Essaouira Part I – The People
After a busy few weeks bouncing around and a not so great day in Rabat we were finally able to relax in Essaouria. We spent 10 days in this beautiful, small beach town on the Atlantic with a growing reputation as a “must-go” destination in Morocco. Originally planning to stay only three days, we quickly fell in love with the place and ended up staying for the remainder of our time in Morocco. While the city itself is fascinating and the environment stunning, the people we met during our stay really stand out as the prime contributors to the amazing time we spent in Essaouira. Parts II and III of this series will fill in some of the details of our stay here, but first, let’s meet the characters:
Lynn is the amazing woman behind the popular blog Maroc-o-phile. Through her blog, we made contact with her on our second day in the city and she graciously agreed to meet up with us for lunch. We were pretty excited to meet her for a couple reasons: first, as an expat living in Essaouira, she would be an invaluable resource for learning about the city and what to see and do while we were there. Second, she is currently working for a Moroccan non-profit called the High Atlas Foundation and is otherwise very well connected to the non-profit community in Essaouira, which piqued our interest.
After meeting her at the main gate into the walled medina, she led us through the winding streets to a small restaurant that seats no more than ten people, where the menu is on a chalkboard, and the cook doubles as your waiter. I’ll cover the specifics in part II, but the food was outstanding. We spent two hours eating and chatting with Lynn, learning more about her work and her city, and swapping travel stories. We agreed to meet up for lunch again a few days later, and then she mentioned that there were two newly-arrived US Peace Corps volunteers in the city and offered to facilitate an introduction. We readily accepted and that’s how we met…
Kabir and Olivia
After winning what Danielle and I jokingly refer to as the “Peace Corps Lottery”, Kabir and Olivia had arrived in Morocco only a few months ago for their two year stay as volunteers in Essaouira. They were staying with a host family until their permanent apartment was ready for move-in, and they and their host family invited us over to the house one evening.
After meeting them outside the medina, Kabir and Olivia walked with us to their host’s house, stopping on the way so we could buy a gift of fresh fruit for the family as our thanks for having us over. We spent a couple hours at their home and they treated us to a fabulous meal. Even though it was nearly 7pm, this meal was not “dinner”, as that is served closer to 10. This meal has a name that I can’t recall, but it means “the late-afternoon snack you eat between lunch and dinner.”
The father was the only member of the host family who spoke English (though I suspect his wife understood more than she was letting on), so we had one of those great conversations where one person asks a question or tells a story in some language, and someone else translates it to another, and then the other party answers the question or responds to the story, and round and round we go. It was great! The host mother was really interested in India, so we spent a lot of time telling stories about our travels there, and beyond that, there was a lot of comparing and contrasting Morocco with the US. We had a great time and wish Kabir and Olivia the best of luck as they work on various projects from well-digging to youth basketball programs over the next two years. You can follow along with their service on their blog: http://kotravels.wordpress.com/.
Our love of AirBNB is no secret, and so it shouldn’t surprise you that we opted to stay in a rented apartment in Essaouira. Our first few days were spent in a small “in-law suite” type house about 1.5 miles from the city center just across the street from the beach. We were there for three nights, and then moved into a much larger apartment half a mile closer in, that we just loved. The apartment is owned by a European family, so the downstairs neighbor, Hanane, serves as the local manager for the property.
In short, Hanane was awesome. She offered to show us the place before we booked it (a rare luxury when booking on AirBNB), and then was amazingly helpful to us while we were staying there. To begin, she gave us the run-down of how to get to every store we could possibly need during our stay. She then gave us tips for how to cook a traditional Moroccan tajine, told us where to go to buy fresh fish, and even gave us a helpful suggestion about how to open a rusty lock on our door (use olive oil).
But the most wonderful thing she did was a display of true Moroccan hospitality. On Fridays, Moroccans traditionally cook and eat couscous mixed with vegetables and sometimes meat or chicken. On our last night in the apartment, a Friday, we received a text message from Hanane in French. Danielle’s French is a little rusty, but she turned to me and said “If I’m reading this right, she says she’s coming up and bringing couscous.” Sure enough, three minutes later there is a knock on the door. It’s Hanane, and she has a massive tajine full of couscous with slow-roasted beef and vegetables in her hands. She explained that we obviously had no one here to cook this for us, and it is Friday, so she couldn’t let us go without couscous.
We had already eaten (it was “Moroccan dinner” time, about 9:30pm) but we wolfed it down nevertheless.
This is part one of a three part series about Essaouira. Next up: Part II – the food!