We left the gîte at around 8:30 after having a communal breakfast, packing up our belongings and loading them onto the donkeys.
We walked about 45 minutes down the mountain in the fog. It was rocky and slippery underfoot so it was slow going without hiking poles. Chai and Suhua and I walked together, stopping often to take pictures. We had to walk across and alongside the stream, hopping over rocks along the way. The path was lined with apple blossoms, irises, gnarly trees, and huge moss-covered boulders.
Chai was so funny; he kept saying I was his photography teacher and he stopped to take pictures wherever I did. He was so cute. His English wasn’t great, so he just said, “I like! I like!” He wore a pink and black pashmina as a turban; other times, he wore a scarf with a jean jacket.
Imlil was a fog-enshrouded town where we loaded our stuff back into the van.
Driving on a curving road down the mountain from Imlil, we saw a gurlging stream, linseed, red boulders and rocks strewn about. I was so glad the gîte part of our trip was over. I looked forward to my creature comforts. I wanted a hotel.
The landscape was dotted with agave plants, octopus-armed spiked cacti, and olive groves. A tour van seemed to have hit someone on a motorbike. Apples blossoms were white in the orchards. We passed through a peach-colored town. It was very foggy; I hoped it would clear up before we got to Essaouira.
We passed a bunch of fences made with vertical sticks, some neat and some disheveled and all askew. By 10:30, we were getting close to Marrakesh. We passed open air cafes along the road with plastic tables and goat and sheep carcasses hanging out in front. The sun was finally starting to peek out from the heavy bundles of gray clouds, shining on modern blocks of terra cotta apartments. We stopped at the Marjane Supermarket for picnic stuff: cheese and tomato sandwiches on sesame bread, chunks of havarti and phyllo cookies with pistachios.
Susan had a bad cold, a tickle in her throat. She said she was coughing all night and was worried she would wake me up, but I never heard her. Once I’m out, I’m usually dead to the world. She looked bad today, said she was having cramps in her lower pelvic area and was worried she had some kind of infection. I was worried about her because she didn’t look well at all.
We passed a huge factory, Ciments du Maroc, on a hard flat expanse of desert. More blue sky was peeping through the clouds but it was still quite cloudy with white whipped cream-shaped clouds tinged in gray. Small stringy trees and tiny tufts of grass dotted the land.
We stopped at a cafe to eat our picnic lunch and I drank some fresh orange juice and ate my sandwich and cookie, along with a small espresso with milk.
After lunch, the landscape was flat and dry with a little green grass and some hills in the distance. We saw fields of argan trees, known as “Trees of Life” to the Berbers for the many health benefits they offer. These trees grow exclusively in the south-west of Morocco in the Souss Plain, where there are 21 million trees. Oftentimes goats climb up into the trees, but Aziz warned us that nowadays shepherds forced them into the trees just so tourists would stop for pictures. He encouraged us not to bother stopping because it encouraged this behavior from locals.
We stopped at a cooperative where women gathered and dried the argan fruit, crushed the nuts, roasted and ground the kernels, and finally kneaded the paste to extract the oil. It could take about 30kg of argan nuts and 10 – 12 hours of work to produce just one liter of oil. Of course, I bought some argan oil and some other lotions.
We stopped at an overlook before reaching Essaouira to take photos of the city on the sea.
Our driver, Saeed, would leave us when we got to Essaouira. We all pooled our tips, leaving him a tip of about $300 for 10 days. When we arrived in the town, we said our goodbyes to him and someone carted all our luggage into the medina to the Cap Sim Hotel, which was quite charming.
Essaouira (pronounced ‘essa-weera’) has fortified walls, a fishing harbor busy with boat builders and fishermen, and huge seagulls swooping over blue fishing boats. The smell of fish is pervasive, and the seagulls soar and screech. Inside the walls are narrow alleyways, a constant and cold strong wind, the aroma of spices and thuya wood, palm trees, and women in white haiks (veils). The sound of drums and Gnawa singing reverberates from shops and houses.
The wind is named alizee, or taros, in Berber. This is the Wind City of Africa. The town lies on the crossroads between two tribes, the Chiadma to the north and the Haha Berbers in the south. With the addition of the Gnawa, who came from the south of Africa, and Europeans, a cultural mixing bowl has emerged. The town is known for its art scene; it is also a popular hippie enclave.
Most of the old city and the fortifications date from the 16th century under Portuguese rule. At that time the town was called Mogador. However, the town has an older history that starts with the Phoenicians. Under the Portuguese, trade in sugar and molasses flourished, although most wealth came from the pirate trades and slavery.
In 1764, Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah installed himself. The combination of Moroccan and European styles pleased the Sultan, who renamed the town Essaouira, meaning “well-designed.” The port became a vital link for trade in gold, salt, ivory, and ostrich feathers between Timbuktu and Europe. By 1912, the French established a protectorate and renamed it Mogador. After independence was achieved in 1956, it became Essaouira again. Jimi Hendrix visited here at one time.
After settling in to our hotel, we met Aziz who led us on a walk to Skala de la Ville, a walkway upon the ramparts. The sea bastion was originally built along the cliffs by the Portuguese; it is an impressive array of ramparts, Dutch brass cannons from the 18th and 19th centuries, and views of rocky shores. It was blustery and cold.
We walked through the medina where I bought three CDs of last year’s Gnawa festival, one recommended by Aziz and one based on the music playing on the shop’s loudspeaker. I paid 50 dirhams ($5) each and Aziz reprimanded me for paying so much. He said I should have only paid 30-40 dirhams each. 😦
Taking place each May, the Gnawa music festival traces its roots to Sub-Saharan Africa. The ritual music combines prayers, chants, and poetry with rhythm. Privately, it retains a sacred energy, but at the festival it is more fusion-inspired and secular.
Aziz took us all to the rocky shore to see the sunset but I didn’t want to sit on the jagged rocks, so I left and went ahead to Reves, where I sat on the upper terrace, and ordered large shrimp that I had to peel, with veggies and rice.
As I was about halfway through my meal, Natalie, Gabe, Rene, Edward and Elizabeth showed up and Natalie seemed put out that I had started eating without them. They wanted to sit in the warmer part of the terrace that had plastic covering around but suddenly the waiters started bring two tables to join mine in the cold and windy area. Two Gnawa singers were singing and playing the Gambri, an instrument with three strings.
The group ordered, but it took forever to get their meal. As the wind picked up and the sun went down, we are all quite miserable. I felt guilty for subjecting them to this discomfort. I didn’t feel I could just eat and run, so I stayed with them in utter misery. Just to keep occupied, I ordered Crepes Suzette, which were warm and delicious. I had told Aziz I’d share half with him, but they were so good, I couldn’t stop eating them. The Gnawa guy danced for awhile.
Before long, I had to leave so I could get warm; I returned to the hotel close to 10:00. Susan had gone out on her own to walk around and had grabbed a sandwich. She was still sick but seemed a bit better.
*Steps: 13,876, or 5.88 miles*
*Thursday, April 18, 2019*
On Sundays, I post about hikes or walks that I have taken in my travels; I may also post on other unrelated subjects. I will use these posts to participate in Jo’s Monday Walks or any other challenges that catch my fancy.
This post is in response to Jo’s Monday Walk: Portagem to Ammaia.