Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Sunset in Essaouira
Monday, we left the Palais Salam and Taroudant behind, we head west to the coast and Essouaria. We go through the city of Agadir, which holds very little appeal from what we could see, but is a big beach & casino vacation spot for Europeans. Up the coast a bit more, through more argan tree/goat territory, and we reach the seaside town of Essouaria for lunch. I've got the name of it someplace, and while it certainly caters to the tourists, it was good food. All fried (but not greasy) -- calamari, sole, red snapper, and something else I know don't remember. Then to the hotel, the Hotel des Iles, right on the water and by the entrance to the medina.
As they say, location, location, location, and hate to say it, but that's all this place has going for it. Things have been a small comedy of errors. They didn't have a room for our guide, because they overbooked; they couldn't find our room key when we came back from a walk, and it turns out they gave it to another duo in our group, but it seems that ALL the keys open ALL the room doors. Great. The light above my bed didn't work, and while the wiring is clearing coming out of the wall, the bulb was dead. They came and replaced it, but then it turns out something else was wrong with it and they couldn't fix it til morning. Dinner was a huge buffet for us and the other tour bus of Israelis, a few other Americans here too. The buffet wasn't exactly stellar, with a lot of raw veggies that we cannot eat, some poorly cooked fish, and flavorless chicken. The pomme frits were the hit of the night, though actually, the desserts were good too.
We had the opportunity to walk around the medina for a bit before dinner. It does have a nice relaxed feel, and not the pressures to buy stuff like in the big cities. Old hippie, surfer town, fairly tranquil. My mother WAS offered 1000 camels, plus a cat named Mimi for me....
Tuesday, we took a quick drive over to a woodworking studio, which is one of the main crafts they are known for here. It was incredible to see the inlay work they do, I've never know how it was done! I think almost all of us walked out of there with some treasures. We had the rest of the day on our own. Wandered around the medina a bit more, and ate some very good thin crust pizza for lunch, a nice change of pace!
I've take too many cat photos! These were at one of the street-side shops.
We had our farewell dinner just inside the medina, at a place called Dar Loubane, which is owned by a French woman. On the heels of our great meal at the Riad Maryam, this too was one of our better meals (and the portions were just right!). We sat out on the courtyard, with portable heaters in the wings. We started with wine, olives, eggplant, tomato sauce, calamari w/ tomatoes, a nice pastilla, and a trio of tagines: lamb with apricots, beef with eggplant, and a firm white fish with caramelized onions & raisins. Monkfish kabobs appeared, as well as rice & sauteed squash. Dessert was a trio of chocolate mouse, different Moroccan cookies, and a creamy white sauce, sort of like melted ice cream. Back to the hotel for another night of seagulls squawking all through the night....
My one group photo, taken on my camera by Harvey, at the delightful Riad Maryam.
After getting a better look at our hotel in the daylight, we took off to the far side of town (really, maybe 1.5 miles away, tops) for the open air market. We had time to wander by ourselves through the used clothes, and then the more interesting produce (seeing the items we had seen growing along the road yesterday), spices, and the livestock. We then went inside the kasbah, and into the souk. After some wandering around, we visited two antique shops apparently run by the same people. I am getting tired of being herded to certain shops (where our local guide probably gets some sort of commission), where the men working there hover non-stop, trying to make a sale with their promises of “we have good price.” Twice today, the guy tried to put a necklace on me that my mother tried on, and both times I quickly backed off, and said No. I know it's their way, but I take it as an invasion of personal space!
Finding the place for lunch at first was a bit dubious, as we were walking through some back alleys to find what turned out to be the incredibly lovely Riad Maryam, named for the proprietor's daughter, who was our server. It was a beautiful courtyard, with a long table set up for us. And when they say lunch is the main meal of the day here, they're not kidding. It all begin with a pureed vegetable soup with fish stock (I think) in it. Then sauted young zucchini with a light tomato sauce. Then came the baby eggplant. Then a big mixed vegetable plate (all cooked), with carrots, cauliflower, beets, potatoes, green beans, and I think parsnips. Then a chicken kabob for each. Then a fava bean & green pea salad. Then a salad of cuke, tomatoes, and what was probably green bell peppers, or an extremely mild green chile. Then kefta kabob for each. At this point, we were all fairly full, but suspicious, because they hadn't removed our dinner plates yet. Then they brought out the tagines, and at that point, we told them we simply couldn't eat any more. I HOPE we did not insult them by refusing their main course, but everything up to that point was delicious, but it was a crazy amount of food! So we asked them to bring dessert, expecting fruit or a cookie. Maryam brings out this gorgeous layered dessert; Our guide called it a jowhara, meaning “jewel”, and that is was! (Looking at my book on Moroccan foods, I am pretty sure this fantastic thing is called a keneffa.) It was like traditional French crepes, flash fried, so they were crispy, layered with a light pastry cream with cinnamon, honey, peanuts and almonds in between the multitude of layers. It looked beautiful, and tasted even better! A superb treat, and their hospitality was wonderful.
Back to the hotel for a bit, and then we took carriage rides around the kasbah. I got to be one of the lucky ones and sit with the driver. Fortunately (or not) my driver was young, 32 to be exact, and rather handsome. But he was definitely interested in meeting me later for coffee or tea, and showing me the town. Very persistent! And even though I said I was traveling with my mother and aunt, he kept saying how beautiful I was and how he would wait for me after the group's dinner. Blah, blah, blah. Very persistent though...He asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said yes. I was prepared to tell him my boyfriend's name was Charlie, and just leave out the fact that he has 4 legs and a furry tail! This town seems to be the place for men, as the hotel porter, Abdul from Mali, whom I was talking to about Obama, asked me if I had a boyfriend.
My, cough, knight in shining armour: