I surprised myself when I first arrived in Morocco by really falling hard for Marrakech, somewhere that I was convinced I’d hate. And then when I had an amazing, life-changing experience in the Sahara Desert, I thought it was settled.
I love Morocco.
After having such a fantastic introduction to the country in Marrakech, I knew I could quite easily spend the entire month there. I had to move on though as there was so much more of the country I wanted to see!
My next stop was the beachside town of Essaouira.
I’d heard from every single person who’d been to Essaouira that it was the place to go to chill out and relax. If you need to get away from the chaos of Marrakech and Fes then your best option is head to Essaouira.
After researching a little and finding out that it used to be a pitstop on the hippie trek from Marrakech in the 60’s with Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and the Rolling Stones passing through, I knew I would love it.
I adore hippie beach towns!
And for the first few days I adored Essaouira.
I was staying in a wonderful hostel located right in the heart of the medina. There were noticeably fewer people than in Marrakech, the beaches were mostly empty and it felt like the locals were much friendlier.
I spent my first few days sitting on the beach, amused at seeing everybody sunbathing while covered from head to toe and getting lost in the ridiculously photogenic medina while trying to find somewhere to eat. I’d wander through the fish market of an evening, fascinated with watching the fisherman trying to desperately sell their freshly caught fish and manta rays to passing people – there were dozens of hole in the wall restaurants just a few metres away that happily cook your fish for you right there.
When I wasn’t out exploring, I was sunbathing on my hostel’s roof terrace, napping in a hammock or drinking amazing mint tea.
I was happy in Essaouira and I found myself extending my stay every single morning.
But suddenly something changed.
Prior to arriving in Morocco I had never heard of the Gnaoua and World Music Festival, a 3 day event that is held every June in Essaouira – and it just so happened that I timed my visit with this enormous music festival.
A few days before the festival I noticed a huge change in the vibe of Essaouira.
The town usually has a population of just 60,000 people.
Over 400,000 people attend the festival.
Yes, it’s really that insane.
Suddenly, my chilled out, relaxing beach town turned into an overwhelming mass of people.
And with the festival goers came the touts, the scams and the doubling of prices. When I went to renew my hostel stay on the first day of the festival, I was told the prices had now doubled because of the festival.
I found myself really starting to dislike Essaouira, especially as a solo female.
I suddenly had hassle from men in the street – grabbing me, trying to touch my breasts, whispering in French in my ear and then calling me a slut and a whore when I walked away. I could no longer sit and enjoy a meal without a dozen different men sitting down with me and trying to convince me to go back to their house. There were crowds everywhere and there was nowhere to escape.
I decided to try and stick it out.
My plan was to hide away in my hostel for the three days and wait for the chaos to pass.
This was a really bad decision.
Having to deal with the hassle and abuse for those three days drove me absolutely insane and by the end of it I was exhausted and stressed and had a desperate urge to flee the country.
From that moment onwards, I struggled in Morocco. I was so drained from the constant battling, the stares and the touts that I just didn’t have the patience to deal with it anymore. Every time a man approached me, touched me and tried to talk to me I felt like screaming.
I didn’t have the energy to travel in Morocco anymore.
Had my timing been slightly different, I have no doubt that I would have left Essaouira loving it as much as I did when I first arrived. Had it not worn me down I think my overall experience in Morocco would have been better too.
Have you ever travelled to a place at the wrong time?