We were happy to be taking leave of the all-inclusive resort in Agadir and all the pasty British people that live there. Very happy to finally check out and remove that goddamn blue wristband that I had to wear for 5 days to mark myself as one of the white tourist cattle that was entitled to free, crappy, all-you-can-drink martinis. Blerg. We were VERY excited for our next destination – Essaouira. A laid-back, quiet beach town famous for its windsurfing. When we told Moroccans we were headed to Essaouira they ALL said the same thing: “Lucky you!”
We got out of the taxi leaving the chatty driver and the (almost definitely) prostitute (see previous post) behind. We had gone to the bus station a few days earlier to buy our bus tickets in person because, surprise, the bus company’s website was broken (from what I can gather it NEVER works as when I asked hotel staff to assist in purchasing the tickets I was met with a shoulder shrug). So we’re waiting there for the bus…and waiting….and waiting. We began to panic that we’d done something wrong or that the bus was coming to a different part of the station or a different station entirely. No one spoke any English and even if they had, the bus station workers were much too engrossed in smoking cigarettes and scowling at anyone resembling a paying customer to answer my questions. So….we just waited. The bus did eventually arrive, an hour late, but better late than never.
The bus ride was pretty short – maybe only 3-4 hours. It was one of the most beautiful bus rides I have ever experienced. It was also one of the most awful. Not quite as bad as Burma’s 12 hour JESUS-I-HAVE-TO-PEE-BUT-THERE-ARE-40-MONKS-IN-MY-WAY-AND-THE-BUS-DOESN’T-MAKE-ANY-STOPS variety, but still bad. The route took us north directly (and I mean DIRECTLY) on Morocco’s rocky picturesque coastline. It was amazing scenery to look out as our bus drove along cliffs over the Atlantic. Occasionally you’d see caves where people had made homes right into the rocks. The road was incredibly twisty-turny and, on top of that, it also would go up incredibly steep climbs and then down steep drops. This did not abate for 3 hours. I do NOT get car sick EVER but even I was feeling a bit queasy. The 80 year old woman behind us was not of as stout a constitution as us. She immediately began vomiting into a plastic bag. Violent, wretching, incredibly smelly vomiting. This also went on for 3 hours. It was a situation where it was just so awful but she looked so frail and old. As a frequent traveler, my initial reaction to anything that inconveniences me is rage but, as Kat said to me, “This is somebody’s grandmother. How would you feel if that were your grandmother?” Mrs. Banh Mi makes me a better person every day.
Of course, that’s all in retrospect. At the time, I was not a happy camper. We stopped at a rest stop – really more of a shack with toilets (holes in the ground) and a few guys running a coal barbecue with about 6 whole animal carcasses hanging next to them. Normally I live for that sort of stuff but I wasn’t in the mood for food. Kat wanted some potato chips. We asked how much and were told some exorbitant sum like 20 dirhams — about $2.50. This was highway robbery. That bag of chips wouldn’t cost that much in AMERICA, much less in bumblefuck western Morocco. Kat didn’t care. Her stomach wasn’t feeling right and she needed some starch in there. I refused to pay (and the guy refused to bargain). So for the umpteenth time a minor domestic ensued. These always play out the same way. Kat wants something. I am too cheap to pay for it. She gets upset. I realize I’ve made a mistake and relent. But THEN she doesn’t WANT it anymore. So we both sit in silence for 10 minutes until we both just agree to get over it. Needless to say, Mrs. Banh Mi got her chips in the end – along with an apology from me.
We got back on the bus. More wretching ensued. I cranked up my ipod and tried to remember Buddha’s teaching of the impermanence of the totality of human existence.
We finally arrived at Essaouira. We were staying at a traditional Moroccan home-stay called a riad. Homestay isn’t quite right. Imagine a B&B in a traditional Moroccan home. A guy from our riad was there to meet us at the bus station. Our bus was hours late and he had waited there the whole time. He also insisted on carrying our bags. For our whole stay in Essaouira he helped us, guided us and was generally kind beyond belief. When Kat’s watch broke he INSISTED on fixing it himself. It’s small kindnesses like this that transcend cultural and language boundaries that make longterm travel a special thing.
Our riad (http://riad-essaouira-malaika.com/) Riad Malaika was so wonderful. Friendly staff, beautiful building.
Essaouira is a popular destination and has been for quite some time. Apparently folks like Jimi Hendrix spent time here and this was a popular hippie/backpacking spot back in the 60’s. It remains a beautiful town with a historic medina feel despite the influx of tourism. There were a TON of tourists there – but they were mostly Moroccan families (though there was certainly no shortage of white people). It was the only place in Morocco where I was openly offered drugs – twice. There did seem to be a few hippy-types who would come to restaurants high as all hell and sit there and smoke cigarettes and drink coca-cola. We spent our time there wandering the windy streets inside the old fortress walls, walking on the (INCREDIBLY) windy beach and generally relaxing in the riad which despite the heat outside was cool and breezy with white walls and the traditional fountain in the center of the ground floor. We both loved being there and were very sad to leave. There isn’t a TON to do but that’s not the point. You just go and let the chill vibe wash over you.
Of course, there’s always time for goofing around:
Whenever I think of Essaouira, I will think of this picture:
Americans attach a lot preconceived notions to Islam and especially the Burqa and to the woman underneath it. This woman in her burqa and her sunhat says a lot to me. When a friend of mine asked if I had learned any grand truism about life from my trip I said not anything huge other than the universality that, really, we’re all just trying to live our lives and, hopefully, we’re lucky enough that once in a while we can spend a sunny day at the beach with the people that we love. I felt pretty awful about snapping this picture (we tried to do it surreptitiously) because this woman didn’t leave the house trying to be some sort of cross-cultural example to be displayed to the world — but she just spoke to me so much that I had to take it.
On our final night we elected to have dinner in the riad, prepared by the staff. We ordered the day before and we were able to watch (and smell) ALL DAY as the staff prepared our dinner. One of the cooks was preparing to leave for the day as we were eating. I saw her go into a room wearing one headscarf and come out in a different, more modern, headscarf. She shyly came over and asked how we were enjoying the food. It was, of course, amazingly delicious and we told her so. She smiled brightly and said, “Oh good! Very good!” and she hustled out the door. I loved that little interaction. She was proud of all the work she had put in all day and wanted a little bit of recognition. Chefs, no matter where they are from, are always the same.
After a few days and a wistful, windy walk on the beach it was time to leave. Our time in Morocco was coming to a close. We had a flight to catch out of Casablanca in two days. We had heard that Casablanca (correctly, as it turns out) is a miserable shithole and not worth spending any time in. So we only had one night budgeted there. We also had a hellish travel day ahead of us to get there. If you are a Banhmiandyou fan who likes to read posts where I am furious and full of rage, just you wait. This next one on our journey to, time in, and chaotic escape from Casablanca is a doozy.