And we finally reach the end of our trip to Morocco. Thanks to all who have hung in there with us!
The Euro-Moroccan fusion architecture, leafy plazas and clear, sea-side air of Essaouira (pron: es-sweera) were very welcome after a week in the desert and mountains. Essaouira is one of the international back-packer-vibe places that invite all manner of travelers to linger. Many come to Essaouira to wind-surf in the alizee (the name for the strong coastal winds of North Africa), others to visit the medina and art galleries and some because it was on the tour itinerary!
Bryce had to act as Team Abracadabra’s Essaouira expeditionary force because shortly after checking in to the pleasant hotel established within a riad - a traditional Moroccan house, built around an open courtyard - within the medina walls, Molly just sort of . . . wound down.
On a day tour with our Intrepid Travel companions, Bryce visited the fishing port and the 16th century Portuguese defensive towers (you may recognize them from Game of Thrones Season 3):
They also toured the medina which, because it has wider streets and white-washed buildings, looks more like southern Spain than the medinas of the desert.
|Necessity As The Mother . . .|
An excellent local guide dispensed information about the multi-cultural history of Essoaira and identified the evidence carved into doorway lintels of the city’s different historic communities.
|Star of David and Six Petal Portuguese|
Flower (Or So We Think)
|The Crescents of Islam - Three of Them Means|
The Arch Was Built During The Reign of Mohammed III
The tour was shown vistas alleged to have inspired Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand”. The famous musician’s fondness for Essaouira is a favorite local legend, and even though we have since read that his visit there was for only three days rather than the long term stay locals describe -- we’re not sure that means Essaouira and the nearby coast weren’t inspiring for him. It’s very beautiful and even today the pungent smell of cannabis is in the air . . . (FYI: we are too old and too cautious for that type of tourism!).
On our second day Molly rallied and we had a lovely afternoon enjoying coffee and crêpes near the waterfront and a wander through the medina. We joined our tour group for a seafood dinner and a Gnawa music and dance performance. The Gnawa are an ethnic group of the Maghreb who mix Islam with rituals of possession which are expressed through rhythmic music and dance. Sorry – we left the cell phone video cameras at the hotel – but if you are interested, you can see a video about the Essaouira Gnawa Music Festival on YouTube.
The next day our luggage was loaded into hand carts and trekked out of the medina to join us on the bus to Marrakesh. Not exactly the famed Marrakesh Express – but probably much more comfortable.
|Routine Street Scene|
Traveling both in and out of Essaouira we passed large groves of heat-resistant argan trees, likely planted as part of a government program to reduce soil erosion. These trees have long been prized because argan tree nuts can be pressed to make an oil which has culinary (“It’s the new olive oil.”) and cosmetic uses. The traditional way to get to the argan nut was to feed the tree’s fruit to goats and wait for them to – uh . . . expel the nut. At that point the Amazigh women (of course it would be the women) would cull the goats’ leavings for the nuts and process them. Fortunately, when we visited an argan oil cooperative outside of Essaouira to view the production process, we were shown a more modern process which doesn’t require the participation of goats. It’s still done by women.
|Women's Argan Oil Cooperative|
MarrakeshIn Marrakesh our tour group was lodged at Le Caspien, a pleasant tourist-grade hotel. Our room was fully equipped:
|Even The Non-Smoking Rooms|
Abdou escorted those who expressed interest to the Jardin Majorelle. The garden and a beautiful blue building within were established by a French painter, Jacques Majorelle, in the 1920’s. Majorelle was later forced to open his garden to the public in order to pay for its upkeep. Decades later, the garden and house, both of which had fallen into ill repair, were purchased by Yves St. Laurant and his husband Pierre Bergé. They financed the restoration of the garden and building, donated their personal collection of Amazigh art to establish the Musée Berbère, and through a foundation opened both the garden and the museum to the public. The garden and museum were highlights of our time in Marrakesh.
The garden is one of the most beautiful cactus gardens we have ever seen.
The Musée Berbère has a spectacular, beautifully curated collection of Amazigh art. Visitors are not permitted to take pictures but a few are available at the museum's website.
|The Majorelle-Blue Musée Building|
Our word pictures do little justice, but here is what we remember: In one room, with walls painted to look like the interior of a Kasbah, minimalist, black mannequins are dressed in traditional costumes of the Amazigh people. In another room the ceiling is a night of desert stars and black mannequin busts are draped with traditional jewelry. The costumes and jewelry reflect the breadth and diversity of the Amazigh culture, which stretches throughout the Maghreb.
Visitors to Marrakesh should not miss the garden or museum.
But speaking of fashion museums that we did miss: We apparently walked very near to the new Yves St. Laurant museum . . . and never saw it. Nor did we see any mention of it in the tourist literature around town. This new museum apparently opened six weeks before we arrived but whenever we asked about “the Yves St. Laurant museum” we were directed to the Jardin Majorelle. We eventually decided that we must have misunderstood about there being an additional Yves St. Laurant museum . . . [Travel Tip: Do your own homework – not every change gets picked up in the local tourist literature or tour books!]
When our tour disbanded and our travel companions departed to faraway lands (many went on to Egypt, others went home to Australia or Germany) we changed hotels, opting to move a little further out of town to Le Meridian. It was too cool to make use of the lovely pool – but having a Western-style cushy king-sized bed was heaven after two weeks on a budget tour. Our van-weary backs loved it.
As we wandered on our own in Marrakesh, we particularly enjoyed:
- Maison de la Photographie, a collection of photographs of Morocco dating from 1879 to 1950. Again, see their website! It was a very interesting peek into Moroccan history.
- The Saadian Tombs, the final resting place of an important Sultan of the Saadi dynasty (Ahmad al-Mansur 1578 – 1603) and his trusted princes and advisors (oh, yeah – and a scattering of wives and children . . . ). These tombs were walled up by a subsequent dynasty (out of site, out of mind) and were only “rediscovered” when aerial photography identified them in 1917. They are pretty spectacular.
Oh – and don’t take pictures of any of the performers in the square unless you are prepared to pay them for the privilege. Some don’t just ask for compensation – they border-line threaten.
|Watch Out For The Guys In Turquoise -|
Those Bared Teeth Are Not Really Smiles . . .
We were just fine with leaving the growing chaos behind and retreating to a Spanish restaurant in a shopping mall across the boulevard from Le Meridian for some tapas and rioja. We mused that our energy for exotic places had become more limited and wondered if it was because we had been on the go for almost three weeks – or . . . oh, no, it couldn’t be our age! Oh, no.
And that’s it for our trip to Morocco. Thanks to those of you who held up to the end! We hope that you’re now interested in visiting Morocco – we know we are interested in visiting it again. Though probably not on a rapid-schedule budget tour next time.