Basque Country Beach Combing

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Please keep in mind that I do not say anything on this blog intending to sound judgmental. I do not travel to pass judgement, I travel to see what the world is really like, without expectations. I do not typically go to the tourist destinations when I travel, partly because it’s winter and a lot of them are closed but mostly I just want to walk around and check things out…the architecture, the people, the geography, all of it. How is it different, what works well and what doesn’t, what can I learn?

I have spent the last 5 days in a region called Basque country, spreading across the northeast border of Spain and into the northwest(ish) border of France along the Atlantic coast. These 2 countries share a common language in this area apart from their relative native tongues. Much like Morocco, I have had my challenges with communicating and although it has not prevented me from doing or buying anything, I haven’t had a conversation in English in over two weeks that wasn’t on Skype!

It has been interesting trying to decipher the “Basque style”. For me its usually the architecture that sets a place apart, nope, not here. Between the two countries you can see their respective influences but overall I found Basque architecture rather bland. There is not much color used here, not in the architecture, clothing, or cars. The buildings are typically cream colored with adobe roofs and shuttered windows in muted colors in styles that, to me, appear a touch Bavarian…..or Swiss?

This area must just come alive with summer sunbathers and surfers. There are tons of apartment buildings shuttered for the winter. Not unlike my own island home, drawing thousands to their vacations homes when the weather is good. I have found most coastal towns are nearly empty in the winter. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer to travel in the off season. I feel it gives me a better sense of the true nature of a town and it’s culture. But it lead me to wonder…what would the world look like if we each only had one dwelling. How many of these big empty buildings would disappear? The skyline would certainly look different.

As I always do when arriving at a new coastal town, I drop my gear off at my accommodations and head for the beach! I typically plan to arrive someplace new in the late afternoon so I can scope out the area grab some dinner and make a plan. The next day I set out, if the first beach yields nothing, on to the next. Rough work, I know….

Since most of the areas I am visiting this time are all coastal towns I refer to Google Earth to see which are the favorable beaches for glass and the best way to get there. I use Airbnb almost exclusively when I travel. I prefer to stay in a home and a little closer to the culture than a hostel, which is my second choice. This also gives me more choices allowing me the opportunity to set my budget and location. I have stayed in some….rather unusual places, no doubt, but I have also stayed in some really cool ones too.

When I was in San Sebastian, the Spanish side of my Basque country travels, the beaches were wide, flat and all sand, not a lot of luck finding glass. After a couple of days of just enjoying a nice beach without having my nose to the sand I headed for the French side of Basque country to Biarritz. I didn’t have a lot of hope that the beaches were going to be different and aside from a more coarse sand, I was right. So I walked on, there are beaches in France that go on forever! There happened to be a little fishing harbor that broke up the beaches here….and it had one tiny pocket beach with gravel. Jackpot!!! I combed that beach until I knew every piece of glass on it! All in all my haul was two double handfuls of some of the most amazing teals, olive greens, dark aqua pieces and even a few marbles. Not too bad!
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While I was combing this tiny beach I found myself occasionally in the company of other beach combers. Since it was such a small spot it felt odd not to make conversation about what each was hunting for. Some were rock hunting and other were also looking for glass. Even though we usually didn’t speak the same language it was still a neat bonding moment to share findings and walk away smiling.
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At the moment I am heading, via the night train to Paris, to Saint Malo in Brittany for a few nights and then into Normandy for a few more. Next weekend it will be on to Seaham!

My Journey into Moroccan Medicine

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Two weeks before I started this years’ hunt for sea glass I had been fighting a bad (for me at least) sinus infection. I do not and have not taken prescription medications my whole life with the exception of a few severe but acute cases. I am fortunate enough to react favorably to the healing capabilities of a lot of herbal and alternative treatments. I will admit to taking ibuprofen a few times a month but nothing more.

