The Morocco of my imagination was vivid colours, sand, scarves, old moustached faces in a variety of headwear.
I had also been warned about the beggars, the dirt, the hassle of sellers of all things, lack of alcohol and not being able to take photographs or paint without paying a fee to the subject, my experience proved otherwise.
Leaving the bustle of Marrakech behind we took a taxi along an almost straight 174km road to Essaouira (Esa-we-ra) on the Atlantic coast.
We were met by Sandra, who managed our house for the owners, she got engaged one of the many trolley men to take our cases to the house for 10 dirhams. Meeting in Essaouirra 47x61cm Unison Pastel on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch Card
Self catering at Dar Sabon a beautiful riad, a house with rooms built around an internal courtyard. Renovated from an old soap factory in the textile quarter, Dar Sabon has a transparent roof over its courtyard which serves as the sitting room, four bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, built for the heat of the summer there are no external windows to the rooms and there is a private roof terrace.
The main artery of Essaouira’s medina is Avenue Mohamed Zerktouni from the main Bab Doukala gate, here you are hit by the buzz of local people buying and selling, food and housewares, this is February there were barrows of rich red sweet strawberries and fresh peas. The Berber are local people they come to you “Where are you from?” my reply “England” their response “I am Berber, welcome”, they shake your hand and walk away.
Towards the port passing the vegetable market and the fish market through three huge archways, the road becomes less local and more for the tourist market, there are leather goods, scarves pottery, “special price, half price today”, are the cries. The sellers are not pushy but do expect you to barter, my view was that I have so much and these people have so little, I paid too much for some things, but when calculated it was only a matter of a pound or two.
There are many workshops away from the main street where three generations work together where prices are much less and the quality better, I got the feeling if you stayed you would soon get to know local people, they were already saying ”Bonjour’ in passing after a few days.
Due to the cheapness and quality of food in restaurants we ate out from breakfast to supper. On our first night we visited the Cafe des Arts up two narrow flights of stairs, there were four small tables and a duo on guitars in one corner very cosy, they weren’t licensed but went out to get wine. Tagine and couscous were the order of the day hot and fresh, delicious and uncomplicated.
Breakfast all week was at Chez Ahmed, off Souk Jdid in a small square of coffee shops, petite dejeuner normal, fresh orange juice, fresh flat bread, butter, Argan honey, apricot jam, mint tea or Moroccan coffee, a pleasant surprise strong but smooth.
Our favourite eatery of the week was Tiskala on Rue Touahen, in an old christian chapel, with host Malik. The food delicious and well presented we had cheese and leek pastilla, Harissa (chickpea soup), mixed Falafel platter, a vegetable and a sardine tagine, on the second visit, we almost fought over the crevette and aubergine pastilla but decided we could share, ordering a vegetable couscous too, stunning doesn’t describe the flavours and atmosphere, the total bill was 325dirham (£24.81) for four people.
Living in the Norfolk Broads a boating area and as a painter I found the wooden fishing fleet of both large and small boats in the port inspiring. The blue of the boats matched the blue and white wooden seafood huts near the port we chose our lunch from the days catch and were not disappointed, the competition for custom here is always loud, entertaining and it was broomsticks at noon one day.
Essaouira is full of animals especially cats, though feral most seem healthy and well fed, a few dogs some definitely not household pets, comical scenes of cats waiting outside restaurant doors for leftovers were common, the horses and camels were well groomed. the arab word for seagull is Aowaa and they soared day and at night like heavenly bodies.
I fell under the spell of North Africa, in Essaouira my preconceived ideas were proven to be wrong and I am so looking forward to visiting twice in 2014.In March with a group of other professional painters and in October with a group of students.
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