We woke up at 4:45 am to pack up and leave our Paris apartment to make our flight to Morocco. Because the metro in Paris does not run that early, we took an Uber to the airport. We only had one of our large backpacks with us, as we decided to travel around Morocco with only what we needed. Our other large backpack was in storage at the Paris airport. Anyways, our flight to Morocco was interesting to say the least. The flight was about half full—Bryan and I had a row to ourselves, which was great for some uninterrupted sleep. I slept pretty much the entire flight, which is highly unusual for me.
I think the pilot was new because we ascended really quickly when we took off in Paris. As we neared Essaouira we looked down below and could not see land, just a white dusty abyss. I leaned over to Bryan and whispered, “Sand or clouds?” Honestly, it could have been either because off in the distance I could see the outline of some mountains poking through what was either a fog of sand blowing in the wind or thick clouds. We did large figure eights in the sky for what felt like 20 minutes before we suddenly descended so quickly I could feel the pressure in my head about to burst my skull and popped my ears 3-4 times. Babies on board were crying and screaming. We got closer to what was below, and we finally found out the landscape below us was clouds. As soon as we broke through them we realized how low we had been to the ground this whole time. The plane dipped along the small runway, and out my window I could see giant letters spelling out the airport name on the small building. The wheels slammed against the runway, the plane immediately bounced, and then we quickly accelerated. The plane ascended again above the clouds. We slowly circled around and our pilot tried to land again. I was tense as he descended and attempted another landing. This time he decided to stick with the landing. As we slowed down to a crawl, I realized I had been holding my breath. I had thoughts of our plane driving off the runway into the rocky, sandy ground. Luckily, this did not happen, and I silently celebrated the pilot’s successful landing and that Bryan and I were alive. We landed in Essaouira (I still don’t pronounce that correctly) around 10:00 am.
It took us about an hour to get off the plane, walk into the airport, go through passport control, grab our bag, and get through the line where our bag was scanned. Bryan had arranged someone from our hostel to pick us up. He said there would be a sign with his name on it. We walked outside and there a man was with Bryan’s full named neatly handwritten in all caps on a piece of paper. He led us to his taxi, a Mercedes Benz that looked like it was originally built in the 1980s, but it had clearly been reworked and rebuilt many times since. He helped us with our bag and backpacks, and we clambered into the back seat of his taxi. He tried many times to have a conversation with us, but we did not speak enough French to keep one going. At one point we passed by camels hanging out by the road on some farmland. It was the strangest sight to see a camel in real life for the first time! They are such weird looking animals! Our driver then said something in French, and all I could make out was, “fete ce matin” (party this morning).
I asked, “une fete?” (A party?)
“Oui…” (Yes…) he replied and back to silence haha
So naturally, I thought there was some party we missed that morning. Darn! They party in the morning here? How unusual. Oh, how wrong I was. Little did we know what we would see when we got there.
Our taxi stopped outside of what looked like a giant wall encompassing the city which outlined the medina, or the oldest part of town. He parked right next to a large narrow arch which marked the entrance to the medina. He gave me directions to our hostel in French, and I repeated them twice to him to make sure I understood. He then tried to get Bryan to pay 200 DH (abbreviation for dirham) for the ride. Bryan knew it only cost 150 DH from what the hostel had told him. We had read ahead of time that taxi drivers tend to raise the price on unsuspecting tourists, so of course Bryan had prepared for this exact situation. He had only put 150 DH in his wallet. Bryan showed the driver we only had 150, and the driver accepted without any more bartering. We then made our way into the medina, which typically consists of a maze of narrow pedestrian streets filled with people shopping, selling goods, and scooters whizzing by you. What we found, however, were that the streets were empty. Almost no shops were open and barely any locals. In fact, it was mostly tourists walking around.
We turned the corner and noticed smoke filling the streets ahead. As we walked down the cobblestone street we zig-zagged by wood fires with rams’ heads being burnt to a crisp in them. Groups of men were huddled around each fire, talking and laughing. There were pools of blood on the streets, and the smell of blood and smoked meat filled our nostrils. We hoped this was not an everyday occurrence. If you don’t know, we’re both vegetarian and try to eat vegan as much as possible, so this was not a promising sign for our future meals. We finally found our hostel, The Chill Art, which was at the end of a dark and narrow alleyway. We checked-in and were told that the next 3 days marked the holiday of Eid, one of the most important holidays in the Muslim faith.
