Of Hammams, Ports and Fish Markets

In a room, “Careless Whisper” played in the background, hot water ran from a faucet onto a pail, steaming the room.  On a bench in one side of the room, I sat and waited.

Soon after, a lady entered and impassively poured hot water over me; I shivered at first then felt the water soothingly eased the fatigue away. She asked if I could bear the heat. “Oh, no problem there.” I thought. Then she soaped every part of me, my hair included (I worried about how it would turn out sans conditioner).  She left, came back 15 minutes later, started scrubbing, scrubbing until I can feel dead skin rubbing against my body. And when she poured water on me again, the soap and dead skin washed off, I felt the difference.  My skin and hair, they were silky smooth.  “Can I buy some of that soap, please?”

A Berber massage followed after and for an hour, I was in dreamland. This has always been my gauge of a good massage but how am I getting my money’s worth by not feeling every knead and every rub? I ask myself all the time. I love a good scrub every so often and this, I promise, is the bomb. If I had another day to spare, I’d do it again even if I’ll have to listen to George Michael all over again.

And even if a real hammam this is not, I appreciated the experience and wished I had found the time to go to a real one, perhaps in Fes.




But Essaouira is as good a place, its rugged charm and relaxed atmosphere offers relief from the bustle of the bigger cities. Read: a good place to chill.  Our last leg in exotic Morocco was spent in the coastal town west of Marrakech just a three hour bus ride away.

place-moulay-hassanPlace Moulay, the main town square near the waterfront.

It’s a hidden gem with its windswept beach, open air feel and hip vibe.  A wonderful refresher from the dark, crowded alleyways of Fes and Marrakech.

Behind the 18th century sea walls are artists’ enclaves, Thuya wood workshops, and bright, quiet alleyways.


Ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medina is gorgeous and peaceful.



Although the alleyways around the Kasbah have already quite a few souvenir shops, it is still a market town


where rural Berbers is still seen to hawk their wares.


The streets are full of people selling things from vegetables to DVDs.  And in one of these stores, we found some great CD of Gnaoua music.

Tall towers bordered with cannons still define the perimeter of the old town and spending

fortified walls

time within its well-preserved ramparts will take you back to when the town was still called Mogador.

The smell of freshly grilled sardines and lobsters will draw you to the town’s famous fish market.


Known for its outstanding fresh seafood,


it is a great place to enjoy a few bottles of beer, soak up the sun and people watch


while your order of the choicest catches grill to perfection.

Essaouira (pronounced: essa weera) has a beautiful port down by the harbor.


The Skala du Port offers a picturesque view of the fishing port with many shades of blue – blue skies, blue sea, blue and white architecture,


blue boats huddled against each other, some still unloading their catches for the day, which they will bring ashore to sell in the fish market.

After my visit to the hammam, we spent the rest of the morning on a rooftop café overlooking the fort and the sea—


an excellent place to relish our last days in Morocco, to cap the trip.


Meandering Through Old Fes


You hear the bangs of coppersmiths in the labyrinth souks combined with the beat and clangs of Moroccan music and the constant calls to prayers,


add to that the intoxicating smells of fruits, spices, fresh innards and dung,


then you see the chaos of men pushing wheelbarrows, children playing and


donkeys transporting people and things, and not to mention the vibrant colors of rugs, potteries, spices… all happening simultaneously.  The old city of Fes stimulates all the senses.

Rashid, our guide picked us up right after breakfast at Dar Labchara.  To discover the city, an official guide is essential.


Ours took us around the medina, passing narrow alleys housing hundreds of merchants and craftsmen selling an assortment of products from dates to musical instruments.

Fes el Bali (Fes the old) is our baptism of fire into an exotic medieval world.  Not much seemed to have changed within this walled city with over 9,000 alleyways.


Fes el Bali is the old medina where most cultural sights are located; its labyrinth of narrow winding alleys is almost impossible to negotiate without getting lost.


