin here and there based simply on who to me appears to be the most desperate.

There are hustlers too and these are the people to give a wide berth.  They follow, they pester, they won’t take no for an answer and they cling on like Velcro.  On several occasions I was offered hashish to smoke (a sort of marijuana) or cannabis ‘space cakes’ and had to be really firm in turning them down.  And then I worry, ‘will they rob me’ and in quieter streets I was forever nervous of footsteps from behind of someone blocking the way ahead.  I am sure I didn’t really need to worry at all, I am certain that there was never any real danger and generally speaking Essaouira was a lot more relaxed and less challenging than Marrakech or Fes.

Essaouira Spices

Down one of these side streets we came across a small museum and stepped inside.  It was quiet, there were more attendants than visitors and inside there were some interesting exhibits but mostly I could only guess what they were because the only European explanations were in French.

Outside of the old city walls there is a lot more of Essaouira and once through any of the four main gates there was a much more modern European feel about the place with more familiar shops and traffic and suddenly it was necessary to remember that we were no longer in a pedestrianised environment.

Moroccans are notoriously poor drivers and the accident and injury rates are scarily high.  I don’t think there is a Highway Code in Morocco, I have looked and certainly can’t find one. Crossing a road is a very tricky process because, cars and lorries don’t give way to people  in the same way that it is expected they will in the UK  so this was a potentially death defying procedure.

There are zebra crossings marked out in the roads but they are there only for a bit of highway decoration and are not something a walker can rely upon so we watched the locals as they strayed into the carriageways and we stuck close to them because they appeared to have a sort of uncanny sixth sense about which vehicles would stop and which would simply mow a pedestrian down without a second thought. Crossing the road here is even more dangerous than juggling gelignite!

We didn’t stay long outside the town wall; as well as being dangerous it is also a lot less interesting so after we had satisfied our curiosity we returned via an area which has the potential to be an nice piece of park land but it is badly maintained and a hang out spot for beggars and homeless people so is an area where it is preferable not to linger.  In the centre is a statue of Orson Welles who used Essaouira as a location for his film Othello but the local people don’t seem to especially appreciate that and the bust is damaged and covered in graffiti.

We were glad to return through the gate through the fortress walls and resume our Medieval time travel experience.

Essaouira Orson Welles

Morocco, Essaouira – Blue Doors

Blue Door Morocco

Spot the Odd One Out…

Essaouira Doors Morocco

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Morocco, Essaouira – Urban Art

Essaouira Wall ColoursEssouira Wall Urban Art

 

Morocco, Essaouira – The Port and the Fish Market

Essaouira Blue Fishing Boats Continue reading