Today was the day of sacrifice—sheep are slaughtered in the streets and their heads are burned. This is a representation of Abraham slaughtering and sacrificing a lamb given to him by God. God had originally asked him to sacrifice his son, and Abraham showed his loyalty to God by almost going through with it. At the last second God stopped Abraham and instead gave him the lamb to sacrifice instead. The next 2 days, we learned, would be filled with feasts using various parts of the sheep. It is also a time to be spent with family, so many shops and restaurants would be closed. That explained why it was so quiet on our walk through the medina.
The host of our hostel showed us to our room, called the Ocean Room. It was decorated with seashells and fishing nets. The bed was lofted which is reached via a winding staircase, and below was a lounge area. For a hostel, this was a really luxurious private room!
We were starving so we ventured out to find some food, as we had not eaten anything yet that day. We found a smoothie stand and ordered 2 juices. The sugar quickly relieved my intensifying headache from lack of food. We found a small restaurant that had a vegetarian menu (see, it’s not that difficult!) and ordered the set 3-course lunch to share. Our meal started with Moroccan bread, marinated olives, and a sweetened mint tea for me & a café noir for Bryan. A Moroccan salad, which is like a pico de gallo with green bell peppers and Moroccan spices came out soon after. That was followed by a vegetable bubbling tagine, and finally, a chocolate cake which was soaked in something that made it extra moist. We also ordered a vegetable couscous which never arrived, but we were so stuffed we didn’t mind.
We had some unexpected company at lunch—Leo, a Chinese man who had been working in Casablanca for the past 3 months. There were no more tables open, so the host sat him down at our table. We had a good conversation with him about his travels, Chinese culture, American culture, why in the world he was working in Casablanca, etc. We were also entertained by the many cats that decided to sleep under and around Bryan’s chair.
Not far down the same alley where we were dining, there was a fire going with some rams’ heads cooking. A tourist walked up and took a picture of the men tending the fire. One of the men noticed this tourist and took up a meat cleaver in one hand and a large chef’s knife in the other hand. He then started slow motion running towards the tourist with an enraged look on his face. The tourist stopped and slowly put down his camera with a look of sheer terror on his face. The man put down his knives and said, “I joking! I joking!” He then pointed at the tourist’s camera with the meat cleaver and said, “Take picture! Take picture!” The tourist nervously laughed and took some pictures. I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at the situation. That entire day we got to experience something that is rare for tourists in Morocco—locals in the streets not trying to sell you something. We were lucky to have an opportunity to walk down the streets and not have people calling out to you constantly to buy their products. Talk to anyone that has visited Morocco, and they will tell you how exhausting this can get after a while. In fact, for the most part of the day we were ignored—and it was a fantastic feeling.
After lunch, we walked to the sea and down the 1 kilometer long beach. We saw many camels towards the end, this time with people riding them. It was quiet with few people around. The beach here has soft compacted sand. The ocean is shallow. You have to walk a long way before it’s up to your shoulders, but it’s difficult to get that far because it’s so cold and your legs go numb!
On the way back to the hostel one man on the street asked us something, which we didn’t understand. We simply said no because we didn’t want to be bothered and walked on. He then walked with us and rubbed shoulders with Bryan. Bryan had his hands by his side, and I watched the man to make sure he didn’t try anything. The man saw me watching Bryan’s pockets, turned, and walked away. That would be the nearest experience to a pick-pocket we would get on the entire trip.
That evening we ate dinner prepared by our hostel. It started with a yummy tomato & eggplant dip that was a little spicy served with bread. Afterwards we had a creamy potato, onion, and olive stew with roasted tomatoes. We then watched a documentary called Sugar Man, which is about Rodriguez, a Detroit singer from the 1970’s that wasn’t popular in America, but was bigger than Elvis in South Africa. It was an interesting story and we recommend you check it out! I think it’s on Netflix (it was in Austria at least).
There is a fantastic rooftop lounge at our hostel. You can see the ocean when looking to one side and the mountains when looking to the other. In between, a mosaic of other rooftop lounges from other people’s homes pop up in various heights, shapes, and colors.
Our second day in Essaouira was less eventful, but really relaxing. A few more shops and restaurants were open, but it was still relatively quiet. The breakfast there is so late! It did not start until 10 am, so we ended up getting a late start to the day. After breakfast, we went to the beach, which was much more crowded than the previous day. Bryan wanted to walk further down to get away from the crowds, but the farther we walked the less tourists there were. I asked if we could go back where more tourists were. He wondered why, and I told him I didn’t want to get stared at for wearing my one-piece bathing suit. I noticed that the local women wore much more conservative swimwear which covered their knees and elbows. I would rather be in the area where there were more tourists who were wearing bikinis and one-piece swimsuits like mine. So, we found a spot next to two girls wearing bikinis in a relatively uncrowded spot.
