My sister, mom and I arrived in Morocco on June 25th, around 3pm, where we joined my father, brother, future brother-in-law Manu, and Anthony, who had already been in Morocco for the Gnawa music festival the previous weekend. It has been five years since my last trip to Africa, when we went to Rwanda, but the air here is still the same: warm, smooth, and impregnated with the smell of burnt wood.
Driving from the airport to the hotel is always a telling experience, as airports are generally outside of the city, and depict a more rural life. The landscape here is very arid and full of chipped rock, sand, and desert dwelling plants. Little donkeys can be seen hiding under the shade of the Argan tree, a tree that is full small dried nuts that, when pressed, produce the precious Argan oil, the Moroccan cure-all. The people here have a beautiful brown skin, and often light eyes and dark hair. The men often wear pants and long-sleeved shirts, and the women are often fully covered as well by their berkas. The air is warm and dry, and a light breeze wraps it around you gently, like thin honey.
Today we went to Sidi Kaouki (a beach) where we spent the day cooling of in the ocean, hanging out on the beach, and drying off in the sun all to quickly.
After the beach, around six, we went to the Tamount cooperative where women worked to produce products made from Argan oil. As we walked in, there were five women seated on mats and pillows, cracking these nuts with stones. Around them were piles and piles of shelled nuts, and baskets full of more nuts to crack. I knelt down beside them, the shells of argan nuts digging into my knees, and watched: it’s a two-step process, first you crack the flakey exterior, and then the harder, inner nut. From that you obtain a small, white, oblong seed half the size of a fingernail. I was awestruck by the amount of work that the women had to do to obtain this precious seed.
We spent our day today exploring the Medina (central town) with a guide named Abdul.
He showed us the Lion’s gate, which gets its name from the fact that George Washington gave Essaouira a Lion— though I can’t seem to remember why.
We visited the main port and the fishing market that spilled out from lapis blue boats.
We continued our tour through the souks (markets) that line the streets here.
We headed out this morning driving through the rolling dunes of dirt, to a Berber market located 40 minutes outside of Essaouira.
As we walked through the stalls, melon was thrust at us from right and left. It was cantaloupe, watermelon, and honey dew galore.
We scuttled back to the car, like crabs hiding from the heat, and made our way to an artisan goat cheese shop, located in an old Rihad. This place was a small oasis in the vast, dry heat of the day.
We drove out to a salt mine that was in the middle of nowhere, and seemed to exist there for no particular reason other than that some Portuguese had started the mine there centuries ago, and it somehow is still a business today, selling their salt at 15 euros per ton.
The wind was calling us today, and so we kited from noon to dusk. The ocean was a bit wavy, and the wind showed no promise of slowing down, so we used our smaller kites.
We celebrated Anthony’s birthday (the next day actually, but he was leaving for Paris) by a mid-day camel ride that took us along the beach for an hour up to a pile of sandy ruins that supposedly were once a castle were the sultan lived.
Anthony and Manu were scheduled to leave today on a bus from Essaouira to Marakech so that they could catch their flight back to Paris. We ran into a bit of a problem, however, when we arrived at the station to find the bus full, without a single available seat. With no reserved tickets, we had to drive them to Marakech, two and a half hours away. Luckily Seb was up for it, so we road-tripped to Marakech, bringing with us a few Algerian passengers that had not gotten a place on the bus either.
We walked to the main square that was full of dried-fruit stands, fresh juice carts, and women with hennaed hands offering their tattooing services. (I didn’t take any pictures here because here they would ask me to pay for my picture…) Some people had monkeys that you could pay to have your picture with, and others made their way as snake charmers. Black cobras, and brown falcons coexisted under woven umbrellas, and waited to be charmed and showed off.
I was glad to leave the frantic energy of Marakech, and go back to Essaouira where a cool wind always blows through the town and the people.
We spent our last morning enjoying the Medina and soaking up that sweet, Moroccan goodness that permeates the city and is completely absent from parisian life. I will miss the energy of this place: the freshness of the winds, the fineness of the sand, the fusion of cultures, the brightly colored markets and ornately painted doors, and of course the friendliness of a people that live by their hearts with kindness in their eyes.