Staying high and dry ('s more trouble than it's worth)

9 – 10 March  2014
Sidi Ifni

Not another one! The ocean is as relentless as I am helpless. Wave after wave comes in, and I’m floating around, holding on to my surfboard like a shipwrecked sailor to a piece of wood. Just paddling into the surf has exhausted all my upper body strength. Now that I’m in the right place, I can no longer generate enough speed to properly ride the wave, let alone push myself up to stand on the board. The best I can do is sit up, enjoy a glorious second or so as I’m on top of the wave, feeling the energy pick me up and push me forward, and then try not to get completely sucked into the vortex when the inevitable happens and I capsize, again. After I come up, it’s another few seconds of huffing and puffing, climbing back on the board, and hoping the next wave will bring me a bit closer to the shore again. Thankfully Rachid, my surf instructor, sees I’ve had enough and pushes me back to the beach, where I wash up feeling miserable, weak, and sick… and yet those few moments on top of the waves were enough to get me excited about the idea of maybe, one day, being able to ride those waves without nearly drowning myself…
I stagger back, across the stony, not-so-clean beach (‘ouch, should’ve brought flipflops!’), past the boat-shaped house that used to be home to the port authority, to the surf school, where I get out of my wetsuit (‘ugh, I need to lose some weight, I looked like a walking seal in that thing’). I’m full of awe for my sister now. Her ecstatic stories after a week (!) of surfing on the Canary Islands (just 60 kilometers off the Moroccan coast) were my inspiration to give it a go, but it seems the surfing genes might have skipped me… The surf school owner had told me the waves are particularly good today, if perhaps a bit high for a beginner, but if I was fit enough it should be possible; I decided to go ahead. Rachid had taught me the basics of the game. Balance has never been my strong suit, but after a while he figured I was good enough to have a go at it. A short hour later, it’s obvious that the waves don’t agree with my assessment of my own fitness…
After my epic surfing fail, I take a few hours to rest. The remainder of the afternoon is spent exploring Sidi Ifni. My hotel, Casa Suerte Loca, is apparently ‘backpacker central’ in town, and the atmosphere is indeed very relaxed, even if the building is really showing its age. That’s actually a good way of describing Sidi Ifni, too; this former Spanish enclave on the Atlantic coast was developed in the 1930s, with most buildings in Art Deco style, all white with blue doors and window frames. Since Spain gave it up to Morocco in 1969, it has been left to crumble, giving the whole town a very rustic feel. It is by far the most laid-back town I have visited in Morocco; during my three days there, no one ever asks me to buy anything or check out a shop or get a taxi. The people are very open and friendly, and the younger ones’ favourite pastime seems to be surfing – I can’t blame them, as the waves rolling in from the sea are fantastic in this part of the world. They seem to have a bit of a surfer lifestyle too; this is the first place in Morocco where I’ve seen (young) adults walk around in shorts, and they seem more modern and open-minded than elsewhere in the country too. I’ve never been to the USA, but I think if you mix California and Morocco, Sidi Ifni is pretty much what you’d get, and I love it. The only fault I can find with this town is that Real Madrid seems to be more popular than FC Barcelona here… Speaking of football, I run into two kids, ten years old or so, who are very eager to play it with me. To great amusement of their sisters or mothers – hard to tell for sure, as I estimate them to be in their late twenties – I participate fanatically. Not only do I not rip my pants this time, I also beat them regularly; that may not be cause for much pride, but at least it’s a relief!
After watching a hazy sunset, I dine alone in a restaurant that offers fantastic seafood – Sidi Ifni is one of Morocco’s most important fishing towns – and a fruit and vegetable salad that’s uncharacteristically good for this country. My dinner is livened up by the group sitting at the table next to mine; three fairly posh Brits are having a grand time quasi-insulting each other, England, their high-society acquaintances, Morocco, each others relationship choices, and everything else they can think of. They’re very friendly though, and invite me to their table to help them finish off a bottle of red wine (they brought it themselves, as this restaurant encourages anyone who wishes to drink alcohol to do, and it’s perhaps the best red wine I ever tasted). Back at Suerte Loca, I have a chat with some experienced surfers who think Sidi Ifni is the best place in Morocco – and based on my five weeks of experience in the country, I tend to agree!
The next day, I consider taking another surfing lesson – right until I get out of bed and feel just how sore my muscles are. Instead, I do some chores in preparation for my upcoming journey South; do the laundry, get my hair cut, buy a bus ticket, and do some groceries. I take a walk along the seafront, admiring the light, the art deco architecture, the old Spanish-built structures in the sea, the clifftop mosque, and the sun slowly setting.
Speaking of which, I had planned to be at Legzira Plage by sunset. It’s about ten kilometers away, so I enlist a taxi driver to take me there. Aziz is about 20 years old and drives one of Sidi Ifni’s characteristic ‘petits taxis’, which is more like a white miniature truck with a one-row cabin and blue panels on the side of the cargo part. As we get underway, it becomes clear that I won’t be at Legzira Plage in time; the sunset is happening right now, and it’s one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. After taking some photos, I decide to continue to Legzira Plage anyway. By the time we arrive there, twilight is setting in. Aziz accompanies me to the reason for my visit; a stone arch stretching over the beach and into the sea. There’s a second, more spectacular one further on but as it’s getting dark, I don’t want to push my luck on the stony beach.
On the way back to the taxi, Aziz and I discuss various aspects about politics in North and West Africa. He tells me he’s opposed to the French intervention in Mali, in early 2013. Like many Moroccans, Berbers in particular, he feels sympathy for the Touareg rebels in Mali who have been in an on-again, off-again armed conflict in the hope of gaining their own desert state. I ask him about his opinion about the jihadists who had hijacked the Touaregs’ rebellion, and wanted to impose their extremist interpretation of Islamic law on all of Mali. He agrees with me that it’s a good thing that the jihadists have been pushed back, but he feels that the Touaregs are so different from the black Africans in the South of Mali that it’s impossible for them to share a country. I hope he’s wrong…
Back in the taxi, we discuss football and music. As Aziz drops me off, I ask him what I owe him, as we had only agreed on a price for him to get me to Legzira Plage (60 Dirham), not for him to wait for nearly an hour and then drive me back. He thinks for a while, then tells me: ‘Sixty-sixty’.
Like many Moroccans he has trouble doing even basic calculations, despite six years of mandatory education; I pay him 120 Dirham, and a tip. After dinner, I make my way to the CTM station, and wait for the bus that’ll take me out of Morocco proper and into disputed territory…

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