I have traveled enough to know to that it wise to prepare to have a cold. For me it’s a Goldenseal and Echinacea mix, Grapefruit Seed Extract and Garlic Oil…as much as I can fit in. I find my body goes through adjustment periods when I travel for months at a time and adjusting to new pollens and pollution can bring a cold on.

In my case, arriving in Marrekech, not quite over a sinus infection, was a strike against me from the beginning. The hostel I was staying in was damp and cold and full of sneezing people, strike two. The in-your-face pollution, literally as you walked through the streets of the Medina were loaded with scooters and motorcycles leaving choking smoke behind, strike three. By my third and final day in Marrekech and I was full blown sick!!

I got to Essaouria with a quickly dwindling stash of my herbs. I knew if i kept at it I would be out of my stock if I didn’t try to find something there. There are herbs markets and herbalists everywhere, why not? I figured maybe I would find echinacea or goldenseal….nope, nothing. A lot of words get lost in translation and I make my own herbal remedies at home, so I counted on my ability to recognize the herbs. None. Tons of other herbs I knew but not what I was looking for.

Discouraged I headed back to the hostel and noticed the herbalist literally right next door. With the help of hand gestures and her knowledge of a few words of English she was able to mix me up a concoction of herbs mixed with Royal Jelly. It looked like tar…..twice a day without food or water for five days.

I also discovered menthol crystals, teeny tiny crystals that when crushed and inhaled cleared the sinuses for a while. I chose to let them dissolve on my tongue to help both my head and chest. I am pretty sure its the core ingredient for Halls lozenges just without the sugar! They were amazing and lasted a long time and also gave me minty fresh breath!

At home I usually am always drinking water with lemon juice and a tad of maple syrup. In Morocco the citrus fruit is amazing so I would by a lemon a day (always organic since no pesticides are used there) for 1 dirham (12 cents) and some ginger and local honey. Bam! Instant betterness juice! I loved it and was grateful to be able to have it everyday.

Day 3 into my cold it was starting to leave my body and by day 5 it was gone!

Bye bye Barcelona!

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I really don’t feel like I gave Barcelona the credit it deserved when I was here for the first time in 2011. Maybe it was because I had just come from Paris and was too enamored with it, nothing was going to impress me. I am a bit more of a seasoned traveler since then and I have to admit….I am impressed.
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When I arrived a few days ago it was late in the afternoon but still enough time to go scope out the beach. It was loaded with rock and glass, bliss! I combed until I couldn’t see any more. I nabbed about 2 handfuls of pendant/bracelet sized jewelry grade teals and seafoams. The next day I went back, giddy for a sunny day to comb. When I got there, the rock was gone taking most of the glass with it! I have been here for 3 days now hoping the sea would bring it all back….no such luck. I have been able to find an abundance of “itty bits”, as I call them, since the rock went away. I use a lot of these in my work as well so I can be happy with my haul. It just goes to show that successful beach combing is often a matter of sheer luck. If I hadn’t hit the beach right away….as I usually do, I would have had a completely different experience.
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On my third full and final day I did happen to find a patch of exposed rock to work with. The tide was still lapping at it so in between waves I’d walk through it to stir things up. With each wave pulling through it I was able to find glass for a long time! Total Barcelona haul…..2 lbs of jewelry grade glass! (Pic above + pic below)
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I was here in early October last time which is still clinging to summer a bit for Spain. The beaches were full of people scantily clad and soaking up the sun. In January the beaches are still full but the sunbathers are bundled a little more. Even in the dead of winter it is the place to be. They even had surf classes going on! The boardwalk is extensive and wide open, smooth and well kept, full of joggers, skaters, bicycles, walkers, musicians….just alive.

