As the European financial downturn intensifies, leading to a sharp and significant decline in Eurozone tourist numbers arriving in Morocco this year, I witnessed the response by some greedy Moroccans attempting to extract their cash shortfall from unwary travellers, especially those in a captive situation.
Fast forward to the Supratours bus station, Essaouira where the female toilet attendant aggressively demanded three dirhams for the use of the toilets in her charge, everywhere else the standard charge is one dirham. After a brief acrimonious verbal exchange with this person, I paid up to avoid causing a scene in public, but pulled out my camera and warned her I would identify her and file my complaint at the tourist office, she immediately panicked, and in typical miscreant Moroccan style, hid behind a door, refusing to come out!
I backed off and hid behind a parked coach, waiting for an opportunity to get her photograph, but every time I had the camera lined up she quickly turned her face away and hid behind the door again.
I went to the tourist office in Rue du Caire, but it was closed for refurbishment, so next day I went back to the bus station to try for a photo again, when she spotted me approaching, she summoned another bus company employee for "protection"!!
But Benny will be back next year, "inshallah"!................
Unique Suggestions: To avoid this venal person and her toilet, there are many cafes and small restaurants in the vicinity of Supratours bus station, buy a cup of coffee and use the toilet there instead.
Fun Alternatives: See section 3........
Just before arriving in Essaouira on a day trip there is a lookout and popular tourist stop.
Here the local hagglers are ready with their camels for tourist photo opportunities and cash for camel pix :o)
I couldn't help falling for this one as the camel was cute...the fella was very well mannered and we needed a couple of shots of hubby and I with a camel.... so here are the pix :o)
Ok, this is a tourist trap... but a well known one - well that is if you read people's pages here on vt and know what to expect.
Only in Morocco hey :o) It does make for interesting pictures and your money goes to a Moroccan family ... well that is unless you are with a smart guide who stops just long enough for a few photos and takes off in a cloud of dust with would be hagglers left to grab the pic taking money off the other tourists who get out of their cars ;o)
Many foreign visitors who come to Essaouira seek the "Jimi Hendrix Experience". Every other riad claims he stayed there and nearly every retaurant claims he ate there. The truth is Jimi Hendrix only ever spent one week in Morocco, flying in and out of Casablanca in July 1969. The maximum period he could have spent here was five days.
As you enter Chez Sam, which is, by the way, an excellent restaurant and probably the most famous in the town, you will see a photo purportedly signed by Jimi and dedicated to Sam. It reads, "A MON AMI SAM, 63". Well does that mean 1963? If so, Jimi must have been very dazed and confused to be 6 years behind the times. Or does it mean Sam was 63? If so, he would be 110 years old today, and he is still very much alive. I asked the waiter when Chez Sam opened. He answered in 1983. He said he thought that Jimi was a friend of Sam's in 1973. Well, Jimi died in 1970!
You will find similar confused tales at other hotels and restaurants in the town. Perhaps the worst offender is Riad Al Madina. They have so convinced people that Jimi stayed there that local tour guides point it out as the Hendrix Hotel. The fact is he never even set foot in the place. He stayed at Des Iles Hotel and he ate at the Cafe de France.....so they say.
One of the things I came to love about Essaouira is how unpressurised it is in comparison to Marrakesh. After days of being hassled and conned, it was great to unwind in Essaouira and actually be able to shop for things without fear of shopkeepers... Or so it was until we visited the fish stalls. I found this far from a relaxing experience and it proved to be my breaking point. Essaouira was where I finally lost my temper.
You will see signs proclaiming various things to be a couple of euros or so. You will decide to try them. The fish seller has other ideas. He starts piling your plate with things you don't want and the final price is closer to 20 euros.
In my case, he picked out the worst examples of the fish too, leaving the choice pieces to entice other suckers. Well, I wasn't too pleased, but even less happy when he made to take us (a couple) to sit on a table with a very large, very loud family group in a dingy tent. When I remonstrated - he'd shown us a lovely spot in the sun - he said very unpleasantly that I couldn't expect to have my own table. That's when I walked out, the man shouting angrily after me. And I had an argument with my very hungry boyfriend.
On the way out, naturally, we were approached by other stallholders brandishing seafood and pointing out secluded little tables basking in the sun. But I'd had enough.
Other sellers may well be more pleasant, but I came away thinking that the whole thing was rather pricey for what it was. Stressful. Not what you want in a sleepy seaside town like this.
Unique Suggestions: Please don't be put off going to the fresh fish stalls if you want to try the food. I would probably go on a return trip to Essaouira; I was simply unprepared for the hard sell after the relief of leaving it behind in Marrakesh. But forewarned is forearmed - if you know what to expect, you can bargain. Just don't expect a great table.
