Posts Tagged 'the atlantic coast'

Legzira Love

DSCN3456I think I may have just found the most beautiful beach in the world.

Yes, it’s a sweeping statement, and no, I’m not a beach afficionado. But if red cliffs diving into pebbled sand coves count for anything; if lazy waves crashing against sandstone arches score points; if a tourist to local fishman/swooping seagull/stray dog/donkey (hey, it’s still Morocco) ratio of 1:5 means much—if these are the elements that create that “paradise” thing all the guidebooks talk about, well then, I just spent the night there. And slept with the windows open to the ocean. Cause why not, you know?

Legzira Plage is pretty incognito—it warrants not more than a paragraph in my guidebook and a weathered-beaten, graffitied roadside sign along the pretty two-lane highway connecting Tiznit, Mirleft and Sidi Ifni. Down Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, just before the Western Sahara and a disputed border, the area as a whole doesn’t attract the hordes that the country’s other wonders do—which is why it attracted me. A near-deserted beach away from any big city or pushy tout? I’m in.

I took the local bus from Mirleft, got off at the faded cement block sign at the access road, and took the 20 minute walk down to the beach, a lazy slope washed in ocean breezes. The scenery revealed itself like a striptease: a sweeping hill view, a peak of ocean, the sound of waves, the pink edge of a pink building. I turned into a small dirt parking lot, and almost started laughing—it was so beautiful, it was almost obscene.

DSCN3464There were half-a-dozen pink buildings cascading down the cliff to the beach. Sweaty and shoulders aching, I set my backpack down in a cheap but cheerful hotel room with windows that flung open to the ocean. (Now thoroughly “off the beaten path,” the room costed only a little more than my smelly toilet- and shower-less hole in Essaouira.) I kicked off my shoes, grabbed my camera, and went for a walk.

I’m not much of a shutterbug, but I exhausted both my camera battery and memory card. I walked for over an hour; each cove was more secluded and empty than the last. On the first few beaches, I passed a small group of teenagers playing soccer, a fisherman, and a handful of sun-bathing tourists, many of them Moroccan (tell-tale sign: the lady’s swimming fully clothed). We “bonjour”ed politely. I rounded a gently jutting set of red rocks, and was alone. I closed my eyes, and let out a long exhale.

I’ve really been liking Morocco, but I can’t tell you how good it felt to be alone, away from any non-human sound—just me and the seagulls, you know? Later, I stripped down to my swim suit, and wave-hopped and sun-bathed without concern for modesty. I soaked up much-needed sun, vitamin D sparking wildly through my body. I didn’t worry about, well, anything.

I had a simple dinner of grilled fish (yes, caught that afternoon) and pommes frites, washed down by that killer mint tea. The hotel’s patio was sparsely populated with about a dozen dining guests. If there were any less people, I realized, it would have felt creepy. Like The Shining or something.

The hotel only ran electricity for prime hours during the evening, so I read by candlelight for awhile before crashing out. It was warm enough, so I left the windows open and slept to sound of the waves, to the smell of salt.

Donkey on the beach!

Donkey on the beach!

In the morning, the fog outside the window was thick. The tide was so far out that a previously offshore crag of rocks connected to the beach. I sipped my freshly squeezed orange juice and nibbled on my still-warm bread breakfast, and watched the fishmen trod out for the day, the sifters search out clams and mussels (I think) in the tide pools. A waiting donkey with two empty sacks on its side bickered with a yapping stray dog with a wobbly magazine of stretched-out nipples. The fog thinned, turned to a fine mist, and slowly, so faintly I could hardly notice, was gone.

I don’t know why Legzira Plage is so under-visited, under-promoted and unknown. But I’m not complaining. My camera battery may have konked out, but my personal battery is fully recharged. Just in time for Marrakech.

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The Best Tour Guides in Mirleft

DSCN3389Yesterday I found the best 3 tour guides in town. No, they weren’t the touts that surrounded me shouting in 3 different languages and tugging me in 12 different directions the second I stepped out of the grand taxi from Tiznit. They were a rag-tag group of stray dogs that led me around the Berber beach town of Mirleft for over 2 hours.

We met outside my hotel, Hotel Atlas, the cleanest, cutest and most well equipped of my trip thus far (hot water, flushing toilets AND toilet paper—hot damn!). The leader, a German Sheppard looking female with a mangled hind leg and a black patch of furless scar tissue, greeted me as joyously as an old friend. I politely explained that I didn’t have any food, but she didn’t seem to mind. I’m not as worn out by the street dogs as everyone else in town is; I didn’t shoo them away, just kind of smiled and kept walking down the dirt main road toward the beach.

The dog immediately took the role of loyal and ardent defender, barking and growling at every scooter and donkey that passed, as well as a couple old men and frightened schoolgirls. I smiled and shrugged at them; we exchanged chuckles.

