Wanderings of an artist in the trenches.

Morocco or Bust: 3


Installment Three

By Ali-Baba

Note: To try and expedite getting the blog closer to up to-date I’m going to post just the text and, hopefully, add pictures later. It sucks having to add pictures later (thanks to the slow internet) because Essaouira was beautiful! But I’ll get some up soonest!


We are now in Imlil, a mountain town in the Atlas Mountains. It’s our second day here and we’re exhausted. I’m set up in a beautifully fitted sitting room with long lounges and pillows. Behind me is an open window framed in ornate metalwork. Beyond the window is the town built into the mountains, homes stacked upon one another. A cow is lowing in the distance, roosters are crowing, and I can hear children laughing uproariously. Eid is still going on here and drums and chants echo as young boys are chased by what look like werewolves with horns but are in fact young men dressed in the skins of freshly butchered goats and sheep. They carry switches and they symbolize the spirits of the sacrificed animals looking to spank the boys. More on that later!

It’s wonderfully cool here, in the mountains, a nice change after the heat of Marrakech. It was a bit cooler in Essaouira as well, but this is cooler. Before I regale you with Imlil, I’ll try and catch up on Essaouira. 

Essaouira was a pretty coastal town of white buildings and golden bricks of the fort. We traveled by bus which was amazingly inexpensive (and it had air conditioning!) After a three-hour ride we arrived in Essaouira and caught a cab to the port. There we walked to our hotel, Hotel Sahara. We’ve been using Airbnb and it’s been very good so far. We got situated in our room then struck out to explore a bit.

We walked along the wall next to the ocean, seagulls hovering in the air. We made our way to where all the ships where. Beautiful green and blue boats were tethered together at the port surrounded by larger fishing trawlers. More of the blue and green boats were on dry land, sometimes stacked on top of one another. Very picturesque. The mood was much more relaxed in Essaouira compared to Marrakech and there were not nearly as many people bustling about. We were still hustled a bit, but not nearly as badly. Jon found a great place to eat in what used to be an ancient granary. The food and service was excellent. The manager was so nice and enjoyed hanging and talking. We went back a couple of times as the food and atmosphere was perfect.

I noticed a neat small shop in the granary that specialized in tribal jewelry and ornate daggers, and went in to scope it out. Every inch of wall space was covered by earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, and daggers. The shop was manned by a turbaned gentleman who later told me he was a Berber. He was very nice and didn’t push or try to give me the hard sell. I was interested in what he had all over his walls and asked to see several items. He explained what they were and what tribes made them. I picked out several things, we bargained a bit and I bought them. I showed him a picture of my daughter and my son. He said he would make something for my daughter as a gift. He pulled out various boxes full of colored stones, pearls and coral, as well as silver fittings and extenders for making jewelry. His fingers dug through these and he extracted several items, as well as taking a couple of things off the walls to be cannibalized and added to what he was making. He spent a good amount of time putting together a beautiful necklace for Mary. So nice!

Unfortunately, as Jon and I wandered and photographed and sketched the packet of things I bought either fell out of my pocket or was snatched. I was heartbroken for the necklace he’d made for Mary. I was walking through the Souk and felt someone tugging on my sleeve. It was the gentleman from the shop. He asked how I was and I told him how I’d lost the things I’d bought from him. He seemed genuinely concerned and invited me to his shop. I stopped in and he told me I was now family and that he would help me out. I picked out similar items and a few other things and he gave me an incredible deal on them. Very nice. Again, he took the time to make something for my daughter and gave me a nice Berber necklace for my son as well. Such a nice guy.

We enjoyed Essaouira very much. The second day we were there the Eid took place and so just about everything was closed for the holiday. We did find a place to eat, though not as good as our favorite. We decided to venture out beyond the sea wall and we’re headed there when a woman asked us if we were Americans. She was dressed in a sun hat that looked as though it folded up like a Japanese fan. Kathella was from ? and we spent an hour or so sitting and talking about Morocco (she’s living here) racism, etc. A really enjoyable time speaking with her. She gave us the name of a contact who could really help us with great destinations in Morocco.

We ventured out beyond the wall and walked over what seemed like volcanic rock, pitted and tunneled by the tides. On our right the fort’s walls loomed, canon peeking from their emplacements. On our left, the ocean and monstrous waves rising and barreling in to crash on the rocky shore. The colors were magnificent, rich blues and greens, sparkling yellows and oranges, a real sight! We were out there for quite awhile and got a little fried by the sun. Back to the room, chug a ton of water, then a good long nap.

In Essaouira I finally saw some of the old world walls and gates that I remember from Sargent’s paintings. One in particular absolutely caught my fascination. It was a huge blue door built into the high white wall surrounding the city. The first time we saw it the sun was setting and it was the golden hour. The cool shadows of royal palms played over the white wall and the recessed blue door while the golden light slowly faded. Incredible!

Cats are everywhere in Essaouira. We were told that Mohammed had a fondness for cats. They lounged in the warmth of the sun, climbed the fences, and ran between the blue boats. Some were frail and it was obvious they were not long for this world. I drew one such kitten. The poor thing was not doing well. We brought food to it later, but were just prolonging the inevitable. Very few dogs to be seen. Though the ones we did see seemed happy enough.

Of course we were pressed constantly by vendors on the streets to check out the bracelets, necklaces, boxes, jeweled daggers and all laid out on their brightly colored blankets. As in Marrakech they could be dogged in their determination to get you to look. If you looked then get ready, the bargaining began in earnest, even if you didn’t want to buy anything.

One night in the room a bizarre cricket flew in through the open window and landed on my shoulder, unbeknownst to me. It began to chirrup to me, close to my ear, scaring me half to death. I picked it up and let it out the window. I’m hoping it was a sign of good luck or something.

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