One of my favourite places in Morocco is the lovely little coastal town of Essaouira. It's got a laid back hippy vibe that has long endeared it to visitors. They say Bob Marley loved it and there are lots of tall tales about famous people having a wild time there but mostly it's just a very relaxed and lovely place to be, especially after the slightly oppressive centre of Marrakech. Perhaps I should have booked longer - I think the rest of the group would have preferred it - but my planning said we'd leave early on the second day and return late on the third. It didn't go quite to plan.
Our Riad in Marrakech kindly offered to send someone to get bus tickets for us but that didn't work out because it was Sunday and they said the booking office was closed. We had briefly considered taking a taxi to the coast but nobody would come anywhere close to a sensible price and I didn't want to pay silly money just for a short trip. Hence hubby was up early to take a cab to the station to book for the 10.30 am bus. He returned looking a bit down in the mouth because he couldn't get earlier than the 5 pm bus. Somewhat annoyingly, he'd only been able to book the bus out to Marrakech and not back again - it would seem that actually planning both ways is beyond the capability of the Supratours bus company. We knew he'd done his best and that no earlier planning would have made any difference.
Supratours run their buses from in front of the railway station which might lead you to think "Why not take the train?" and that's not a stupid question. However, the trains in Morocco end at Marrakech after coming south from the Mediterranean coast. There is no train to Essaouira or points West of Marrakech.
We whiled away the day and took a taxi out to the station at about 4 pm. The bus tickets are sold from a counter inside the pleasant, modern station and there's a cafe with an attractive outdoor terrace where you can have a non-alcholic drink and wait for your bus. When the buses are ready, a staff member with a clipboard ticks off the numbered tickets after you deposit your bags in the luggage hold. It seemed that only about half the tickets had numbers on them which led to a bit of shuffling around once the bus was filled but it was all done in good humour. In both directions there were no spare seats.
The Supratours buses are modern, extremely clean and of excellent quality although on the right side of the bus the leg room is not great. On the way out to the coast we had left hand seats with plenty of space and on the way back our shorter companions swapped so we had more space. There is an advantage in travelling with little people!
The bus left Marrakech nearly half an hour late, crawled slowly through the suburbs where building projects are throwing up spacious and attractive homes that surely offer a lot more amenities than those in the old part of the town. We briefly drove along a toll motorway before joining the main road to Essaouira which runs in pretty much a straight line all the way. After little more than an hour, the bus pulled up at a 'tea and pee' stop to offload the passengers and dither around for about 20 minutes. It felt like we'd barely started the journey before it was time for a stop.
The bus got back to business and bounced along a surprisingly springy road all the way to the coast. The views are interesting for a while - the fields are flat as pancakes and it's quite fun to check out the agricultural methods. Row upon row of olive trees sit with small earth bunds around their base to help catch the rain water. Little did we realise just how ineffective they would prove to be the next day.
We arrived just after 8 pm at the bus stand just outside the city walls. Porters with blue trolleys wait to escort visitors to their hotels. We should probably have just grabbed one when we got off the bus but instead we set off with thoughts of 'maybe we'll find it, maybe we won't'. Not surprisingly we didn't.
Next day at 8 am my husband was back to the bus stand to get our return tickets. He'd got his fingers burned by the change of plans the day before and was determined to get the bus he wanted for our return. He bought 4 tickets for the 6 o'clock bus and brought them back to our hotel. At 5.30 pm we were back to get the bus, waiting in the glorious sunshine for our departure. The loading routine was the same as before - put bags in the hold, line up and get ticked off on the loading sheet by the lady with the clipboard.
The first half hour or so of the journey was uneventful. That's a polite way of saying that I was actually asleep so I have no idea what was happening. I awoke to look out of the window and see a massive dark cloud ahead of us which ended in a vertical wall of black. Thinking "That doesn't look good", I wasn't surprised when it started to rain a few minutes later. And then it got harder. It started to hail and the road ahead of us sat inches deep in hail stones. This all seemed quite exciting and entertaining until we realised that the water was standing more than a foot deep on some parts of the road. My sister pointed to the fields beside us where the red-brown soil was bubbling up like boiling mud and then flowing across.
The driver pulled over at the 'tea and pee' stop and asked everyone to be back within fifteen minutes. I think most of us spent that time watching the vehicles creeping through the two giant pools of water either side of the cafe. Amazingly nobody got stuck in the middle although a few of the tail-gaters got dangerously close to the people ahead of them. Cyclists were riding through with water above the pedals and the centres of their wheels, unable to see the road beneath them. As you'd expect a few jokers went much to fast creating their own personal tsunamis. The locals were excited and a gentleman near us said he'd been doing the journey for over 20 years and had never seen anything like it.
Amazingly, despite crawling through the puddles, we made it back to Marrakech almost to time - probably because the stop had been a bit shorter than normal. Sadly I think the farmers whose fields we'd passed probably lost most of their recently planted seedlings as everything was washed away. We saw walls knocked down by the water and a power station narrowly missed because it stood just a few inches higher than the surrounding land. The power of water should never be underestimated and if no route already exists, the water will make its own.
~ A few more practical matters~
Supratours works out of three hubs - Marrakech, Fez and Asila. From Marrakech you can go south to eleven destinations including Agadir, south west to Essouira or east to places like Ouzarzate, Zagora and Merzouga. They also run international services to Spain, France and Italy.
We were only able to buy from the departing station in each case but there are numerous booking agents listed on the Supratours website so if you can't face getting up stupidly early to go to the station, it might be worth contacting one of them. Alternatively if you are staying in Marrakech before you take the bus it's worth asking your hotel or riad to help get tickets for you. The fares are very good - we paid just 70 dirhams (approx £5) each way.
For more information see www.supratours.ma