Morocco: Reaching The Coast! Essaouira: Beach, Seafood, a Shave and a Massage.

21 09 2020

This trip to Morocco was full of one completely epic highlight after another. But nothing diminished our expectations for the Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira! It was 180-degrees different after the desert. Seemingly in a flash, we switched from dry, hot, desert to a cool, breezy beach, seafood and surf rich climate infused with nothing other than Moroccan twist!

We arrived late in the day and wasted no time enjoying a sunset dinner right on the shore, above the city’s battlements. Mohammad got our group a perfect restaurant reservation, a table with an ocean view. For the entire trip, I was looking forward to lobster here, and ordered despite the $80 price. I did not care for its preparation however. It was grilled, which lent a different slightly smokey flavor, and which dried it out somewhat. I definitely prefer steamed, which is more moist, and leaves lobster’s magical, ethereal flavor to stand on its own. I was glad to try a different cooking method, either way.

Essaouira is known as a very windy city, for much of the year the wind blows so hard, strolling the beach is challenging. This characteristic leads windsurfers and kiteboarders here late spring to fall, when other beach lovers go elsewhere. We were there in early March, and it was perfect.

Leaving the hotel, it was about a 10 minute walk to reach the beach. There, one can stroll over a mile of sidewalk people watching. You can sample a citrus beverage or a popsicle offered by cart vendors. Shirtless young adults exercised at an open air gym. Women in full-length niqabs share the sidewalk with women in wetsuits and men in swim trunks. There is a surfing center with rentals and lessons. Or choose to walk the sandy beach by the waves. The surf was pretty gentle, with a dozen or so surfers enjoying the break. Kite boarders were also out. On my last afternoon, Sandy and I strolled the sidewalk. We were approached by art students from Senegal selling mini-paintings. Rather than bargain for a painting, which would have perished in my luggage, I turned the tables and inquired about his story. Unexpectedly, he unleashed a confession of escape from poverty, oppression, and a hope for a new life in Morocco. My question turned things around from defending myself from a hawker to immediate friendship. He was so open to talking about his hard, hopeless life in Senegal, his journey to Essaouria, his art education, and his hope to bring his family north. Sandy and I were so moved. I didn’t want to insult him by not buying a painting – I admired them but explained I couldn’t transport. Instead, I offered him twice the value just as a gift of support. After all, I was only to be in Morocco three more days. He was so grateful! I was sure there are many such stories so close to sub Saharan Africa.

Essaouira’s other name is Mogador, founded in 1764, and was literally erected with battlements so that the Sultan could launch corsairs against attackers. Today, these battlements are locations for movie sets, and The Citadel has been featured in Game of Thrones. When you see the video, it really is a perfect location!

Essaouira is famous for its fishermen and its seafood. Countless indigo fishing boats lie in the harbor, each morning voyaging out to catch the day’s bounty. So, for lunch, our guide Mohammed went to the wharf to purchase a variety of seafood for lunch. In this city, grilling seafood is the most popular preparation, and there are dozens of “You bring it we grill it” restaurants. We met at one of these places, sat at an extended open air table on the 2nd floor. WOW the variety of delicacies from the ocean he got for us! There were cuttlefish, squid, mackerel, sardines, bass, sole, shrimp, snapper, and more!

Later that day, I carried out a tradition for all my overseas adventures. Finish it up with a shave, and what the heck, a massage, too! Like elsewhere in Morocco, my French came in handy. I was able to ask and get directions to a laundromat, find out when it would be ready for pick up. Then, where is a barber? It was not long before I was in the seat!

I signed up for a two-hour traditional Berber Hamman massage, complete with Argon oil, at Les Massages Berbers. I had no idea what I was in for! I have had massages in various far flung places. Amsterdam, Bali, the National Thai Massage School, and Hue Vietnam. They’re all different. Some stories involved for sure. But this one, I was totally out of my element, for the first half at least!

I went with Anna, innocently enough, wending our way down the medina. Like everywhere in Morocco, a door led to a completely different world inside. After greetings, I was told to strip down to my underwear and was ushered into a piping HOT steam room. I was instantly uncomfortable, what was I to change into later? Then this woman enters and starts spooning hot water over me. Then, I’m to lay down on a flat, hot bench. She departs. I have to tell you that I don’t like humidity. I don’t like hot springs. I don’t like hot tubs. Or steam rooms. This was like all of those times 10! I sweated, I thought I might burn on the hot bench. I finally felt like my blood pressure was about to boil over, so I got up and asked to be excused. The attendant brought some normal temperature water and spooned it over me. I felt somewhat relieved. But then, she began what was to be the exfoliation process. The whole point of the steam was to prepare the skin for exfoliation! OMG. It was not a delicate process at all. More like a sandpaper with a handle scooping up dead skin. Yikes! With that indignity complete, only then was I to hobble across the hall, where I was to get a ‘normal’ massage! Now I was told to take off the underwear and wear a towel.

The massage itself was most relaxing and reinvigorating. My wet underwear was returned to me, and I went back to the hotel commando style! Not sure I’d do that again.


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