I spent the entire time journaling and going into the water to cool myself off. It was a peaceful and enjoyable day. Some other tourists were kicking a soccer ball between the four of them. It didn’t take long for 3 locals to join in. Half an hour later they were all playing a game of soccer and occasionally pissing off the bikini clad girls when the ball flew astray. I loved the friendliness between the locals and the tourists playing soccer. One local must have been at least 50—he had a grey beard, a cap, long sleeves, and sweatpants (he had to be sweating under all that!), but he was so talented! Whenever the ball came soaring towards him through the air, he could catch it, control it, and pass it along without hands obviously, but without even letting the ball touch the ground! The two younger locals always looked at him in awe when he did this.
Around 3 pm Bryan and I became hungry. We decided to search out one of the vegan restaurants we found on the Happy Cow website (it’s like Yelp, but for vegetarian and vegan businesses). We saw a sign in one of the squares that said “VEGAN” in large letters. Sure enough it was the place we had read about on Happy Cow. So we decided to sit down and order. The food was okay, nothing special. The best part was looking into the square and noticing all the other vegan-friendly restaurants. It was like we had found Vegan Square! We went back the following day to try out another restaurant which was much better.
Afterwards, we walked around and ended up at Skala Fort Ramparts, from the Portuguese colonial times. This fort is right on the Atlantic Ocean. There are lines of cannons and lookouts you can stand on and look below to see waves crash onto the rocks.
We then went back to the hostel and relaxed until dinner—a delicious red tomato sauce with eggplant and chopped chickpeas over pasta. Alongside we ate a cold and refreshing cucumber soup. We talked to a guy from Lithuania who was traveling through Morocco. He had arrived on the first day of Eid in Agadir and had booked the same night in Essaouira at the hostel we were at. This meant as soon as he arrived, he had to find a bus from Agadir to Essaouira. Unfortunately, because of the holiday the bus station was closed! He booked a hotel room in Agadir for the night. When he finally arrived in Essaouira the next morning he found out his entire reservation for Essaouira had been cancelled because he hadn’t shown up for the first night. Luckily, they had room for him—but his story made me think how I would have reacted. Before our trip I probably would have been freaking out—now however, not so much. It’s funny how long-term travel can make you less frantic in situations where plans change last minute. You’re constantly being put in situations where your original plan doesn’t go the way you imagined it, requiring you to make last minute decisions. Eventually, you learn how to calmly accept the chaos.
The next morning we again had breakfast at the hostel. We met a girl from San Francisco—Connie. She had quit her job in finance and has traveled for the past 9 months. We swapped stories and connected immediately. After breakfast, Bryan and I decided to check out the Jimi Hendrix café in the next town over in Diabat. A chalkboard in our hostel had a list of suggested things to do had listed this café saying it was only a 1 kilometer walk along the beach to the next town over, so we ventured out.
The first thing we noticed was how much windier the beach was that day. The sand swirled around our ankles. A lot less people were laying out—we could see it was to avoid the painful sand being picked up by the wind and stabbing your skin like pin pricks. As we walked we saw many soccer matches however. Teams had the same colored shirts to wear too! Then came the camels. Tons of men asked if we wanted camel rides. Some even had horses you could ride on the beach. It was the kite surfers though that dominated the far end of the beach.
Tons of people were receiving lessons on kite surfing. Most were simply trying to keep the heavy kite from crashing down on the sand or water. Few made it out to sea. Bryan and I dodged camels and crashing kites, while observing the few kite surfers out at sea. There was still a dense fog over the sea when we spotted 2 kite surfers further down the coastline by some large rocks towering over the water. One surfer had a bright lime green kite that was being sharply rotated every which way. He looked out of control and like he was heading toward the rocks. He then arched away from the rocks, heading away from the coast, and disappeared into the fog. Bryan and I thought how scary it would be to surf into the fog and not be able to see the shore. How would you direct yourself back? We didn’t see him reappear until a good 10 minutes later.
The final group we came across on the beach consisted of people riding 4-wheelers. We turned left towards a valley of sand dunes and loose gravel paths that many groups of 4-wheelers took. We walked about 1 kilometer further to town, but stopped at some castle ruins along the way, hidden in the valley of sand dunes. Apparently, this is the castle Jimi Hendrix describes in his Castles Made of Sand song. We climbed up and took some pictures overlooking the dunes. As we walked closer to town I grew more and more nervous.
