The short version of this long-ish post:
- Logic does not always win, especially when you are attempting to use it interlingually.
- Batman is a city in Turkey. Its name is its sole point of interest.
- Residential voltage in Morocco is stronger (read: larger shock value) than in the US.
- Camels are rad.
- Even though it may appear to be an ideal receptacle, low to the ground and splash-free, its plumbing is more sink than toilet. Thus I do not recommend puking in a bidet.
It was a bumpy start.
A friend told us that traveling and living in Morocco is not easy. We learned this country would be a challenge long before I held my breath as W tried to explain why he had a computer monitor in his suitcase to a non-English speaking customs official.
A few days before the end of our stay in Istanbul we had ideas but no set plans as to what came next, other than our return flight from Istanbul to Honolulu five weeks later. The itinerary that we painstakingly detailed - after countless searches on airfare aggregators and every regional airline based in Europe, Asia and Africa - was to fly to Cappadocia for four nights, back to Istanbul, on to Casablanca where we'd arrive at 3:15am, take an hour long train ride to the main station, another 4 hour ride to Marrakech, and a 3 hour bus ride to Essaouira.
After looking at the arguably ridiculous journey required to get there, we decided it was worth undertaking and pressed the "purchase" button on Air Arabia's website. In short, the credit card didn't work and we exhausted our options of phone calls for assistance and alternative credit cards. Our last option was to find the Air Arabia office in Istanbul and pay cash. We were out of a home in less than two days and had nothing set. There aren't many flight options to get from Turkey to Morocco, and all of our other flights and accommodations were contingent on that specific midnight flight from Istanbul to Casablanca.
I vividly remember W saying, "Are you sure you want to go to Morocco? It's just really hard to get there…" To which I lightheartedly replied, "Sometimes the best things are!" A day into our Moroccan adventure I cringed thinking of that moment. More on that later.
We spent the next hour ripping through Wikitravel sites on every place we could easily fly to from Istanbul. We'd already played this game while searching regional airlines, and this was our final dice roll to find somewhere "better" than Morocco - at least more ideal on a sliding scale of how easy it was to get there versus how amazing it might be. One of our earlier searches revealed a Turkish city named Batman. It was clearly worth looking into, and under the "Do" section on Wikitravel it said: "One of the most popular things for tourists to do is taking pictures of things with the word Batman on them, such as the highway sign at the entrance of the city." Solo bullet point.
No place tipped the scale against Morocco, so we rushed to find the Air Arabia office before it closed. I'm surprised my logic-centric boyfriend didn't explode during the hilariously ridiculous conversation that ensued. The Air Arabia employee repeatedly stated that the company does not take American credit cards. Only Visa. W said that his was an American credit card, and the man said they do not take it. W added that it is a Visa, and the man said, is it Visa, or is it American? W said it is both, Visa is an American company. Additional confused conversation followed, and W eventually showed the man his American Visa credit card. I'm pretty sure the guy's mind was blown. Alas, joke was on logic, and the card didn't work. We paid in Turkish lira and crossed our fingers that our bags would pass the strict 20kg limit.
Flash forward to yesterday, the day we arrived in Morocco.
All things considered, the many legs of travel went smoothly. We were en route for 24 hours between leaving our amazing cave house B&B in Cappadocia and arriving at the riad in Essaouira. The riad was lovely, at first glance. The colorful tiles and open courtyard between all three floors created an airy, authentically Moroccan feel. It was located in the medina, but the balcony looked out over the medina's fortress wall to the ocean. Unfortunately, a few minor issues added up to us leaving. The wifi (W needs this for work) only worked on the patio, when it worked at all. All rooms opened to the outside air, which might be nice during warmer months but was very chilly in November. There was no heat, except for the poorly wired space heater that gave me a scary shock. To bathe you had to sit in the tub and hold the shower hose because there was no stand and no curtain, just a tub and a hose. This wouldn't be so bad if the bathroom didn't have a giant open window into the bedroom, which led outside, so you were basically shivering as you crouched holding water above your head. I feel guilty complaining about such minor annoyances, but I really hate being cold all the time with no way of warming up. I didn't pack for that. And W REALLY hates inconsistent internet when he's trying to work. We had planned to be there for at least eight nights, but decided to move after the second.
The medina itself was interesting and beautiful, but far more touristy than I expected. We chose Essaouira because I read that it was a sleepy fishing village with a seaside fortress and a nearly ghost-town vibe. We were constantly bombarded by vendors on the dirty, narrow, high-walled, maze-like streets of the medina, with people trying to guess what language we spoke. I got a few "Hello Japans" and "konnichiwas," which made me laugh and was at least more ethnically accurate than the Turkish restauranteur who yelled "Kazakhstan!" at me as I walked by. Twice.
I love taking photos. Obviously. The most disheartening part of the first day and a half there was that I didn't feel comfortable shooting. I read that Moroccans in particular do not like being photographed, so I figured I would focus on landscapes, architecture and scenes, subjects that I love to shoot anyway. But in the medina everything is in such close quarters and there are people bombarding you from every angle, so it's hard to take a shot of a street or building or store without potentially offending someone. Being hassled as you walk by restaurants and stores is expected in many areas, but feeling like you can never get away is overwhelming. It seemed we were usually rushing to avoid being badgered, and either trying to find food or find our way back to the riad. I rarely pulled out my camera.
This morning, our second here, I woke before sunrise and decided to explore on my own, hoping to get a feel for the town while most people were still wiping the sleep from their eyes. I'm so glad I willed myself out of bed because it completely refreshed my outlook on Essaouira. The streets were empty, the air was crisp and clean, and the morning light was soft and friendly. I wandered over to the water and watched fishermen collecting their nets, then down to the pier where men sat exchanging stories. I couldn't tell if they were preparing to leave on boats or had just returned, or if this was a daily ritual. It watched men building a large wooden ship. It was fascinating and I stood there for a while, occasionally taking photos, until one man looked at me and waved. I was unclear whether he meant "hello" or "leave," so I smiled, waved, and walked away. I told W about the ship building later and he was amazed that people still build wooden ships. I didn't realize it was so unique.
Sure, I got sworn at for shooting a man's silhouette from afar as he walked through the open square, backlit by the low morning sun. And my hands required a good scrub after I climbed the short fortress wall where seagulls made their home (and bathroom). But nothing phased me - I was so excited to shoot freely again.
We moved to a comfortable apartment outside the medina, halfway down the expansive beach. I forgot to mention the other reason we chose Essaouira - I wanted to surf. I walked down to scope out the waves and inquire about renting a board. Essaouira beach is incredible - a fairly consistent mixture of sand, dirt, trash, horse and camel poop, bundled together with an interesting smell. I'm not being sarcastic - it's beautiful. I learned long ago not to compare beaches elsewhere in the world to ones back home. It's silly and dangerous - the unfortunate outcome being that you probably won't travel, at least not to anywhere on a coast.
The camels were exquisite and I drank in the sight of an ocean that I could finally jump into. I planned to surf the next afternoon and was pretty high on life when I returned to our new temporary home. I lavished in a luxurious hot shower - standing, with a shower head that I didn't have to hold - and basked in glorious steam made possible by an enclosed bathroom. About 30 minutes later I threw up, perhaps because I ingested shower water even though I spat every 10 seconds. Still, I'm counting today as an excellent day.
Photo gallery coming soon.