Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Essaouari, Morocco June 2012

Essaouira   ess o we’ ra

So where does one go when they’ve had four days of desert caked on their body?  Why to the ocean of course!  The small town of Essaouira was calling and only 3 hours away by bus from Marrakech. Actually, there were two things calling me, the idea of visiting a fishing village and the Gnaoua Music festival.

     Warning:  Do not equate a Moroccan fishing village with any of the following:  quaint....New England.... clean...  It is picturesque, however.  I can’t imagine sitting in one of these boats if they were dry docked, muchless in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  

 They must float, they’ve been building them for 1,000 years!  Kind of cool to actually see them being built.  I watched a man with a hand plainer working on the hull of the boat.  Didn’t seem to be in a rush at all.  Didn’t want me to take his picture either!
  It was fun to walk around the harbor and take pictures of the boats, nets and salty sea dogs.  I got some mean looks so I decided to take pictures of boats, nets and ixschnay the pictures of the salty sea dogs.  

    I am not crazy about going in to small towns when they have a festival that swells the population by 15x and that is what was happening when I decided to go to Essouria during the Gnaoua Festival.  No problem!  I booked reservation, right?!!!   Right.  But....
     The best laid plans are laid to rest.  I got to Essaouira and via a difficult walk through very crowded streets, found my way to the Riad...Only... they did not have my reservation.  I showed the lady my email from HER that said, we happily anticipate your arrival.  She was very sad that she had no more rooms so she made a phone call to another hotel and boom!  i had a room.  Turned out for the best - as it was right on the main street.  The room was a bit like a prison cell - no windows.  But it was on the main street, which meant that even a direction impaired person like me could find it at night.  The first Riad was so difficult to find that I would have had to hire a guide to take me there.  
     The lady at the new hotel was equally friendly and told me of three great restaurants to try.  The streets were packed with people and many times it was difficult to walk without literally being pressed on by people on four sides.   A pickpocket’s nirvana!  My favorite restaurant had a chicken pastissere that was to die for.  While eating it, I saw one of the Brits and tried to yell at him, but he was being swept away in the crowd like a stick on the Mississippi River.  

The streets from my hotel terrace, where I had breakfast looked calm from four stories high, but when on them, especially anytime after 10:00 AM, were a zoo.  It was like we were in an auto and it was rush hour traffic.  

This was taken at about 7:00 AM.  It was the only time of day when you could see street.  Other times it was a subway platform in Tokyo.  Wall to wall people!


Essaouira was filled with “artists” from all over the world, such as these hair briders.  People couldn’t wait to have their hair braided.  I was able to find the Berber scarf i had been looking for.  I believe I paid all of $3.50 for it!

    The streets were a mad house, especially in late evening.  Yet, people would unfurl a blanket, throw some melons or peaches on it and start selling them.  In the middle of the street!!!  I wanted to scream at the Mayor and say, “Really??  Does this make sense to you to block the street?”  

 To get any sense of calm, a person would have to go off the main street to a side alley and barring a mugging, could find solace.  

    At night the Ganou concerts were interesting and some of the music was pleasing to the ears.  They had an instrument, think bass guitar but made from animal skins.  It had the richest tone of any instrument that I’ve heard since the super big pan flutes of South America.  I would be listening to a song by seven or eight musicians and it was nice, but going nowhere when all of a sudden one of them would start playing the animal skinned bass and it was like , “Whoa!,,, that is awesome!”  The man in black (no, not Johnny Cash), next to the piano is holding the instrument.
I don’t even know how to describe Ganoui music.  Think African/folk/rock n roll.  Lots of percussion, very soulfull.  Loud, but it made me feel like I was in Africa. 
Essaouari is a bit of a hippie hangout, or use to be.  Jimi Hendrix visited there for about a week and now there are all kinds of local legends, none of which are true.  But that doesn't mean that the local merchants don't use it to sell.  You'd think Hendrix was going to walk around the corner at anytime.
To escape the madness, I went to the beach, only to run into a festival of local tribes doing horse exhibitions.  They were riding at full speed AT the audience and firing their rifles...they do know about blanks, right??

To see some real shooting, though they never fired, I walked to the fort overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  The water was brown, probably that time of year...or flushing time, I don't know.  The water looked anything but inviting.  Even on a clear day with clear water, the wind is blowing constantly and hard.  Not my idea of beach fun, picking sand out of my teeth, clothes, and hair...okay, teeth and clothes.

Seriously, does this look like a beach you'd want to swim in???  No thanks.  Amazing the amount of people I met on the bus and in town who said that they were in Essaouari to enjoy a beach holiday.  Maybe... if you're really into wind surfing or kite flying.  The logic behind putting a fort in Essaouari is really simple:  you don't have to aim at the boat, just aim so that if they don't sail into the rocks, they'll sail into the cannonballs, thus, they're kill ratio is enhanced by the ships sailing into the rocks to avoid sailing into the cannonballs.
    Time to eat.  Back to the streets to find as clean a place to eat as possible, without paying an arm and a leg.  There's always the market, where you can buy a fish who has been sitting out for Gosh knows how long and then they'll grill it for you, or how about a fresh chicken.  The chickens show a lack of history... if they had paid attention to the chickens who are taken out, they would stop eating and stay skinny.  For me, it was painful to watch the poor little chickens get their heads whacked off.  Some life, huh?

 Okay... it didn't stop me from ordering chicken... (third one from the left...not the heavyset one!)  And while I waited, street performers performed.  The first was a a group of kids from Italy.  They were earning money as they went through Europe and North Africa.  Not very talented so I gave them a couple of Euros to pay their medical bills for when they fell... and they will fall.

These three guys were locals and were entertaining, though not the best I've seen.  Still they were worth a Euro for playing local music and adding to the atmosphere.  I was amazed at how few people gave either group money.  Shame.  I like people who are willing to work for a living and even hustle.

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it – Henry David Thoreau.

Now THAT is a good saying... Wish I had thought of it!

As for you Mr. seabird... be thankful you don't cluck!

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.
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