February 6, 2018

Essaouira

To meticulously (at some point obsessively) research an itinerary but still retain that sense of wonder and awe ever after reading so much about a place. That is the magic of Essaouira and it is hauntingly beautiful. Even if I felt like I've read up enough about it prior to arrival, it still managed to sweep me off my feet.


From the Rif Mountains, we made our way down to the Atlantic Coast at the Port city of Essaouira, a tiny coastal town some 3 hours out of Marrakech and possibly our most favorite city in all of Morocco. Not that we liked any of the other places we've visited less.



With the morning's catch already in the markets, the fishermen are busy mending their nets while seagulls soar above occasionally diving for scraps.



I stood atop the citadel of Skala dela Kasbah looking out to the crashing waves of the Atlantic bracing for wind and chill. Also alert for possible bird poop bombs as hundreds of seagulls were flying overhead.





This 18th century fortified town was built according to military architecture hence the canon-lined ramparts and stone gates.  It's medina, once called Mogador which literally means 'small fortress' is a mixture of vibrant cultures enclosed in blue and white walls manned with the friendliest Moroccans.






We held off shopping as we crisscrossed the country but finally let Essaouira take our dirhams. It was hassle free and way cheaper than anywhere else in Morocco. No hard sell and going back and forth with the price not knowing if you got the better end of a deal than when bartering and haggling. I do enjoy that sport but sometimes even that could get too much compounded with the sensibility not to offend and the language barrier. 

Travel Tip: do your shopping in Essaouira, almost everything is a fraction of the cost of what you'd pay for stuff in other Maroc cities.





Sunset at Skala Du Port at the seaside town of Essaouira, on Morocco's Atlantic Coast.


As the town is small, we had so many opportunities to linger in cafes and squares. I love this Maroc way of life of sipping mint tea at every stop. This pot here is quite unique as it was tinged with saffron.

Bsaha (to health) as we raise our glasses to you, where ever you maybe!



August 25, 2017

From the Rif Mountains to the Atlantic Coast: Chefchaouen to Essaouira

After a laid back 4 days in Chefchaouen, we were ready to move on and see more of the country.




We took a 3 hour bus ride to Tangier after lunch which should give us a bit of time to explore the compact city before getting on the overnight train that will take us back to Marrakech. Once in Marrakech we’ll transfer on another bus for 3 hours to Essaouira. The bus station is just behind Marrakech Railway Station.



Tangier is right across Gibraltar, Spain and ferries cross the short strait frequently making it the entry and exit point to Europe. In a clear day, you can supposedly see Spain, but as it was raining heavily just as we entered Tangier, we couldn’t say for sure. Because of Tangier’s proximity to Spain, I was hoping to find a real nice resto for maybe a paella dinner but that and our plans of exploring were scrapped and we were holed up at the Tangier Ville (central railway station). We grabbed some sandwiches and made ourselves comfortable as we waited for our sleeper train with our tickets booked days in advance in Fes.

The train left on time at a little past 9 PM and we slept the whole way through comfortable in our first class 4 berth sleeper couchettes. Ours was shared with a local lady. The ride was 11 hours long with stops along the way but as we were getting off the last station, we had no worries of missing our stop.

It was light when we finally reach Marrakech at around 8 in the morning and the station was buzzing. We grabbed some strong hot coffee and croissants for breakfast as we tried to orient ourselves and wipe the trace of sleep off our eyes. We have about an hour before our bus for Essaouira departs.


The trip from the Rif Mountains down to the Atlantic Coast though took almost 24 hours and with several transfers, it was all very straightforward. Morocco is well connected and has an excellent public transport system.

We stayed at Casa del Mar, and true to its name, it was indeed right by the sea where we could hear the waves crashing at the rocky coastline. Our room was at the 4th floor and above us was the roof terrace with commanding views of the ocean.


After some colorful incidents in Marrakech on the first leg of our journey, we decided to do a quick trip here instead of staying in the former longer before flying back home. This city was kind of an afterthought but we’re glad we got to see it.


The active port city of Essaouira at the Atlantic coast just 3 hours out of Marrakech is something special. Possibly our most favorite city in all of Morocco. 



June 12, 2017

Chefchaouen

Life in most of Morocco is still firmly moulded in tradition and the past. More so in Chefchaouen.


Those who dwell here live in stone houses built along the crooked hillside of the Rif Mountains inland from Tangier. Men are elegant in their leather shoes and djellabas (traditional clothing of hooded robes) and the Muslim women their faces beautifully framed with their hijabs (veil). As with any other Muslim country, the powerful and beautifully melodic adhan (Islamic call to prayer) rings out from the nearby mosque five times a day – from pre dawn up to evening.


The tangy fresh goat cheese wrapped in palm leaves native to the area is sold in the morning on the streets and was one of our favorites at breakfasts. We sit in our rooftop terrace cozy in our sweaters and scarves with a glass of hot mint tea cradled to warm our hands.  We watch as this little blue town on the hill stir to life.



The town province noted for its blue and white buildings is that one place that had us drawn to Morocco in the first place and it did not disappoint.



The place is impossibly photogenic and we were smittenPicture this. Blue doors against blue walls against blue skies in varying shades from pale to vibrant all in one pretty little maze of - you guessed it - blue.



There's not that many tourists either compared to the other cities we’ve visited.

It's so lovely out there with so few people and the weather a little cool. We'd walk the hilly streets up and down although we have to keep stopping to catch our breath and poke our noses in the little alleys. We took so many photos and savored some in my minds eye when my photos couldn’t give the place justice.



I tried to blend in too I just had a 350 camel offer to marry a Berber. Base offer was a 100. Not bad. True story.

Most of our photos are either empty alleys or with the locals purposeful in their stride and tentatively wandering in our frame. We smile and greet them good morning and we get a shy smile and a nod back. Or a greeting of As-salamu alaykum. Because of its proximity to Spain, a lot of locals speak Spanish and we do get the occasional “hola!”





Our first week in Morocco was quite frantic moving to and from another city every 2-3 days. But in ‘Chaouen, we've adapted to the laid back attitude and had just the faintest outline of itineraries. We keep track of time by the grumbling in our bellies and the heaviness of our lids.





We stayed 4 days but mainly did nothing. We didn't seek out any must see spot or must do activity but just lazed around and wandered aimlessly. It was one of the most rewarding part of this almost 3 week long trip. 





‘Chaouen is one of the best towns to simply wander around without a plan and be rewarded with discovering charming corners and quiet plazas away from the crowd.


We did climb up the Spanish fortress in the square one afternoon. It was a gloomy fall day but at sunset, the sun broke thru blanketing the town with its soft golden light. I didn’t think this tiny hillside town oozing with charm could get any more magical.




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