Along our pebbled-path way, we picked up a couple other boney-ribbed dogs who displayed proper supplication to the leader. I didn’t know where I was going other than coastward; Mirleft is too small to warrant a map in my guidebook. So the dogs would trot off ahead of me, sniffing through refuse and gnawing on plastic bottles. When we’d reach a crossroads, they’d pause and wait for me to catch up before continuing waggingily along whatever way they thought was best. Who was I not to follow? They knew the town better than me, and I was grateful for the speechless company.

DSCN3394They led me down a steep flight of cliffside stairs into a cove of jagged rocks and gleaming sand. Shirtless local boys were playing afternoon soccer and a couple tourists sat out on blankets. My guides dashed off to leap in the waves; I rolled up my jeans and waded behind them.

I wanted to tip them—I certainly would be expected to if they were people—but thought they’d be terribly uninterested in my pocket full of coins. I rustled some stale crackers out of my bag, and they chewed them gratefully. I sat in the sand and watched them trot off, skinny and mangled and more-or-less happy.

The Case for Casa

2501980441_83e5e9331eI didn’t plan on spending a night in Casablanca, but my bowels had other ideas.

Traveler’s diarrhoea—whatever, it happens; I’ll spare you the sordid details. Let’s just say that dehydration, gurgling cramps and lack of sleep, coupled with the stifling heat and constricted leg room of the 3-hour train ride from Meknes (this ain’t no Eurostar), were sufficient impetus to delay my connecting 7-hour bus ride in favor of a bed and flushing toilet. And so I ended up spending a night and morning in “the least Moroccan” city in Morocco, famous more for old Hollywood than medinas.

Most travelers and guidebooks will advise the eager tourist against anything more than lay-overs in what is arguably Morocco’s most well-known city. It’s too Westernized, they say, not exotic enough—full of all the traffic and shiny buildings and business men of home. It’s not the real Morocco, the cumin-scented crumbling alleyways of your fantasies.

During my lovely 2-day London lay-over, I read a Guardian travel article about Casablanca that my host had thoughtfully set aside for me. The author argued that Casablanca was just as much the real Morocco as anywhere else—and lacked the hassles and over-tourism of many of the country’s more popular destinations. I nibbled my morning toast and read with skepticism—sounded like a writer working a little too hard for an angle, to say something fresh and different.

Well, I’ll be god-damned if he wasn’t right.

Now, don’t get all excited. It’s true that Casablanca is not a beautiful or artistically cultured city; it doesn’t “boast” a lot of sights and its stray-cat- and donkey-less medina feels more like an outdoor strip mall than a relic of ancient urbanity. But Casablanca reveals a different side of Morocco, the struggles and tensions on the other end of the booming economy and rapidly growing tourism. I’m grateful for my extended stop-over in the city; without it, I don’t think I’d have gotten as full a view of the country.

Casablanca’s streets are filled with a different kind of energy—people swarming rhythmically and cross-walk-less across vast boulevards of sleek new cars and gasping palm trees. French business men and snappily dressed black Africans drop coins into the gnarled cupped palms of beggars. Less fortunate immigrants walk slowly along the sidewalks, displaying goods: tissues, random electronics, watches; they have thin arms, impossibly high cheekbones and a kind of dignified desperation. Young girls wear jellabas like bathrobes, carelessly; just as often, they sport bare arms and skinny jeans. The air is thick with honking horns, the streets grimy and littered. Colonial building facades look as though they’ve grown tired of being elegant; beside them, mirrored-glass new construction shoots into the sky arrogantly.

Despite an thriving economy—it grew nearly 6 percent in 2007—around 19 percent of the Moroccan population lives under the poverty line; no where is this more evident than in Casablanca. On the train ride in, we passed through scores of squatter settlements, sagging structures whose tin roofs were anchored with old tires and heavy rocks, sometimes a satellite dish. In direct contrast is the oceanside Hassan II Mosque, a half-billion-dollar monument to opulence and Islam that would have been offensive if it weren’t so damn impressive.  Since the 80s, Casablanca has also been the site of political uprisings, brutal repressions and suicide bombings.

You get a sense of this all walking the alternatingly busted-up and newly paved streets of the city—or slowly sipping mint tea at the cafes, what my sore stomach called for. I sat and watched the city, its people, pass; it fascinated me past my exhaustation and illness. In exchange, the city largely ignored me; I was just another poorly dressed, sallowed foreigner, totally uninteresting.

Casablanca’s not the kind of place to top itineraries. It’s not for the tourist who gushes glowingly about the authenticity of the Fez medina, or the simple quiantness of mountain village folk. It’s not for those seeking out some preconceived vision of exotism, doesn’t even try to live up to any stereotypes. It’s not for people looking to “get away” from it all. But if you wanna get a glimpse of what’s going on behind the carpet shops and faux guides, if you’re interested in seeing all of a country poised forever at a  crossroads of cultures and continents, if you’re traveling and not vacationing, I’d give it a look. Just be sure to buy some tissue along the way; you’ll need it in the bathrooms.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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