There’s no need to be salty.
Essaouira is a stunning city. This ancient port lies on the Atlantic coast and is frankly quite charming. It’s like Marrakech on tranquillisers, it must be something to do with the sea air. All the standard tourist traps are still here but none of it is being pile-driven down your throat.
For example I was approached the very first morning by a Moroccan fellow dressed as, in his very best approximation, a tourist. An American tourist albeit – cap, polo shirt, sandals and fanny-pack – but a tourist none the less.
‘Hello! Are you visiting?’ He smiled. ‘You’re from England? I have a cousin in Crystal Palace!’
In a cheery, charitable mood I decided to play along. ‘Ah, me myself also. I’m from the north.’ He continued. ‘Are you looking for the market?’
‘No, just looking to take some photos.’ I returned.
‘I can show you a wonderful place!’ My fellow traveller exclaimed. ‘For my charge…’
But the incredible part was that was it. A brief look over my glasses and a ‘non, merci’ was all it took. No following, no repeated offers, no heckling. He simply moved on to the next blatant out-of-towner. It would appear that even the guides have stepped up their game.
This place seems to be home to a population of vertically challenged dogs, I’d like to think they are the remnants of some mongrel population explosion caused by an exceptionally randy corgi. Alas, their ears are tagged and they seem remarkably cheery little things so I guess all is good.
Blue, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems to be the adopted colour of the coastal city. The cabs that you begin to see in the outlying towns are a uniform light-to-baby shade, the store-front awnings are blue and high above the medinas streets and paths you’ll see the same vibrant colour adorning the window frames and shutters. It’s a good look and only adds to the feel of the most sophisticated place I visited in the country so far.
The port is a visceral experience to say the least. For a country bumpkin and card-carrying landlubber like myself it’s another world. A world straight from the pages of Hemingway; the local blue-hulled fishing boats sway in the dock unloading their previous nights catch whilst other newer boats on stilts are the attention of arc-welders and painters in the dry docks.
Watching as nets are stretched out and checked for damage or sailors clamber around in preparation the evenings catch could easily give a man the impression he’s never done a real days work in his life. But, never fear, one glance down into the salt-rusted workings of any of the boats soon cures this. The are after all horses for courses and this isn’t yours. I’m a donkey. Perhaps even an ass.
In the midday sun you don’t even need eyes to enjoy this cornucopia of Neptune. Everything from sharks to rays and swordfish and sea urchins are brought in from the Canary Current and laid out, the smell is overwhelming and the swarming gulls, visible from anywhere with an eyeline, scream incessantly.
The cat population, some of the healthiest I’ve seen Morocco, seems to know where it’s at too. I’ve started to notice docked ears on some of them, this is the sign of an Essaouira cat neutering program and you can colour me impressed.
If you ever happen upon the port in Essaouira, and you really should, be sure to climb the seawall like you see the locals doing and scare yourself shitless. There probably aren’t many things more bracing to do in this fine city than get soaked by the Atlantic swell as it dashes itself against the caltrop sea-defences. Or, even better, con someone else into doing.
If you find yourself with a particularly bad hangover from sampling the nightlife in such illustrious places as Bar Hefra, I can heartily recommend taking a friend and spending an hour goading locals into crossing the wall before, or preferably whilst, a wave hits.
The Genoese-built fort with it’s green Danish cannons is worth a look too. From the top is where you’ll see the iconic view of what the Berbers refer to as “Taṣṣort” or the small fortress. A rather diminutive name when you consider it has repelled attacks from Spain to the Netherlands and many of the nations between.
In the street below the Skala de la Ville you’ll find the main woodworking souks of Essaouira and whilst the fortifications are closed you could do worse than visit the Museum of Mohammed bin Abdallah. There you will find some lovely exhibits only slightly spoiled by a tremendous lack of information, but for 10 dirham I’m not about to complain. Well, much anyway.