The Pirate Haven Of Essaouira
Mats Fredrix was the Content Creator for the 2022 Morocco: Kingdom of the West Cycling Tour. In this report he looks back on the last rest day on the tour.
A six-day stretch took the Morocco: Kingdom of the West cyclists from Marrakesh to the coastal city of Essaouira. It was the longest riding stretch of the whole tour, and even after almost a month en route, it was still a challenging prospect for even the most experienced riders and staff. After traversing the Atlas Mountains for the very last time, passing through Paradise Valley, and reaching the coast again, the group left camp in the surf town of Imsouane early in the morning, eager to get to their very last rest day of the tour.
A hot, dusty, and long 107k day decided to give everyone a good final run for their money, though. It was just one of those days when the gravel never seemed to end. Exhausted the riders trickled in one by one on the city’s main square: the Place Moulay Hassan. They were greeted in a very un-pushy, almost un-Moroccan, way by the many street vendors in the fruit and fish stalls that surrounded the square. For the remainder of the day, the ‘rest’ in rest day was taken very literally and any real exploring was unanimously postponed until further notice. After a little mission through the maze that is every Moroccan medina, everyone was in their little safe haven for the next two nights; the Riad Mimouna.
The following day, gently awoken by the sound of the crashing waves, and after a hearty breakfast, one attraction topped everyone’s charts: Essaouira’s port and fish market. The port is not used for commercial traffic, so it has retained its authenticity and breath-taking charm. Rows of colourful blue boats immediately draw the attention when you make your way from the main square to the port. The many seagulls circling above complete the picture. That, and of course the smell. It’s like taking a leap back in time. It’s not only the odour of the fish, but the ground and everything else in the harbour is muddled with fishy seawater. Combined, it’s a real wall of smells, and one you must just power through. The show is more than worth it, though. The docks literally come alive with movement and noise while local fishermen entice passers-by to purchase their shellfish, sardines, conger eels and other fresh catches.
A cart full of ice blocks the entire little street, drawing out chorus of honking and almost rhythmic shouting. Many of the market goers cheekily take the opportunity to add a little ice into their bags with their most recent purchases. Road tax, the driver at least doesn’t really seem to mind.
Further along, away from the raucous buying and selling, the vibe changes and is much more laid-back. Rows and rows of people are preparing bait for their next fishing trips, and the conversations here are much more serene and almost relaxed. Even further along is the shipping yard, with many larger boats on the dry docks for repairs or other patch-up work. As you walk through it, the sheer historical diversity of the place is blatantly obvious.
Essaouira is only a very recent name the city was given after the Moroccan independence. For a very long time it used to be called ‘Mogador’, a name still visible everywhere on the streets. The city is justifiably proud of its ancient port and its reputation as a real pirate’s cove. It is said that Mogador was once a haven for pirates, ideally situated with regard to the trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. It’s also one of the most preserved and best examples of a Portuguese port that was left behind after falling to local resistance. The fortress and the walled city still sport many cannons atop its battlements from the Portuguese defence. And even in much more recent times, Essaouira has much history to be proud of. In the 1960’s it used to be a real hippy hotspot and stories about Jimi Hendrix’s two week stay in the town have become legendary and a vital part in Essaouiran culture.
All-in-all, you’d be hard pressed to find a better rest day location for a crew of adventurers with pedals instead of sails. Fully charged and rested the TDA Morocco ship took off through the Essaouiran medina for its very last stint straight north up the coast, back to where it all began more than a month ago, in Casablanca.
Morocco: Kingdom of the West
Join us on this mystical cycling odyssey through Morocco – The Kingdom of the West. It is a country of mountains and beaches, souks and mosques...