I got into Essaouira, on the Moroccan coast, on Saturday evening (it’s about 2 1/2 hours from Marrakech).
Essaouira itself has lived up to the descriptions I’d had from a few people before I left. It’s very much a working fishing village. Hundreds of fishermen head out each day, on little one or two person boats (all very photogenically painted exactly the same shade of blue) or on larger trawlers. Walking round the harbour, it’s amazing to see the day to day life of the fishermen, which looks like it hasn’t changed in centuries. They head out on these tiny boats for 18-24 hours at a stretch apparently, with no way to contact even a coastguard. Boats come in filled to the brim with fish, and are emptied out by bucket for sale on stalls around the harbour. You walk past old men sitting mending the nets by hand. In the evening, everyone is setting up their baits for the next day (slotting small fish onto hundreds of hooks, ready for the morning).
They also build boats here and, again, there’s next to no machinery involved. One of the fishermen showed me around the yard (wish I’d taken notes on all his facts and figures, because it was fascinating to hear how they do it). They use mainly oak, eucalyptus (loads of it growing round here) and teak, and it takes about a year to build a trawler. They bend the wood into shape over a fire and all the mass of ‘scaffolding’ around is constructed in wood.
My main purpose in coming here was that I’d signed up for a photography course for the week. It’s run by an English photographer who’s been living here for a few years (his Moroccan wife runs cookery courses). So far it’s been excellent, albeit pretty intense ! We start at 10am each day, and after a bit of tuition for an hour or so, head out on a practical assignment until 2ish (portraits, reportage, landscape and so on). We’re then back for another session, and for photo reviews, from 5.30 until 8ish. So a long enough day, and not a lot of time for sun and sea…
I hope there’s at least some noticeable improvement in my photos by the end, but we’ll see. Either way, I’m so enjoying it: a welcome change to be focussing on something more creative for a bit.
I don’t think I’ve done a group holiday thing like this for probably 25 years, so was slightly concerned what the dynamic would be like. But the group is really good: 4 others in total, all roughly around the same age, 3 women and another bloke, from London, Liverpool, Guernsey and Cleveland Ohio, 2 of them teachers. It’s all a bit ‘Come Dine With Me’, working out what people are like over the week (we have lunch and dinner together as well, so it’s fairly intense). But all really good so far.
Only slight hiccup is that the alcohol police are apparently in town, so finding a place to have a drink in the evening isn’t that straightforward. There are a few licensed places, but both restaurants on the last two nights couldn’t even give us a glass of wine :-(. The food has made up for it though – lots of superb fish, and great couscous. The local speciality is a filo pastry ‘pastille’ with pigeon. And I had camel tagine last night ! (I know, I should be just taking cute photos of them, shouldn’t I, and not eating them…)
Anyway, off now for today’s class – apparently a trip outside Essaouira to visit a Berber market in the country and to look at landscapes.