It is not difficult to work out why Essaouira is called the ‘Windy City’ even when there is little more than a breeze, it gusts through the streets, market places and along the beach. Its touch caresses the sand and reaches every hidden space within the town.
“merely sold off the pavement in the fishing port”
That it is described as a city is a little more difficult to comprehend. Despite the numerous exclusive hotels, riads, bars and restaurants it still appears to be an ‘overgrown’ fishing village. It is this feeling of authenticity absent from some other Moroccan cities which appeals to me.
I enjoyed several hours at the docks of the harbour watching the fishing boats arriving with their catch and unloading it onto the wharf. Some of the fish makes its way to the nearby market but much of it is merely sold off the pavement in the fishing port.
The small boats are used for long-lining, all coloured blue they make a striking sight when docked together. They use fishing lines which are several kilometres in length and catch the bigger fish such as red tuna, rays, bass and sharks such as blues.
There are larger boats; trawlers which drag nets aimed at catching the smaller fish such as sardines, mackerel and shrimp. All are bought and sold along the quay and in the fishmarket along with the live lobster and spider crabs caught in traps. The selection of fish on display in front of individual ‘fishmongers’ is quite startling and a little sad, especially the obviously juvenile blue sharks which are still probably the prize catch for the fishermen.
It is a little surprising that the harbour air is not filled with the stench of fish, in fact the market area is much more pungent. Fishermen tend their stalls gutting and filleting their catch whilst bartering the best price with the restaurateurs of the city. It seems likely that it pays to buy in bulk and there are is almost certainly some collaboration where some restaurants or streetfood sellers guarantee to buy the entire catch of certain fishermen.
Once the days catch has been sold with maybe enough being retained for dinner, preparations for the next fishing expedition take place. Rough hands weathered by the sun, wind and sea spray work on nets, often in teams , repairing any holes. Other fishermen work on the trawlers cleaning decks and still more lay out long lines along the wharf ensuring hooks and fishing lines are undamaged and ready for action.
Tourists mingle with those working in the port and parents looking for something to feed their family that day. The docks are filled with those that make their living from the sea, character filled faces etched from a life spent in the glare of the sun and the unforgiving power of the ocean lean against boats and discuss best practice.
“avoiding their less sociable ‘shares’ is one of the hazards of the port
Seagulls fill the sky with aerial warfare, avian fighter pilots performing ‘dogfights’ in search of the best scraps. The air is filled with their piercing, high-pitched squawks, if they cannot wrestle anything from their adversaries then possibly scare tactics is another option.
Occasionally the odd over aggressive bird may ‘divebomb’ an unsuspecting two legged adversary and avoiding their less sociable ‘shares’ is one of the hazards of the port.
Although the blue which is prevalent throughout the medina is only visible on the long-lining boats it is still an attractive harbour. It is protected from the elements by the fortified ramparts and a long breakwater. Built for practical and historical defence from the ocean and marauding pirates of foreign enemies they also add charisma to the port.
Strolling away from the wharf towards the city the nearby streetfood sellers can be found, providing yet further choice of fish. The displays are dazzling and the hawkers responsible for attracting customers will happil poke the crustaceans into displaying their freshness.
If feeling a little hungry, merely select a fish and it will be prepared and cooked to order. How is that for bespoke cuisine?
After enjoying a meal of the freshest fish possible, perhaps with some rice or salad and a local wine there is plenty of time to watch the everyday comings and goings of the city. It is easy to imagine little has changed here, in truth little has, the fishermen still depart the port early each day, although now they use motorised engines rather than the power of the ever present wind.
Fully satiated and yet only half the day has gone, it’s time to head into the narrow backstreets of the medina but that’s a whole new adventure.