This city has done a very good job of making it pedestrian friendly and easy to get around without a car. The traffic planning and execution is better than anywhere else I have seen. They encourage alternate transportation, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians, roller bladers, skateboarders, trains, subways, buses, taxis…..if you can think of a way to get around, they have planned for it here. They have wide open, smooth areas for the bladers and boarders and where they want to discourage that they pave the walkways with granite cobble which makes for a more natural terrain on the feet. They have long gentle slopes leading into bridges and walkways that are easy for the elderly and smooth lanes for wheelchairs. Bike lanes for both directions of traffic, public bike rentals, dedicated bus lanes, dedicated taxi points and huge cross walks everywhere to handle the sheer volume of pedestrians. It is amazing how it all works smoothly and without congestion. Kudos Barcelona!

Barcelona is a very international city. There are a lot of students here, which also makes it a young population. It seems like the stress level here is pretty low too. I do a lot of walking around, a lot! In my travels I find as I walk around, people in conflict. Most of the time I can’t understand the language but from the body language and tone you can typically tell if someone is distressed walking down the street talking to a friend. I haven’t experienced that once here and for winter there are a lot of people here. It’s really nice, people are fit and happy.

Early this morning I caught a plane to San Sebastian, Spain – Basque Country. This is a part of Europe that is a unique mix of Spanish and French culture wrapped up in its own little language…..Euskara….and it looks like Greek meets Hawaiian meets Russian. I am not sure how prevalent English is but so far it doesn’t look good. The last 3 weeks on this trip English has been a forth or fifth language rather than first or second. It has been a challenge but not a barrier. I have been depending heavily on my translator apps but Euskara is unique to this region and you don’t find apps to translate it…..this should be interesting…..

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My Morocco in a nutshell…

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I have been asked many times what traveling through Morocco solo is like. Is it safe? Muslim beliefs are strongly rooted in being a good person. Yes you have pick pockets and all sorts of salesmen and taxi drivers that will be glad to ask you for way more money than they would get from a Moroccan, these are considered petty crimes and not a big deal. To do harm to another person, rape or theft, takes away a lot of “God” points. Do I feel safe? Sure. I get more looks than a 6 headed leper most places I go but I feel safe. I walk with my head up, I look people in the face (unless its a salesman), keep my pockets zipped and am aware of my surroundings…no problems.

The typical dress for your average practicing Muslim is the djelaba (jel a ba). For most men this is a woolen, full length tunic with a pointed hood and often accompanied by a walking stick….I some times feel like I am in the middle of a gaggle of wizards. For women it is a bit different. Women, unless they are going out for some big deal, generally wear pajamas all day under their djelaba. I would like to know when polyester fleece was introduced in Morocco because it must have radically and rapidly changed the fashion in this country. You do still see women wearing the more traditional fabrics but the majority of women wear fleece djelabas usually in bright “Hello Kitty” like patterns or any animal print you can think of. Walking down the street I have often felt like I was the only one who didn’t get the invitation to the pajama party! Wouldn’t it be great to wear pajamas all day, all the time and be considered normal?

Throughout Morocco, in villages and cities, you always see buildings that are half way finished, they are everywhere. You also see a lot of older buildings with rebar sticking out of them. Here they build until the money runs out and then wait to finish or move on to the next step when there is more money. There is not much imagination in Moroccan architecture, its all stacked blocks, but what blows you away is the attention to detail put into the tile that blankets a lot of buildings and homes, it is amazing. As a beach comber, if you like tile beach findings, this is THE place for it!

On the little island north of the Puget Sound that I call home, we “suffer” with poor cell reception. I think of all the hell I have gone through to have a brief conversation. I have spent a lot of the last 2 weeks in Morocco on a bus, train or car going through the countryside. Magnificent, abundant with livestock and crops, often littered with donkeys carrying people talking on cell phones and shepherds with their flocks….on cell phones. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not everybody but it is common to see and I can’t help but press my face to glass and whine a little.

I have never been good at negotiation, if something is a good price, I buy it. If not, I don’t. In Morocco you can give away a lot of money unnecessarily if you do not negotiate. I will always start with “how much for this”, to get a starting point. Sometimes they won’t give you one, they want you to start the bidding. I formulate in my head what I am willing to pay, my ‘best price’ and do not budge. They think I am open to negotiate, nope I give my bottom line and stick to it and each time I have walked away with my prize. It took a few lessons to figure that out but it paid off. I talked one guy down 60% off his asking price!

