Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Dakhlar Festival

Two weeks before leaving England I received an invite to a festival called Women of the Desert. The event was to promote tourism in Morocco right down at the Mauritania boarder. The event was held just outside Dakhlar.

The information I received was pretty limited and from my understanding there were a few surfers heading out there as well as some windsurfers all of the male variety but aside from that it was mainly an event to spend some time with the local Sahrouri women learning about their customs and traditions as well as giving them a chance to try out water sports.

From the set off everything went wrong. Our flight was cancelled and we were switched to an alternative airline heading out to Lisbon before hitting Casablanca. In Lisbon they wanted to charge us for bags that were already checked in and then on top of that our flight was delayed meaning that we would miss our flight to Dakhlar. Unbeknown to us the flight leaving Casablanca was solely put on for the festival so a quick phone call and they delayed the plane two hours for our arrival. Somehow despite a not too far away destination 17 hours after setting off we arrived to the festival.

A small event as I had imagined it certainly wasn’t. There were hundreds of people. Pro surfers, Windsurfers, Kitesurfers and locals. The locals took the women away to a small room danced and sang to us for a welcome. We were hungry and tired and their singing was ummmm, interesting. We tried to dance and at one point one of the locals pointed and laughed and started chanting ‘Macarena’.

After sometime of chaos using glasses as beaters on a metal bowl, they bought us out dinner that consisted of one plate of cous cous topped with fish and meat. This plate however was to be shared amongst 8 people and there were no additional plates or cutlery.

It was all hands in squashing together the cous cous to make golf balls, but eating this way was for the fast and experienced and the girls ended up catapulting bits of food left right and centre or even storing bits unintentionally in our cleavage, hair, or ear holes. It wasn’t easy and we left that night to our place of residence starving hungry and very messy – a theme of the trip as yet to find out.
Camp was a traditional Bedouin camp where each item used to shelter us doubled up to have a second use when crossing the desert. Put it this way I’m glad it didn’t rain – but after all it is the desert so why would it???

The tents were laid out in several rows and there were probably 100 in total sleeping a maximum of 4. The beds consisted of a mattress on the sand, one sheet and a blanket. The aroma passing through was certainly something that you could liken to goat or camel and a smell that we would become semi accustomed to over the 8 days.
Staying this way bought friendships along pretty quick and surfboards, kites and windsurfing equipment soon defined who was staying where. Early morning alarm clocks were those of surfers waxing their boards and smells of mint tea reminded us that it was time for breakfast. The nights were freezing cold, but the days pleasantly warm and the atmosphere was very relaxed.

In the evening we were presented with music of all sorts and on the last 4 days there were famous bands bought in from all around.

1000’s of people arrived for the music in the evening and curiously the women were completely separated from the men. Here the traditions are strange but super interesting. The men are transfixed by the westerners’ way of life and have no reserve from staring at you up and down. The women wrap themselves up in Sari like dresses covering themselves from head to toe with only their eyes to see. Its seductive and sorceress as you have to look straight into their eyes to find out any piece of information and away you feel like to take a little bit of themselves. These women are Arabs with a little bit of the western world wearing strong make up like we would in nightclubs to extenuate their eyes, but also stylish sunglasses to.

We took the time to teach the young women to stand up paddle and surprisingly they learned pretty quickly once they understood that you couldn’t put 4 of them on the board at the same time. In wetsuits that we leant them and sunglasses you couldn’t tell them aside from us if you ignore the colour of their skin.

The mornings were spent hanging out with these girls and they talked Arabic, some Spanish and French. Communicating became easier over time and it was obvious that they just liked to hang out with us and flirt with the boys – pretty funny. In the afternoons they showed us the jewellery that they wear, the items that they make and they tattooed henna designs over our hands and feet that they have themselves done when they get married.

In terms of wind we were pretty unlucky. Dakhlar is year round windy but it took a break for the few days of the event – perhaps to indulge the surfers with perfect waves.

Finally we got 15 knots on the 6th day and we took part in a 40km crossing. I was on my Naish Thorn and 12m Torch. My torch was great but I definitely would have preferred a directional. 40km’s is sooooo far and at certain points you would be unable to see land and only able to see a few kites or windsurfers and your legs would be burning like hell. The only option was forward and soon you learn ways of dealing with the burn. Rocking up to the final point was just a joy and I can fairly say that I was super happy of the achievement but more convinced then ever to stay in waves and freestyle.

On the last day there was a also a little wind and the 12m and twin tip came out for their real purpose and I enjoyed a short session of freestyle before it was time to come in and pack.

The trip was buzzing with cameras, videos, journalists and helicopters. It was one experience that I have never felt before and despite the downsides I look back in fascination and wonder and am really stoked for having the invitation. I will write up some stories for some kitesurfing mags, so no doubt you will see and hear more about it. Visit Dakhlar – its well worth it!

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