Thursday, March 11, 2010

Monsieur Sofi, part 2


Essaouira is a small city by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s called the Windy City, mostly due to the .. you guessed it .. wind :). It really is pretty breezy there but it’s also quite lovely. It’s supposed to be a heaven of reggae and gnawa musicians, hash smokers, capoeira practitioners, freeloaders, surfers and anybody else who appreciates the laid-back atmosphere of that little coastal paradise. Every year in June there's a world famous Gnawa music festival in Essaouira, it draws a huge audience from all over the world.

Near Essaouira is a Sidi Kaouki beach - wide open sandy space and Atlantic Ocean as far as the eye can see. Very relaxing place to be. Me and Kaidi visited Sidi Kaouki in October 2008, it was our first time to dabble our feet in Atlantic Ocean. We actually planned to take a quick dip in the ocean - we walked very far from the houses and camel riders in hopes of becoming very tiny dots on the horizon, so we could strip and go swimming. We almost succeeded until some random guys noticed us and came happily over to chat with us. Talk about dissapointment, though i guess we should be thankful – the water was very cold in October, our little stunt probably would’ve gotten us sick afterwards.

Me and Kaidi on Sidi Kaouki beach in October 2008

Essaouira is about 2,5 hour bus-ride from Marrakech. So far on all my trips to Essaouira i’ve used Supratours buses, their terminal is right next to the Marrakech train station. I don’t remember the exact ticket price, but i think it was somewhere around 60-70 DH/one way. If i’m not mistaken, they didn’t sell return tickets up front, you could only buy one way ticket. If you arrive to Essaouira, take few minutes and buy your return ticket right away, their buses are somehow always specially sold out for the route back. Anyway, as mentioned, it’s a few hour bus-ride to Essaouira, officially. In reality it depends on how are the roads, the traffic etc. They also make one pit stop along the way. You can use the toilet, buy snacks, even have a meal, the stop is about 20 minutes. I usually don’t get worked up about unhygienic food in Morocco, it kind of comes with the territory, but i must admit that the most disgusting experience i’ve ever had in Morocco was exactly in the pit stop cafeteria on our way to Essaouira with Jevgeni. We ordered two teas and were about half way through sipping them, when Jevgeni noticed that there is something funny floating in his tea. It turned out that the peppermint leaves used for the teas had small maggots on them, which were kind of boiled alive with the hot water added and were now floating about in the glass, juicy and cooked. So, if you MUST eat in that cafeteria, buy Coca-Cola :).

Essaouira’s medina is small and surrounded by big city walls, not too many chances to get seriously lost. There are lot’s of tourists and haggling is very important. At the same time, vendors are not really as cut-throat as for example in Marrakech. Most of them seem to be willing to lower their prices only up to some point and that’s it, as far as they’re concerned, you can walk out of the shop and they’re not going to run after you. When you go shopping, step into secluded courtyards and streets off the main shopping road – there are small handicraft or design shops which even if they’re not cheap, sell more interesting stuff than the vendors on the main road. Essaouira is generally cheaper place to shop than Marrakech. Take for example ceramics - most of the ceramics sold in Essaouira is from a small nearby city called Safi (when you turn the ceramic piece over, you can see "Safi" inscription at the bottom). In Marrakech the prices tend to be higher. Essaouira is also a good place to buy Argan oil products - indigenous to that part of Morocco only. Argan oil is used in cosmetics, food, medicine etc. I have no idea how does the Argan cooking oil tastes, but there is a small little shop in Essaouira medina that sells special kind of lemon fragrant Argan oil soaps. I couldn't give you directions even if my life depended on it. I found it once very accidentally and i know the rough area where it locates, but each time i go looking for it, i usually end up making random circles in the neighbourhood until i stumble on that shop. Another widely available consumer group is Thuya wood products. You see them sold on every street - brown polished looking boxes, bowls, pins, gameboards and so on. The prices vary from very cheap to not so cheap. If you want to support the local artisanal groups, buy your stuff from designated shops - then your money goes straight to the artist/craftsman not to the middle man. At the same time, the prices on those shops are a bit higher. Also, if you want to invest into let's say a beautiful thya wood jewellery box or some precision work like that, don't buy the cheapest stuff you can find. It's a given that quality will be noticeably worse, but the thuya wood is also a live material, it expands or dries a little depending on the climate and cheaper products tend to break or bend more.

