Things to do in Essaouira, Morocco; Medina, Beach and Restaurants
Dehydrated, hungry and exhausted from the Gnawa festival, my Lithuanian friend, Marija and I, set out on an adventure to scavenge the city for food. Essaouira has perfect morning weather. It’s neither hot or cold. There was a breeze that hit the landscape as we embarked onwards. The streets were empty, plagued with rubbish from the night before. All the restaurants were closed or restricted to men, containing only coffee and cigarettes. Hunger turned into a mild feeling of starvation. I felt as though there was no luck in finding a café opened at this hour. We had been walking for half an hour. Finally, we found refuge at an open café and rejoiced as our quest had come to an end. The food was traditional. It offered only a variety of Tangine and French Pastries; a combination of both French and Moroccan cuisine that heavily influenced this part of Morocco. The food was decent. As we ate, a beggar weaselled his way into the premises and began to beg for money. Regardless of age or gender, people in Morocco had a habit of constantly begging for money. The café owners had a distaste for this attitude and quickly shooed these idlers away.
Marija and I shared a common love in food.; the explosion of flavours churning inside our stomachs as the food digested. Afterwards, we headed towards the beach. The streets were more alive; the market bustling with people. All types of vendors were selling their goods. There was a strong smell of fish in the air and fast food in the atmosphere; an array of traditional goods, modern fashion wear, African print clothing, traditional Moroccan instruments, shoes, leather bags and Moroccan souvenirs and spices. This was highlighted by the Arabian sun that dawned upon us. Essaouira is the only place that I experience while in Morocco, that had a steady breeze in the air coming from the Atlantic Ocean.
Marija and I went into the beautiful shops that surrounded us from all corners. She found a pair of white beaded shoes that she fell in love with. She walked up and down the crowded street prancing around in her dress, admiring the shoes that shone on her skin. Her face lit up with so much joy. She continued to talk about how her shoes matched with her skin tone. As a blonde, Marija attracted a lot of attention because there weren’t many blondes in the country. Men would bother her on the side of the road. For the first time, she fit in and no one harassed her. I had braids that looked like dreadlocks. Many locals would call me “Bob Marley” and “Mama Africa”. Here, I felt like I belonged because there were people who looked like me in this beautiful city.
Essaouira is a cheap destination. It was much cheaper to buy anything here, we bought chocolate crepes for 8 Dirhams. As we continued on, I wanted to find a Moroccan coat to take home as a souvenir. There were beautiful prints and designs here, better than Fez and Casablanca. I wanted a coat that gave off a Joseph and the Technicolor dream coat vibe. Something that was bright and bold; resembling my personality. We found a seller who eagerly welcomed us to his shop. His name was Abdul. He called me “My sister!” And motioned quickly for us to sit down while he modelled his display of coats. They ranged in colour, size and pattern. All beautifully desert themed, making it difficult to decide. I finally found my coat and was in love., bargaining with Abdul. I told him that bargaining was my profession in Kenya and I could do this all day. After a heated discussion he finally gave me the coat for 200 Dirhams.
We came across a spice shop that had anti-Viagra, anti-stress and anti-constipation. There were also spices to reduce anxiety, impotency and anger. That’s when I truly understood that I was in the depths of hippie town. We nervously laughed as we scanned the shop’s content. It was very funny and odd to be seeing such in public. Sheepishly walking around the small shop, we cast our eyes fascinating signs saying “Saving Relationships Tea”, “Awaken the Dead Sugar” and “Talk to your Ancestors Coffee”. It sounds preposterous and absurd but in this city any remedy seemed possible. We bought the anti-stress tea and headed forward. There were surfing stickers all over the place. This was the first liberal and free thinking part of Morocco that I encountered. People here were so forward thinking, moving towards a slower paced way of life and these attitudes resonated strongly with me. It was different from cosmopolitan Casablanca or Fast flowing Fez. Instead, it was Extravagant Essaouira.
A big diversity of ethnicities and races roamed around the city. There were so many hippies that slept on the street, people with big rucksacks and long dreadlocks reaching their thighs, smoking hashish in the public with shirts written “Fuck the man!”. I felt like I belonged to these people because I have an inner hippie living inside me. They wore bright and bold prints emblems with marijuana signs, tie-dye and rainbows. The women wore shorts or long bohemian styled dresses. They had beads in their dreadlocks and walked with a stride in their walk. They were so free and unapologetically themselves. This intense freedom was juxtaposed with very conservative, dimly coloured dressing. This came from the Muslims that dominantly occupied the streets wearing their djellabas and hijabs. They both had equal respect for one another as they both manoeuvred within the markets. It was one of the rare occasions in my life where I had witnessed two cultures mingle with such ease and understanding for one another’s way of life. I didn’t expect this kind of fluid harmony in a Muslim country. It was more than tolerance but a form of love.
Essaouira is a coastal city on the Atlantic coastline. The city is one of the best anchorages on the Moroccan coast. In the 19th century, the city became the first seaport in Morocco. European diplomats have been situated in the city since the 1820’s and onwards, Europeans have been heavily involved in the city.
We made our way to the beach to reunite with our friends after a successful day of shopping. The beach was the most iconic part of this dazzling city. It was wide and clean stretching out further beyond the eye could see and it was absolutely breathtaking. The sand was glimmering in the sunshine. Vendors selling all sorts of fast food were scattered along the beach. Tourists, idlers and locals gathered on the beach but the population couldn’t be felt. It was truly a hippie town due to the tents pitched on the beach.
The smell of fresh food filled the ocean smelling air. Beach vendors were making sweet snacks that can only draw a tourist closer. Marija found a vendor selling sugary mini doughnuts. She paid 3 Dirhams, got a full cone of them and was on her way. I asked for the same. He asked me for 3 Dirhams with half the doughnuts in the cone. Maybe the old, grey haired grumpy man was a racist who preferred Marija’s blonde and pale skin to my braided, brown skin. I confronted him on why he would charge both of us the same for different amounts. He defended his fat oily fingers to touch my doughnuts return them back to the pile and put them back again. To me, this was absolute disrespect and completely unhygienic. Angrily, I took my 3 Dirhams back, left his sweat filled fast food and told him to “Go to hell!” Pointing my middle finger high up in the sky, and walked away with my dignity in hand.
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