Having done no research, we booked two trips in Marrakesh with our agent, one to the mountains, the second to Esauria (round about 65€ each).

I had asked for the blue city, which is near Casablanca but was offered a three-hour drive to Essaouiria instead (an almost blue city).

The trip to the mountains was spectacular, but on the way we just did the tourist run of lakes & small villages, in what proved to be a rather cramped 4×4 Toyota. It really was a mountainous route and at certain points, the road just seemed to just crumble Again consistent with the Moroccan mo, when we went to the dam, there was someone trying to sell us jewellery which we obviously didn´t want.

The Moroccans are nothing if not consistent and persistent. They almost want to make you buy out of pity … very sad at times.

We drove on up into the mountains, on what at times was a precarious track & came across several historic villages. This region is still populated by the Berbers an ancient set of Caucasian mountain dwellers, who still live in their mud & rock based buildings (kashbahs). Both the mountains & the Berbers have a rugged beauty, but it seemed a tad cold to me. We encountered many kids leaving school, and indeed shepherds herding their sheep. A devastatingly beautiful landscape, pretty much unsullied by the rampant commercialism we had encountered in Marrakesh (the kids seemed pretty satisfied by chocolates & sweets).


After a long drive into the mountains, we eventually had a pretty underwhelming Tagine in Ouirika, but the restaurant contained a beautiful sunny cactus filled garden. On the way we had the obligatory visit to the Women’s Argan oil co-op (Margana) inflicted on us, but we stumbled on what I can only describe as a mountain Riviera. A long meandering almost desolate riverscape that literally ran down from the Atlas mountains, yet surrounded by a series of ramshackle restaurants & tourist places where you could ride a bike or indeed a camel. Strangely the area was peculiarly attractive even though a bit tacky (maybe an appropriate description for the whole of Morocco).

Anyway after explaining we already had bought a lorry load of very expensive Argan oil from Marrakesh and hence weren´t disposed to buy more, we eventually got back to our retreat in Marrakesh relatively unscathed. The day was illuminated by us meeting Irene & her son Lucas who were delightful (from Biarritz), if not as confused as we were to exactly what this excursion was all about ( we saw snow but went nowhere near it)?

Essaouiria

Out next trip was the three-hour drive west to Essaouiria, luckily this time we had a large van like car, affording us levels of comfort unimagined in our sojourn in the poky Toyota 4×4. We made the 7.30 start ( the alarm didn´t go off) but we turned up at reception to a bizarrely foggy Marrakesh. We again met a family who turned out to be Josiane, her husband & teenage son. To be honest with the visibility of a few hundred yards we largely tried to sleep. After a pit stop at a cafe (Bagdad) we continued to another ubiquitous Argan oil Co-op Margana, though we stopped at a field where the goats/sheep had climbed into some low hanging trees. Sure enough at the base of the tree were a bunch of minders, who encouraged this unprecedented photo-op before outstretching their hands, for the anticipated fee. Maybe I´m too bourgeois, but this only hardened my resolve not to be conned in such a predictable way. I think some of Josiane´s family paid out, but I simply got back into the van.
We then proceeded the Margana Coop where again we were given a medium pressure sales pitch to buy their expensively European priced products. After explaining that this was never going to happen we continued on to our destination Essaouira, which pleasantly surprised me.
Essaouira is a very swanky seaside resort/ fishing port which has overtones of Nice in France, with its very wide beach and Esplanades. Apparently, Essaouira is a haven for watersports such as surfing.

left aye!

Abdul introduced us to a one-eyed guide who literally seemed about a hundred years old, but he was fluent in French, Arabic, German, Italian, English, and Spanish (though probably not basque). I forgot to mention that Josiane uttered the iconic word gusta while talking to her family, whereupon I asked which language she was speaking (in French)? It had taken me over an hour to realise they were speaking Spanish albeit Basque, a really impenetrable language that has a very Eastern European sound, that is completely at odds with Spanish. It turned out Josiane was not only a speaker of Basque but an actual teacher of Basque. A really interesting conversation ensued as I expounded my experiences of teaching English in Mallorca, and the language Physics involved (syllables) … nice!

Ah gon fishing!

Subsequently, we were then allowed to explore the fishing port which was fascinating full of many vibrantly coloured fish & boats. I must have spent 20 minutes exploring the jetties, and to my chagrin was admonished for talking too long when I returned to our throng. I literally exploded, as I tried to explain that I was paying him for this, & didn´t want to be dictated to like a four-year-old. My somewhat robust response seemed to cause a certain amount of consternation particularly with our guide, who conveniently seemed to develop a migraine. Things never really reconciled itself as I continued to follow my own path in our peregrinations in the town, which turned out to be kinda blue. We completely missed out on the Jimi Hendrix cafe, for the local carpenter with his ludicrous prices. Very beautiful pieces but at completely insane prices. He then took us to an artisan jewellers (workshop) which again was a thinly veiled attempt to get us to buy more rubbish we didn´t know we needed. We were dutifully returned to Abdul the driver, who took us to a really pleasant beachfront seafood restaurant. Having my real doubts about Morrocan tourist cuisine, & totally pissed off, I went onto the beach to take pictures of the wind and kite surfers.
I was kind of reconciled with Abdul our driver, who sought me out on the beach, & I would recommend Essaouira over Marrakesh.
I will return but explore it but preferably without Mohammed the one-eyed guide.

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