Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wooden Boats and Fisherman

El Jadida is a small fishing town completely untouched by any signs of tourism, with an imposing Portugese fort at the entry to the harbour. We rafted the Pjotter up next to the coast guard boats amongst the green and red wooden fishing boats crowded into the tiny harbour. It felt wonderfully authentic and we felt a little like we were seeing something no one else knew about. It turns out that we were the first Dutch boats in the harbour this year.

The check-in process with the police took some time and we needed to evaluate our tipping practices as we were asked for cigarettes, coca cola, pens and of course money by a variety of people that purported to ‘help’ us. We had purchased a carton of cigarettes per boat in the medina in SalĂ© for this purpose and decided to give a pack to the person who took care of our boat for the three days of our stay and individual cigarettes to other people that offered support (ie taking our lines when we arrived).

The fisherman were friendly and waved as we watched fascinated as they tossed basket after basket of fish from boat to shore. A foray into the town started with a careful obstacle course through the fishing nets drying on the quay, under the singing seagulls and past the wagons of fish – ranging from small sardines to massive marlins and two-meter long sharks baring sharp teeth (we are evaluating whether it is a good ideas to take another surfing lesson here).

Seb and Adam went for a rather painful but wonderfully authentic hammam in El Jadida and were scrubbed thoroughly. Seb described it as lying on a rather sweaty and warm bathroom floor, having buckets of boiling water poured over you and being scrubbed by a slightly masochistic man wielding a scouring sponge as you watched your skin fall off around you. Still, they were an experience richer and left feeling invigorated. The hour long process cost approximately 7 euros. Their hedonism continued with a shave in the barber’s stall for 0,90 euros. Boys night out ended with a stroll through the medina and a good long chat over several cups of tea.

During naptime the next day I went to the souq with Adam to stock up our fresh food supplies. Fruit and vegetables were in abundance in the stalls – including big juicy mangos. We bought bags and bags. Wandered into the meat section of the souq and I was a little overwhelmed to see the whole cow heads, piles of lungs and other portions that I am even less familiar with. We decided on chicken and walked to a cleanish looking stall with happyish and health looking chickens. We needed to select a live chicken which was then rather unceremoniously prepared for us in a rapid and efficient manner using some sort of strange machine. We rushed home to put the chicken in the freezer and cooked in long and thoroughly before eating as we estimated the odds of salmonella at about 100%. Fruit and vegetables are also very carefully washed in disinfectant soap before they are allowed on board. We also take off and wash our shoes (and anything else that has touched the ground) before entering the boat. All of these new rules are intended to prevent cockroaches and other nasty beasties from getting on board.

On from El Jadida, another 130 nautical miles overnight to Essouaira. Essauaira is a really lovely port town and we rafted once again against the local coast guard rescue boat, surrounded by blue and white wooden fishing boats. There is an amazing bustle of activity in the port at almost all hours of the day (with the exception of 1840 during Ramadan when people are finally allowed to eat). Essaouira is more touristry than El Jadida but this manifests itself in added convenience rather than detracting at all from the charm.

Mees turned three on September 18th and we marked this important event with a visit to a camel farm (this one was a retirement home for ex-race camels). Emma and Mees were beside themselves with delight as they sat side by side on a special children’s saddle built for two – and beamed at each other for the entire one hour trek. Extremely cute. Macsen and Peter were too small to take part in the camel riding but they made friends with the local donkey and this more than compensated for their disappointment. We closed the visit to the camel farm with a huge and delicious mutton and vegetable tangine followed by the standard cups of sickly sweet tea before taking the tired but happy children back to the boats for a nap.

The next couple of days were spent wandering around the lovely streets of Essouiara, admiring the beautiful cloth, pottery, carpets and wood and watching the children fly kites in the square. Seb and I were treated to an evening of babysitting by the Elena crew and we had a wonderful meal at a little restaurant called Elizir located in the medina. Before leaving Essaouira, we also slipped in a good girl’s afternoon and night out including a hammam massage and fantastic dinner in the Villa Maroc.

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