We expected a lot out of Morocco. The weight of expectation has built, for me, for over 20 years from the first time I imagined wandering through a crowded medina in Marrakesh. It has been so long since I began to think of losing myself in the winding passageways of Fes that I cannot even think of what sparked this romantic vision of truly escaping that which appeared normal.
While I have to admit that – through my own elevated expectations – Morocco was not the life changing experience I hoped it would be. It was amazing, yes, and definitely one of the best travel experiences I’ve had, however it could never stack up to the pressure of two decades of unbridled imagination.
While this is true, I’m not in the least bit disappointed with our trip to the top of Africa. In fact, there were a few experiences that came very close to sating the unrealistic view that lingers in my mind’s eye, and one of them was Essaouira.
After a frustrating stay in Marrakesh, where my variable temper was tested by unscrupulous would be guides, I was searching for a change in pace and an escape from the exact situation that my unrealistic vision of a modern Morocco feeds – tourist overload. Along the road to Essaouira, I’d had my hopes of amazement further dashed by the truth of the famed tree climbing goats who once farmed Argan Nuts by eating them from the trees. Much like the Stilt Fishermen of Southern Sri Lanka, who now net only tourist snapshots, these Argan escalating goats now provide for their herders by posing daily in roadside trees to the commands of their handlers.
Despite the disappointment (which we’d expected to be honest) the goats in trees routine was still fantastic and I was happy to hand over a few coins without feeling swindled, however it made me long for an experience that was unexpected, or at least unsullied by either my hopes or the touch of tourism.
Thankfully, Essaouira offered just what I didn’t know I was looking for!
We arrived outside the medina and found a park, organizing security in a fashion that had passed concern, and amusement before settling in the comfortable realm of reality, and the city immediately felt coastal – largely because it was. We hauled our packs through the walls and found ourselves almost immediately on a large main avenue that ran towards the harbour, and before we even found the riad we had booked, I felt as though Essaouira would be different than anything I had experienced on this trip. I felt as though I had stepped out of a poor facsimile of 1001 Arabian Nights and in to a Mediterranean labyrinth that was the closest I’d seen to the image of Morocco that stubbornly refused to leave my head.
After a quick nap, we returned to the street and made our way through the medina to the bustling port and seaside square that overlooked the imposing ramparts of the Essaouira Citadel. The rash of blue fishing boats and the bustle of fish markets were immediately alluring and we made a note to return with the seabirds at dusk.
I spent the rest of the day wandering through the medina looking at trinkets, fresh produce and the goings on of locals at the leisurely pace of someone lost in the past – finally the feeling I’d searched for throughout Morocco! Once we’d returned to the citadel at dusk, I decided to continue wandering through the narrow alleyways and we found ourselves loosely following the outer wall of the medina along the coast and night fell and the crowds thinned. After a while the stores began to close and I found myself walking alone (feeling completely safe) through a city that suddenly felt like a pirate layover, and sitting – as it does – on the Atlantic coast; it may well have been!
Having only two weeks to spend in Morocco, we only lingered in Essaouira for two days, but they were two of the best days we spent in the country – which is a big call considering the many fantastic experiences we enjoyed. In many ways we wanted two main things out of Morocco. For me, it was the essence of adventure and storytelling that have been a travel beacon for me since I began to think about travelling. For Linh, it was goats in a tree. In Essaouira, we found them both!