I welcomed 2016 with a lot of hope and a pint of Guinness at a random British pub in Tokyo. Although I was alone in a foreign land, I could sense an air of positivity in the air. It was my first trip since I left my full-time job (again), and I was looking forward to more trips and more firsts. I didn’t know it then, but that year was going to be a rollercoaster ride, to say the least.
It’s that time of the year again!
You know that another Game of Thrones season has begun when your Facebook news feed is flooded with cheers of excitement, cries of anger, and death threats for friends who are posting spoilers. It is not difficult to understand why HBO’s highly entertaining and often wildly brutal adaptation of the George RR Martin novels has reached the legendary status in pop culture. It has all the right ingredients: compelling characters, convincing production, unpredictable plot twists, and the right amount of fantasy. And dragons! Put it all together and you get a weekly serving of wonder. Brutal at times, but still pretty mindblowing.
But there’s one more thing that always captivates me about this phenomenal hit. On the Season 6 premiere, for instance, when the khalasar made their way to Khal Jhaqo with Daenerys Targaryen in tow, I was so drawn to the arid landscape that surrounded them that I googled it right away. Bardenas Reales in Spain, it turned out.
I have been so fascinated with GoT’s choices of filming locations that I have come up with a mission: visit as many of them as I can. The first that I set foot on was Essaouira in Morocco, which was where all Astapor scenes were shot (including that part where Khaleesi freed the Unsullied and ordered them to kill their masters). And when I backpack across Europe later this year, I’m certainly making stops in Northern Ireland, Croatia, and Spain.
As soon as we hopped out of the van, he drove off. Our driver dropped us off where the road almost meets the sea, and just left us there with no explanation, no suggestion on where to go or what to do, no fcks at all. I looked at my equally confused co-visitors and let out a gentle laugh. We all thought we signed up for a tour. Apparently, what they meant for tour was simply a ride.
For a brief moment there, I doubted whether we were in the right city. Although along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira looks more like a Mediterranean town with a North African attitude. The citadel is predominantly white, rising from a rocky shore, accented by cerulean boats. Gelato shops mark some corners, and European restaurants punctuate some streets. Yet, a walk is impossible without running into locals clad in djellabas and being treated to the aroma of cumin-mixed tagines. And while it is home to multiple ethnic groups, it is distinctly, undeniably Moroccan.