Sunday, October 24, 2010

Essaouira, Morocco

Aaah, Essaouira. Where do I start in telling about all things fabulous in regards to you? Is it your laid back charm? Fabulous wares? Beautiful scenery and sunsets? Or, is it the fact that you provided my first camel ride? Sigh...
Last weekend, a group of us went down to Essaouira. It is another city on the Atlantic coast, about a 5 1/2 hour car ride south of Casablanca. Yes, car ride. Of which I was one of the drivers. Driving down to Essaouira was nothing compared to the moments I had to drive in Casablanca prior to hitting the OPEN roads of Morocco. Driving in Casa is just nuts. I can't say it enough. Until you can be here and experience it, you really don't get to grasp the madness and the massive number of cars in the street every. single. day. But, I made it out of the city and back in without denting any fenders, so it was a success.  Took the coastal road down for a couple of hours, and did lunch in Oualidia. Continued on another hour to Safi. Here, we parked to go into the medina. We were met by men who obviously smell tourists coming, and they coaxed us into paying them for a tour of 'how they make pottery'. In the end, it was a pretty cool thing to see. Watched a boy stomp out the red clay with his bare feet, saw bowls laid out drying in the sun, watched men as they carved and painted the pottery, and then made a couple of purchases. Of course, their 'schtick' is to show you the process to entice you to buy more. And then you bargain...they offer a price, you offer a price. They scoff at your offer, and counteroffer. You then offer lower again, and walk away saying thank you. And then they meet you at your price or fairly close to it. Bargaining in Morocco is an adventure. But, one I'm starting to get the hang of I guess.

stompin' some clay
glazed pottery bowls drying
Upon leaving Safi, we then had a couple more hours to go to get to Essaouira. Several times, I had to consciously remind myself that I was driving...IN AFRICA. But, I found comfort in the little towns we would pass through along the way. In these towns, the people would be out lining the streets, selling, shopping, etc. The towns were so small though, I couldn't help but connect it to driving through Iowa where you just drive along for long stretches of time, seeing nothing but open land, and then come to a quaint little town. Granted, in Iowa they are not transporting goods and each other with donkeys and donkey carts, but you get the point. In one town, I even saw a John Deere tractor. Not Kidding. Every town we would drive through, we got stared at like you wouldn't believe. Kids would wave, adults, they had never before seen North American tourists pass through. haha.  We eventually arrived in Essaouira Friday evening. We parked a ways away from our apartment in the medina, and were greeted with an old man and a cart. He was anxious to have us pay him 40 dirhams (about 5 or 6 dollars) to load all of our crap into his cart so he could then push it through the medina to our destination. Done, and done. Jack's Apartments is where we stayed, having heard about it from teachers who had traveled there in the past. Really cool place with multiple apts. for rent in one building, and it's right in the medina. It has a rooftop that offers incredible views of the old Portuguese forts, the Atlantic, and more amazing sunsets. The people in Essaouira are amazing. Very laid back, very kind and helpful. We walked around the medina to do some shopping. All over, there are beautiful rugs, blankets, jewelry, and carved wood boxes and other items. I could have shopped, and shopped, and shopped. But, I needed to save some money for the rest of the weekend and return trip home! I did decide to buy a bracelet, made from a gazelle horn.

 The kind old man started me at 180 dhs, and i countered with 100. He smiled and told me again, about all the reasons this bracelet is worth 180 dhs and then offered 160 dhs. I smiled and said "Or, 100". He smiled and came down to 150. I countered with "or, 100". You get the point. In the end, I got the bracelet for 100. This same kind man then invited me into his shop and proceeded to put a head scarf on me, along with some kind of head crown thing, and then draped a gown type of thing over me as well. He wanted a picture with me. It was quite funny, as my friends were with me taking pictures. We had some good grub down there as well. I still think Eric Clapton was in the one place we ate on Saturday night, but we weren't sure (his hair wasn't very gray), and no one had the guts to go and ask. One place we ate a late breakfast, and no one else was there. The young man assured us they were open and invited us in. We had some omelets and such, and had some witty banter with him along the way. When it was time for the bill, he brought out a menu and a calculator. For us to figure our own bill. When we started laughing, he then came out with a bigger calculator, thinking that would help. Inshallah. Essaouira was also epic, in that it was my first camel ride. We were total tourists, as we signed up at the kiosk for our apt. and then a man came and picked us up and drove us out to the beach in his van. We then walked onto the beach where a slew of camels (and horses actually) were waiting for suckers like us who wanted nothing more than to post pictures on facebook riding a camel. We indulged. Five of us mounted up and let the nice man take the rope of the  first camel and lead us (all 5 of us, as our camels were tied together) along the beach. It was a peaceful ride, along with lots of laughter. The ride lasted an hour, and is now checked off the 'things to do while in Morocco'. However, I've heard another camel ride in the dessert is something to do as well, so there might be more to come. We managed to secure the rooftop deck the final night for an amazing sunset experience. Other adventures included meeting new friends like Calipha who joined us later Sunday evening as we played a mean game of Spoons. He later bought Moroccan cards (of which there are no 8's, 9's, or 10's i think it was) and decided he could tell our fortunes. Ha.
Me, and my camel mount

As I said at the beginning of this post, the charm of Essaouira is something that's hard to capture in words. It's an experience filled with encounters with wonderful people. It is such a laid back place. For the first time, we all felt like we were experiencing a little more 'authentic' version of Morocco, as opposed to the hectic days here in Casablanca. It is definitely a place I will visit again. "Inshallah", of course.
Painting pottery. They didn't want their faces photographed.

Row of ramparts protecting the city, atop the medina wall

Watching sunset from our balcony and spotted this man out
in the tide pools spearing fish.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Now THAT'S what I thought Morocco would be like...

OK, short post here. Just to let you know that a longer post is coming. I promise. I just can't promise WHEN it's coming. Hopefully in next day or two. But, for sure by weekend. I just have to say, that Essaouira, Morocco is a brilliant place. And by brilliant, I mean fabulous. Beautiful, welcoming, warm...and that describes the place AND the people. I'll save details for later. And will post pics on here and facebook. Life is good, my friends...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Thought for the Day...

Just sitting here watching The Amazing Race via sidereel and megavideo. (Can't get hulu and cool things like that because of copyright laws over here. But, resourceful international friends have helped keep me connected with my TV addictions.) As I watch this fantabulous show, all I can think about is how much I want them to do a 'leg of the race' here in Morocco. More specifically Casablanca. Because what I REALLY want to see are the teams having to make their way around here in the little, red, 'Petit' taxis. In the hot summer months. With back windows that don't roll down because the handles are no longer there. During heavy traffic. With drivers who only speak Arabic. It would be hilarious. They could do tasks in the medina. Or sell gum and cigarettes on the street like locals here do. And maybe even sell bubbles and bubble guns like I saw this weekend. We're talking high-level entertainment people. I'm sure that the impressiveness of my blog has spread like wildfire and will soon be reaching readers such as the Producers of The Amazing Race. So, one can only assume that the next installment of Amazing Race will have a leg here. Until then, I'll hold onto my dream of someday being a contestant, stomping on that mat and being greeted by Phil telling me that I'm "Team Number One!!!"