Colorful Safi ceramics

If in India shop-guys offer you masala chai, then in Morocco it's peppermint tea (Ibrahim)

Shop guy showing us a leather puff. We couldn't agree on the price, so we smiled and walked out of the shop. He came out after us and said that he really would want to sell us the puff, but the price is just too low - his family would die of hunger! He waited until we walked to the end of the street and then screamed: "ok ok!". It really pays off not to be that interested in the product in the first place, so that you are willing to just walk away without any regret.

Me and Jevgeni stayed in Essaouira for two nights. We walked around, ate good food, enjoyed nice weather and celebrated Jevgeni’s birthday in our riad. I even ordered a surprise birthday cake, which was very huge and tasted like a transfat sugar bomb. The riad we were staying in is a small family operated place called Dar Afram. I’ve stayed there every time i’ve visited Essaouira and i quite enjoy it. The atmosphere is very relaxed, probably because it’s run by Australian guy Tarik and we all know that Australians are one relaxed and chilled-out bunch. Tarik’s father Abdul is Moroccan, mother Australian, so the guy looks 100% local without the pesky language barrier :). Since Abdul is a musician and Tarik is also handy with a guitar, there’s often jammin’ going on in the riad. The place also seems to attract musically talented guests which is very good for having live music every evening.

Celebrating Jevgeni's birthday


Thijs from Netherlands, October 2008. He was one of those musically talented guests

Dar Afram has about 6 rooms, all with shared bathrooms. Also a roof terrace on two different levels. On the ground floor is a lounge and kitchen area. It's reasonably quiet place, they seem to tone down music after midnight. The riad locates in the historical medina, only a few minute walk to the city walls and main shopping streets, about 10 minute walk to the Supratours bus station (that's an important detail, because you're going to have to carry your luggage yourself since the medina is car free).

One of the double rooms

For booking write Tarik directly:

The room fee includes a complimentary Moroccan breakfast (orange juice, tea, coffe, bread, jam, olive oil etc), dinner costs extra (i think it was around 100DH). As much as i like the riad and Tarik, can’t say i recommend the cooking. I’ve tried it on 3-4 different occasions, it’s good enough, but nothing special.

Tarik and riad's dinner - fish tajine

If you’re in Essaouira, it’s almost a compulsary to try the fresh seafood down at the harbour. There are various seafood vendors, you just point at what you’d like to try and they’ll cook it for you. Do be careful about the price though, it’s pretty steep. Those few times i’ve eaten there it’s been about 150-200DH, so negotiate beforehand.

Fresh seafood vendors at the harbour

Essaouira harbour with it's blue fishing boats and gridlock traffic

One day we were walking around in medina, trying to find a non-tourist eating place. We ended up finding an absolutely superb local place which offered excellent fish and tajines. On the first day we just got some freshly grilled fish and shrimps, because tajines had ended already. But we made a deal to come back the next day and pre-ordered our tajines. So, the day later we get there and the owner informes us that sorry, he has already sold our food to somebody else. We were like „ee .. wtf?“. It was a slice of his Moroccan humor of course, our tajines were happily steaming on the stove. The day before when i said i would like a beef tajine and Jevgeni wanted chicken, we imagined they’re going to be standard little portions. What we got was loads and loads of peppermint tea, olives, fresh salad, bread and two biggest tajines you’ll ever see served for one person in a restaurant. Trust me, the photos don’t do them any justice. And boy, were they tasty. I couldn’t even finish mine, it was just so huge. We made a small mistake of not fixing the price beforehand, so the final bill came to 120DH for two (with a bit of haggling). Since it was an eating place meant for locals, the price was definitely not something that the locals would be charged, but considering the quality/quantity of the food, it was actually pretty cheap. I whole heartedly recommend the place.

Owner of the place drinking tea with us

It's hard to describe where it locates. Let's say you're standing in the harbour, by the fresh seafood vendors and you turn your back to them. In front of you is a big empty square and then the buildings start. A bit ahead on your right are the city walls and somewhere there is a door or gate you can go through. Once you pass that door, you will find yourself on a pretty wide street that turns into a shopping street as you walk further. In the beginning of the street they sell clothes, household stuff etc, but once you walk down on it, it slowly converges into food market. While you are walking on the street, you will go through many gates along the way. If you pass the 4th gate since you started walking from the harbour, then about 70 metres in on the right side between different vendors is an entrance to this eating place. It had a hand-painted sign by the door - tajine, kettle and logo of Coca-Cola. That's the best i can do when it comes to directions.

Coast of Atlantic Ocean at sundown

1 comment:

  1. Visiting next month and your post was very informative,might even stay at the same Riad...

    Thanks for sharing,great phots also !



Related Posts with Thumbnails