It is a car-free urban space and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that spans 1,300 years of Moroccan heritage.  It is the central business where 150,000 people living inside the wall – a cocktail of Berbers, Arabs, and Africans in hooded djellaba cloaks, red tarboosh hat they call fez and open heel babouche slippers – come and go, much like it was 1,300 years ago.


Following Rashid, we found ourselves in the market staring at a camel’s head,




drooling over a variety of Moroccan food specialties, admiring vegetables I don’t get to buy in my part of the world, and devouring some beautiful, crunchy strawberries in season.


Chaotic, overwhelming, stimulating, similar, in a certain way, to our wet market yet distinctly Moroccan in every way.

Morocco is a shopper’s delight and weaving through the maze like narrow lanes led us to various outdoor bazaars called souks.


They consist of tiny stalls displaying objects ranging from colorful scarves to buckets of olives.  It is an integral part of the medina.  It is where the locals buy their essentials.

making-breadA stand making bread

Each Moroccan town has its unique souk quarter displaying some of the fine Moroccan ornaments and crafts.  In larger cities like Fes or Marrakech, there are “specialty” souks of all kinds –


the spice souk, the carpenter’s souk, the leather souk, the slipper souk, the dyer’s souk… all within a bigger souk.  At every turn, we found ourselves in a new souk typically named after what they are selling.


One such souk was at the Seffarine Square.  A delightful square that is the center of Fes’ copperware trade surrounded by artisans hammering sheets of metal into shape:  huge cauldrons, kettles, pots, plates and the likes.



On one side lay the Kairaouine library, on the other, the Seffarine Madrasa.  The open space is a refreshing break from the confining tight corners of the medina.

Built in AD857, the University of al-Karaouine is perhaps the oldest university in the world.


Not open to non-muslim, we had to content ourselves with viewing its beautiful architecture from the entrance.  Rashid took a shot from my camera for a peek at one of the dozen horseshoe arches in the mihrab (prayer niche).


A better view of the university can be had at any rooftop balcony nearby.

Rashid then lead us to another lovely square where you will find the Fondouk el Nejjarine.


The beautifully restored building used to be a fondouk or a caravanserai, a roadside inn built to shelter men, goods and animals along ancient caravan routes.



It is today a museum of wooden arts and crafts.  It has a nice little rooftop café boasting of outstanding views of the city.

A visit to Fes will not be complete without seeing a tannery.  And at the Chounara Tannery, the smell of lye, acidic pigeon excrements and dyes drifts around the rooftop balcony, we were given sprigs of mint to mask the stench.


The view from the balcony allows for a site that has not changed since the 11th century –


workers balancing between stone vessels arranged like honeycombs filled with vibrant dyes.  They soak the hides in the acidic solution and then transfers them to another vat containing dyes such as henna, saffron, or mint.


It is a rare visual spectacle and experience not to be missed at any cost.

Now purchasing high quality leather products produced from these tanneries is another thing.  In fact, shopping in Morocco is an entertaining experience worthy of a post all its own.

Nishiki Market

Kyoto has a kitchen in a vibrant retail market specializing in all things related to food –



fresh seafood, fresh produce, fresh fruits, sweets, knives, cookware, etc. – 5 blocks long, lined with more than one hundred shops and restaurants.  This is where to find Kyoto’s specialties and many seasonal foods.


Located in central Kyoto, this narrow market has supplied Kyoto’s residents with high quality traditional ingredients for centuries.  The history extends some 400 years ago, and many shops are still operated by their founding families.


A walk down Nishiki-koji will give you a sense of what Kyoto is all about.  This may not appeal to just any visitor, but this can be pure heaven to lovers of food and the kitchen.




In the narrow alleys of the market, the stalls are filled with food items of any kind – some already prepared while others yet to be cooked.  A great place to eat too, with so many intriguing eateries to choose from and we could have, but they close at 5.



Local markets, I believe, reflects the culture and economy of a place and visiting these markets is one of my joys in traveling.  Whenever you can on your next trip, go hit the market.  It usually is a plethora of everyday stuff that characterizes a city.





Useful Info

Getting There:  From JR Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway to the Shijo Station.  It is a 5 mins walk to the market.  The market is parallel to Shijo Ave., connected to the Teramachi Shopping arcade.

