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  • Brian Johnson

Morocco Journal: Essaouira, March 15-17, 2024

Updated: May 17

Some months ago my lovely and adventurous wife told me she wanted to go to Morocco. I know, Morocco, right? Who knows what that crazy woman will come up with next. A casual observer might wonder if the random pictures of iconic Moroccan scenes that began appearing in her little office might have something to do with it. Or maybe the random Moroccan YouTube videos I happened to watch occasionally while she was in the other room. Who really knows? However it came about, there came a day when she said to me “I want to go to Morocco. Make it happen.”

I can hear the surf pounding outside our hotel in Essaouira, Morocco. We have a suite in the Riad Salut Maroc, with large windows that open on to the battlements of this old fortress town, with views of the ocean beyond. After a long but mostly uneventful day of travel, we arrived in mid afternoon, giving us enough time to explore the atmospheric medina and the battlements, with the ancient cannons still pointed out to sea, in case the Portuguese, or the Spanish, or the French decide to make another run at Morocco. We had a wonderful dinner at a little restaurant with outdoor seating; the chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives for me, beef tagine with dried fruit for Lynn. After dinner we had a nice little walk back to our riad, because we got lost in the maze of streets in the medina, and had barely enough energy left to sit on the rooftop terrace and enjoy some live music against the backdrop of crashing waves before heading back to our room to crash ourselves. Tomorrow we will explore the beach south of town in the morning before spending the afternoon seeing how many times we can get lost in the medina.

We are visiting Morocco during an interesting time, as it is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and it is the custom to fast from sunrise to sunset. While we don’t observe

Ramadan ourselves, we are always respectful of local custom, so at least our daylight meals will be at places that cater to foreign visitors. At night the restaurant scene really comes alive, as one might imagine, and we really look forward to that also. Otherwise, it will be fascinating to witness the collective expression of faith from an entire society, as the observance of Ramadan extends beyond fasting and includes special religious observances and family gatherings. I am also hopeful that coming at this time will thin the crowds out. We shall see. My initial impression is one of sparse crowds

I always keep a travel journal on my adventures, practicing for my next career as a travel writer. Or maybe I’ll write a book. So if you have nothing better to do, follow along with us for the next nine days as we road trip across the heart of Morocco, from ocean to Marrakech, the cultural heart of Morocco, then over the mountains to the oasis of Skoura, before doubling back to spend our last two nights high in the Atlas Mountains. Then, in a case of making lemonade out of the lemons life sometimes throws us, on our way home we will stop over for two more nights in Toledo, Spain. Call it a travel dessert.

Continued below...

March 16, 2024

Essaouira is a lovely little Moroccan harbor town on the central Atlantic coast. The site was first settled by the Phoenicians in the 7th century BC, with later the Romans and, in the 15th century, the Portuguese establishing operations in the area, but the current town was built in the 1760s by order of the Sultan Mohammed bin Abdallah, according to then current European standards for fortified coastal cities. It soon became the principal harbor of Morocco, and until the end of the 19th century was the last transit point in Morocco for all the goods brought by camel caravan across the desert from fabled Timbuktu. Stone ramparts, still lined with cannons facing out to sea, enclose a traditional Moroccan medina. A lovely little harbor serves as the base for a thriving fishing industry, and the town is known for its excellent seafood. Wide, arcing sand beaches extend north and south of town. In the 1960s and 70s the town became known as something of a counter culture hang out, and was visited by Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Paul McCartney, among others. Its atmospheric setting has provided a backdrop for numerous movies and TV shows, including the Orson Welles version of Othello, Lawrence of Arabia, Alexander, John Wick 3, Kingdom of Heaven, and Game of Thrones.

Our riad includes a fabulous breakfast, served on the rooftop terrace, complete with fresh squeezed orange juice! After breakfast we wandered to the idyllic little harbor, where the boats were back and all manner of fresh seafood was on display. All kinds of fish, clams, oysters, sea urchin, and even live crabs were available. A little grill station was fired up where you could take your fresh purchase and have it cooked while you wait. We were too full from our late breakfast, though, so we headed outside the walls of the town for a walk on the beach.

A gorgeous, wide sand beach extends in a crescent moon shape south of town. There were a few people, but you could have easily found a spot to lay down a towel that was 50 yards from the nearest person. Some people were taking surfing lessons, and Lynn graciously offered to sit and watch if I wanted to try it out, but I declined. I didn’t trust her not to post any wipeout pictures. The views back toward town were stunning, as the whitewashed buildings were visible above the surf lapped stone walls, set against a cloudless blue sky. It was an idyllic setting to be sure, and at a certain point I wondered aloud if it could get any better than this. As I turned around I saw a man approaching me with a tray hung from his neck, like a vendor at a sporting event. As he came near I saw that he was offering all manner of delectable sweet treats. Lynn declined but he sold me on a special cookie and a brownie. Now, having only seen me from behind before approaching, of all the people on the beach how did he know I have a sweet tooth? It was just one of those special days that kept getting better. About a mile from town we came across several dozen camels available to ride, but only a few were out with people. Most of them were happily sunning themselves in the sand. We sat for a while and people and camel watched, enjoying the 78 degree temperature and blue skies. Eventually we headed back toward town, but stopped outside the gate to enjoy a beachfront libation at an outdoor cafe and get a little more sun.

Back within the walls we wandered through the souks and did some souvenir shopping, although the only thing we bought were a couple of small hand painted oil paintings on leather of Essaouira city scenes. Since we brought only carry on luggage I’m still not sure how we’re getting them in our bags, but that’s a problem for another day. Now late in the afternoon we wandered the winding, narrow alleyways until we eventually found our riad again. Back in our room we threw open the large French windows, enjoyed a tasty beverage made with more fresh squeezed orange juice, and canoodled on the couch in our sitting room as we watched the spectacular sunset. Like I said, nothing exciting today. Just another perfect day in paradise.

The question is, how do you end a perfect day? You’ll know the answer as soon as I tell you. You enjoy grilled lobster on a rooftop terrace under a cloudless, starry sky, of course.

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