A little known factor if you’re not a complete Game of Thrones nerd: the town of Astapor where Daenerys Targaryen comes into control of her Unsullied soldiers was filmed in the seaside town of Essaouira in Morocco, using the Medina as an actual set rather than creating it as a CGI backdrop. Now I want to go back.
Finding A Place Through Stories
I’ve found that one of the best ways to appreciate the significance of any place is to attach it to a story. Before Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, we had the likes of Homer, Marco Polo and Ernest Hemingway who spun tales of places far and wide enchanting their readers and opening to stories and descriptions of places far beyond their reach. I remember watching a scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade where they rode through a rocky passageway opening up to a building carved into the mountains. When I found that it was a real place in Jordan called Petra, it became one of places I had to visit when I began traveling the world. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. The place was amazing by its own merit, but it was more than that to me because I was walking in the footsteps of Indy. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been to grand palaces and forts in India with so much historical value that did nothing for me. It was just another palace or fort that was “just like the other palace or fort” I just saw in the last town. That’s not really the best attitude, but it’s a honest reality for a lot of traveler. And it’s a little sad. To avoid this, I try to just stand still in those places and pretend that I’ve been transported back in time. I imagine the lives of those people who lived in the palaces beyond the stiff and formal portraits that hung on the walls. I imagine their daily routines, the secrets they kept and the ones that spread through the mouths of gossiping servants. For just a moment, the place comes to life because I feel like I’m seeing a story come to life. The best guides I’ve had encountered regardless of the tour have always brought a place to life with stories, rather than just facts. I’ll probably when the Sistine Chapel was built or when Michelangelo painted it’s ceiling, but if you told me the adjoining room was where he took his cigarette breaks and confessed his doubts about whether he was going to do a good job, that’s something that will stick with me long after I’ve left the Vatican.
Relaxing in Essaouira
So back to Essaouira. Here was an quaint seaside town that I didn’t expect to find in Morocco. It was a great place to unwind and relax after a whirlwind few weeks of haggling in the souks, Sleeping in the Sahara, and getting Lost in Fes. I walked the streets of this walled town and ate fresh fish, cleaned and cooked right in front of me. I napped on hammocks staring at the clear blue skies from the open-aired terrace of my hostel. I watched families take their children out swimming when the sun began to dip and boys playing soccer, kicking up sand as they zig and zagged around each other. It reminded me that despite our geographical differences, life carries on in very similar ways wherever you are.