I arrived in Essaouira on Wednesday, after a torturous trip from Zagreb. I’m still trying to figure out why flights from Croatia to Morocco require such a loooooong layover in a European airport hub? I knew there would be a layover, but my goal was avoiding the longest one. I did that, but soon discovered additional unforeseen complications that made the time at Schiphol Airport even more uncomfortable. The flight durations themselves – Zagreb to Amsterdam and Amsterdam to Marrakech – were short, with seamless airport taxi connections, but the Schiphol layover was slightly traumatic.
After exiting the airplane, I walked from the tarmac to the terminal, and joined the grueling passport control line. Then, getting between airport arrival and departure areas lugging a carry-on was fraught with steep stairways (at times no escalators or elevators), rough security checks, and long, slow lines of grouchy connecting passengers.
After surviving an unpleasant security frisking, my next surprise was discovering that all airport and airline lounges at Schiphol closed at 10:00 p.m. and didn’t reopen until the next morning. My flight from Amsterdam to Marrakech departed at 7:00 a.m., so I had to bide my time for over eight hours – other layovers were twelve or more hours.
There’s a Mercure Hotel inside Schiphol Terminal, but the only accommodation available was a tiny room for $250, that, or booking a Yotel – new concept for me – with an even smaller space at $200. I decided to “tough it out” in the public lounges.
For long-term travels, I stay in well-located short-term rental apartments. Most of them are private, spacious, clean, and modern with kitchens and usually a washer / dryer. They’re a small portion of the cost of hotels. Airport hotels surely know they have captive customers exhausted from long-haul and connecting flights. Their disgustingly exorbitant prices clearly take advantage of weary en-transit passengers.
A Night at Schiphol Airport – Scream
The public lounges at Schiphol are clean, with comfortable lounge chairs, but they afford passengers little privacy. The area wasn’t overly crowded, so there was plenty of space. Most people were asleep or on their laptops and cell phones. There was no way to escape annoying cell phone ring tones, sketchy conversations, and personal dramas, and I couldn’t find my ear plugs. We truly live in an era of electronic domination, where there’s no escape from being “hunted down” at any hour. One person may have been a drug dealer from what I couldn’t help but overhear. A young girl was almost in tears, after having a row with someone on her cell phone, etc., etc., – sigh…
To make matters worse, restaurants and cafés were closed from 10:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m., so there was no food or drink available except for vending machines. In an attempt to shut everything out and catch a snooze, I draped a jacket over my head – ha.
Another thing I tried to avoid on the trip was booking Ryanair flights. If you’re going on a weekend trip, looking for cheap airfare, and only carrying a toothbrush and change of clothes, Ryanair might work for you. All of my experiences with the airline have been extremely unpleasant – from them charging for onboard water, serving expensive terrible-tasting food, imposing ridiculous baggage fees, and seating so tight you can’t sneeze – to say it’s uncomfortable is an understatement. What I didn’t realize, is that KLM AirAsia is just as bad, if not worse, than Ryanair.
It wasn’t possible to select a seat in advance, and the flight was totally booked. I was seated at the window (always prefer aisle seats) with a drunken Berber reeking of alcohol in the middle and a young Dutch kite surfer on the aisle. The two became fast friends and spoke in Dutch, laughing and loudly sharing stories of their bravado – this continued during the entire 3+ hour flight, with hardly a breath in between exuberant outbursts.
After several cocktails, the Berber ordered four or more small bottles of wine – one after another. The last straw was when he literally reached over me and into my face to take a photo of the sky with his cell phone?? Somehow, I can’t imagine such an image having any great significance. The second time he did it, I got a little loud myself – the lack of sleep may have contributed – defining seat boundaries and asking him to back off and respect my space. He reacted in a childish way, and I won’t elaborate in this post. Thankfully, he kept out of my space for the rest of the flight. When they heard my protests, some other passengers turned around to stare. One of them gave me a thumbs up. The Berber ordered another wine, and when the flight attendant reluctantly brought it, I rolled my eyes. After that, the small wine bottles finally stopped coming…
It was by far, the worst flying experience I’ve had. After writing about it in this post, I’ll try to block it from my memory forever. I got upgraded on the flight from Zagreb to Amsterdam (there were only two of us and we were excessively pampered), so maybe the stark contrast with the flight to Marrakech was payment of a karmic account? If so, I consider the debt paid in full. I’m not complaining (maybe a little) about airport hell, as it’s unrealistic to think you won’t encounter travel inconveniences on international trips. C’est La Vie, and I “lived to tell the tale”!
In a day, I’ve learned that Berbers can be emotional and hot-tempered. The men are quite loud – especially when groups of them are fraternizing. My experience on the flight from Amsterdam was an indication of that. At the restaurant where I had dinner last night, several Berber men got into a loud argument, disturbing everyone around them. Thankfully, they were asked to leave! This behavior wasn’t my recollection from a previous trip to Morocco. During an overland trek in the Atlas Mountains, we spent some overnights in Berber villages. At that time, I was part of a trekking group, so it was an entirely different situation.
A solo woman traveler may be too much of an anomaly for some Berber men. The situation isn’t something I factored into my visit, but, if necessary, I’ll stand up for myself.
Marrakech to Essaouira
The taxi from Marrakech airport to Essaouira was waiting, and the polite Berber driver, Simon, spoke only French. I used my iPhone audio to translate, and during the 3+ hour drive, we managed to communicate and get to know each other a little. He was pleasant and fun – after he got over the fact that I was traveling alone “without my husband” :o(
We stopped at a small roadside restaurant – owned by friends of Simon? I hadn’t eaten for some time, and the delicious food was served outside in a lovely garden. It was mostly vegetarian and very fresh – fusilli pasta with herbs and an olive oil vinaigrette dressing, marinated cucumbers, tomatoes, and fava beans with spices, incredible beets, and couscous, with mint tea and almond cookies for dessert – yum!
Goats in Trees and Camels
I remember seeing goats in trees during my first visit to Morocco – the image is hard to forget. During the drive from Marrakech to Essaouira, I spotted goats feasting in argan trees and asked Simon to stop. I spent a few minutes taking photos and playing with the goats. The tiny kids were adorable. They climb argan trees to eat the fruit. The goat herder gave me some argan berries to feed them. There were also a few cross camels who looked like they’d prefer being left alone – but I guess that’s part of being a camel. We passed more Berbers offering camel rides.
The weather is heavenly in Essaouira, but it’s gets windy and chilly during early morning and at night. The beach across from my apartment is active with surfers and kite surfers. The atmosphere and surroundings are extremely informal and laid back – referred to by some as “shabby chic”. My previous visit to Essaouira was short, rushed, and a long time ago, so I don’t remember much. I’ll stay until February, with plenty of time to explore the area and take side trips. Agadir, a short drive away, is one point of interest.
A few photos are attached. My apartment looks out on the beach, and I missed a shot of the sunset behind the Island of Mogador. It was a former surveillance bastion and prison, but now it’s a protected sanctuary for Eleonora’s Falcons.
Something strange I’ve noticed is that January sunrises in Essaouira don’t happen until almost 9:00 a.m. Earlier sunrises come before June solstice, at around 5:30 a.m. In January, sunset occurs at about 7:00 p.m. Essaouira’s sunrises and sunsets are equally spectacular!