Fun Alternatives: If it is all too much, you can enjoy seafood in a number of restaurants in Essaouira. If you want to enjoy the sea view, do as we did and get a takeaway pizza to sit with on the sea wall. Delicious and no haggling whatsoever!
Approaching Essaouira from Marrakesh, as you near this town, there is a lay by on the right hand side of the road, from where you can view Essaouira, The Islets and the Atlantic Ocean- a great view!
However, you will encounter a small herd of camels, with their owners, dressed in bright blue Toureg / Berber robes etc. Ah great photo opportunity - BUT- this is for a price!!
They will offer you a ride, or the chance for your photo with the camel / owner standing still.
Having said this, they were very laid back!
When our mini bus pulled in- for the chance to take pics of the view, just one of these men approached us, and asked if we wanted a picture, then left us alone (perhaps it was their lunch break!!) So sorry, but I don't know how much they were charging.
Unique Suggestions: Ok, it's quite easy to get a pic of camel / owner / view without paying.
Our small group all managed to capture the view etc easily, without any hassle.
Fun Alternatives: I'd still suggest stopping off here, to get an idea of the size/ layout of Essaouira.
Anyway, I always love that '1st sight of the sea' when travelling from inland!
Although you may read elsewhere that eating fresh fish at the stalls by the harbour is a good experience, I have been in the company of unsuspecting tourists that have been shown a platter of fish, and thinking that everything is the same price orders many different fish .
At each end of these stalls is a price list, with prices are quoted in grammes, It bares no reference to the fish that arrives on your plate. BEWARE When challenged the waiters reluctantly adjusted the bill, slightly !.
The smoke from the grilled sardines is not to everyones taste nor is the smells from dustbins and the carpark that is behind these open stalls.
Unique Suggestions: VERY IMPORTANT TIP...... Always ask the price, I know it is tedious,
if you don't want a bill for 500 Dh (£30) for a lunch that is served on wet plastic table cloths, with musicians at your elbow, and seagulls & cats for company, Dont eat here
Fun Alternatives: For a few dirhams you can buy fish in the market and take it to a Berber restaurant, where for 10 dirhams they will cook it for you, if you take vegetables they will make you a wonderful tajine using there own blend of spices. If you are looking for such a place, just ask a local person who will probably take you to his favourite.
If you are hosting a dinner party for a few friends , A Take Away service is often available. Its a great way to impress your friends.
Many of my pictures taken in Essaouira are of poor or very poor quality for the simple reason: too large contrast between white walls, bright, sunny sky and dark, deep shadows. It maybe a tourist trap for every ambitious photographer, especially as click-click addicted amatour as I am now :-).
Unique Suggestions: If your pictures are already almost white and black try to improve them a bit using any editing software but keep in mind that the result can't be satisfied :-(. Rather cut the picture into two: one of light (darker it) and one of dark (lighter it) object.
Fun Alternatives: Avoid taking pictures of objects of large contrast especially around midday. Generally take pictures early in the morning or before sunset to have longer and softer shadows. Around midday better zoom and compose pictures of non-contrasting objects especially in a shadow (architectural details, portraits). Use UV (coast, sea, mountains) and polarising (elimination of non-metallic reflections of water or glass) filter.
Once you arrive Essaouira, and even before parking, you'll see a lot of people waving with keys and saying they have appartments for rent.. well KEEP OFF. I followed one of them to his their "appartment" and it was a lousy dirty house, ouside the walls and in a dark street. How dangerous it could be, I don't know, but it was really ugly, indeed.
Unique Suggestions: So what do you do? Like everytime you are in Morocco and really don't want what people try to sell you: refuse politely, lie saying you already have a hotel/house. Don't ignore them, they don't go away until you firmly refuse their gentle "help". Ah, and never say it's your first time in Morocco, they have tricks for people they know are beginners!
Fun Alternatives: Here's what I think is the best thing to do: find a real-estate agency ("agence immobiliaire") inside town walls - that's what Essaouira is all about, otherwise I guess you won't feel part of the place's unique environment - ad say you want to rent a house. Agencies are trustful and in my case we were 8 people and payed each the equivalent to 6 Euros (or dollars) per night for a giant four-store house, with a terrace overviewing the town, fully moroccan decorated..
Quite a difference from the first house we had seen!
Of course, there are many lovely hotels in Essaouira, other than houses to rent.
In the Essaouira's beach you will be ask if you wanna do a little camel ride. First of all, it's a very short ride and it's very expensive.
They are waiting for the tourists to come.
Unique Suggestions: Be sure to have your kodac near!!!
Fun Alternatives: Try to go to Zagora or Terfoud take a real camel ride and live in the desert.