Laid Back In My Galabiyya


This blog entry about the events of Friday, June 25, 2004 was originally posted on June 30, 2004.

DAY 251:  The Let’s Go guidebook calls Essaouira “one of Morocco’s most laid-back cities.”  Compared to what we had seen in other tourist-frequented places, this was nothing further from the truth.  Essaouira’s chilled out vibe — even with shopkeepers — was just like the book claimed, even with the surge of people in town for the music festival.

The day before, Sebastian was interested in a ceramic spice holder and the shopkeeper quoted him a reasonably cheap price right off the bat, instead of an outrageously inflated one to start a haggle game:  20 dirham (about $2 USD) as opposed to the price a shopkeeper quoted Korean Kim (from the tour to the Sahara) for a similar item — over 400 dirham!

“[Maybe tomorrow,]” Sebastian told the man.

“[Sure, today, tomorrow, whatever,]” was the gist of his response with a nonchalance not seen anywhere else in Morocco.  Sebastian ended up buying it then and there.

That morning, with the hair on my head grown into the shape of a Q-tip, I went to a local barber in town. 

“[What would you like?]”

“[Number three here and number one here,]” I said, pointing to the top and sides of my head respectively.  “[How much?]”

“[Whatever you like,]” he said like it was no big deal.  Whatever I like?  Was he for real?  I thought I was in Morocco?  Not only did he not care about the fee, but he did a splendid job, one of the better haircuts I’ve gotten on the road.  I gave him thirty dirhams (about $3 USD), a price recommended by the manger back at the hotel.

“C’est bon?” I asked him, handing over the money.

“Oui, c’est bon.  Merci.”  Without contempt or hesitation, he waved me goodbye.

EVER SINCE I WAS IN ZANZIBAR, my first exposure to a predominantly Muslim territory, I had noticed most of the men wearing the galabiyya (pronounced gel-LA-beeya), the traditional Muslim garment that looks like a big nightgown.  Thinking that they would be comfortable and just cool to wear, I wanted to buy one since I was in Egypt, but Greg (from the felucca tour) told me that I might want to wait until I got to Morocco because the galabiyyas there have the hood on them. 

When in Rome, eat pizza, when in Morocco, buy a galabiyya for $18.  I wore the brown, cotton garment since I bought it the night before, and was content to wear it all day in the breezy streets of Essaouira.  Wearing it was sort of fun; Sebastian got an even more convincing fake Moroccan guide and I got the opportunity to walk around in a cool-looking moo-moo in a place where it was actually socially acceptable.  After managing to snag a suddenly available room at the Hotel Smara — the nicer, recommended (and cheaper) hotel with a roof terrace overlooking the Atlantic and the shops below — we wandered the ramparts looking like two Essaouirans — Sebastian looking like a hippie with his bushy hair and me as the dark-skinned Muslim in a galabiyya (picture above).  Some people just saw me as a Japanese tourist just looking silly in traditional clothes that their parents might wear. 

Regardless of what people thought of us, we walked around town on the sunny day, stopping at the Nescafe sponsor booth for free instant mochaccino samples every time we walked by in the Place d’Orson Welles, named after the famed filmmaker who filmed Othello in Essaouira.  At the port, Sebastian and I wandered by the port’s distinctive collection of blue boats where a middle-aged man approached us with a question I’d heard many times before by people trying to get money from me:  “[Where are you from?]”

I made him play the guessing game until “Philippines” was revealed after numerous guesses of other Asian countries.  They never seem to guess “America” or believe it when I tell them, so the answer to my game is always “Philippines.”  (It makes it more challenging.)

“Ah, Philippines!  Okay,” the man acknowledged.  Then he just went on his way in a friendly manner.

“He didn’t even try to sell us anything,” Sebastian said to me.

“Wow, he genuinely just wanted to know where I was from.”

The port was nearby the local fish market, where fishermen sold their catch of the day.  Sebastian got a tip from another traveler he met to seek out a fisherman named Humid, who might hook him up with free food and/or a tour of the town.  When we finally found the fisherman — it wasn’t so hard given his name was not Mohammed or Hassan — we had no such luck with free food or a guide.  Perhaps he saw me in the galabiyya and assumed Sebastian already had local guidance.

Our luck turned up when we walked by the fresh seafood stands nearby to possibly grab a bite.  I had a craving for sardines and perhaps shared this information to Sebastian loud enough that a group of local guys a t nearby table eating overheard me.  One passed me a grilled sardine.

“[Where are you from?]” he asked.

“Guess,” I challenged them.  It wasn’t so much a challenge because on the third guess one guy said, “Filipino.”

“Here, for you,” the first guy said, giving me an entire small plate of freshly grilled sardines.  Another added some grilled calamari and a piece of bread.  They also shared their Coke, so I sat down with them in a somewhat awkward way, feeling appreciated of the free food, but waiting for the catch.  Perhaps they were going to leave me with the bill?  Perhaps they were befriending us in order to make a hash deal?  Or perhaps there was no catch at all?  The four guys wanted nothing more but to share the food they ordered too much of and went on their way to watch the nearby music performance.

