We get off the bus from Marrakesh and are greeted by Ali, our wheelbarrow man. We plop our suitcases into his cart and off we go. Ali pushes the cart, guiding us to our riad, while chatting with Susan in French. I have no idea what they are saying so I just take in the sounds of our walk. The contrast with Marrakesh is striking. The constant din of mopeds, car horns, raitas, and store salesmen is replaced by the sound of waves crashing against the shore, the squawking of seagulls, and hushed conversations. Deep blue boats line the shore, photographed a zillion times and why not? Their color matches the sky and contrasts with the white of the buildings, sprouting from behind the red ramparts in the distance. It is beautiful. We are now at least a hundred yards from where the bus dropped us off and I notice: No cars. No cars, no trucks, no mopeds, no scooters and, thus, no insistent whine of combustion engines or acrid smell of exhaust. I also notice that my back and neck are like jelly, all the tension built up over the last week is gone.
We walk through the Place Moulay el Hassan, Essaoura's main square. Again the contrast with Marrakesh couldn't be greater. Where the Place Jemaa el Fna is a frantic carnival of stimulation, el Hassan is as mellow as a neighborhood park on a weekday afternoon. Chairs from cafes line the square, but in the square is nothing. No performers, no hawkers, no snake charmers, no beggars; just open space. As we enter the Kasbah, I notice the quiet. Again no cars, no mopeds - they are not allowed within the town walls. That is why the riad sent us a wheelbarrow man and not a cab. The sound of transportation is the sound of feet slapping the pavement and wheels crushing sand, not the grinding of gears and firing of fuel. We pass stores and while the doors are open, no one is demanding that you see what they have for sale. Again, Essaouira's volume is set at relax.
During the 1960s, American and European artists, musicians and hippies discovered Essaouira for themselves. For these counterculturists, the yin to Essaouira's yang was Tangiers not Marrakesh. While Tangiers offered a bacchanalia of drugs, sex, crime, and intrigue, Essaouira was mellow, a fishing town, whose residents ignored whatever indulgences the weirdos and beardos engaged in. Essaouria's most famous hippie resident was Jimi Hendrix, who wrote "Spanish Castle Magic" about the place or was it "Castles Made of Sand"? I've read both, but neither is correct. Essaouira's other famous, part-time resident/musician was Bob Marley, whose image is everywhere, including all over a store named after him (which I will get to next time around). Nowadays, Essaouira is a bit more yuppie than hippie, though the town is thoroughly Moroccan and you still get people on the street offering to sell you hashish.
We get to the riad and check in. It is early evening, we are hungry. We ask the woman at the desk if she can recommend a place to eat. She says that the restaurant next door is excellent and she will take us there. We walk outside and she knocks on a big wooden door. A large man opens it and after the woman and he exchange some words in Arabic, he opens the door, and with a big smile invites us in. The restaurant is dark, fabric hangs from the ceiling and there are cushions everywhere. We are led to the back, the only light comes from candles. We sit down and are hugged by our chairs. There is no menu. The owner of the restaurant asks us if there is anything we don't want. Susan tells him I don't eat meat. He heads to the kitchen. After a while he comes back with a bottle of water, a basket of pita bread, olive oil, and a dish of olives. We are famished so we dive in. Twenty minutes later he brings us the main dish. I am not sure what it is other than hot, filling, and exactly what is needed. After the culinary disaster we had in Marrakesh, this place is paradise. We finish and sit back, cradling our warm bellies. Though three-fourths of the day was spent inside a bus rolling through barren land, the last couple hours has made this an excellent day...and there is still more to come.
Nouas Al Harba b/w Kods 7" (Philips, 1974)