The town looked much like the castle ruins, but in no way majestic. The café stood out because of the paintings of Jimi Hendrix’s head all over the outside walls, but everything else about the café was less inviting. We were hungry though, and after 5.5 kilometers of walking (WAY more than the hostel’s chalkboard had noted), we decided to take a break. We ordered coffees, a Moroccan salad, and a plate of fries. I had read on TripAdvisor the owner was known for ripping off customers and charged them for condiments along with their fries and olives that are normally complimentary at restaurants in Morocco. The food was disappointing but fueled us up enough for the walk back. While we were there the restaurant remained mostly empty. I guess word had gotten out about how bad the food and service was. We paid our bill and walked back along the road instead of along the beach. It took us half the time to walk back, but it was more brutal because the wind blew at our faces and sand would get under my sunglasses. Bryan let me borrow his hat to prevent the sand from blowing into my eyes.
That evening we met up with Connie and two friends from Germany she met in Fes. We went to one of the few bars in the area. It was on a rooftop with multiple levels of patios with seating and tables. There was a very lively dance floor and even live music. I couldn’t help but sing along to all the songs much to Bryan’s amusement. We drank a beer and chatted for about 2 hours. Once we got back to our hostel it was after midnight, and we were exhausted, so it didn’t take long for us to fall asleep. Around 3 am however, Bryan awoke with some stomach issues. It was the beginning of the end for us…
The next morning, I felt fine, but Bryan was not feeling well at all. He barely touched his breakfast. Still, he pushed through the day. We had a really late start because we did some laundry. After finally hanging our last shirt to dry, we headed out. We started by walking Connie to the CTM bus station outside of the medina into New Essaouira so she could book her bus ticket for the following day. New Essaouira was full of wide sidewalks lined with palm trees and expansive courtyards with newer looking apartment buildings made with concrete blocking and shiny new coating. After Connie bought her bus ticket, we made our way back into the medina. The market was in full swing! The holiday was winding down, so everyone was back at work. Spices, fruits, vegetables, baskets, silver dinnerware, clothes, Moroccan lamps, leather goods, sandals, artwork—you can find just about anything by walking down the street! Bryan and I decided we needed to make a trip back just to shop for home goods. You can’t help but love the unique beauty of Moroccan furnishings.
We then went in search of an artists’ street which our hostel had written about on their chalkboard. The artists’ street was supposed to be just outside the medina where the Sunday flea market is. We were supposed to see artists’ houses made from recycled trash. Uh…we ventured out and only found literal piles of garbage. Piles of it on the beach by an industrial area that was quiet save for a few locals working on cars and a man begging for money. Everyone was staring at us, and we felt uncomfortable, so we turned around and went back to the medina. It was getting late and Bryan was feeling worse by the minute. I was walking and looking at the various stalls a bit too slowly. In hindsight, I feel bad about it because Bryan was feeling ill, but he was such a trooper and didn’t express how terrible he felt until the end of the day. We went back to our hostel to rest.
Towards sunset time, I decided I really wanted to get a few pictures by the ramparts. Connie and I went, but we were turned away at the entrance by a guard. Apparently the ramparts close at sunset. We ran to the seaside entrance of the medina just a little too late, but we took some pictures anyways. We then went back to the hostel for one last delicious dinner. Since Bryan wasn’t feeling well, he and I just relaxed and went to bed early. Little did I know the next day I was going to be the one in pain.
We woke up around 8:30 am and packed up. Our bus didn’t leave until 11:30 am so we weren’t worried about time. It wasn’t until we realized we didn’t sign up for breakfast the night before that we started rushing. We finished packing and went out into the medina to find some breakfast. After almost getting to the end I spotted the Driss bakery—with a line outside the door. It’s the bakery our hostel had recommended (although I was getting a bit weary of their chalkboard recommendations). I got in line and soon found there were multiple lines of people waiting. After giving some looks to people trying to cut me, the man right in front of me actually let me order before him! Just when you’re about to give up on thinking people are kind beings they surprise you. I ordered our box of goodies and Bryan and I headed back to the hostel.
One of the hostel employees immediately knew where we had gone and jokingly said, “Aw, you brought those for me?”
I chuckled and greedily said, “No—all ours haha”
We plopped down and scarfed down our goodies—the hostel for once had been right on their recommendation. These were delicious! I wish I could have finished, but my appetite had suddenly become suppressed. We checked out and walked to the bus station. We boarded our bus without any drama and began our 3-hour journey to Marrakesh. During that drive, after an unpleasant bathroom experience that morning, my stomach began to hurt, and I was nauseous. At the rest stop about halfway I went to the bathroom to attempt to puke. No luck. The first half of the journey I had been writing in my journal. The second half I just tried not to gag. We arrived at the Marrakesh bus station, I bartered for a taxi to take us to our hostel. He drove us as close as he could get, and then we walked the rest of the way. All I could think of was how much I just wanted to sleep and feel normal again.