After a few days of night buses, uncomfortable camel rides, and cold desert tents, I was looking forward to sleeping at a normal time in a normal bed again. Entering Essaouira was like entering a twilight zone – not a single person talked to us as we walked through the markets complete with our backpacks and suitcases. Very pleasant. It seems being left alone is all that is necessary for me to like a place these days.
We stayed at a hostel just off the main street in the medina. Since I liked the place well enough, I hung here for a week and filled my days getting some work done, wandering along the coast, and frequenting the pizza and falafel shop as an escape from Moroccan cuisine.
The fish market is the most notable thing in the town, so let’s start with some of that. From the old buildings that overlook the water to the boats and market itself, it’s quite the place to be.
Everyone at my hostel was very nice, but the workspace wasn’t ideal so I decided to get a hotel for a couple nights. It was very authentic looking. Despite being right off the main road in the medina, once inside it was definitely a nice escape.
Since I had decided to forgo my adventure to southern Spain, I had plenty of time to wander around Morocco. So, I took a trip down the coast to the tiny surfer towns. They were much less “Moroccan” than the other places – mostly full of European surfers who were coming down for a (slightly) warmer escape. It was all English speaking, more of a “yoga and surf retreat” situation than anything Moroccan.
There was a ton of construction happening along the coast between Tamraght and Taghazout, so I suspect it will look very different in a few years. In a bad way of course – rich tourists are the worst.
We did take a day trip to Paradise Valley, which is a gorge in southwest Morocco. I didn’t really prepare for the trip, not realizing there was a place to freeze in cold water. If I had known that, I would have done nothing different because the novelty of such activities is heavily oversold.
That said, the gorge itself was absolutely beautiful. I spent a lot of time hiking around while people were swimming and sitting in the sun (by swimming, I mean they jumped in and got out to say they did it). Here are a few pictures of it.
The hostel I stayed at in Tamraght, Lunar Surf Hostel, was a lovely little place. Very nice staff, attracted a great set of people, and the food was great too. Most people were there to surf and do yoga and weave baskets and whatnot, none of which I did. I worked during the days, and then beat people at their own card games in the evenings.
But other than the hostel (and surfing), there was really nothing to do in this town. So I ventured to the next town over, Taghazout, which had a few more restaurants and things going on. I was angry about my hostel, because it had a beautiful view and was a great place with a wonderful table to work at… but the wifi didn’t reach there. Like, just put a router on the second floor people.
Even though my accommodation experience was not fruitful, I think if I had chosen better I could have really liked this town. I worked at Cafe Mouja a couple times, which was a perfect little place with great food, coffee, and an atmosphere where I was comfortable with a laptop for a few hours.
I also stopped by World of Waves one evening, which was equally nice and had the added benefit of outdoor seating right on the water.
After a couple days, I decided to make the trek to Marrakech for the last week or so of the Moroccan experience. I had been thoroughly prepped for the intensity that is the Moroccan medina and souks, full of people selling things and hounding you. And in the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I might have expected. Really it wasn’t bad at all. Kind of like that Green Eggs and Ham story. In reality, it’s a bit unmemorable, but because you’d built up such an animosity towards it in your head it seems relatively mundane.
It’s just like any other annoying market, so I was fine with it. Whatever corner of the world you’re in, you can expect people to try to sell you overpriced shit. The poorer they are, the harder they try. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. Here’s another classic “Mike sitting at a coffee shop” picture.
I did a lot of just walking around, as usual, predominately to the “new city” as I was a bit bored of the medinas at this point. They’re all pretty similar and Marrakesh didn’t properly live up to it’s “OMG it’s so terrible” experience I was hoping for.
Fun fact about the the Marrakesh Starbucks: hookers like hanging out there. It was cold so it wasn’t as offensive as some of the reviews I read, but it was still… there.
Not far from there (and the shopping mall), I worked at a co-working space for a few days. Well worth it, although the internet was arguably better at Starbucks. It was a long walk, but at least I was able to concentrate for a while. Quiet though. Only a couple other people in there each day.
After deciding not to buy anything, since I had limited space (except for a sweater at H&M because I was cold) I instead made my way to one of the tourist attractions: Majorelle Gardens. Some guy basically took a bunch of cacti from all over the world and put them here. Now people pay to get in, which I did, so I took an adequate number of pictures to rationalize the price of entry. Although most of them were either local, from Mexico, or from Arizona, so really what was the point?
I took a RyanAir flight from Marrakesh to Barcelona (where I return to the US from), and had a completely expected experience with that. My carry-on, which is actually under their posted size limit, was probably an inch too big with the wheels on. So I started to take the wheels off, but didn’t have the time or energy. Instead, I just put the clothes I wanted in a grocery bag, deserted the suitcase, and traveled with that and my backpack. Suitcase, you served me well, but it was your time. I’m a stubborn man of principal, if nothing else.
Barcelona this time around was a bit more patriotic, what with their independence movement and all. Still lots of overpriced tapas though. Tough to base a country on that. I did take a picture of the Gaudi building to prove that I had returned.
This time, I didn’t have as high expectations for Barcelona, but I was still a bit underwhelmed. I mean, it’s fine. But I don’t really see the glamour of it all. I stayed in a very nice hotel in the Gracia neighborhood, which is where all the cool kids live. And you know, it was fine. Not wonderful, certainly not bad. But nothing special.
After a few days in Barcelona, I took my flight back to New York City, where I spend two nights before meeting my brother in Syracuse for a ride back. TSA was a little confused about a guy traveling for 4 months with a grocery bag and backpack, but not confused enough to ruin my day.
I booked late and stayed in the UWS, hotel felt a little murdery, but I was able to satiate my cravings for decent pizza and some eggplant Parmesan. Did my typical wandering of central park, midtown, and the Christmas markets, then took a bus to Syracuse to meet brother/sister to make the trip home for Christmas