Essaouira

The little beach town of Essaouira felt like the coastal equivalent of Chefchauoen’s mountain retreat. After spending an evening in Marrakech’s crazy medina, the cozy port town was a welcoming calm. Essaouira’s medina sits directly on the water’s edge. So close in fact, that while walking along it’s outer corridors, you can feel the ocean spray coming in over the massive walls. There aren’t many tourist sites in the little town, but you could easily get accustomed to the relaxing lifestyle the city offers. Strolling through the medina, a leisurely late morning coffee, a casual walk along Essaouira’s long stretch of beach, and a fresh seafood dinner at the port. It’s hard not to feel at ease in the little town.
I spend my one full day in Essa doing just that. It took all my strength not to buy half the medina as I wandered through spice stores and pottery shops. So I opted for a cafe au lait and some people watching instead. In the late afternoon I walked along the beach until I could hardly see the city walls anymore. I must have been lucky, because there was barely any wind that day. I’ve heard more than a few people complain about their beach walk due to the wind. Essaouira is known for it’s windy weather, and what’s normally a leisurely beach stroll can easily become a sandstorm, giving you an unwanted sandpaper scrub.
When I arrived back in the city, it was dinner time. I opted for the cheap, food stalls at the port; a “must” according to my guidebook.
I was feeling a little indulgent, and so figured I’d spend twice as much on dinner as I normally do. I walked up to one food stall that had a huge display of seafood, caught fresh that day.
“I would like 80 dirhams ($10) of food please. I’ll eat pretty much anything, so feel free to mix and match whatever you think is the best” the guy at the stall was so excited, since I was his first customer of the evening. He started grabbing this and that and putting it on a platter for me. Then he sat me down with a fresh salad and some bread rolls.
I think I may have underestimated how much food 80 dirhams was, because when my food started arriving I was overwhelmed. First, prawns. About 20 prawns on a plate were placed in front of me. Then came the fish: two massive sardines, and two other whole fish, splayed out and grilled up, were set down. Just when I thought that was everything, a bowl of calamari was given to me as well. How in the world was I going to eat all this?!
But I did, slowly but surely, one at a time. I read my book, and picked away at the tasty fish. The owner of the stall kept coming out and yelling at his staff, who were supposed to be coercing more people to have dinner, but who preferred instead to sit down at my table and ask about where I was from and how I liked the food. They would all jump up and rush around, yelling at people to come eat. Then the owner smiled at me and gave an exasperated sigh. I had to laugh.
When dinner was over I wandered through the medina again, trying to walk off the crazy amounts of food I’d just eaten. Before long I heard someone yelling.
“Hey, Canada!” I turned around to see Matt, an American guy from my hostel waving at me from across the street. He and an Australian girl were headed to a local restaurant to watch Omar, a local Moroccan they had befriended, play music. I figured I had nothing better to do than to join them.
The restaurant we went to was tiny. It only held about 15 people. The place was dark, and candle lit, and had a bench with Moroccan cushions all around the edge of the restaurant. The Aussie girl, Matt, Omar and I sat down for some tea and coffee and met up with Omar’s friend who would be playing with him. Then the show started. Omar played the guitar, while his friend kept beat on a drum and the two of them sang. The music was almost Latin sounding, with an African beat that was wonderful to listen to! They played for around 45 minutes, then sat back down to join us at the table. We chatted and played music into the evening, until I realized I was falling asleep and had to head back to the hostel.
I’m a little upset I had such little time in Essaouira. I could easily have lounged around the city for days. But there’s so much to see in the country, and my time is limited, so it was back to Marrakech the next afternoon!

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Valparaiso

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We had finally made it to the coast of Chile. Back at sea level and next to the wide-open ocean for the first time in months… I was ecstatic! You could smell the salty seawater as we drove through town in the taxi. Valparaiso is such a beautiful seaside city. It’s built into the natural hills of the landscape, has a massive port for the city’s fishing industry, and if you go just a few minutes out of town in either direction, there’s fresh seafood and sandy beaches!

 

We spent the first afternoon strolling the cities slopes. Valparaiso was the first place where we realized that it is actually autumn… In May! The leaves are changing a beautiful yellow colour, and crunchy brown leaves cover the sidewalks. The mornings and evenings were brisk, but the afternoons were still full of sunshine and heat! Personally I find this really neat, that autumn can happen in May. For Adam, it totally freaks him out. It’s been over a week since we arrived in fall weather, and he still can’t stop talking about how unnerved he is by the sudden change in seasons. I egg him on by stomping on every crispy leaf we pass with a satisfying crunch and then talking about everything fall related: the colours, the weather, the fall boots I spot at every shoe store… I find his weather frustration infinitely entertaining. But even Adam admits that it’s a great time to end our trip.

