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15.9.09

Mint tea in Essaouria


As hard as it is not to grab a board and head for the water, it has to be said that a day trip is a nice break from the routine of surf, eat, sleep. Especially if the waves are flat anyway and your shoulder feels like Pompeij the day after. A car is easily rented from enDo surf camp and so one early morning saw us head out north to Essaouira. The famed city of Blue and White on the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco is an easy three hours drive from Tamraght, made scenic by the ocean and gnarly Argan tree forests.


Will climb for food - goats eat Argan fruit. A favourite snapshot from southwest Morocco.

On all my travels, I have always preferred 'breathing in' a city rather than running around with guide and map. Essaouria is perfectly set up to loose oneself on a scenic stroll in this fashion, yet small enough not to get completely disoriented. The enchanted crooks and crannies of the Medina offer plenty of picturesque moments and the odd chance of exchanging a few words with the locals. Communication here works more or less without hassle, which I find is a distinct advantage of Morocco as a travel destination.

Tourist shops and real life still blend in Essaouira.

After a slightly overpriced fish feast at the harbour, and an extended walk on the stretching crescent of sand beach, I found myself sitting in the worst tourist trap right smack on the front line of backpackerism. Tea was overpriced, but sweet, and went extremely well with watching the hustle and bustle of al ate afternoon along the hippie trail.

Talents of tomorrow. Local basketball training.

The local mint tea is not to be compared to your regular cup of concoction. Performing the ritual of pouring and re-pouring the hot water to get a full-flavoured body with amber glow and mild but lucious scent has a distinct meditative quality. Thoughts wander and meander in synchrony to the steaming swirls, images from the street catch your eye and the individual moments extends whereas time as such shrinks. The late afternoon glow on the yellow dusty telephone booths, the two guys slapping flies across the street. Mahmoud whispering hash stories from the right. Backpacker tourists in faded Arafat shawls on their way to the cash machines, determination to spend their money on lamps, cloth or leather written all over their faces.

Need for speed. Horses provide kicks on Essaouira beach promenade.

A young Moroccan in Gucci jeans parades his baby boy on the main street amidst a group of feisty friends, his father, in stripey Djellaba comes to join and sings the praises of the familyseed as he breaks up in self-satisfied smiles. A group of ladies in colourful tchadors moves gracefully in the square, if you watch closely you can observe them sending flirtatious glances to blonde Germans from the corners of their khol-marked eyes. A fisherman walks home, dizzy from the combination of working under the glaring sun and Ramaddan fasting. His limbs seem to move independently, the gaze is hollow, empty. Any time he will fall over, you think, but he sets foot before foot, and makes it out of the picture in one piece. Hilarious – a teenager so full of testosterone he can wax his hair with it swaggers in zigzags across the street, brandishing his polished Italian shoes with a toe curve that would leave any Leningrad cowboy green with envy.

Above all, chatter. Murmurs from darker corners, pling-pling songs from Rasta guitars, a shout to shoo away the begging children, a greeting, a handshake with the retracted hand cupped over the heart, a mother dragging her screaming child, laughter from the waiters preparing refreshments.

The splash of mint tea in the glass.

The clink of the swirling spoon.

The scratch of a last undissolved sugar crystal.

10.9.09

Surf Log Morocco - Tamri

After the initial harmless fun in the house beach breakers, Monday saw us heading out north, towards Tamri. Here, the waves come in bigger sizes when elsewhere it's flat. It's a beach break with lefts and rights, and there is just the tiniest bit of localism.

Riding the wave at Tamri.
No it's not me, but thanks for asking
.

Thoroughly respectful of waves and locals alike, this session proved to be one of those learning experiences. Timing, alertness, and physical fitness combine in the experienced surfers, and their way out through the white water seems effortless. While these guys hang out in the line-up and wait for their wave, I am grunting with exhaustion. I feel like the proverbial potato sack, my arms hurt from incessant paddling. And I am always, always those crucial twenty meters away from calm water. Wave upon wave crashes on me, I hardly have time between eskimo rolls to clamber back on my board, my chest heaves, I get sores on thighs, knees and ribs.

The scenery is well on the hippie trail. So are the vehicles.

Tamri has a bad reputation for breaking boards. There are two waves here, an outside break on a shifting sandbank and a hollow inside beach break, which is responsible for most of the damage. It gets big with Northwest swells travelling all the way from Iceland low pressure systems, but there are often unpleasant cross winds, which makes the standing up part difficult. Funnily enough, on certain days when its completely flat elsewhere, this spot offers a friendly chance for practicing take offs and getting into the wave.

