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Arriving in Morocco by tall ship

Written by: Kate Addison

The bright African light reflecting off the water was the first thing that hit me as we made our approach, armed with passports and ship’s papers, to clear through customs and immigration to the kingdom of Morocco. Stepping from our small boat onto the quay at Essaouira, the welcome to Morocco is a sensory overload with the noise, smells and bustle of the busy fishing port.

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Just twelve months ago I was in Cape Town with the sail training ship Picton Castle as we rounded the Cape of Good Hope and the completion of our sixth circumnavigation of the globe.

On this six-month transatlantic exploration we set sail from Nova Scotia, Canada in October with forty five adventurous hands and one small cat aboard.

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Now safely across the pond, our ship is lying snug at anchor between the high, red ramparts of the old fortified medina at Essaouira and the Iles des Mogadores, otherwise called the Purple Islands, famous for the dye produced from special shells found here.

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The famous sandy beach, long beloved by windsurfers and hippies, stretches off to the south with the low white buildings of hotel complexes with the new city smudged along behind, and a handful of camels clustered one end, waiting to give sunset beach rides to tourists.

I go a little further out of town to get my horse riding fix, and have a magnificent afternoon riding along the beach and amongst the dunes with my Berber guide and a quality arab horse, aptly named Farhan, or ‘happiness’ in Arabic.

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The old town with its high, narrow winding streets is a wonderful place to wander, stopping for a freshly squeezed orange juice or a glass of sweet mint tea and an even sweeter Moroccan pastry, sticky with almond paste and honey.

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Not so many formal sights to see here, but the amazing light, colours, and the cooling turquoise Atlantic smashing into the city walls makes it a glorious place to just walk about and browse the endless little shops of treasures. The hammams or local spas have been popular with our crew, grubby after long weeks at sea. It’s a luxury to be steamed and scrubbed, anointed with mud and rose-scented argan oil and then rinsed off in the opulence of unlimited clear, warm and fresh water.

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The harbour here is busy with its great cloud of squawking seagulls circling above the blue and white painted fishing fleet.

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When the boats come in after dark, it’s all noise and activity as they unload and sell their catch to the swarming crowd waiting under flood lights. Then the place is full of eels and sardines, fat shiny tuna and strange fish that even our well-travelled cook Donald has never seen before, all piled up in barrows and boxes and stacks of shaved ice. Boys untangle fishing lines and men bait hooks, while fat cats and seagulls jostle for choice scraps of discarded heads and guts. The smell is quite something.

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The call to prayer rings out hauntingly from the minarets, its echo tinny from radios and loudhailers. The men all rush off to wash outside the fishermen’s mosque before filing inside, and I wander through the great arched doorway into the medina in search of some grilled fish and flatbread for my supper, and maybe another glass of mint tea.

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