After two great days in Fes, we were off to our next adventure in Morocco via train. Note: You cannot purchase your train tickets from outside of the country, so you must wait to purchase until after you arrive in-country. Our lovely hosts at Riad Laaroussa were kind enough to arrange our tickets for us.
The trains are divided into first class and second class compartments. In first class, there are six people to a compartment and you have a seat reservation versus 8 people per compartment and no reserved seat in second. It’s only about $20 more to travel in first class, and I recommend the splurge. And it’s important to bring food for the seven hour train ride from Fes to Marrakech. They sell food on the train, but it’s not good and overpriced. Thanks to the recommendation of our riad in Fes, we ate a big breakfast and packed Moroccan pastries and fresh fruit to enjoy during the trek.
The train ride was smooth though long. We watched the scenery change as we went through many, many Moroccan cities and towns. There were cityscapes (Rabat), vineyards (Meknes), and cows and goats grazing (everywhere else). Christine, Vanessa, and I passed the time by reading, napping, snacking, and not so subtly checking out all the different people who got on and off the train.
We arrived late in Marrakech and immediately purchased our bus tickets to go to Essaouira, a coastal town on the western coast of Morocco. It’s three hours by bus or car to Essaouira, so rather than do 6 hours by car in one day, we decided to take the bus and do an overnight trip to do and see more of Essaouira.
The three hour bus ride on Supratours regular bus to Essaouira was tortuous. We had seats in the back of the bus, the air conditioner wasn’t working, and other passengers on the bus must have been trying to save money on soap. We all ended up nauseous and with terrible headaches. So when we arrived at the bus station in Essaouira, we immediately bought tickets on the Supratours “Comfort Plus” bus for the return trip home the next day hoping it would be much much better. (More on that later.)
We were delighted to arrive in Essaouira and be off the bus. After dropping off our belongings in our riad, we began to explore the little Essaouira medina. The western part of the medina are the Essaouira Ramparts, which fortified the seaport against invasion. The original canons are still in place and this was where Orson Wells shot his Othello “The Moor of Venice”.
We arrived right as the sun was setting, so we got some amazing views!
Essaouira is not a typical beach town with hot sandy beaches good for tanning. Thanks to the ocean breeze, Essaouira benefits from cool air. Sometimes too much! We were lucky that we were in town when there was a break from the breeze. The wind did start to pick up here and there and give us a taste of its strength. I was thankful that we weren’t there to experience its full wrath.
The highlight of our time in Essaouira (well, at least my fave) and possibly Morocco was riding camels! Our riad helped us arrange a 60 minute camel ride with the Ranch De Diabat.
At first I wasn’t sure what to expect – I felt nervous and guilty. Would the beautiful dromedaries be mistreated and unhappy? Would it be uncomfortable? Thankfully, when I met Mustapha, our guide and camel trainer, I was able to put my worries aside. He treated the dromedaries with such love and care. He didn’t use whips or ropes to force the camels to do what he wanted. He used his hands and his voice to guide the beautiful creatures and spoke with and about each camel with such love.
The four of us set out on 4 beautiful dromedaries – Titanic (14 yrs old), Gobi (11), Lawrence (11), and Cappuccino (11). We rode our steeds where they filmed scenes for “Game of Thrones” and along the beach. It was so beautiful and peaceful.
Mustapha was great about stopping to take some money shots of us with the camels. Below are pics of us with the lead steed Titanic. I like that we “photobombed” Titanic’s picture. Mustapha crinkled a cookie wrapper to get Titanic to look at the camera and had us jump all at the right moment. Best.Guide.Ever!
The hour ride passed too quickly, and we were soon done with our camel ride with Mustapha. I wish we had more time with the camels and Mustapha. He was such a great guide – he shared about the animals, the landscape, and Moroccan history and traditions. I hope to return so I can do it again and take one of the longer rides or the overnight camel trek into the desert offered by the company.
So far there hasn’t been any food pictures. WHAT?!?! Don’t worry…we ate. Essaouira is a seaside town so seafood is plentiful and a must. After our camel ride, we wandered to the seafood stalls just outside the medina walls for a feast.
Each stall proudly displayed its seafood selection. Some of the seafood was still moving…that’s how fresh it was! Each stall had several men who worked to persuade you to eat at their stall. Talk about aggressive! “Remember number 7…takes you to heaven!” Once we picked a stall, we got to choose our seafood – prawns? calamari? squid? sea bass? lobster – to be weighed and priced. Note: Don’t just accept the price they give you. Always bargain! You can get a drink, bread, salad, and a substantial seafood meal for a great deal (8-10 USD)! Christine and I were so hungry and overwhelmed that we didn’t bargain as hard as we should have. Vanessa was very disappointed in us – Asian Fail!
We ate our freshly grilled seafood from old china plates while perched on rickety wooden benches. It may not have been the most glamorous setting but the food was fresh and delicious. We all wished we had more time in Essaouira to enjoy more fresh and affordable seafood!
We walked off our hearty lunch with one final stroll through the medina before heading back to Marrakech. Since our ride the day before was so miserable, we were dreading the bus ride. When we saw our seats on the Comfort Plus bus, we couldn’t have been more euphoric. We had single seats (no smelly seat neighbors!) in the front of the bus and there was actual functioning A/C!! There were also 20 fewer seats on the bus so it was quite roomy. Vanessa, Christine, and I couldn’t stop exclaiming how happy and comfortable we were. Totally worth the extra 30 dirhams (3 USD)!
Essaouira was relaxing and great – Christine’s favorite city of the three we visited – but I was excited to get back to Marrakech to explore the big, bustling city. To be continued…