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Valparaiso, Santiago and Mendoza are utterly stunning in Fall colours!
  Our second afternoon in Valparaiso we went on a self-proclaimed graffiti crawl. The city is absolutely chock-a-block full of beautiful works of graffiti. Not just tags and amateur scrawling, but real works of unique and innovative pieces of art. The graffiti covers nearly every blank space of wall in the city, and we had a great time searching out our favourite pieces and photo-bombing the city.

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Near the end of our afternoon we ran across the Museum of Pablo Neruda, a famous poet and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. I used to love reading Neruda’s work in school, so was eager to check out his museum. The museum was actually Neruda’s house at one point in his life. He lived for many years in Valparaiso in a gorgeous, 5-story house, high up on the hilltop of the city, with a fabulous view of the ocean. Of course it was interesting seeing where the poet lived, wrote, spent time engrossed in thought etc, but what was the most fun, was checking out the house itself. Firstly, the architecture of the place is beautifully unique: rounded rooms with large open windows, a floor to ceiling, urn shaped fireplace, a spectacular view of the city from every room in the house… This was prime real estate. But secondly, Neruda was the most amazing collector of antiques and artifacts. He was fastidious with his decorating, and when he found an object that he wanted, he stopped at nothing until he obtained it. Paintings, maps, statues, plates, desks, you name it! Each piece had a history and a place in Neruda’s home. We must have spent over an hour, listening to the audiotapes and exploring his home before finally moving on. We both walked out of the place wishing we could become antique collectors… Guess I’d need a house first.

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After our “exhausting” afternoon taking photos and exploring museums, we decided it was time to relax. We found this great restaurant by our hostel that overlooked the water, where we sipped on a bottle of chilled white wine and watched the sun descend over the water.

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At 6 we met up with Mark and Oli, who had finally finished their bus trip down from the North. It was their final night, so we decided to celebrate Adam’s birthday one night early and head out on the town together. We had some pre-bottles of wine at their stunning hotel with an awesome view and then went back to the restaurant we had found in the afternoon for some food. (Adam and I had the crab-stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce with truffles that was honest-to-God the best ravioli I’ve eaten in my life!). By our third stop I lost track of the bottles of wine. Although we woke up with pictures of each label, there’s no way I could have properly rated them in our ongoing wine log…needless to say, Adam and I both spent most of the next day’s afternoon in our room recovering.

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On our final day in Valparaiso we went to the beach. The forecast had called for rain, but when we woke up it was sunny and gorgeous! We took the metro out to Portales station and walked up and down the waterfront. From there you could see the entire city of Valparaiso; from the ports to the towering city behind them. The beach was beautiful and sandy, and covered with great looking, fresh seafood joints. After checking out the fishermen on the docks, and watching them feed the group of sea lions below, we picked a place to eat and decided to camp there ALL afternoon eating platters of seafood and sipping on wine. This was one of my goals since day one: seafood and wine on the coast of Chile. So that’s what we did!

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We started with a delicious seafood soup. It came out in a steaming hot, stone bowl, and the water was still boiling inside! The soup was full of prawns, muscles, scallops, and squid, and had fresh herbs and some veggies in it as well. We mixed in a couple scoops of their freshly, homemade, spicy seafood sauce and the thing was to die for! We had endless garlic bread to go with and a lovely bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. After we sat around and let the soup settle, we ordered prawns. A plethora of prawns!! We had one massive bowl of prawns, sautéed in butter and garlic, which came out as steaming hot as the soup. Then we had a cold, avocado shrimp cocktail which had slices of fresh avocado under a mountain of prawns, topped with a light mayonnaise dressing, displayed on a bed of lettuce. We picked away at these dishes for a loooong time, still indulging on the endless bread, before we realized that there was no way we could order a main dish. They did not skimp out on the number of shrimp they offered in each dish, and we were both stuffed by the end of it. We settled up, moved back outside to the beach, and lay down on the sand to let our stomachs digest and to watch the waves. I could not have though of a better way to spend our last day in Valparaiso. This was definitely vacation mode… And luckily, it is only a short hour and a half bus ride to Santiago!!

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