© 2018 by Wesley Broome

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The Road to Essaouira

A Kafkaesque journey down the swerving backroads of Morocco's coast

Taxi drivers wait outside a café in the town of Smimou, Morocco, along the road to the port city of Essaouira. (photo © Wesley Broome)

In the town of Smimou, packs of stray dogs roamed the streets, avoiding blue taxis and donkeys hauling carts full of watermelons. The only other foreigners were two young backpackers covered in road dust and rags. In the small market late in the day, fishermen offered silvery sardines and horrified-looking eels. Bright melons, orange, and apples lay covered in flies.

Essaouira was still hours away. The car had broken down about three hours outside of Agadir, and a blue minivan cab dropped me in Smimou. Two Muslim women in full purdah, covered in black to their eyelids, were my companions on the winding mountain journey. At a streetside café, I sipped warm orange juice as emaciated kittens prowled at my feet. 

A man prepares eels for market in the town of Smimou, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

A shopkeeper sleeps outside of his store in the town of Smimou, Morocco.  (photo © Wesley Broome)

A stray dog rests on a pile of dirt in the town of Smimou, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

I arrived in the dark outskirts of Essaouira close to midnight. Riderless horse-drawn carriages lined up by the hundreds against the old medina wall.

 

Amidst the noise of the market, there existed a pocket of silence where men stood facing the mosque with hands open in prayer. A tiny orange kitten followed all the way to the hotel, then stopped at the bottom of the stairs and would not go on. My passport was whisked away by the bald hotelier, who promised to slide it under my door.

In this filthy hotel, I could feel the remnants of strange rituals in the hollows between the walls. At 2:00am I listened to the insane, humorless laughter of seagulls outside the open window. The light beneath the door went out. Something banged loudly on the ceiling throughout the night, and a real or imagined fight broke out above.

A fisherman sharpens his knife on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Essaouira, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

By morning my passport was still gone. The hallway was swallowed in darkness, where outside the window the minaret of the mosque rose over the blinding white walls of the medina. A maid walked by, raising her eyebrows at me in disinterest, and stepped into a closet where a group of women workers, hijabs wrapped in plastic, took their tea. The sound of "Stand By Me" drifted from the bar downstairs.

My passport finally appeared out of nowhere at breakfast. I felt the same sense of scrutiny that the Moroccan gendarmes paid me on the street, always questioning why I was here. Outside in the thick white heat, something seemed to be watching.

A woman barters with a shopkeeper in the medina while men carry fresh sardines from the fish market at Essaouira, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

A man retouches a boat beneath the Moroccan flag in the city of Essaouira, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)

In the medina of Essaouira, teenage boys in clean white djellabas walked hand in hand with Adidas-clad counterparts. Green Dutch-made cannons, blue fishing boats, and the Genoese citadel point towards the sea from the edges of this blue and white city. Color, language, and history mixed within the ancient rampart walls.

On my way out of the city, a seagull shit on my head. One Moroccan exclaimed that it was an omen that I would stay in Essaouira. He excitedly asked a nearby shopkeeper if the man agreed. The man said no. It was an omen that I would leave.

A woman carrying groceries walks down an alleyway in the city of Essaouira, Morocco. (photo © Wesley Broome)