The Epicurious Wanderers!

Day 15 & 16: Essaouira

After breakfast we joined our new group and headed for Essaouira, a city where the medina brushes up against the Atlantic Ocean and where we will spend the next two nights. There are four of us left from the original 12. Those that have left have headed on to various destinations, including Turkey and other parts of Europe. The new four are very different from our previous band, somehow much more subdued. The countryside indulates and changes as we head to the coast.

On arrival, our rooms weren’t ready so our new guide, Khalid, decided we would have lunch and wander the Medina. The idea was to select our own seafood fresh off the boat and take it to a nearby restaurant to get it cooked. As well as get to know this laidback and windswept city during an orientation walk with our leader who would help us navigate a maze of market stalls and narrow streets while sharing insights on local life in one of North Africa’s most attractive places. What actually transpired was that the owner of the fish stand selected for us, which was fine as there was just too much to pick from. It was then taken by his assistant to be cleaned and delivered to the restaurant, and handed over to be grilled for the freshest of meals. Meanwhile Khalid took us on a mystery tour of the markets, weaving in and out of crowded and noisy lanes and alleys. Great to begin with but as we passed a few stalls for the second time we realised he was slightly lost. Turns out this is his first trip with Intrepid. Eventually though we did enjoy a delicious meal together in a busy locals style restaurant. Then we headed back to check-in and rest up before venturing out for the evening.

Khalid offered to suggest places for dinner but we had already spotted a jazz bar on the way back from lunch. So jazz bar it was. It was quiet when we arrived, but had a very chilled atmosphere. As have ordered drinks and looked at the food menu a guy appeared with an electric guitar. He started to play a jazz-inspired version of Pink Floyd’s iconic track Wish You Were Here, very different indeed. As our meals arrived he was joined by a very jazzy looking keyboard player in his black suit and white shirt, think Blues Brothers and another chap with a box drum. They settled in with a jazz/blues version of Heavens Door, very laid back. If this place was back home in Perth it would become a regular of ours.

The name Essaouira means image, which is appropriate for the picturesque town. This artists’ town was once home to sizeable British and Jewish populations, and its charm has seduced people like Orson Welles and Jimi Hendrix, who (according to local legend) spent much of his time here in the 1960s. This place is so different to anywhere we’ve seen in Morocco, it’s so laid back and so much calmer than the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh. You can easily see why people come here and just stay.

Our second day is a free day to wander the city’s charming sandstone streets, giving way to the cart-haulers calling ‘ballak, ballak’. According to the trip notes our leader will offer advice on the best ways to spend the day. Well let’s just say that didn’t happen, there was no sign of Khalid in the morning. After breakfast we headed out for a walk, our trip through the medina yesterday had been a little rushed as we tried to find our lunch spot. Today was our time to explore.

For those who watched Game of Thrones this place has a little history as it was the back drop for Slaver’s Bay, Astapor. The main set locations of Game of Thrones in Essaouira are around the Ramparts and Sqala du Port, which are both free to enter and walk around, and fans will notice that there was little in the way of CGI touch ups; Essaouira really does look like Astapor in real life, well minus the ‘Unsullied’.

Next we headed into the medina itself and wandered the twisting streets and lanes admiring the boutiques with their fashions and other wares. Shopping here is easier, the merchants aren’t pushy at all, they just want to show their crafts.

As we wander Khalid is messaging us regarding our hot air balloon adventure he’s trying to arrange for us. We had tried to book this through Intrepid as we booked the trip, but were told to book with our local guide once we arrived. At the start of our trip we had asked Adil about this, he’d said that as he wouldn’t be with us for the second part he couldn’t do it and to get our second guide to book it, we thought this a little strange but assumed he knew best. So yesterday when we met Khalid we asked him to arrange this, he said he would try. Well he did get us a slot, just not the sunrise flight we really wanted, they were booked out. He then said he needed us to pay to secure the booking, but he needs cash as the finance office is closed so he can’t do card. At this point in the journey the cash reserves are running low, I can transfer money to our travel card but it can take 24 hours to become available. I ask to pay by card on the Monday, but he now says that its a holiday and the offices are all shut, in that case who is he giving the cash to anyway. He insists it must be cash today to secure the booking, we’re not impressed at this point as we had been looking forward to the balloon flight and it’s all becoming too hard. I’m now starting to look online at other options, I can get a flight but again all the sunrise flights are taken. At this point we just give up, it’s obviously not meant to be! We tell Khalid to cancel the flights and return to meandering the Medina.

With our shopping complete we head back to our hotel to have a siesta and think about our plans for the evening and tomorrow morning before our return to Marrakesh after lunch. Then Khalid strikes again, one of the new couples want to return after breakfast as they want to go to Air Maroc office to check-in for their flight, which they could do online anyway. He then, without asking anyone else, decides we will go back early. Let’s also remember Monday is a holiday and the office will be closed anyway, which he should know. Not what we wanted or a few others so a WhatsApp discussion ensues regarding options before he changes his mind and we again have a 1pm departure.

With the dust settling we head out for dinner, but first a stop at the jazz bar for a drink, it’s just such a cool place. If you ever get to Essaouira check out Restaurant D’Jazy. Then it’s Medina time again as we look for a place to eat, of which there are literally hundreds on offer. We settled on Silvestros, a little Italian place up a twisting flight of stairs. The food is great, huge serves of freshly made pasta with Italian wines. As we sit we can see into the tiny kitchen and watch the cook rolling each order of pasta as she cooks it. Then it’s time to call it a day, another day with many steps under our feet.

Our final morning on the coast starts with breakfast and the mint tea I’ve grown to love, will have to get onto this when we get home. Then we head back to the Medina, I’m after a barber for a beard trim and a shave. We passed a few yesterday so I’m hopeful that they’re open on this holiday Monday. Success was easy to find, a delightful chap obliged with no English the needed, just a bit of pointing, nodding and smiling and I’m all refreshed. I do think he was keen to give me a full haircut not just the beard trim.

After our last Medina stroll we head back and pack, again. Then it’s downstairs to board the bus back to Marrakesh. We’re all waiting in the lobby, the appointed departure time has past, Khalid is on his phone. He tells us just 5 more minutes, we start take taking bets on the actual time our transport will arrive, I take 15 more minutes. Well that didn’t work, 25 minutes now and counting ?. The worst part is the lack of communication from Khalid, he just stood outside and told us nothing. When it does arrive we all climb on for the ride back, the temperature outside starts to climb so the air conditioning is a welcome addition.

Back in Marrakesh we check back into the 2Ciels Hotel, a nice place, and think about dinner. Are we food obsessed, I’m not sure.

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