Essaouira, Morocco

Photo: Uploadalt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Uploadalt (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
You’ve been wide awake for hours. The Fajr prayer started calling sometime around 5:15 a.m. The wind started howling, and then the seagulls started squawking. Or maybe the other way around. Jet lag made it impossible to go back to sleep. So by the time the sunrise prayer began bellowing an hour and a half later, you were already on the terrace of your room ready to watch the shade retreat from the water and the Medina. It’s time to start exploring Essaouira.

You arrived on Morocco’s coast last night and passed a little Berber village, olive groves, and donkeys on your way from the airport. You checked into Madada Mogador. The small hotel overlooks Essaouira Bay, Mogador island, and the Atlantic Ocean. You found your room to be the perfect combination of traditional (rosewood furniture and a brass sink) and modern (plush bedding and an iPod dock). You took a bath, sipped a sundowner on the roof deck, ate a light dinner at La Table by Madada downstairs, and went to bed before the guitar music started. The next thing you remember is the call to prayer this morning.

Now you get to watch “the wind city of Africa” wake up. Wander through the narrow derbs (alleyways) of the Medina. The walled fortress was made of volcanic stone in the 18th century. Walk by whitewashed houses, women in white haiks (veils), and cabinet makers returning to work. The strong smell of fish mixes with even stronger spices. Gnawa music plays in the distance. And a carpet salesmen tries to tempt you with mint tea. You pass. Visit the brass canons along the ramparts, instead. Tour the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum, located in an old mansion, to see historical items from jewelry to musical instruments to weapons. Stop at the Damgaard Art Gallery, Essaouira’s oldest gallery, to see paintings and sculptures by local artists. See the cemetery and the old synagogues in the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter. And relax inside one of the city’s oldest hammams, Lalla Mira, to wash with black soap, have a gommage body scrub, and then an argan oil massage.

Photo:  www.madada.com
Photo: http://www.madada.com

After your massage, leave the walled fortress and walk down to the waterfront. Find blue wooden boats, fishermen emptying their nets, and lots of hungry seagulls at Skala du Port. Stop at one of the fish stalls for sardines, calamari, or skate. It’s grilled in front of you and served with salad and bread. Walk along Essaouira Bay. The wide, sandy beach is known more for its activities—windsurfing, kitesurfing, and camel riding—than sunbathing and swimming. For a quieter, riptide-free beach, head south to Diabat tomorrow. And sail across the bay for views of the city and Mogador island. The uninhabited island, which is actually two islands and a handful of little islets, protects the bay from some of the strong winds blowing off the Atlantic. It’s home to Eleonora’s Falcons, which spend most of the year here after wintering in Madagascar.

Determined to overcome your jet lag, you refuse to return to Madada Mogador when you start to feel tired. Instead, go to Taros Café, an art galley, a library, a boutique, and a café for cocktails, live music, and a game of Scrabble. Go downstairs for a seafood dinner when it begins to get chilly on the rooftop. And call it an early night when the Maghrib prayer starts to sound. Maybe you’ll sleep in later and overcome that jet lag by tomorrow.

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