Another way you can lose a lot of money is taking taxis. In most cities here you will most likely have to do it. It is really hard to judge what a ride is worth until you know the route. I took a taxi in Casablanca from the train station to my guesthouse….70 dirhams, same trip in reverse, 40….it pays to negotiate with the taxi drivers here too. It also pays to Google map a place before you get there if you know your route just to get an idea of how far you have to go.

I feel very fortunate that I chose to visit as many Moroccan cities and towns as I could squeeze into 2 weeks. Each has been a vastly different experience than the last……

The Medina in Marrakech was, to me, a nightmare of filth and touts where if someone you don’t know starts talking to you, they want something, even if they say they don’t….especially when they say they don’t. Walk away. Every night food vendors set up for dinner on the main square, Jemma el Fna, typically all serving the same thing, which makes an already competitive business into a full contact sport. One night as I walked through the square to see what was available I was descended upon by 6 men with menus trying damn hard to direct me to their table. I left. Similarly with merchandise vendors, there is a lot of handmade crafts in Marrakech, I do love that, but it is everywhere and its all the same, everyone one has learned from the same place, so someone is always trying to charm you into their shop. I found the pressure overwhelming and a big deterrent.

Essaouria, on the coast was more relaxed, full of handmade crafts and a lot of art, spices in pyramids and produce of all sorts, still pressure from touts but not as bad. It has more culinary variety and a hippy feel but no sea glass really.

Further up the coast was El Jadida, a busy, workaday city with little to offer the tourist except for the wide sandy beach in the summer.

An hour north up the coast is Casablanca, a much bigger and busier workaday city with little to offer the average tourist….unless you like sea glass, it is everywhere, just ask my friend Oussama who blessed me with 20lbs of jewelry grade sea glass just because I share his passion for the sea.

4 more hours up the coast by train was Assilah, a remote suburb of Tangier. It was Spanish territory for a long time and is still evident in the language and menus. In the previous cities I would have to decipher between Arabic and French….or both at the same time. In Assilah you also toss in Spanish….c’est la bueno. Assilah is a bustling little city that explodes with tourists and Moroccans who have summer homes here. If you love sea glass, tile and pottery this is the place to come but only in the off season. There is a big construction dump site that has been feeding the beach with glass, tile and decorative cement flooring for ages, it’s heaven for a beach comber!

Fez, the Imperial City. I regret not having a little more time and energy for Fez. I have been struggling with a touch of what I like to call “moroccan stomach flu”. I consumed something a few days ago that has left me unable to eat much and has not left me with a lot of energy for day long exploration. Regardless, Fez is a more cultured city than the others I have visited. Many more Moroccans speak English here than anywhere else I have been. The handmade work here is exquisite! Unlike Marrakech, Fez crafters learn to add their own style to their work so you have to look carefully from one sandal seller to the next. The quality is amazing!

Thank God…..A BOX!!!!

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In the states we generally gripe and groan about our postal service for a variety of reasons. I am guilty….or at least I was. We take for granted that when we need a box we can generally find one, if not we know there are a bunch of different stores happy to sell us one…or a box of them! I have learned through traveling abroad and having to ship packages back home what a simple luxury a box can be.

In the states everything comes in boxes, not so in every other country I have traveled to. Things come in sacks of various sorts, lots of plastic wrapped pallets, and sometimes those precious heavy duty boxes that the receiver hoards or puts to immediate use. You don’t see stacks and bundles of cardboard like we do at home.

Last year in Ireland I had to go to a grocery store and make a purchase just to claim enough cardboard from two boxes to piece one together. The year before that in Amsterdam I had to “borrow” one from the hostel I was staying at. This year I had to depend on 2 transplanted locals to help me procure one.