Nishiki Market
Nishikikōji-dōri between Teramachi & Takakura
Opens daily except Wednesday from 9am – 5pm

My Wonderland

If I lived in San Francisco, I’d be hanging out a lot here, spending all my hard-earned money on everything on display.  This is my wonderland.

Located at the foot of Market Street is Ferry Building Marketplace.  Shops in all sizes offer everything from frozen yogurt to artisan cheeses.

Acme Breads — giving Boudin a run for their money

Superb cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery — I went all gaga with the selections!

On the day we were there, stalls of fruits, vegetables, flowers and a wealth of other products,

which include artisan specialties like ice creams, cheeses and honey occupied the front of the building along the Embarcadero.

On the other side are food trucks and stalls where many from near and far would trek to enjoy good, affordable food.

Taken from the back… stall owners busy preparing orders.

Food trucks and stalls from the front

A really good food truck is Roli Roti that served a mean Porchetta sandwich — they wanted to go home and was selling the last slab at a very good price.  We obviously bought it to have for dinner that night.  Lip-smacking good!

At the back of the building, one could sit back and enjoy the goodies purchased perhaps from one of the stores or stalls while marveling at a beautiful view of the bay bridge.

As luck would have it, I will be back sooner than I ever expected but that’s a tale for another day.   😀

On Market Day

Saturday is market day for the T’bolis and a smattering of them still turn up in a semblance of a traditional ensemble.  Take out these lingering few; market day in Lake Sebu was quite a let down.  Without them, the market looked like an ordinary tiangge (bazaar) with merchandise perhaps coming from Manila or even China.  Despite this however, it was still an enjoyable endeavor, especially for me.

How likely is it that among the population of more than 95,000 Tbolis, I find (and more amazingly – I remembered) the same one a decade later?

Perhaps it was her earrings or a combination of the earrings and her striking beauty that rendered a high recall.

One of the indigenous peoples of Southern Mindanao, the T’bolis primarily live in the South Cotobato province of Mindanao (the southernmost part of the Philippines).

As with many indigenous groups, many have adapted the migrant’s way of life owing to the many settlers hailing mostly from Iloilo (a province in the Western Visayas region, still south of the Philippines).

The colorful traditional outfits (I think) are mostly worn these days on special occasions and on market day.

Some snaps taken that morning.

Dried baby shrimps or what we call hebi (great for flavoring)

The T’bolis are famous for their intricate beadworks and brass ornaments

Negotiating for a picture with her

I just totally adore her!

T’bolis today — with an umbrella, a plastic bag of goodies and the red handbag!   😀

Market, Market!!


I love visiting markets, especially if it is the local market.  It is for me, the soul of a city.  The market reveals so much about the culture of a place.  It is, after all, where the locals go to get their fresh produce and livestocks.  Baguio is no exception and it is actually one of the highlights whenever I find myself there.  A trip to Baguio will never be complete without a trip to the market.


Located high up in the mountains of the province of Benguet and due to the cold weather, fruits, vegetables and even coffee beans grow beautifully and abundantly in this “city of pines”.  The province provides the entire Luzon majority of its vegetables, so they don’t get any fresher in this city.


You’ll find stalls upon stalls of various types of produce obviously from fresh fruits


and vegetables


to organic red mountain rice


to coffee. Garcia’s is at the top of my list for good quality coffee beans.  Quite a variety to choose from and best of all, they deliver to Manila for a fee and I think a minimum order of 5 kilos.


Also ranking high on my list (more than the veggies actually) is the delectable longganisa (Filipino style sausages).  They are just the yummiest and I always go for the Baguio special garlic flavor, the one they serve at the Baguio Country Club.  Just writing about it makes me want to cook me some longganisa… haha!  😀

This is the last post on my recent Baguio trip and my entry to My World.  To have a glimpse of other beautiful worlds, visit My World Tuesday.

Garcia’s Pure Coffee
No. 10-A Chuchria Section, Hangar Market, Baguio City
Mobile:  09175071365