But today I need persistance. I think of Alex and his preaching: Paddle, paddle, paddle! That's all I did for one year, with the hotshots zipping around me in Durban. The ocean makes you humble. You cannot fight it. You have to suffer. Then the next time you go in the water with slightly better conditions, you will be surprised at how well things can go.

We had just such session the next day, the waves came in clearly defined sets, breaking nice and slow. With my shoulder still numb from the day before, I could only give it half the bite, but the rides I got were glorious. And after maybe 3 and a half seconds of ultimate joy you fall in the water smiling and think, even for this one wave, this one moment, all the suffering – it was worth it.


9.9.09

The Surf Log Morroco: Day One

Tamraght, Morocco. The waves are small and mushy, onshore wind blows them flat. It's difficult to make out where the waves break, and when they do, most of them close out on the beach. The longterm guests run around with grumpy expressions and curse the wind. But for me it's perfect. I am back on the go, and I am back in the water. A combinaton that is more than enough to make me smile.

A view from the roof terrasse. Pink houses make for happy living.

Tamraght is dusty and sleepy, on the brink of beeing discovered and then spoiled by mass tourism. The way from town to the beach leads through a field of rubble and shrubs, which was destined to become an 18-hole golf course, but then the money ran out. On the road to Agadir, other sceletal hotel constructionsites, so charactersitic for lots of other Oriental countries that try to develop their beach front potential rot in the sun.

It's not the most scenic of settings at first, but now, after a mere day, I hardly notice. The ocean is warm, the light is amber, the waves benign. Even when the bigger clobbers come onshore, they wash over me surprisingly gentle, almsot with a silky quality, as if welcoming me in, refreshing a body that has been stuffed in trousers, socks and shoes too long, clearing a brain that has endured stuffy classroom and conferences for five years and now wants nothing else than fresh air.

It's a great first day, the sun not too hot, and when it dies in the evening, the breeze from the mountains carries the scent of fresh peppermint. We lie on the roof terrasse and hear the Muezzins Ramaddan stories waft over from two or three different mosques, the stars come out, the tent canopy flaps lazily.

I close my eyes. This is peace.

7.9.09

Casablanca

Wot is zis?
The things you have time for all of a sudden when you are on sabbatical.

A pale green waiting room filled by angry shouting. Dirty marble floors reflect a neon flicker of the kind that makles sleep impossible. A stale sandwich that tastes of dusty cotton, a strong cup of coffee.

My journey begins with a stop. Somebody in the long line of people that guarantee our safety, check us in, fly us to exotic destinations, or handle our luggage is on strike – this time at Casablanca Mohammed V. Airport. Waiting seems the essence of travel in a lot of ways, and I calm myself that in a situation that cannot be changed, it is wise to chill and be thankful for a chance to have nothing else to do than think. The angry mob across the hall is not in the mood for thinking much, it seems. Rather, the members indulge in some heavy shouting, which, rendered in melodious Arabic, loses nothing of its aggressive impact even on uncomprehending aural tract.

My gaze drifts through the hall as my thoughts condense. In a way, a month of waiting already lies behind me – if life was a straight line, I'd be standing on a street corner in Buenos Aires by now, striking a match, whistling perhaps a Troilo tune. But it isn't and I am not. My August saw me head off to the Atlantic coast of France with my girl instead, for a much too short but tasty bite of summer, sun and surf. The rest of the time I spent in Wiesbaden, probably the most unlikely place of all to start my sabbatical adventure.

Corals, German variety.

And truth be told, summer in Germany isn't so bad, and yes, I can hear you snickering. Lots of it has to do with being in love, for sure. But even that left aside, it just gave me the time to thoroughly decelerate from the LGH pace. The first sign that I was recovering was that I suddenly had not only the time, but also the need to read a book, a wonderful experience in itself. Next, I put on my boots and strolled through forests with early morning sunlight shifting through high-rising pines. I set up shop in a peacefull Taunus village and shaped a few longboards (and those become beasts and beauties). And I had time to wonder at how fast time passes when actually you have nothing to do, and how slow it does when you lie in bed with a fever, waiting for someone to come home.

And now, I am on my way. Feshly recovered, relaxed down to the last muscle fibre. Ready to let life just wash over me, for stories to unravel before my eyes as I sit on the beach of existence. Prepared to let go and go with the flow - which has brought me here to a pale green waiting room filled with neon flickering lights that make sleep impossible.

The noise from across the hall suddenly abates and the group heads towards the café as one. They sit down, apparently appeased, taking up all the places around me.

Airport service staff starts serving them a free meal. Wordlessly, a waiter puts down a tablet full of food in front of me. I look up, surprised, and exchange a glance with the proper group members. We laugh together.

Apparently, something can be said for complaining after all. And humour transcends the language barrier.

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