Essaouria, Jimi Hendrix, and Castles in the Sand
Fresh air from the Atlantic Ocean blows into our lungs as we settle into the beach town of Essaouria. We find a room with a balcony overlooking the bay, where people kite-surf during season. Nothing has been really inexpensive in Morocco, but being here in the off-season provides some good deals. Yes, I can see why Jimi Hendrix would hang here, and how it inspired him to write, “Castles in the Sand.”
After the madness and mayhem of the larger Moroccan cities, where venders constantly call and tug at your sleeve, and people elbow each other through enormous, smoke-filled crowds, Mare and I savor the sound of the ocean. We love the loneliness. The most difficult task we have today is to go to the Medina and purchase bread, fruit, cheese, and beer – at the one and only alcohol store in the entire town. Of course we will find it! We learn that beer is forbidden in the Koran, but rif (marijuana) is not mentioned thus…not an infraction for a Muslim. I’m glad that they can relax once in a while.
I turn down several offers to purchase kif, hash and opium, still not quite comfortable with the scene. We hear about scams and rip-offs, and even set-ups to get arrested by the police. We love to visit new places, but a Moroccan prison is not on the list. Traveling in this country is hard enough without adding additional stress and paranoia. We sneak beer, and feel like heroin addicts doing that. Tourists get a pass on the beer, albeit not a friendly one, but this country is nothing like back in the days when it inspired Hendrix and Graham Nash.…not even close.
When we see hoards of seagulls flying by the docks, we head down to watch fishermen unload their catch. Sardines, crabs, eels, and types of fish we have never met before draw some of the largest cats I have ever seen. When fishermen have a good catch, everybody’s happy.
We decide to chill-out on our balcony for three nights. Sunny weather, no harsh winds, and no traffic noise provide the oasis we seek. We get a whole new backpack wardrobe from the laundry service and catch-up on some internet stuff. We would enjoy a longer stay here, at Hotel Miramar, alas; the downside of a rental car is that you have to return it. Besides, people are starting to recognize us.
Back into the car, we hump it up the coast to the town of Azemmour, but not without first downing two dozen fresh oysters for lunch, in the small city of Oualidia. A definite advantage of having a rental car comes in all of the stops you can make along the way. I even taste raw sea urchin, as an independent vendor hands it to me, but decide not to purchase any. I don’t feel right driving around with sea urchins in my backseat. In Azemmour, we stay inside the Medina at “Riad Azama.” The owner tells us how he renovated this old house, and the place truly shows off the crafted woodwork and tiles. I hear him yell at the receptionist for not offering us tea upon our arrival. But, to tell the truth…we are pretty full of Medina’s, Kasbahs, Riads and Castles in the sand. We feast on fresh bread and cheese from our bag of goodies. From the Riad’s terrace, we see the tops of old Medina houses, covered with satellite dishes, and catch a glimpse of the river, running into the sea…eventually.
We drive hard the next day, and talk ourselves out of a traffic ticket for speeding. Of course, we get lost in a few large towns, like Rabat and Kenitra, and become happy over little things, such as finding a smooth toll-road where the speed limit is 120 kilometers per hour. Our destination town of Assilah, just outside of Tangiers where we will turn in the car tomorrow, seems to us as just another town full of hustlers. It rains and turns cold. Again, I get lots of offers to purchase drugs. I guess I look pretty ragged from travel exhaustion, hair growing from everywhere besides my head, so perhaps they think I need some dope. Yep, when things look like “just another town,” it is time to go. We just know.
Today I sit in Tarifa, Spain, after a fast ferry ride from Tangiers. Mare catches food poisoning from a meal of Octopus. Imagine that. After all of our travels in Africa eating everything, everywhere, in less than sanitary conditions, she gets sick in Spain. At least we relax in a clean hotel, and even better, in a country much more travel friendly to us than Morocco seems.