It was almost noon in Marrakech and the sun was doing its best to turn my face the shade of a coconut. I was far from the heart of the old Medina of the city, having walked toward the outskirts for over an hour until I was on the main road going to Essaouira. There was a gas station across the street from me and a stoplight–a rarity in Morocco–gave me the opportunity to hail passing cars. While there was no shortage of cars on the road, after an hour and a half of sticking my thumb out it appeared this wasn’t going to be my day to hitch a ride about 150 km west to the coast. As I began walking toward the bus station, destiny hurtled a big blue Mercedes directly into my path.
In Morocco they have normal taxis, for inter-city travel, and grand taxis, for long-distance rides. Timmo, Emi, and Bruno were three Finnish students on a short break from school who happened to have an extra space in their cab, driven by a slender older man named Bilal. I hopped in, paid the equivalent of $10 for my share of the bill, and we were off to Essaouira. When we arrived about 2 hours later, the sun was still high, so we ate a quick lunch and then found a secluded spot on the seawall and took a nap.
It turned out that my newfound friends from Finland were going south to a small village, so after we wandered around the city for an hour they left on the bus station and I was on my own again. I had been contacted a few days prior by Victoria, a German traveler, on couchsurfing, and she said she was in the city and looking for other people to explore Morocco with.
We didn’t really have a rendezvous point, so I walked in circles for a while in the cramped old part of town, figuring I would have to find a cafe with wifi and send her a message. I was near the seawall again when I heard someone calling my name, and it was her! She was accompanied by Alina, a Russian girl who was also couchsurfing, and had been to Essaouira on a previous trip to Morocco, so she had a better idea of the layout of the city.
We found a cheap hotel ($6 per night, and they charged a miserly $.20 for toilet paper and $.50 for a hot shower)for me to put my bags in, then set off to walk around the city a bit more. There are many nooks and crannies filled with enticing smells, cluttered with fabrics, leather, and metalwork, and the occasional pack of stray cats. One square near my hotel seemed to contain nothing more than kitchens opening up onto the street; not quite restaurants, but not private homes either, these purveyors of street food proved to be too good to pass up.
For $2 each we split this enormous bowl of couscous with vegetables and chicken. After we fed the remains of our bowl to a beggar nearby, we went off to see the old synagogue of Essaouira, which as it turns out is a Jewish pilgrimage site.
We had to call a number for the caretaker–a Muslim–to let us in. Apparently there are two Jewish families left in the city, but they keep the synagogue in great condition. The sanctuary was tiny but had beautiful lamps hanging from the wooden ceiling. It’s the first time I’ve been into a synagogue since I was in Toledo and because of its small size I had the cozy feeling of being inside someone’s home rather than a place of worship.
Before it got dark we went back to the seawall and watched the sky go from blue to orange to pink over the heaving sea. Morocco’s climate is extreme by default, so the heat of the day is followed by a brisk chill at night, and before we went out for dinner with Yusuf, Victoria and Alina’s host, I grabbed my coat.
The next morning the three of us pushed our way through the Medina with our backpacks in tow, found a cab to the bus station and then came back to Marrakech, where we have couchsurfed for the past two days with a cheeky guy named Marwan. That deserves a blog post all its own, but you’ll just have to wait a few more days to hear about it!
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