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  • Writer's pictureTomás S. Ó Ceallaigh

Atay Maghrebi: Skala du Port, Essaouira

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

The fortified tower of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Skala du Port, Essaouira.

As I sat on the highest point of the roof terrace drinking coffee, I scanned around the view: flaking whitewash on all but a handful of buildings, rusting chimneys pumping out benign traces fire of black smoke against the hazy blue canvas and lending the whole town a sea-bleached aspect.

I decided to take in high tide down by the Skala du Port, a place I had visited the year before.

The Skala du Port is perhaps the most obvious example of the Portuguese colonial history of the town they called Mogador. A castellated fortification, it joins the main wall around the medina, before holding out a protective arm against the Atlantic breakers around the fishing port and the shipbuilders.

From the top of the fortified tower, a mere 10dh to get to, the view looks towards the Île de Mogador and the ocean in one direction, and the medina, tightly huddled past the rising smoke of the fish grills by the main square, in the other.

Inside the harbour wall, there is a constant hive of activity as fish is landed and quickly sold in the nearby market, with families sitting near to the wooden hulls of ships being built whilst they wait for their fish lunch to be grilled. With seagulls wheeling overhead, local boys spur each other on to dive from the wall into the waters of the smaller inlet, filled with the ubiquitous little blue fishing skiffs, becoming increasingly raucous in response to their friends’ successes or failures.

The small rocky area in front of the UNESCO world Heritage site could perhaps do with some love. The rock, that looks almost volcanic, creates something of a lunar landscape and provides a place for young Moroccan families to pick off shellfish and explore, and for old men to sit and contemplate the passing of time with each breaking wave.

Looking across the rocks at low tide near to the Skala du Port, Essaouira.

The only sad thing is the amount of litter that is strewn across the rocks; plastic bottles, sweet wrappers and paper. When I later had a conversation with a Frenchman living in Essaouira, his response was, “but you see, Tomás, you are thinking like a European."

Later, I went in search of a former colleague’s dad who runs the Dar Latigeo, a small hotel not far from the second thoroughfare near to the fish market. The building is squirrelled away down a narrow alleyway, but inside seems massive, light and spacious.

Having woken George, albeit inadvertently, from his siesta, he invited me in and his partner set about making me a coffee. Thankfully, it seems he was half expecting me after being tipped off by his daughter.

He is an interesting man. He told me a number of stories of his working life in aviation before he came to Essaouira – something that appears to have been a decision made more by accident than design. His work had taken him around a good deal of Africa and the world, but this little town clinging to edge of the African continent seems to suit him.

That Evening, Cous Cous, the manager at the Atlantic Hostel, created another epic meal for around forty people.

This time, the menu started off with what he called Moroccan tapas, followed by a kind of fish meatball, chickpea stew and a huge beef tajine. Desert was fruit salad with the incredibly addictive amlou, honey and yoghurt mixed in.

During dinner and afterwards, I got speaking to JK (an American by way of Korea), Hannah (from Northern Ireland) and Sophie (from Alabama, USA).

JK spoke about the career he was hoping to forge within the charity sector, based on the American west coast, but operating in sub-Saharan Africa. Hannah and Sophie, it transpired, had made their way along the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route across northern Spain, before deciding, somewhat on a whim, to continue their travels southwards towards Morocco.

After finishing dinner, singing a line from Formation by Beyoncé a few times and conversing about where everyone was going to next, Sophie said, in a deep Alabama drawl, “so Tom, what happens on the roof at night?”

“I’ve warned you not to crack on to me!” I replied and we all headed up to the roof and the chilly evening air.

Lessons Learned:

  • Under, what Lonely Planet, calls the 'curtain of seagulls' in Essaouira, it is always a good idea to walk quickly and without fish in your hands…

  • It is okay to do very little with your day in a place like Essaouira.

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