“People are so friendly here,” I told Sebastian. 

“I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO A COSTUME PARTY,” I told Sebastian as we hit the streets again after a brief chillout session on the roof terrace.  I was still in my galabiyya with the hood on and Sebastian got into the festivities wearing the Berber turban he got in Aït Benhaddou.  The sun started setting down the Atlantic, which meant that Day Three of the Festival d’Essaouira would come alive for the locals, tourists and the little blonde kid with a mullet that Sebastian noticed in a crowd.  Performances weren’t just held on the two big stages but at other smaller venues in town, the closest one to our hotel being in the skala (fort) at the northern corner of the rampart wall.  Bob Marley the man was no longer in Morocco but his Jamaican spirit lived on in an awesome dancehall reggae performance where dozens of Moroccans congregated to dance, wave their hands and nod their heads to the rhythm inside, outside, up and down around the fort.  Sebastian and I watched the Rastafarian get the crowd pumped (sans alcohol) from the top of the fort wall.  A local man trying to climb the wall near us said something to me in Arabic, noticing my galabiyya.

“I think he want you to move so he can climb up,” Sebastian told me.


“He thought you were a local.”  This was the second time of mistaken identity of the day; previously a cop searched my bag near one of the big stages, the way the cops searched the locals (but not us foreigners) the day before at the police checkpoint. 

OUR INCREASINGLY SORE LEGS from the Djebel Toubkal trek didn’t stop us from our next self-given mission of the day:  a booze run — and not just any booze run, an experimental booze run to see if me, an apparent-looking Muslim in a galabiyya could buy it.  Liquor stores are hard to come by in Morocco, it being a predominantly dry Muslim country, and in Essaouira there was only one just outside the medina wall to cater to foreigners and non-practicing Muslim youth.  I couldn’t wait to see the reaction of me trying to buy a six-pack but to our dismay, the liquor store was closed.  Westerners Sebastian and I thought the situation was totally backwards:  the liquor store was open most of the time except Friday and Saturday nights.

Saturday night was still a good one without the booze — I actually remembered after the fact that we had tone to a Moroccan rock concert at one of the big stages, after of which we wandered the streets still crowded with people.  Partying continued beyond the performances with locals dancing to this one particular Moroccan rock tune that opened with a distinct bass guitar riff that got everyone excited.  Everywhere we turned, the song was being played — but only its familiar beginning; after the exciting opening measures it dissolved into a fairly lame tune.  The Moroccan probably knew this too because they’d always stop the song midway to start it over with the bass riff again to get the crowd dancing again.

“Every music stand is a party,” Sebastian said.

Eventually we heard a bit too much of the song’s opening until it got to the point of annoyance.  Sebastian even timed the interval between hearing it — less than a minute. 

I suppose we could have asked the Essaouirans nicely to keep it to a minimum, but nah, some of them were just too nice.

Next entry: Jamming in Morocco

Previous entry: High, Dry and Hassle-Free

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Comments for “Laid Back In My Galabiyya”

  • . . being an insomniac is good for something . . first yet again.

    Posted by Alyson  on  06/30  at  11:30 AM

  • ERIK - the sebastian pic is also the ramparts pic….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  03:52 PM

  • couldn’t you use your jedi mind trick to open the liquor store?  hahah…

    anyhow….you should have went commando under the galabiyya for the full effect…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  04:08 PM

  • hmm, use the force young Padawan!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  05:16 PM

  • hmm… Obiwan or the sandpeople?  Fish picture is just awesome and so is the sunset!  Thanks for the hotel pics smile  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stop here on my RTW, but it looks cool.

    Posted by Liz  on  06/30  at  06:11 PM

  • Erik: man, do you ever look good in the Galabiyya. If I see any future pics of you not in it, there will be trouble.
    And yes, my picture is not me. And I think something is up in the second line…or I am illiterate.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/30  at  09:17 PM

  • Damn, Markyt beat me to it… although, today I am slow.

    Yes, I was going to ask you about your Jedi mind-trick. Again, I’m slow.

    I want fresh seafood - sounds awesome!! Thanks for the pictures. The sunset is gorgeous!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/01  at  05:26 AM

  • That sounds like an Amazing day Erik! Dude, you could bring Moo-Moos back into style!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/03  at  02:31 AM

  • Erik:
    Sweet galibiyya.
    I was waiting for that picture.
    Could become a trend now.

    What’s with that 7 year old with the mullet and the soother?


    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  07:12 PM

  • I like the “streets still crowded with people” pic. It’s like where’s Waldo but with Erik! Good thing this was booze-free, no way you two would have remembered anything if that liquor store had been open!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/06  at  12:58 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Jamming in Morocco

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High, Dry and Hassle-Free


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