Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Destination Essaouira (Day 19)


The bus from Agadir to Essaouira was scheduled for 8 AM, so we had to get up pretty early. We packed our backpacks, payed the bill for our stay in the very nice Hotel Tiznine and left for the station.


We didn't know how long it would take us to find a petit taxi, so we left a little early. As soon as we got to the main road a little Fiat Uno pulled over. After a short negotiation process, the driver agreed to take us to the station for 12 Dirhams, which was quite OK.


We got to the station about a half an hour too early. Since we had bought our tickets in advance (at the CTM headquarters), we didn't need to get involved in tiresome haggling over the ticket price. Those guys looked really disappointed when we told them we already had our bus tickets. Instead we took a seat at a modest (but quite expensive) café and ordered a mint tea.
The moment we ordered our drinks I realized we didn't ask about the price. Obviously that can happen even after more then two weeks in Morocco. I am pretty sure they charged us a double or even triple price for those two glasses of mint tea. I guess every lesson has a price. We took this lesson more then once, during our stay in Morocco. Since it was usually just drinks, it didn't matter all that much.


We were already getting tired of waiting when our bus finally arrived. Before all the passengers got off, the new ones got on and all the bags were loaded in, the departure was already delayed for 45 minutes. In the end we finally got on our way.


Including a single half way stop, the ride was nothing special. Again there were many fossils and minerals on offer. Of course freshly prepared couscous was also available.
The stop didn't take long, so soon enough we reached our destination.


First we had to find a way from the bus station to the old city center within the city walls of Essaouira. It was quite a task to get rid of all the annoying locals, offering a place to stay. We had a place picked out from the Lonely Planet Guidebook. I think we chose the cheapest one listed in the budget accommodation section - the Hotel Souiri.
When we finally located it, we were unpleasantly surprised to learn that the price jumped for 100 MAD for a double room without a bathroom. Since the place looked really clean, we agreed to take the only free room they had.


The hot sun has drained M. of even that little energy she had left. That meant she decided to test our new bed for a while. I went out to wander the streets alone for a while. After an hour of much needed rest she joined me and we went exploring the walled city together.


Pretty soon we learned that this city is also quite touristy, but with lots of character when compared to Agadir.
It was really fun to wander its narrow streets. If you are looking for a photogenic location in Morocco, you definitely can't go wrong with Essaouira.


Next to the port we found stalls with fresh fish, which are ready to be served in a matter of minutes. Fish were really fresh - some even still alive.


We treated ourselves with two huge fish (a red snapper and a sea bass). Together they weighed just over a kilo. It was a real feast (not very cheap, but definitely worth the money). Afterwards we were quite exhausted and decided to call it a day. We agreed to check out the port and the city walls on the next day.


When we got to the hotel, a quick shower followed and then it was time to get some sleep. I think I fell asleep the second I closed my eyes.

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Monday, 20 July 2009

Mighty fishing fleet of Agadir (Day 18)


Before Agadir was turned into a seaside destination for Moroccan rich&famous and a popular resort for many western tourists, it was a simple fishing village.
Minutes before midnight on February 29, 1960, everything changed for the city of Agadir. A major earthquake destroyed the city to the ground, killing 15.000 people. The remains of the old kasbah can still be seen on a hill overlooking the new city today.


Moroccan king decided to rebuild the city and a year after the disaster, rebuilding actually began. An old fishing village was slowly transformed into a high class seaside destination with fancy hotels and hip bars. Let me just point out, that we saw more trash cans in Agadir than in all other Moroccan cities combined. It really is clean - even by European standards.


Despite all that, a stroll through the city docks reveals a mighty fishing fleet. When we reached the sea, there were countless fishing boats lined up left and right from where we were standing. We couldn't see to either end of the long row. Rusty ships were disappearing into the mist both left and right from us.
With fishing fleets of such size, it is a miracle there are still at least some fish in the ocean today.


Another interesting thing was the shipyard. We curiously observed a group of locals working on a wooden hull of a ship. Not a common sight these days.


Nearby there was an improvised stall, where different sea creatures were displayed. One could buy a whale's rib bone, a giant sea shell, a razor-sharp shark tooth, a whole shark jaw or even a scary looking shark head. We weren't really thinking of buying anything, but we talked to the guy, scrubbing a giant sea shell, for some time just the same.
On our way back to the city center we were both laughing at the idea of us walking through airport customs with a meter long whale rib-bone in one arm and a huge shark head in the other, trying to convince a customs officer that it was all just our usual personal carry-on luggage.


We couldn't resist a mint tea on the way back to the hotel. There we made plans for the next day. We decided that in the morning it was time to move on.
Even though Agadir is not a typical Moroccan city, we enjoyed our stay. We took the opportunity to just relax and power up for the few days of travel we got left.

