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Essaouira- A brief encounter

After traveling through Morocco for fourteen days I thought that I had seen the best this country had to offer. Every destination along our route offered something new and exciting. Like the labyrinth of narrow walkways that make up the medina of Fes, the thrill of seeing the snake charmers and story tellers in the world famous Jeema El Fna Square in Marrakesh, visiting the ancient fortified villages along the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs and of course spending a night amongst the dunes in the Sahara Desert, an experience without which a visit to Morocco is not complete. I thought we had seen it all but lucky for me there was one more jewel in the crown to be discovered.

Making our way from Marrakesh the journey didn’t offer much in terms of scenery, until we passed a tree full of goats! All boredom was suddenly forgotten and I literally had to look twice to actually believe what I was seeing! This was a photo opportunity second to none and I even got to hold a baby goat…for a small fee, naturally.

Reluctantly leaving behind the baby goat, by now officially named Oliver, we continued on and finally reached the beautiful village of Essaouira (pronounced Essa – weera). Situated on the west coast of Morocco this seaside town doesn’t look like much from a distance but once you arrive you would be hard pressed not to be swept away by its beauty and unique laid back atmosphere.

As you enter through the gates of the Medina you are instantly transported to another world where artwork and spice tables create a colourful palette along every alleyway. Beautiful doors lead to hidden courtyards with lush gardens and colourful mosaic designs. But the piece de resistance lies along the far end of the medina where every alleyway opens up onto a large public square with the ocean and Old Scala Forts as the backdrop.

Crossing the square towards the harbor wall there is a sense of excitement in the air however the reason at this stage is still uncertain, although very palpable. And then it reveals itself.

Literally hundreds of blue wooden fishing boats adorn the harbor creating a picture that is truly quite spectacular. Ancient sailboats that conjure up images of pirates lay anchored while the small blue boats leave and return to the harbor in unison with the changing of the tides.

Seagulls compete with locals and tourists for their share of the action while the men barter to sell their catch of the day. Life hasn’t changed much for the fishermen of Essaouira and you will often find grandfather, father and son proudly working the nets together. The women gather in quieter corners sharing anecdotes while waiting patiently for the men to return. This is ultimately a way of life for them however the Essaouira harbor has become a very popular stop for tourists. Thankfully though, the influx of visitors has done nothing to influence the authenticity of this beautiful place.

As it was lunchtime we decided to treat ourselves and bought a variety of fish from a few different stalls. Following the aroma of burning coals we found a small area where you could have your fish cooked by the local men so we handed over our vast selection, pulled up a couple of chairs and simply sat back to take in the spectacle of our surroundings.

A general philosophy I have about food is that your surroundings add to at least seventy percent of the taste and better tasting fish I have never had anywhere else.

Having suitably overeaten we left the harbor and opted to take a slow stroll back to the medina. As we reached the main square we sat down on one the benches to enjoy the sunset while reminiscing about the events of day.

As the sun started setting and a calmness fell over the square, I looked around me and in that moment, in that place, smelling like a mixture of fish and baby goat, I couldn’t remember ever being more content.

Written by Tracy Bornman.

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