ESSAOURIA: (PRACTICALLY) THE WIND SURFING CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
I come from an Island with beautiful beaches; Jones, Rockaway and Coney Island, but Essaouira offered more than my beloved hometown shorelines. Its gusts whipped off our hats while pushing us backwards. It was my first experience with summer winds. (Jones beach is blustery in winter, but nothing like Essaouira.) A brightly colored banner overhead announced, “The Wind-Surfing capital of the World,” which is almost true: With its 70-80% wind reliability, it’s one of the top 10.
Once held by the Portuguese, this city boasts the Castelo Real (fortress). Like other Moroccan historical sites we had already visited, little was updated. After climbing up damp and dark stone steps, we were smacked with gusts of ocean air. I hadn’t realized the power of the winds and searched for a rail to clutch before I became a human windsock. Instead of safety devices, I was surrounded by selfie-loving tourists who couldn’t care less about the westerner being tossed over the ramparts. I headed back down without a photo. HJ’s yoga training kept her surefooted. She stayed for the breathtaking view.
Once below, I learned a secret about travel sites I want to share with you: The photos are often staged. In Essaouira, the small crafts scattered about the dry dock were faded, worn and next to garbage heaps In the picture I saw online, the boats were staged in an attractive pattern with the faded paint photoshopped into a lovely ocean blue.
Without the crowds of Fes and Marrakesh, the shopping was relaxing as we joined other tourists at the wood carving stores. There, massive burlwood tree roots were hewn and polished to create statement chairs for beautiful homes. I didn’t ask the price; the shipping alone would have been more than I could afford. Instead we bought candle holders and salt cellars, before heading for the silversmith.
Seated on the sidewalk, off from the kiosks was a dreadlocked African man selling ganja. I took a quick picture afraid to seem interested. Later, when I looked at the day’s snaps, the ganja man was so out of focus, it looked like I had smoked his wares.
There were outdoor stalls with fresh caught sea creatures of every ilk. Doomed octopi attempted escape next to gutted eels and mountains of shellfish. We were invited to choose any of the catch, watch as it was cooked and sup seaside. Enticing as it seemed, HJ leaned in close to me and whispered, “This wind will blow sand and garbage on us as we eat. Let’s go to a restaurant.”
Dinner was heavenly. Prawns the size of lobster tails and jumbo shrimp, glistening in their garlic butter bath were nestled next to mounds of couscous. HJ tried the two brands of beer sold only to foreigners; Flag and Casablanca. She complained about the miniature bottle size but enjoyed the crisp taste. We began with a starter, ate our entrees then tamped them down with crème brulee for dessert with 3 coffees. (We tried to coax Ishmael, our driver to join us, but he only accepted coffee.*) Our bill was $67. In Manhattan, that’s the price of a beer and one appetizer.
With the drumbeats of the Gnaoua (North African) Summer Musical Festival behind us, we stepped out barefoot for a final breath of ocean. The sand was as fine as baby talc and the sky went on forever. It was my happiest day in Morocco.
I admit dinner played a big role.
*By the last days of our trip, Ishmael was eating most of his meals with us, proving that even the manliest Moroccans can’t say no to New York mommies.