A Travelogue of Morocco: The Atlas Mountains and Essaouira Part II
The Atlas Mountains and Essaouira Part I
The combination of the food, wine, hash, and road fatigue has me spinning and not feeling well at all. I retire and wake early for the daunting drive back through the mountains, congested and weak, praying I'm not coming down with anything serious. More confident behind the wheel, whizzing through the turns, up and over the enormous peaks; in the valley towns before Marrakech we are pummeled by an intense rainstorm that eventually breaks and leaves the most glorious rainbow I've ever seen arched in full across a field. Luckily, the next day back in Marrakech I'm feeling better, over any ailments, ready to continue to our next point city—the coastal town of Essaouira.
Essaouira pops up from behind the last ledge before the bay, an ivory cityscape, heavenly, a sight that has me reeling in a way not even matched by standing at the edge of the Olympian gorges of the Atlas. The Atlantic spreads its cape round the town's rocky shoulders; its crashing surf is visible from five kilometers away. On our search for a hotel, we are confronted with several no-vacancies, disappointing, as this is off-season for tourists. As our frustrations begin to mount, hauling luggage, sweating, a local man with few teeth approaches us and explains that down this one street his family owns three riads with clean rooms and 'view sea.' We are skeptical at first, caused by previous run-ins with locals, but he leads us into a well preserved home on a quaint back street. Three flights of stairs open to a resplendent sunroom, furnished with comfortable sofas and ottomans and antique chests of drawers. Large windows frame a perfect ocean vista complete with substantial rock formations buffeted by clattering waves and compound tidepools, which children cluster inside of to swim. To the left are stairs that climb another flight to a roof terrace that looks out over the rooftops of the entire city, as well as a sweeping panorama of the sea. Back into the sunroom, to the right is our picturesque bedroom decorated with authentic Moroccan Art, fashionable green and blue tiles and a handsome armoire where extra linens are kept. Home sweet home—and what a sweet little home for the next two nights. Le Bastion it's called, and aptly named.
The air is slightly more humid than we've felt so far, still a comfortable temperature for our afternoon stroll through the souks. The Essaouira Medina is a much smaller, more navigable old city than its Marrakech counterpart. The streets seem to be designed on more of a grid and the maps we carry are accurate and helpful. The scent of African brine wafts through the air, a scent familiar to me, similar to the coastlines of Maine, and this is a city I could spend a leisurely while in. Meandering along the little cobbled streets, snapping pictures of interesting doorways and distant dark passages, stepping over dispossessed kittens shivering in puddles, dodging zipping children who are even more precocious than any we've encountered yet—the confidence of the sea—I'm having a real vacation for the first time since I've come to the country. I'm not approached and pressured nearly as much as in Marrakech, plus the products for sale in the souks seem more authentic and alluring. I buy a pair of leather clogs and a wool bag, the prices of which do not combine to exceed more than fifteen U.S. dollars. Matthew buys another necklace, this one for his sister—real silver and topaz, lovely. After shopping we find a restaurant on the pier, stop for ice cream that turns out to be some of the most delicious ice cream I've ever had, and retire to our hotel, not before a late-night lounge on the roof, listening to the dark waves explode under the brilliant bountiful stars.
Next day, a listless loiter among the throngs, packed in between the overlapping white clay buildings. We wake early for breakfast of bread and coffee and thin greasy omelettes, and then we find a place along the outer wall of crumbling turrets to sit and watch the grey tide as it paints the beach pale iridescent. These still moments of scenic newness are what we are here for. Matthew and I explore the outer alleys of the Mellah, the Jewish neighborhood of the Medina, said to be dangerous. Our flight of fancy through the winding streets is greeted with suspicious staring from pack upon pack of the disenfranchised youth. How bored they must get, I think. As we walk past all of the tiny rotten wood doorways, I can only imagine the domestic dynamic within. Some of the doors are open and all that is revealed is a dank concrete stairway or a rugged dusty room, quarters guarding a naked toddler who peers out with all the blankness of a foal and family after family hiding, doing laundry, tempered by the incessant flow of tourists.