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Monday, 13 July 2009

Agadir - The No.1 seaside destination for wealthy Morrocans (Day 17)

We liked our room at Hotel Tiznine so much that we decided to take it easy for a couple of days and just relax. Agadir would not be my first choice, but M. really needed some time to get rid of the cold she caught in the desert and to just relax for a few days. Her cough really didn't sound encouraging at all.


As a consequence of all this, our first day in Agadir started quite late. We slept like dead until 10 in the morning and even then we didn't get up straight away.


When we finally got out of the hotel it was time to find a patisserie. We found a promising one on our way to the beach. That once again reminded us why it would be really stupid to break our habit of such breakfasts while in Morocco.
We tried some new local sweet delights and were not sorry we did it. Everything we tried was really delicious.


Among other things I also tried Pastilla - a typical Moroccan pie filled with chicken, honey, nuts and lots of spices. It combines sweet and salty flavours with a ton of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. Due to a quite unusual combination of flavours M. didn't like it all that much. I thought it was quite delicious.
Over breakfast we decided to stay in Agadir for two more days. We were both hoping M. would get better until we move on.


We spent most of the remaining day on the beach. While I was exploring the beach, M. was relaxing in one of the available deck chairs. The sky was cloudy (a strange mist came rolling in from the ocean and didn't go away till the evening) for the most of the day so there was no fear of getting sunburned.


It is quite obvious that Agadir is often chosen as a vacation destination by wealthy Moroccans. Many of them work abroad, often in Spain or France. When they return for a vacation with their families, they usually have many Euros to spend.
If you know these things it is not such a surprise when you see some brand new fast food restaurants by the beach. Western style! Pizza Hut and McDonald's neon sings can be seen from almost anywhere on the beach.


Despite all that, one can still see some people in more traditional outfits. All in all it's a funny mix.


While walking around the beach I talked to some locals. As I learned at some point of each conversation, every one of them tried to sell me something. This is just one of the reasons I don't like touristy places - it is usualy quite hard to make genuine contact with locals at such places. They just see you as a big fat bag of money (usually with a big hole, from which an endless supply of money is dropping).


It took me almost a half an hour to explain to a guy that 40 Euros for a few minute spin on a water scooter is way over my budget.


We finished our day at the beach with a walk to the fish stalls by the port. We knew the procedure from the day before. This time we opted for some shrimps and a red snapper. Everything came with a spicy sauce of some kind but we liked it anyway.


On the way back to our hotel, we stopped for a fresh orange juice and mint tea. We weren't tired, but when we got to our room, we fell asleep easily.


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Monday, 6 July 2009

Moroccan coast, here we come! (Day 16)


We woke up early in the morning. It was around seven and we were still in Marrakesh. Because of many unwelcome guests in our room we didn't sleep too well and were eager to get out of the room as soon as possible.


When we inspected the room and checked around for any remaining night-time guests, we were surprised not to find a single cockroach anywhere. It felt like being caught in a low budget horror movie, where after a tough night, with the morning light no zombies/vampires/werewolves can be found anywhere.


When the nice receptionist from the day before, asked us how the night was, we just gave him the look and a short "Not all that well...".
He said nothing but the look on his face spoke for itself. He knew exactly what we had in mind.


Over another delicious breakfast at the patisserie we had discovered the day before, we decided to head on to the Moroccan western coast. We were really looking forward to see the Atlantic Ocean again and enjoy some fresh seafood.
We checked out of Hotel Mimosa and caught a petit taxi to the bus station. We negotiated a good price quite quickly and getting to the bus station was a matter of minutes. Once again we chose a CTM company bus.


The trip was nothing special. As usually we stopped at a small village, with food and drink opportunities. There was also the usual fossil stand. By this time we got used to sometimes very impressive fossils sold everywhere. Some were so fascinating I even considered buying them, however I didn't want to risk some unnecessary border troubles.


When we got to Agadir we caught a taxi to an affordable hotel we found in our Lonely Planet guide book. We chose Hotel Tiznine which proved to be an excellent value. We got the last of their double rooms with a bathroom for 160 Dh per night.


Since we needed some quality sleep (we didn't sleep too good last night and M. was not feeling too well since she caught a cold one night in the desert), we decided to soon turn in for the night. We still had time to take a stroll by the beach and find fish stalls next to the port.
As it was getting darker an inscription in Arabic was lit on the side of a hill with the ruins of the old city on top of it. It could be translated into English as: "God, Homeland, King". I guess this should be the right sequence of important things in the life of every true Moroccan. I am not really sure if this is still true today (especially in a modern and westernised city like Agadir), but was surely the case a couple of decades ago.


When we finally got to the stalls (M. lost hope way before we got to the port), we negotiated two huge sea breams with bread, olives and salad for 70 Dh each and demanded an extra large coke on top of it. With a large bottle I meant one half a litre bottle, instead of a standard tin. After a couple of minutes we got a whole litre of coke.
We ate it all up and even took some of the leftover coke with us. 140 Dh is not very cheap, but those two fish were really huge and at the same time very delicious. Our tummies were full and after we made it to our hotel, we slept like in heaven.

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