Essaouira. What a whirlwind of a town. And by whirlwind I mostly just mean wind because that place is windy as! I really liked Essaouira and I think that given the choice of the cities I’ve been to so far, I would totally live there. It’s small enough to find people who are open to getting to know you but there’s a lot going on. Essaouira is biking distance to the countryside and a few hours away from other major cities in the south (though it’s occurring to me that all the cities in Morocco are ‘just a few hours’ away from each other…).
But my title divides my Essaouira experience into three levels. Let’s find out what they mean, shall we?
I would totally live in Essaouira. Like I said, Essaouira was cool. I didn’t feel too bothered by the touts and one of them even offered me space cakes while I was journalling on the beach. “We have two kinds,” he told me. “One middle, one strong. One with the hashish for when you want to feel ahhh and other with marijuana for when you really want to fly.” La, shukran, I declined politely. He replied with a “Mishi mushkil, no problem, you are welcome in Essaouira!”
It’s an extremely photogenic city. I’m not much of photographer (though I often think I can see things that would make a great shot) but I loved taking pictures of the ramparts, the medina, everything Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, the sea, the little isles, the trees, even the seagulls. I really liked the seagulls — they would swoop right over people’s heads, closer than I’ve ever seen wild birds go!
I learned a lot during those 5 days. I spent a lot of time alone. Working, but also alone without distractions. I learned that:
- A backpacker I am not. I have nothing against it and in fact, I totally wish I was or could be. But I can’t. I like to feel settled with a place to go home to and get away from people.
- I picked up more Darija. I can now count to seven (and understand what people say when I ask Shaal? which means, How much is it?). I learned short phrases like Sorry, Excuse Me, I don’t have any, No Problem, and I don’t need it.
- You should always book the most expensive dorm in a cheap hostel. Two hostels in a row, I booked a 4 or a 6 bed and had it all to myself for all but one night. It helps that I’m travelling in the off-season, but hey, it’s probably a good way to go anyway!
I met really lovely people there. I went to this café in the medina every day — one day I even went twice — and all I ever ordered was Moroccan tea. I sat facing outside so I could watch the people and the son of the owner, Yeshael, was always really nice to me. He looked about 15 but told me he was a student studying English and always seemed really shy but excited to talk to me. At some point, he did ask me for my phone number but I found it endearing rather than creepy.
There was the Berber man who showed me how to wrap a shesh (the Tuareg turban, the photos of which shall never be revealed!), Mehdi and Ronny, the spice sellers who invited a group of us Canadians at the hostel to their stall for the best tagine I’ve had since arriving (I mean, it was the freshest and most tender chicken I’ve ever had, seeing as we bought it –alive–in the souk right before it was cooked, and all the vegetables were purchased and given to the cook who made the tagine for us), and the three chill Torontonians I met that reminded me of home.
Yeah, those are the things I’ll remember about Essaouira.
Oh my gad, the hostel of nightmares. Okay, so I did bring this upon myself. I booked at a cheap hostel (around £6 per night) but I thought it would be okay because it had really good reviews. Like 91% satisfaction on Hostelbookers good. The hostel was cleaned not clean– a cleaner came daily so communal areas were mopped and bathrooms done, but every time I got into bed I had a sneeze attack. The blankets were never changed or washed between clients.
And my goodness, THE DRUMMING. There would be drumming downstairs all effing night, sometimes until 2am. NOT EVEN GOOD DRUMMING! Off-beat drumming that prevented me from sleeping at a decent hour. There was also the guy whose wretching woke me up in the middle of the night. I admit that it could have happened anywhere but I wish it just hadn’t happened there. I could hear every wretch and every drop of his dinner landing in the toilet and in between feeling sorry for him I thought I would vomit from listening to it.
Should I mention the showers? Yeah, I will. I get in the shower, lather up, and then the water cuts out. I didn’t wash my hair for 4 days. I arrived at my Airbnb in Marrakech and you have no idea how happy I was for a proper shower.
After a fleet of cleaned not clean hostels…I have never been so happy to be sleeping in someone else's bed. @Airbnb #travel #ttot
— Alyssa James (@aaljames) February 5, 2015
A man had a go at me for taking a photo (which wasn’t even of him). I had remarked early on that Moroccans seemed kind of touchy about photos but despite reading two guidebooks, I didn’t really know how touchy. I was taking a photo outside of a bar at night when a man left his stool at the bar to walk over to the door while wagging his finger at me and yelling, even though I wasn’t photographing him. I decided to Google it (as all Millennials do) and it turns out this was not a uncommon occurrence. Moroccans value privacy and they don’t appreciate having their likeness recorded when they don’t know what it’s for, especially without permission — and payment in some circumstances. Now that I know, I will certainly be more respectful of that.
Essaouira is cold! The people are warm (except when yelling at you about taking photos) but in early February it’s pretty chilly, especially if the sun is being covered by clouds. I was sleeping in two sweaters and I even had to buy a wool coat that makes me look like a super tourist.
So many Canadians! This isn’t really a bad thing, but I thought I would throw it in here. I met at least 10 Canadians at the hostel in Essaouira. I would have expected lots of Brits but I think the lack of alcohol makes Morocco a less appealing destination! The Canadians were on backpacking trips, taking a holiday from working in another city in Europe, or just came because they felt like it. It was certainly interesting to have lots of Canucks to remind me of my true north home.
I don’t know if this one really needs explaining. If you’ve heard anything about trips to Morocco it’s that someone you know got sick. Well, you can add me to that list. I’ll save you the gory details but after nearly two weeks illness free, my body succumbed to the fight. It was pretty minor but I was scared to eat so all of Monday I just ate oranges and drank tea. The culprit? On Sunday I ate salad, a chicken pastilla, and curried potato cakes. It couldn’t have been the chicken pastilla that betrayed me since I probably would have died so I suspect the olives — maybe they were served to someone else and then topped up for me? Yay for poop particles!
The old man at the hostel. I’m not the only one who had a ‘shitty’ time. If we ever meet, ask me about this guy… it’s quite the story.
There you have it, folks! That was my experience in Essaouira — did I overshare? Have you been to Essaouira or would you like to go?
4 thoughts on “Essaouira: the Good, the Bad, and the Shitty”
Essaouira, is one of the main reasons for my trip this April, I have read and heard so much about it that I am considering it as a retirement destination. I will also add Taghazout to that list as I really want a small village on the ocean.
Welcome to essaouira,i have been traveling to some places around the world and almost have seen many cities in Morocco,but essaouira is special,safe and chill..
We must of stayed in the same hostel in Essaouira, the street looks familiar 🙂 There was also drumming until 2am every night I was there.
It’s possible, haha! There are two hostels right across from each other there but the other one seemed nicer. Lesson learned!