It was actually a month and a half since we were in the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira but I will do my best to recall a few of the highlights.
We were once again picked up by a mini-bus for our trip but unlike our trip to the Atlas Mountains the previous day we had a driver, guide and air conditioned mini-bus all to ourselves. Our guide was an extremely friendly and courteous middle-aged man who sported a very sharp suit! He was keen to point things out to us en-route and he had an endearing ability to give an answer to a very different question to the one we posed i.e. 'When do the rains come in this region?' ......... 'Arabic, French and English'!! It is worth noting however that his grasp of English far outdid our French and Arabic and no doubt our Franglais-Anglais proved a constant source of amusement to them!
As we made our way across the flat, parched landscape of Morocco we were guided by distant snow capped mountains towering in the distant to our left and right. We knew we were approaching the sea when we witnessed a quite abrupt transition from the arid and barren landscape we were becoming used to, to a lush, green and fertile land. This was significant because we witnessed a number of farmers with their grazing herds as we passed. It would almost be possible to draw a line in the earth to signify the change, it was quite astonishing.
We finally arrived at the port area of Essaouira and parked up. What we were to behold was quite stunning. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean was a walled medina which vividly contrasted with the sea and the blue sky. The vastness of the white washed walls and buildings which characterise this former Portuguese settlement were stunning. We were keen to explore and soon dived inside the city's gates to soak up the culture. This was undoubtedly a touristy place but still retained a large amount of its cultural charm and was jam-packed with locals buying and selling their wares and tourists immersing themselves in the experience. The labyrinth of streets and back alleys were every bit as beguiling and disorientating as those we had experienced in the Kasbah and Souks of Marrakech. We had to rely on the knowledge that we would eventually find a way out of the maze free to re-enter at one of a number of alternative entrances.
When the hubbub of the alleyways and vendors became too much we were able to head to the cities fortified outer walls to look out over the ocean. Looking out across the town from a cannon guarded rampart one could enjoy imagining a bygone era.
After a good few hours spent in the medina we headed back to have some lunch at a seafood restaurant chosen by our guide. We were able to sit looking out across the beach and rocky outcrops appearing and disappearing in the ebb and flow of the half-hearted ocean waves. The seafood was delicious and put us in a good mood for a final assault on the medina.
We took time to wander around the port and admire the old junks and tug boats. As we headed back to the medina we were able to observe the numerous seagulls squabbling for scraps framed by the aesthetically beautiful town. As we got closer the scene switched to that of robed Arabic men padding across the main town square dwarfed by stunning doorways. Once inside the gates we were engulfed by shops trading in intricately woven carpets, paintings depicting archetypal Arabic scenes and spice stalls enticing us with every kind of weird and wonderful aroma.
Essaouira was a hard place to leave and we both wished we’d had a few more days to explore the medina and discover a new alleyway to get lost down.
It is now only eight days until my trip to Nepal and I'm extremely excited about the prospect. I will try to update my journal as frequently as possible.