From Marrakech, we drove more than a couple of hours to this coastal city but for a brief stop at this noveau tourist site where goats are perched on trees. Were they put there to feed off the barks of the tree by some enterprising local? I counted some 12 of them goats in a single tree and wondered why they chose this tree along the road. Were there more? I set out to google-search to satisfy my curiosity and these are what I found out. The tree called Argania is grown almost exclusively in Morocco. Think Argan oil. It produces a fruit and a nut which goats feed on — and one can only surmise they’re delicious to attract these “tree goats” to climb up to enjoy these morsels while precariously perched on the rough, crooked, thorny barks of the Argania tree. There. Mystery solved!
We were given just a few minutes off the van to take photos. That’s fine. Except for this man who stood in front of me, blocking the view, every time I tried taking a snapshot. If he was trying to sell something to me, or asking for some donations, he was certainly doing a lousy job of it. He is pretty skilled with his blocking moves, though I still managed a single snapshot. Well, I really just needed one. 😜. We left the tree goats and this man and drove on. Shortly, Essaouira’s lovely coastline came into view.
The Atlantic Ocean beckons, and the sweet smell of sea harvest lures the many seagulls hovering above us as we walked towards the walled city. Trust me, the smell of fish after nearly 2 weeks of lamb, beef, chicken and goats becomes a sweet welcome to us. We passed many men busy with their knives cleaning fish and throwing some discards to waiting seagulls. Yes, waiting. Like there’s a bond between these men and the seagulls. The birds somehow knew they’d be fed, and so patiently waited. How wonderful!
Souira means small fortress. Over time, this walled city came to be known as Es-Saouira meaning “beautifully designed”. Designed by quite a number of Europeans like the French, Portuguese, English and Italians, the “mixed influences” somehow added to its charm as Morocco’s principal seaport until the end of the 19th century. As a harbor for Marrakech, many European Consulates were set up here. The city flourished up until the demise of the caravan trade. With that, many of the former consulates and other monumental sites were thus abandoned. Yet Essaouira retains its charm and presently attracts a regular crowd for its sports activities, sandy beaches, small art galleries and as the venue of an annual music festival a la “Woodstock” which brings in artists from around the world. Quite amazing really how Essaouira has “reinvented” itself.
Beyond the fortified walls lie its Medina, now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found many reasons to part with our dirhams in this Medina. As with many travels about to end, we found ourselves with Moroccan currency to spend before we fly out of this exotic country. Essaouira’s medina is home to many arts and crafts businesses like woodcarvings and local jewelries. There were also Berber massages available but I opted instead to have a simple shoeshine done by this persistent young lad while I sipped my freshly-squeezed orange juice. As I enjoyed my refreshment and while my shoes started looking shiningly decent for wear, I watched street artists and more tourists claiming space in the narrow streets of the Medina. The only distraction as I people-watched was this young lad’s attempt at conversation by repeatedly saying “Bruce Lee” and “Jackie Chan”. I tried convincing him to say “Manny Pacquiao” and “Philipines” but it was taking so much effort. I gave up. 😪
Essaouira deserves more than just a day trip. At least a night here in any one of the few hotels inside the Medina appeals to me. I love the vibe in the small coffee shops and gelaterias littering the place. And of course, the seafood restaurants that greet you just before entering the walled city. The fresh harvest from the sea are cooked right before your eyes, if you care to watch. Otherwise, just trust they’d grill or steam or fry ’em to perfection while you drink your Casablanca beer and watch those kitesurfing or windsurfing from a distance. Aaaaahhhh, this is life.