Cowie and I went on holiday to Essaourira at the beginning of September. We couldn't get out of Marrakesh fast enough. Within a day we had escaped the panic inducing heat and feral bustle in search of sun, sand, waves and fish.
We're going to take you on a culinary journey of tagines, fresh fish and Moroccan imagination but only once we've set the scene with some photos. The first couple are from the dock at night and the ones that follow are from the incredible market that electrifies Essaourira on a nightly basis.
As soon as the sun dropped an air raid siren announced the transition of day into night. Within seconds the narrow, bustling, twisting streets emptied as the residents all raced home for supper. Our holiday coincided with Ramadan which gave our week an extra cultural dynamic.
Half an hour later and the streets returned to their normal chaotic state and the night market kicked into action...
I became slightly obsessed with the graffiti on this doorway (which according to Joshua's comment is by a French artist called C215). It seemed weirdly out of place. But this is part of Essaourira's mystique. It's well known as an artistic and cultural hot-spot. Not only did Orson Welles film his epic tale of Othello here, but Jimi Hendrix also wrote a song called Castles Made of Sand inspired by Essaourira. It's a city that is buzzing with artists who flock here for the stunning light and never leave.
They take great pride in the way they present their wares. Nothing short of perfect pyramids is allowed. We watched from afar as young men carefully groomed their colourful tetrahedrons and wondered whether they'd better off not all selling exactly the same thing.
It seemed like the olive vendor must have come from the same stack is high sell it cheap school as the spice man. In fact they probably had the same geometry teacher.
This is one of my favourite pictures. I had to lean against a rickety wooden strut to keep the camera still enough to let the light in. It really captures the vibrancy of the colours and reminds me, in a silly way, of Rick Stein's "Coast to Coast" book cover. These preserved lemons made the ones you get in a jar from Belazu look very ersatz.
We were overwhelmed by the variety and volume of dates on display. It made me feel very ignorant to have thought that there might only be one type of date, when in fact there seem to be hundreds.
Which is why I like this picture of the date seller looking forlornly out, over his stall, for customers...
... and this one that makes a necklace of dried figs look like a piece of tribal jewelry.
I had to wait for ages for a break in the traffic to take this shot of a man selling mint by the bucketload. Mint tea is to Moroccan culture what a mug of milky, sweet builders is the Britain. No meal, conversation or negotiation is complete without it. We thought we'd prefer it without sugar, but soon learned it's a lot better laced with something sweet.
We bought some deep fried cinnamon sweets that looked like worms. They were brittle, sticky and luckily not very moreish. Otherwise we could have been there all night and we'd both now be diabetic.
But my favourite photo of the whole lot is of this boy holding what looks like a conger eel. In this context it is as natural as anything. But can you picture it happening back in London? Behind him is Essaourira's famous fish market where you choose your fish from the slab and they grill it for you as you try not to get freaked out by the fish guts that have seeped through your flip flop or by the number of of bugs that are about to find their way into your body! I'm sure it's where Mitch Tonks got his FishWorks idea from.
Essaourira is a mesmerising place. Almost every vista is worthy of a photograph. We'll tell you about some of the amazing food we ate and experiences we had soon.