Happy New Year! We’re a bit behind on the blogs posts, but we’re catching up now. Hope everyone had a nice holiday season!

Riad Matham, Marrakech

Our trip to Morocco for Thanksgiving week came at a spontaneous whim.  We had a week to fill in our European journey and we decided to fly down to Marrakech, Morocco from Madrid.  We are so happy we did!  It was a great experience and drastic change from our European lifestyle.  Being in Morocco felt like we were transported to a different world.  Desert, donkeys and berkas were in sight – just like an Indian Jones movie!  We stayed in Marrakech for two nights total, one at the beginning of the trip and one at the end.  We found a lovely riad (inn) in the Medina (old town walls) called Riad Matham.  We arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport to guide us to the riad because with the maze-like streets there would have been no way we would have found it.  Upon arrival, we instantly felt like we were in a magical Moroccan wonderland.  It had a beautiful courtyard, lovely furnishings and mint tea waiting for us in the courtyard.  From that moment on, Moroccan mint tea was our new favorite drink.  (Want to try it yourself?  Learn how to make the perfect cup of Moroccan mint tea.)  That afternoon we set out for the crazy streets of the medina to have a traditional lunch of couscous royale and chicken pastilla.  Afterwards, we decided to venture around the famous Marrakech souks (outdoor markets).  It was actually a lot of fun haggling with the vendors and trying to get them to give us a good deal on trinkets.

Essaouira Beach

Essaouira Beach

Our second day in Morocco was an adventurous one.  Our plan was to spend the majority of the trip in a small beach town three hours west of Marrakech called Essaouira.  We had heard that it had more of a laid back vibe, great water sports and delicious seafood.  The town itself is known to be a prime example of a late-18th century fortified town and has been a major international trading port-linking Morocco to Europe and the rest of the world. Oddly enough, it’s written that Essaouira inspired Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles in the Sand”.  We decided to save some money by taking a bus to Essaouira, but our taxi driver was late picking us up to deliver us to the bus station.  We missed our bus, but we were quickly approached by a private taxi driver offering to take us to Essaouira with 3 other tourists who were in our same predicament.  We agreed and hopped into a 1980 cream-colored Mercedes Benz taxi.  We miraculously fit 6 people and all of our luggage into this old 4-door Mercedes; needless to say it was a long three hour drive.

View from our apartment

Upon arrival to Essaouira, finding our way to Jack’s Rental Apartments was quite interesting given we had no map.  All we had was the name of a famous town square “Place Moulay Hassan”, where we were to go to pick up our keys and pay our rent.  We wandered through their maze-like streets and finally found the beach and square.  Our apartment had incredible views of the Medina, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, beautifully accompanied by 500-year-old canons, as well as the Atlantic Ocean.  We dropped off our luggage and head straight for the beach.  Mike rented a surfboard there because we left our big luggage items in San Sebastian.  The waves were a bit on the small side, but it made for a quick surf session.  Meanwhile, I admired the camels taking a stroll down the beach and the most gorgeous pink sunset I have ever seen.  Wandering around Essaouira’s souks was much less stressful than those of Marrakech, but they were definitely eventful.  Whenever we wanted a break, we’d venture up to our apartment’s rooftop deck to admire the ocean while working on our laptops.

Couscous Royale

We found that Moroccan food was both delicious and affordable.  Some of our favorite dishes were lamb tagine with dried apricots (or dates) and almonds, couscous royale and chicken pastilla.  We tried to find small traditional restaurants where you sit at very low tables with colorful cushions and are occasionally treated to live music.  Since Essaouira was a seaport town, seafood is very popular and fresh.  We would see the fisherman come into town on their boats delivering a plethora of fresh seafood to restaurants and eateries.  On the edge of the port, we ate several meals at the open grill stalls selling the fresh catch of the day.  At first, it’s intimidating because the vendors are yelling at all of the tourists walking by and saying, “Come over here to see our fresh fish”, but we soon got the hang of it.  We’d start the process by pointing at the seafood we liked and the vendor would weigh it.  Once we agreed on a price, we’d have a seat on some picnic tables and they would grill the fish.  Absolutely delicious!

After our week in Essaouira, we caught the bus back to Marrakech and enjoyed our last night in the country at Restaurant Le Foundouk near our riad.  Every day spent in Morocco was an adventure, from donkeys pulling a cart filled with live chickens, to haggling with carpet man on a good deal, to dodging the million cats wandering the streets.  We will never forget our first Northern Africa experience.