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I’d be hard pushed to choose between a day by the sea or a day at the races. So any day that I can have both (of a sort) is a good one. Essaouira, a fishing town on the west coast of Morocco, about 3 hours by bus and €7 from Marrakesh, is famous for its surf. The Alizée winds are strong, the waves are high, and the thrill is there for the taking.

In the distance you can see the Island of Mogador, which now requires special permission to enter. It was once home to a massive open-air prison where pilgrims from Mecca would stay for 40 days to see if they were sick or not. And it had a mosque (where doesn’t?)

Essaouira beach surfing

This late eighteenth-century fortified town of Essaouira is quite something. The town itself has been trading since the fifth century; it’s the fortified walls that went up some thirteen hundred years later. Outside the walls, a crescent-shaped beach wraps around the town adding even more strength to the fortification as the waves pound the rocks and spray the gallery of tourists who gather on the ramparts to watch the sun go down.

Essaouira sunset

Essaouira ocean view

On any given day of the week, the musicians are out in force. Sit for a while at a beach café and it won’t take long for them to find you. Essaouira is far more relaxed when it comes to beer than Marrakesh – perhaps something to do with the sun? Or the surf? Or the type of tourist it attracts.

Essaouira beach battle on horses

Soldiers on horses Essaouira

Who knows? Whatever is going on, the rules in this Wind City of Africa seem a lot more lax and certainly the hassle factor is far softer.

It was here on New Year’s Eve that the culture of the country went on show, starting with horseracing of sorts on the beach. Saddles of Berber soldiers rushed at the promenade brandishing their muskets, screaming their war cries, and then letting loose their final volley. It was quite the spectacle with riders young and old alike, and some too cool for school.

Essaouira horses riders guns

Essaouira sunbathing on the beach

For the princely sum of €3.50, you could rent a sunchair and a pair of eyes to keep watch on your stuff. But the tide was out and the water was miles away. The sun was warm but the wind was biting. Getting wet would be no problem but drying off would certainly take some time. The tourists were in various stages of undress and no one seemed to mind. But it was interesting to see the locals well wrapped up – the complete opposite of how it used to be in Alaska with the locals in shorts and tshirts on days that the cruise ships docked and disgorged teams of hatted, mitted, and scarved tourists.

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

 

At 3.30, the parade started. Groups of different types of musicians, presumably different clans or tribes, lined up to take their spot under the watchful eye of a suited and booted official. Most of the instruments were variations a theme. Drums, bugles, more drums, more bugles.

But it was yer man with a cake pan on his head that took my fancy. He was fascinating. Keeping balance and keeping time. What talent. Him I could have followed, had I not had places to go and things to see.

Essaouira horsback parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

Essaouira musicians on parade

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IMG_1429 (800x589)My computer clock tells me that it’s 2.09 am on 31 December and yet my wristwatch says 15.o9  on 29 December. Such is the joy of being in two places at the one time. I really wanted to go for a swim today – after mass – so we went down to Pebble Beach, also known as IliIli  (lots of small pebbles) in Captain Cook, Honaunau. We had the place practically to ourselves but any thoughts of taking a dip were put to rest as the waves surged and roared their way to shore.

IMG_1437 (800x589)The view was spectacular and as the currents ripped and tore the pebbles, the world came into perspective. Such was the strength of the ocean that no one stood a chance. That lone man – a hefty 6 foot +, weighing at least 250lbs – went flat on his ass  and sat, stunned, as the water washed over him. Those who turn their back on the ocean do so at their peril.

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Walls of water showed little mercy for anything caught in their way. We perched far enough way to enjoy the spectacle, out of reach of the spray, but still, by times, a couple of waves came close enough to make us scramble. It was mesmerising. Who needs special effects or TV when you have this in your front yard. The locals are a tad upset that this beach features in the guide books – it’s not a swimming beach – not in winter, and every year people get caught out. Not necessarily swimmers, but those on shore who turn their back on the water and fail to see what’s heading their way. And the only sign posted is one that says nudity is prohibited.

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The beach is littered with black pebbles, all of which are gone by February, swept out into the ocean along with the sand from the other beaches on the island. Where do they go? And how do they find their way back? And where did this lone white pebble come from?Given a few more hours, I’m sure that the answer to the meaning of life would have come to me …. but we were expecting visitors and the cocktails were acalling.

IMG_1479 (800x599)I can’t think of a better way to end the year that to sit underneath a palm tree on the edge of the ocean and watch Mother Nature do her thing. And yet again, for the fifty millionth time,  I promise myself that the next place I live will be within hearing distance of the sea.  It has wonderful way of putting things into perspective and making me realise that there’s little point in worrying about stuff I can’t change. Far better to appreciate what I have and give thanks for that.

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