The culture shock of Morocco is more than I bargained for, but I’m adjusting day-by-day. It’s a sometimes-shocking lesson in humility! Often, women are treated differently than men – mostly ignored and left out of conversations. It reminds me of how women are treated in remote parts of Turkey and is a lesson in just how good we have it in the US! Women need to brush up on local etiquette and culture before visiting Morocco. As I’ve said previously, this experience is different than my prior trip to Morocco. I’m getting reeducated and learning how to cope!
There’s so much activity in the lively medina, it can be exhausting. The narrow streets are overflowing with exotic sounds and smells, animals, and a huge diversity of people. Meat for sale is carved from hanging animal carcasses. Nothing is marked with a price, and haggling isn’t my strong suit. Photography can be difficult, and payment is usually expected.
I bought some mandarins – still struggling a bit with dirham (MAD) to USD conversion – and ended up paying $6 for about 10 small mandarins! Later, when buying apples for less than $1, I realized what had happened and went back to the mandarin seller. He looked guilty and refunded the extra money paid. Maybe I’ve experienced too many currency conversions on this trip? So far, I haven’t been approached by anyone with a large snake wrapped around their neck! That happened years ago when exploring Marrakech’s main square – Jemaa el-Fnaa. This is guaranteed to get the attention of any tourist.
The iPhone is my constant companion. I’d be lost without it, and it’s the first thing I reach for in the morning and last at night – the plight of a solo traveler. Now, I never buy anything without doing a conversion first. Rule of thumb in Morocco – “the price first offered will be 25-50% higher than what you should end up paying”. It’s how they do business.
I have made a few friends with kind and helpful locals. A waiter at my favorite beach restaurant is a welcome familiar face. I discovered that different restaurants are preferred by separate groups of tourists – the seafood, Moroccan, and Mediterranean cuisine served at most restaurants is similar. French, Italian, Canadian, and Aussie tourists are frequent travelers to Essaouira, and they gravitate in groups to their favorite places. I’ve had a few tourists approach me, elated to hear English being spoken.
I’m learning survival French, but sometimes when using a short phrase in French, I get corrected in Arabic. I’ve also been told that Arabic and Berber (Amazigh) are two completely different languages. Thankyou in Arabic is “ashkuruk,” so when you say “mercie,” someone may correct you. Many locals pretend they don’t understand English, but they do – like the mandarin salesman. I had one Berber merchant elaborate (in English) about how much he hated learning French in school.
The coastal weather has been much cooler than expected. It’s in the 70s – but unless you’re walking directly in the sun, it’s still feels cold, especially in the early morning, evening, and at night. With a recent increase in wind, the surf has been strong.
Essaouira is the perfect place to “escape it all and chill out,” a good place for me, since I’m suffering from a mild case of travel fatigue. I haven’t been doing much but really simple things like exploring the medina and walking. Beach walks in Essaouira are endless, and on windy days, the kite surfers are fun to watch. The natural beauty of the coast is breathtaking.
North eastern trade winds blow steady during the summer and aren’t quite as strong in winter. During summer, the “wind intensifies and blows up to 40 knots or more”. The winds remind me of Cape Town’s “southeasters,” better known as the “Cape Doctor“. I’m still pondering a return to Cape Town.
I’ve been considering day trips and my next destination – Cairo or Alexandria? Renting a car is the best option for Essaouira day trips, but not sure I want to do that. Joining a group tour is another possibility. For now, I’m content with long walks and enjoying lingering meals in beachside restaurants. The Medina is so hectic, it’s necessary to escape inside cafés and take a break.
I’ve done some research on nearby areas – ten-minute to three-hour drives away – along the south coast toward Agadir and inland to Marrakesh. Many of the small villages, like Diabat, are hard to find on maps. Saturday, I’m taking a three-hour beach camel ride and will post about the experience!