Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Where to Stay in Essaouira: Riad Dar Maya

All hotels should be judged by how they make you feel when you're suffering from the fever, aches, chills, and the - ahem - non-stop trips to the bathroom as a result of a stomach bug you picked up on an overnight camping trip in a Berber tent after having trekked for 3-hours on camel-back.


Let me start from the beginning.

The beginning: we were deposited outside the walls of the Medina in Essaouira by the friendly driver who'd picked us up at Ksar Char-Bagh in Marrakech, as arranged by our riad in Essaouira, Riad Dar Maya. A little bewildered and confused (mostly because I'd missed the French for, "Mohammad will take you the rest of the way") as our bags were being unloaded from the back of the car, a short, older man with a weathered face suddenly appeared with a cart, lifting our luggage into the cart and gesturing for us to follow him.

We did: through the winding streets of the old town, like a miniscule version of Marrakech, with crepe vendors and men selling raffia shoes and baskets and Berber rugs casually hung, pinned, and draped from doorways and walls lining the streets. We followed this small man, who expertly manuevered his way past tourists, mopeds, and small children until we came to a door (which looked like every other door) down a narrow alley and were received into Riad Dar Maya, a chic riad with five rooms, owned by British expat, Gareth Turpin.

At first glance, it was simpler I had imagined it, but cozy, neat, and well-decorated in neutral beige and brown tones. The rooms are simple but spacious, with bathrooms that resemble hammams (or a set from the 90s children's game show, The Crystal Maze) - featuring steps into a shower complete with columns and a deep-set, angled tub. Downstairs, the reception area opened to a small lounge and a courtyard, where seagulls flew overhead and gave their occasional, distinctive call.

One night, when I was sitting in the courtyard sipping mint tea (as you do), a pair of men's swim shorts that had been drying on the balcony above fell on my head (this was after a seagull had already unloaded the contents of its bowels in my hair at the port earlier that evening, mind you). All I heard was a whoosh, then darkness as the shorts enveloped my head. I simply tipped forward and allowed the shorts to fall to the floor in utter disgust, but John, who took two beats to consider what had actually happened, proceeded to laugh the loudest and most high-pitched laugh I've ever heard him laugh in my life (we've been together for 12 years). It wouldn't stop.

We spent our days roaming the narrow alleys of Essaouira, discovering new doors to take photos in front of, and making our way down the windy beach (it's known as the "windy city" of Morocco thanks to its position on the Atlantic coast) for salads and sandwiches at the surf school and restaurant, Ocean Vagabond.

The riad's rooftop jacuzzi and sun loungers meant that we could relax there in the afternoons if we didn't feel like venturing out, and the breakfast "at any time" policy translated into "sleep in for as long as you like" - something we took advantage of on our second day there.

But soon becoming a bit restless of the same streets, and the same routine of waking, grazing, reading, napping, we explored the idea of a camel ride into the sand dunes, followed by an overnight stay at a Berber camp - an idea which was solidified when Abdel, the hotel manager, booked it in for us and we went the next day to the ranch, which housed horses and camels.

The trip itself was fantastic - and it turned out to be just the two of us, which made it all the more special (not to mention less stressful, since it was my first camping experience ever and I suffered a bit of insomnia for the first part of the night). I did note that the camp had no running water and lamented the fact that I'd left my Wet Wipes and hand sanitizing gel at home, but I was careful to only pick up any food items with a napkin and to not eat fresh fruit, etc.

I didn't make too much of it when my stomach began churning that night, chalking it up to nerves, but by the evening after we returned to the hotel, I'd begun to have a fever and was feeling generally unwell. Then, the trips to the toilet began and, well, that was about it.

John was ah-mazing, running back and forth between the riad and goodness-knows-where to source litres of bottled water and rehydration sachets for me, before finally going to the pharmacist, who simply laughed and handed over some antibiotics when John explained what had been happening.

Throughout this time, the staff at Riad Dar Maya were fantastic at helping me feel more comfortable - offering to fetch medicine and water on our behalf and, when I felt up to eating again, making a bowl of plain white rice for me as it was all I could stomach. Thank goodness for those antibiotics though, which I was skeptical of taking at first, but had an instant effect and allowed me to get on the plane back to the UK without freaking out too much.

And, because the riad felt more like a house than a hotel, I felt a little bit better about recovering there, rather than feeling desperate about wanting to get home (although, with a high temperature, I just stopped caring about things in general altogether!).

Have you ever been sick or ill while you were on vacation? How did you cope?

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