Last night I arrived in Asliah, a remote and very Spanish suburb of Tangier. It was dark so after a quick walk around a bustling little part of town I tucked in for the night. The guesthouse I am in offers free breakfast so I went to grab some coffee and head to the beach. I walked into a room full of friendly women around my age who pulled me in like an old friend before I had time to shut the door behind me. Over a delicious breakfast I asked them how to go about getting a box to send a package, they groaned. Apparently cats are not revered here but the box is.

In Morocco, at least outside of the cities, you are lucky if you find someone who speaks more than a few words of English. So to be a foreigner in need of something you can’t easily describe, you point to it and they think you want whats in it….all of it. When they realize you only want the box and not to buy the entire contents….a truly deflating moment in the life of a Moroccan salesman….your chances of actually getting that box…..none. I tried this once and my 2 companions tried it and failed…..and they live here and speak the language!

After a lovely day at the beach with new friends meeting more locals and even another sea glass collector, I decided to break out on my own for a while. I was starting to get concerned about getting this seemingly simple task done. I have a flight coming up next week and I cannot take a 20lb box with me…it has to be done on Monday. I went back to the guesthouse, tea time. The ladies were in the kitchen when I walked in, “We got you a box!!”. Tears of joy and relief came streaming down my face….okay, maybe not so much….but I was thrilled.

“How did you get it?”……”we drove by it on the street.”…..Yikes, since there is a lot of crap on the street, what kind of shape will it be in. As it turns out, with a lot of packing tape……pretty close perfect. Tape……where in the hell do I get packing tape?? No Staples or Office Max here….grocery store…nope….shit! One of the ladies knew a place, a hole in the wall with no signage whatsoever…they had 2 kinds of packing tape!! 83 cents for a roll that would have cost me $5 at home!

I spent nearly an hour tonight getting this box in shape to take the weight and journey that this package will be making….maybe I should have bought the big roll of tape…nah. Taped throughly inside and out, filled with lovingly with my gifts and finds and a shit pair of shoes not fit to be called travel gear, neatly packed and wrapped for easy access should the postal office want to see inside…a possibility I have to be prepared for. The next and last part of the task…..the post office on Monday…..cross your fingers for me.

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Blessings Be

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Wow what an experience I had in Casablanca last night! Before I left on this trip I cast a net out on several different sea glass Facebook groups I belong to (I am sure some of you reading this must know this) to see if I could gain some info, meet a new friend, find decent accommodations, etc. It worked. A very talented sea glass artist in Casablanca, Oussama Moussaoum saw my initial post about going to Morocco which moved him to post some pics of his own. I hadn’t planned to go to Casablanca but I knew from Oussamas posts that I would be able to find sea glass there, so I carved out 2 nights for a stop.

If you ever plan to go to Morocco don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get by only knowing English….very few Moroccans speak more than a few words of English. Know your basic French or Arabic but don’t count on speaking English here. Fortunately I have 4 blurry years of high school French and a Translator app that I depend on. Oussama speaks less English than I do French, plus I am better at comprehending rather than speaking.

When Oussama realized I was in Casa (as the locals call it) he reached out to me and wanted to meet. The first attempt failed, the second time was later that night…much later. I had a long day yesterday doing some beach combing (boo hoo, I know, right?) and exploring. I walked all day, all over….I was tired and hungry and wanted to pass out cold from exhaustion but Oussama really wanted to meet, he said he had a gift for me. I figured this is why I travel, to enrich my life with people and experiences. Despite protests from my throbbing feet, I put my shoes back on and went out late at night, to meet a stranger…..in Morocco.

Oussama and his son were waiting for me at a cafe around the corner from where I was staying. I felt it was fate that I was staying close to where he lives, Casa is big, busy, spread out in a non-sensical fashion and full of people. We met and sat down for some fresh squeezed orange juice (local beverage of choice) when he started taking several handmade Moroccan Juniper and lemonwood boxes out full of some of the most stunning pieces of sea glass. I felt so lucky that someone would want to share their love of sea glass by showing me their collection!

