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Finding beer in Essaouira, Morocco

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

We might have been staying in the tallest building within the castle walls. A zig-zagging cuboid of living space and bedrooms, with the centre column removed entirely so that birds landing on the terrace hop all the way down to the front door. On this terrace with a beer aptly named ‘Casablanca’ I can see to the sea, to the castle walls that it crashes against, to the countless alleys that lead to it. The relentless sea is less blue than the sky, and similarly all colours below our terrace grow faded and muddied. Up here is white. Our low walls are solid, rustic but unblemished, there’s even polished glass in some of our neighbouring guest houses' spires. Ten feet below is a torn expanse of sheeted rooftops that runs forever until it collides with the cannon-laden walls that protect the inhabitants from the sea and whatever it has ever held. Atop them are rags, children’s clothing, water jugs, chickens, bicycles, cats, mattresses and very rarely in waking hours, people. Beneath, their tanned walls have holes; their historic houses are dilapidated and crowded, it is not a place of traditional wealth.

The beer tastes delicious; it had been impossible getting it. The dry town of Essaouira, a fortress and fishing port most known for the powerful stone walls that crescendo at its entrance, has only recently been identified as a tourist escape. Most visitors linger there, experiencing the city without facing its rampaging insides, let’s call that north. Heading south brings you to the centre, and our spot, the market hub for fish and meat and all other things produce. Head further south still, and you leave the compound entirely. Outside, that’s where the booze was.

To get out there, you had to see it all. Not one for the squeamish nor timid, Essaouira in its true state is a morning auction that goes on past midnight and then unblinkingly into the next day. You are always in the way, and if you’re not, then you’re part of it. Garments are pushed towards you and into your hands and against your skin. The materials are beautiful, rough cotton woven into delicate patterns on rugs and scarves. The woods that shape boxes and sculptures of camels or horses are varnished with a thick tar that reflects the sun whilst remaining malty and dark. Stop to haggle, and you can play as an adversary and accomplice in a centuries old system of trade, it’s exhilarating.

After pushing through carts of dead sharks and mountains of fresh strawberries and after finally passing the outside walls, we reached the alcohol oasis. A jailhouse in Essaouira’s Wild West. Barred windows, no signs nor advertisement, a door only a crack open revealing no light inside. Outside, with cold beers wrapped up in newspaper, we could almost look up to our terrace and see its pale refuge. It looked bland from down here, and we couldn’t wait to head back.

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