“… A warm, strong breeze blew in from the Atlantic, blowing away the last vestiges of fog that clung to the fortified city walls… The call to prayer rang out across the harbour swallowing the cries of seabirds and shouts of fishermen as they unloaded the days catch. The breakwater was being pounded by heavy Atlantic rollers and spray exploded upwards into the air casting rainbows under the powerful North African sun…”
Leaving Taroudant we set out westwards towards the coast, cramped into the back of a grand taxi filled to bursting. After almost two weeks in the sandy and dusty interior experiencing temperatures of 40 degrees plus, we were very much looking forward to being by the ocean and its more temperate climate.
Our grand taxi dropped us off at the busy central bus terminal in Agadir where we hopped into a little local taxi to take us to the other grand taxi depot on the outskirts of town. Soon, we were driving along one of most panoramic roads we had ever been on. The road hugged the coast with a perfect blue sea on one side and an endless bare and level sea of sand on the other, both stretching onwards infinitely. Occasionally though the desert would be broken up by a group of Argan Trees complete with goats climbing their branches.
By the time we arrived in Essaouira, we were both tired, sweaty, dusty and hot! However, from the moment we stepped out of the taxi and arrived the strong powerful Atlantic wind swept away any troubles we had… Suddenly the oppressive heat of the desert had been replaced by a warm yet refreshing breeze and the smell of the sea.
Essaouira, or Mogador as it was once known, has been occupied since prehistoric time. Partially sheltered by a series of offshore islands, it has long been one of the best anchorages on the West African coast. The fortified walls and tricky waters, coupled with its location on the edge of the desert, yet still relatively close to Europe, meant that Essaouira became a haven for pirates as well as an important trade town.
Today it may be better known as the setting of Astapor in Game of Thrones and it is an essential sight for any visitors to Morocco.
The late August sun shone brightly against the tan coloured fortified walls. Traditional Moroccan buildings, whitewashed with blue shutters, some battered and weathered by the African wind and Atlantic storms rose above the ramparts like a scene out of Arabian Nights. The narrow Derbs and Alleys below were a haze of colours as a smorgasbord of Jellabas and Babouches traipsed over the cobbled streets.
Traditional coats, bags, leatherware, ceramics, wooden ornaments and a veritable assortment of treasures spilt out of the shops as vendors hawk their goods to passing trade.
Narrow streets give way to hidden squares where the aroma of freshly cooked tagine fills the air. The tables and chairs on the square extend into the restaurants and out onto the roof terrace where sea salt had formed from the Atlantic spray that had fast evaporated under the powerful sun. Looking out over the rooftops the perpetual pounding of the restless sea against the rocks and fortifications continued unabated, white horses dotting the horizon.
There’s beauty if the endless expanse of the desert and majesty in the improbably imposing Atlas mountains… Memories that will never fade… But in our hearts, we belong by the sea… It’s a wonderful healer, endless, but never the same… Powerful, but gentle in equal measure and nowhere is it more exquisite than where it meets the impossible dryness of the desert… A sanctuary on the edge of a land of nightmares culminating in a city as exotic as any you will find in a land you never want to forget.