My translator app does not work without wifi so I was left to my own wits to be able to communicate in French…fail. Oussama had his app and realized that I may understand him if he spoke in French….and I listen. We sat and sorted through some of the 3 large boxes, 2 small boxes and 2 big bottles of glass and shells. He told me how beach combing is his way to relax and rejuvenate, how people discard their glass and garbage carelessly there too. He also showed me pictures of his sea glass art (business name Sea Glass Art Morocco) and explained how he prefers to reuse materials to create his murals….which is something I am passionate about also. I nodded like a bobble head most of the time and said “Oui!” a lot but I think we had a good exchange.

It was nearly 10:30 by then so I explained I was tired and needed to go. We started to gather the bits of glass and put them back in their boxes. He carefully stacked the boxes and bottles into a bag and we got up to leave. A handshake and a kiss on each cheek is a traditional show of friendship and greeting, so I offered my greeting and said “shokran” which is “thank you” in Arabic and turned to leave when he handed me the 20lb bag! “No, no, no” I said, I couldn’t believe it! He insisted and just like that it was over and they were gone.

As a tourist here and a single female I get a lot of looks. Even my attempts to blend in a little with wearing local dress or a head scarf fall short. My shoes and my lip piercing give me away every time. Tourists get hassled and hustled at every turn it seems in some places. It is certainly worse the farther south in the country you go. The farther north and closer to Europe you get, the more modern it becomes and you don’t get hassled to spend all your money at every turn. Don’t get me wrong, I still paid way more for a taxi here than I should have…twice. Anyway, I expected to be asked for money for this glass (I would have spent it too) but instead a man and his son gifted me a bounty of their years of findings all for the chance to meet a fellow sea glass lover. This is why I travel.

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Casablancaaaaahhhh

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After a rather frustrating end to the day yesterday in El Jadida I made it to Casablanca. Poor communication with my host (on Airbnb) coupled with bad weather, primitive accommodations, no wifi and bad food made sleep that much sweeter. However the bus ride from Essaouria before all that warrants mention as well.

I had to get up pre dawn to catch my bus for a 5 hour ride to El Jadida. It was a really neat moment for me to wander through the sleepy Medina nearly alone with the promise of a clear sunny day emerging above.

The bus ride was through more farmland (not the coast as I thought) and apart from cities which are far and few between, it is all farmland….every…single…inch. I have never seen the land so loving, attentively, and so completely tended. It must be early growing season since most places looked so green and vast it could have been mistaken for Ireland. Not a piece of farm equipment to be seen, all planted and harvested by hand…..and beast of burden, of course.

Wait, this blog is about sea glass…..let’s stay focused here for a sec before I plunge down the next rabbit hole! El Jadida had 2 beaches I was able to set foot on. The first, pictured above (shot north then south)….a wide sandy beach popular in peak season. I was able to find a few pieces where the sand was coarse but not much. Most of what I have seen on any of the beaches has been new glass. Today before I caught the train….and no, not the Marrakech Express….I was rambling about the ramparts of the Medina when I spotted a small rocky beach to the south. It looked like a dump but something said “go”…so I did.

It took some climbing to get up to it when I was greeted by a one eyed cat. Cats are everywhere here and not revered as they are in the states. They don’t associate people with food and are mistreated and indifferent to people most of the time. This guy was talkative and followed me without being annoying or wanting anything other than company. It was a small beach but I found some good glass and conversation (yes, I like talking to cats…..don’t judge).

Moroccans use lots of stained and textured glass in their windows and doors. It didn’t occur to me that I would find any! I found a bunch of cobalt textured window glass (pic above) I have seen all colors of these windows so it gives me hope to find more textures and colors! Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Tomorrow weather is supposed to be shitty, high chance of rain and wind….all day. Well I am prepared for a month in Ireland at the end of all this so I do have full on rain gear and only one day in Casablanca to hit the beach. Fortunately the guest house I am staying in is modern, warm, comfy, has wifi and they cook hot meals…all I need after a day combing in the rain!

