Saturday, February 27, 2010

Essaouria & Camel Rides

By this time, we were getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh. We are not shoppers at heart, and that is the main attraction in Marrakesh. Thus, we decided that a day trip was in order.

We asked Mohammed for recommendations, and he suggested either the 12-hour trip to a kasbah or the 8-hour trip to Essaouria, which is a beach town on the Atlantic coast of Africa.

After much debate and research, we decided that the kasbah would be more interesting, but the description of the road and "people puking" on the way scared us off. Josey gets carsick very easily, and that wouldn't be fun for anyone.

Thus, we chose Essaouria. They even have surfing there, so how could we go wrong?

Our next decision was to stay the night in Essaouria because we didn't want to spend all day in the car. Mohammed helped us with all of the arrangements, hired us a driver, and we were set!

We expected a 2 hour and 20 minute drive, which was what Mohammed told us. We also expected many stops along the way, as we experienced on the way to the waterfalls. Neither turned out to be true.

Instead, we had a journey of more than 3.5 hours through almost completely uninhabited terrain. Well, I should say undeveloped. There were small settlements with anywhere from 2 to 10 square stone houses spread out all along the roadway.

Here are some pictures Dado took from the car . . .

There where also some larger villages that were bizarre. They seemed to spring up out of nowhere, and they had a lot of new construction that seemed completely abandoned. Thus, there were large apartment-looking buildings with openings for windows and doors but no additional work being performed. Eerie.

Here is what Dado could capture from the car.

There was also a lot of road work. It seems that they are building an autoroute throughout Morocco, and we encountered many spots of construction. In between these spots, the roads were sometimes smooth and well maintained and other times dirt. The heavy rains lately certainly were not helping the roadways.

Overall, it was a somewhat depressing drive. The only other noteworthy thing about the drive was the small "Argan Forest" we encountered. Here, some of the Argan trees actually had goats in the trees! It was pretty funny to see. Can you see that white goat in the branches?

As we finally topped the last mountain before the coast, we saw Essaouria spread out below us. It was much larger than we expected.

Our driver dropped us off at the port, where another man put our tiny suitcases and our kids into his cart and wheeled us to our Riad.

We checked into our Riad for the night (Ick! That is all I will say about the Riad Maison de la Sud. The Riad Dar Silsila is far superior!!), put our stuff in our rooms, and headed out for lunch. Since the drive took so much longer than we expected, we were starved. Good thing we had "emergency food" in the car to snack on.

We found a little cafe right at the entrance to the Medina where we enjoyed food in the warm, warm sun! Up to this point, our time in Morocco had been very, very wet. Thus, the sun was very appreciated! In fact, it was so warm that Max took shelter in the shade.

While eating, Mike and I were people watching. Our general observations were that the people of Essaouria are not as strictly Muslim as the people of Marrakesh: they do not seem to wear as much traditional clothing. And, there were women working in the restaurants and shops! This was almost unheard of in Marrakesh. The people also seemed to be more affluent, or at least they did not look as poor as most of the people in Marrakesh. There were a lot more dogs, too.

After lunch, we went for a walk on the beach. Wow! We were actually strolling the African coast. How bizarre is that?!

Here are some pictures of this quaint little port town.

The beach was very stormy: lots of debris strewn about, lots of mud in the waves, and the waves were very disorganized from the storm. However, there were actually several kite surfers, a wind surfer, and a few normal surfers. Considering how awful the waves were, I really don't know why the surfers were out there. They were "getting hammered," as Mike described it. Not to mention that the water was so dirty and full of debris that it must have been rather icky!

As we walked along, I noticed that there were camels across the cove! Camel rides were one of our priorities for Morocco. We had originally wanted to ride camels in the desert, but Mohammed said that a desert trip required 2 days (and I really did not want to spend the night sleeping in "an authentic Berber home" in the desert!!). So, camel rides on the beach would be almost as good. Not long after I pointed out the camels, a Moroccan man "approached us" (read as "hard sell") to see if we were interested in camel rides. Dado negotiations to the rescue. He worked it out so that all 4 of us could go for a ride.

Oh, yippee! To be perfectly honest, I really didn't want to ride a camel. I'm allergic to horses and have had some miserable horse-riding experiences. I was worried that camel rides would be the same. So, my excitement level wasn't at an all-time high.

However, it was really fun!! Josey and I rode on "Caramel", the girl camel, and Dado and Max rode on "David", the boy camel. The two camels were tied together, with me and Josey in the rear, and we were led by a guide.

Here is one of my most favorite pictures from our Moroccan vacation . . . Josey preparing to give Caramel a kiss.

And David "smiling". Can you see those teeth?

And drooling!
The most exciting moments were when Caramel stood up (you mount while the camel is sitting on the ground) and when she sat back down. These were exciting moments because they are lurching moments!

Here are Dado & Max getting ready to ascend.

If Josey hadn't been hanging on tightly when Caramel sat down (below), she would have fallen off right over the top of Caramel's head!

Our ride lasted about 30 minutes, and we were led along the beach and through the sand dunes. Going up and down the sand dunes was also rather lurchingly thrilling. Josey and I had a more entertaining ride because David, the lead camel, was tooting, burping, drooling, and otherwise digesting! Josey and I can tell you that camels are pretty stinky. However, that made the ride even that much more interesting.

Caramel was smart, she kept her head near Dado & Max's legs, which was a little in front of David's stinky end. Can you see the expression on Max's face.

So, afterward, we all determined that the camel ride was definitely a highlight of the trip! And, as it turns out, we were extremely lucky to have chosen the timing for our camel rides. The wind became very, very strong about 30 minutes later, and it stormed violently all day Thursday!

After the camel ride, we wandered along the beach and through the Medina of Essaouria. This medina was much like the one in Marrakesh only smaller and a lot less high-pressured as far as sales go. In fact, the entire vibe of Essaouria was almost laid-back in comparison to Marrakesh.

Max found some cool beads; I found an absolutely gorgeous cloth of silk, cotton and wool that is died with the red poppies that are my favorite in all of France - this will someday be a bedspread or lovely covering for the back of a couch; and Dado found more Argan oil for cooking (this was even more plentiful in Essaouria than Marrakesh!).

Later, Dado found a fabulous restaurant tucked away in a little alley. It was the most authentic looking building we had seen, complete with brick walls and the bizarre dark wood ceilings. The server was very, very nice, too.

And thus ended our first day in Essaouria.

Our second day in Essaouria was noteworthy for only two reasons.

One, there were violent wind and rain swells all day, and these kept us indoors or seeking shelter most of the day. Not very conducive to walking along the beach or browsing the medina. Although we did get this lovely sight.

Two, Dado got a haircut!! He tries to only get haircuts in foreign countries now. This is not hard, considering we live in a foreign country. Check out the pictures. Too bad the first shot is so washed out . . . you miss out on the full effect of the cyrillic writing.

I especially love how the man sterilized the straight razor - alcohol and flame.

The rest of the day was spent in the car. I kept my head down, knitting, while we drove through mud and water the whole way home.

We were so pleased to be back at Dar Silsila!! Back to our clean rooms, a working shower, and a wonderful, absolutely delicious dinner. It was chicken cooked in a tajine with lemons and spices. Incredible!! Mike and I ate so much that it was almost embarrassing. Merci to all the staff at Dar Silsila for one of the best meals of my life.

Love to all!!

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