Morocco: Set off for a secret shore
Up the coast from the Morroccan resort of Agadir, there's a village full of surfers riding the waves. Andrew Eames takes a break
Wednesday 10 November 2010
The big clue to this riddle comes as early as the airport check-in. Among the sedentary midwinter sunseekers bound for the Moroccan resort of Agadir, mostly upwards of 50 years old, there's a twentysomething clan, iPodded, stubbled, scruffily dressed and bearing large, gaudily wrapped baggage. And while the traditional holidaymakers have that uncertain gait of someone not sure of the location of the next cup of tea, these travellers are wiry and balanced, with feet instinctively a couple of hands' widths apart, as if they're expecting Gatwick itself to take off any moment. In which case they'll ride it all the way.
It's easy to see that Agadir is not their kind of place. The resort is a traditional fly-and-flop destination on the Atlantic coast, which lies on the same latitude as the Canary Islands, and it was purpose-built after an earthquake in the 1960s destroyed the original settlement. It's a fairly soulless place, but for those fly-and-floppers it does its job well. There are plenty of capacious hotels set in extensive gardens with pools, a broad and generous beach, a long prom, golf courses, shopping souk, night clubs and a British pub or two.
However, when it comes to the transfer from the airport into town, the clan from the flight suddenly evaporates. The allure of poolside dining is not for them, and even though the guidebook barely mentions any other destination within 250km, it seems they have something else in mind.
That "something else" turns out to be just 10km up the coast, where a small Berber village called Taghazout rubs its back like a lazy dog against the foothills of the Atlas mountains. The presence of those mountains, and the topography of the shore, creates the right conditions for heavy, rolling Atlantic surf, and riding those waves with almost the same nonchalance with which they queued at Gatwick, are my chilled fellow passengers.
There's something of a Cornish-cum-Greek Island fishing village about Taghazout. Its pastel-coloured tumble of houses clusters steeply around a fleet of wooden fishing boats on a comfortable sheltered beach. These blue-painted fishing boats are used at night, and as they return in the morning to be hauled manfully up the sand, a small informal fish market sells off squid and sardines. It's far more authentic than Agadir.
The fishermen are not the only ones up early, because surfers are early risers, too (depending, of course, on the tide). The best conditions are big waves without wind, and there's less chance of wind early in the morning. So minibuses gum up the main street at breakfast time, loading passengers and packed lunches for a day to be spent at any of the 45 established surfing spots within 90 minutes of the village.
Meanwhile, independent boarders set off to walk the 800m up the road to Anchor Point, home of one of the most challenging and most spectacular right-handers, peeling off the rocks. Here there's an almost religious silence among the spectators and surf widows on the shore, broken only by an itinerant seller who delights in his piercingly mistaken pronunciation of "peanuts".
The history of tourism at Taghazout dates back to when hippies discovered the joys of surfing; Jimi Hendrix is even supposed to have ridden a couple on a trip south from Essaouira. These days, you can still find a couple of chilled stalls where barefoot Australian girls serve fruit smoothies and banana bread, but otherwise the catering is largely local, with the cafés and restaurants offering couscous and tagine, and the internet cafes and the gear shops are also in Moroccan ownership.
The same can't be said of many of the so-called "surf camps", where the likes of the surfers who were on my flight stay. Mostly these are run by enthusiasts who simply couldn't tear themselves away, such as the Brits Ben O'Hara and Ollie Boswell, and their company Surf Maroc.
"I don't much like the expression 'surf camp'," says Ben, as we sip coffee on the terrace one of three Surf Maroc properties in the village. Here, in a waterside location that could easily be on Mykonos or Santorini, the Auberge has simple rooms from £20 a head. You can easily fly in on a low-cost flight, hire your equipment and do all the available surfing within walking distance.
Certainly the arrival of airlines Ryanair (from Stansted) and easyJet (from Gatwick) into Agadir has created a positive impact on business, says Ben; no longer do surfers have to cope with weekly charters, or set out overland from the airports at Casablanca or Marrakesh. It is much more easily done than it used to be.
But doing it yourself has its own drawbacks. Sometimes the best surf is some distance away, equipment gets broken, transfers to airports need to be arranged and you might like a yoga lesson and a proper sit-down sit-down dinner in the company of fellow surfers. That kind of full service is what a surf camp is all about, says Ben.
He takes me out to the company's Villa Mandala, a sort of surfing equivalent of a ski chalet which comes complete with swimming pool, posh chalet host and hip yoga pavilion up on the roof. The surfing demographic appears to have gone upmarket; there's nothing "camping" about this.
I enjoy a (fairly incompetent) surf on Banana beach, which takes its name from the fruit that grows on the plantations that are its backdrop. And then afterwards I mosey around the main road of Taghazout, sit for a mint tea on the terrace of the Café Tenerife and watch the mixture of djellabas and sarongs mooching up and down the street. I catch a bus 12 back to Agadir in time to rejoin the fly-and-flop brigade as they emerge for the permed and pomaded promenade before the hotel buffet.
I doubt whether a single one of them has any idea of the parallel universe, half Berber, half surfer, that exists just up the coast.
The writer flew with easyjet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com), which serves Agadir from Gatwick from £62 return; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies the same route from Stansted. A taxi from the airport to Taghazout will cost around £15-£20.
Surf Maroc (01794 322 709; surfmaroc.co.uk) offers surf camp packages from £259 per person per week, based at the Auberge, including transfers, breakfast and lunch, transport to beaches, and guides.
Moroccan Tourist Board: 020 7437 0073; visitmorocco.com
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