And the beach goes on…

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Feeling a little better and more refreshed today. Yesterday the weather turned windy and wet in the afternoon which didn’t feel like ideal conditions for trying to get rid of a cold. However, before it did I was able to cast out of the old Medina in search of the beaches to the north. I have to admit that it took me out of my comfort zone a bit. Venturing into the area north of the old city felt like I had walked into a war zone. Lined with ruins and dilapidated buildings still in use, stripped out cars and busted up streets! It was a bit unnerving. I found the beach access, it looked a little tricky and as a single foreign female, I was attracting a lot of attention. It was at that moment the weather kicked up so I took it as a sign….go back.

The way they handle garbage here, at least in the Medinas, everyone throws their trash on the ground and at night crews come out and clean it up. Not a single trash can or dumpster to be found. Recycling? BWHAT? Forget it, not even on their radar and its mostly plastic here…if its any packaging at all. This in combination with the wind does not make for, what I consider to be, good beach combing here.

Today was a nice sunny day and I did go back to the beach in Essaouira Bay (pictured above). I walked the 2 mile stretch and back and found nary a piece of glass. Oh well, it has been a lovely reprieve from Marrakech. Essaouria is a pleasant town all in all. You still have beggars and hustlers but it’s a much more tolerable level and I did get to meet some very nice artists who where happy to show me their craft.

I also have to mention the produce here…it is amazing! I have seen vendors selling everything from potatoes to bananas…you have to keep in mind this is still a third world country so it is all grown here. I had an avocado for dinner, it was perfection. You name it, they grow it. Olives are big here too and they are buttery and divine. In fact (if I may impart some wisdom here) the Tangerine got it name, as an African grown orange, it was given it’s name by the port it came out of….Tangier. Feel smarter? Great!

The bus from Marrakech to Essaouria travels through a variety of climates and farmlands. It is amazing what they can grow considering what they have to work with. The soil is rocky and sandy and has a red tone to it that you cans see reflected in the colors of the stucco buildings. You do not see trees often outside of orchards and there is vegetation but it is grazed often by small, shepherded flocks of sheep.

African Black Soap is gaining in popularity in the states. I have used it religiously for a year now. Here it comes in caramel-like blobs of gold or black packaged tightly in plastic bags or wrap. Totally different experience from what we get at home. My skin feels so vibrant and soft, if I could bring some home to share I would but since I can’t I will just enjoy the experience here and now…but if you ever in Morocco you must try it.

Tomorrow I leave Essaouria and head up the coast for an overnighter in El Jadida, a small beach town about an hour south of Casablanca. I will have a 5 hour bus ride that is along the coast the entire trip. I know I will whine a little to myself every time we pass a beach but I will get over it!

Success on the first day!!

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It’s a good sign that it is going to be a good trip! It was only 3 pieces but it was a bottle top, marble and Moroccan pottery. In my haste I deleted a pic of the beach but I will get one tomorrow! I literally got off the bus, got to my hostel, dropped my stuff and went to the beach!

It was a bright sunny day today, a bit windy but Essaouria is the “windy city” of Morroco. Surprisingly cool but not too cool for sandals! Is it not like Marrakech at all. Don’t get me wrong, it is still Morocco. This is a much smaller beach town. Popular since the 70’s since Jimi Hendrix and others of his era liked to hang out here. Essaouira hangs it’s hat on those days still. Plage Taghart, It’s wide flat sandy beach to the south of the port is a haven for surfers and windsurfing and the crowd that all draws. I don’t have much hope to find much glass here but I did find these three in about an hour.

There is a rockier, much dirtier beach that looks like the locals access it but not tourists. I scoped it out for a bit but unfortunately if you stand in one place for too long (even here) you will be approached by someone wanting something…..always, even on the beach. This one is surrounded by bulkheads and I have to figure out how to get up out of there. Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and cold so it may not be the day to do it. I am fighting a cold since no one here seems to how to cover their face when they cough or sneeze. The pollution in Marrakech also hit me hard….which is probably why everyone there was sick….every traveler I came across had some reaction to the pollution and sanitary conditions at times. Anyway, might be a good day to scope out more or farther north of town….or lay in bed nursing myself….not likely.

Morocco has spent some time and effort modernizing. As an Islamic country it is very progressive and tolerant of other religions. Women here where the full veil only if they choose to. As a modest culture women can wear what they want….but they typically keep most skin covered. Foreigners who wear shorts and tank tops get lots of attention. I rolled up my pants and wore sandals and got looks. I have a ratty pair of Keen sandals that have gotten me a lot of attention since I got here today. “Hey miss, where you get those sandals? How much you pay for those?” Maybe it’s just another draw but I have been asked that a lot today.

Time for some hot lemon and ginger tea….made real Moroccan ginger and lemons!

Aching for the coast!

Hello from Marrakech! So I have been here for a few days now, enough to get a beat on the place. My plane was late and it was a night flight anyway. The host of my hostel arranged to have me picked up (a common occurance since nothing is well marked or signed….or easy to find on a good day) and I was worried they wouldn’t wait…they did and all was well even though I got into a van in Morocco at night with 3 young persons I wouldn’t if we had been in the states. Oddly enough I did not feel alarmed.

Its my third night here in this Moroccan hippy riad hostel. Riad is the common name for their typical house designs. It is an interesting but primative design that works well in the heat and thank god for wool in the cold! My first day was hot in the day, cool at night. Tonight is rainy and in the 40’s. A riad is open to the outdoors with a central courtyard square with rooms that open out to it.

This old city is, in one simple word…overwhelming! Its crowded and dirty and everyone who isnt a tourist nearly is out to hustle you…..subtle or obvious…everyone, its awful. The tiny streets in the Medina (old town) aren’t wide enough most times for a car but its a madness of walkers, sitters, sellers, cats, puddles of god-knows-what, bikes, scooters, hustlers, blind folk, merchandise, donkeys with carts, carts without donkeys, trash……you get the point. But, it is city culture here, other travelers tell me outside of the big draws Morocco has a lot of redeaming qualities….Bring it on I say!

Today we had rain and I quickly realized that rubber soled shoes don’t do well on cobbled and poorly maintained sidewalks and streets. My gluts and stabilizer muscles were working today! The rain brings a deep and damp cold…did I mention how great wool is? They have a lot of wool because they have a lot of leather because they have alot of sheep, goat and camel…..no mention of cow…which makes me wonder what my burger was made out of….I have to remember to ask the next time….if there is one…There is leather everywhere! My hostel is near the tanneries of Marrakech where they have been processing leather for centuries…..I quickly realized what “that smell” was and I will forever smell leather for “that smell”.

You can only get bus tickets from the bus station and they recommend you buy a day in advance. The bus station is in the Ville Nouvelle (new city built next to the Medina (terms you will see used alot)))) so I took a long walk in not-so-broken-in, not-so-waterproof shoes. I found it modern, cleaner, in better repair, still busy but more organized (using the term loosely here). Not nearly the pressure from hustlers but still there. Lots of military as well, I saw a lot of machine guns today. I don’t have a good take on why or if its normal….but I had to ask one of them for a direction and he didn’t shoot me (my mom will be happy to hear this).

Tomorrow morning I will catch a luxury bus to the coastal town of Essaouria (just to impart some wisdom here…that’s “es swear a”). I will be in Essaouria for a few days before making my way up the coast. It is unclear at this point where I will be staying along the way but I have a little more than a week to make my way up to Tangier. There are a lot of decent looking beaches along the way so I hope to find some interesting things……hopefully sea glass!