Dakhla – It’s bigger than you think!
We arrived in Dakhla on the 13th December 2010, after a very quick journey down through Morocco. Dakhla is a peninsular in the south, about 200 kms from the board of Mauritania.
When we arrived we were amazed at the size of the place! We were expecting something along the lines of Tarifa, maybe a bit bigger, but not this big! Politically the Western Sahara is still a very vulnerable place, as far as I am aware a referendum has not be signed; the Sahrawi’s want their independence and everyone else wants it for themselves. Morocco has held claim to the land for over 30 years now and the Moroccan government are pouring money into Dakhla, mainly for political reasons, and are therefore turning it in to a busy thriving (dirty) town. The Sahrawi’s are proud and well educated people who keep their identity by proudly wearing their tribal gowns (this is not actually a Sahrawi, this is Karim in a local friends gown) on a daily basis.
We stayed in a local cheap hotel for the first 3 or 4 nights, costing €8 per room with communal showers and toilets – for the first time I struggled with this a bit as the water was not hot (as advertised in the Lonely Planet) and the toilets, well I will say no more...
Through meeting people and our contacts back in Essaouira, we quickly found an apartment to rent for €300 a month, which between three was more than acceptable. It was basic but had everything we needed to settle in for two months; very Moroccan in style and with hot (proper hot) water and a normal toilet! Renting an apartment here is not easy as they are few and far between.
Amazingly Dakhla is not full of young people kiting and windsurfing at this time of year, on the contrary, it is full of retired couples living in rather large Camper Vans (aka Tupperware) in communes in the dunes. They set up their little communities with their friends or with those they have met in previous years and live a very nice hot sunny life for a few months. At Kilometre 25 there must have been around 60 to 70 Tupperware’s by the time we left and we stumbled across another ‘village’ whilst exploring the wave spots, set up in the dunes. The vast majority are French, for obvious reasons; however there are Germans, Dutch and the odd few English as well.
Dakhla itself is a fairly dirty town with two Souks and a very long street where you can buy just about every form of plastic object imaginable! If you don’t know where your food is from (ie, you’re used to buying it wrapped in plastic from the supermarket) you might have a bit of a shock if you want to buy meat. As with a lot of Moroccan towns there is a lot of poverty, the slums are conveniently walled off from the sight of the average visitor who would not know any better at a quick glance. Dakhla does however have some very nice hotels, The Best Western and Calipo being two with more on the way.
Christmas Eve brought us wind and we happily kited for an hour or so. In the evening we stayed in and drank mulled wine made from a bottle of red I had bought with me from Spain and some Schwartz Mulled Wine sachets! We watched a movie and slept rather well. Christmas day was another light wind day and the evening was spent with more mulled wind and friends.
New Years Eve was possibly the quietest I have ever had but thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing. Eight of us got together for an ‘American Supper’ where each couple brings a course. Malta and Julie brought a huge Salad to start, both Anouk and Karim and Alain and Genevieve made Tagines and we bought a kilo of yummy Moroccan sweets for desert. A few rum and coke’s were had and by mid-night Malta and Julie were asleep so the rest of us cracked open the bottle of Jacobs Creek Cava I had also bought with me to celebrate the start of 2010. As it was about to reach full moon, Karim decided he would kite into the New Year as the lagoon was wonderfully lit – the rest of us decided to stay warm!
The remainder of our time in Dakhla was spent waiting for the wind. Unfortunately due to heavy rain in the north of the country our kiting days were few and far between (although it did give us time to get our summer project off the ground!). In the end we left Dakhla after just over a month as the forecast was not looking good and with only 40% of the month so far, having been kitable, we were feeling a little deflated.
If there is no wind, there is nothing to do! We drove around all the other spots to have a look but sadly never got to kite them all due to the lack of wind. This is the problem with Dakhla, you are 530kms from the nearest big town (Laayoune) and no one really venture’s into Mauritania for the fear of been kidnapped.
Things to know about Dahkla for the kitesurfer:
- In the winter the wind is not as reliable as the summer. We had 40% wind between mid-December and mid-January.
- Don’t dream of flat water kiting (a la Coche, in Venezuela) as the conditions are choppy and the ‘flat water’ days are few and far between, when the lagoon is full, the shallow water is flatter but then you run the risk of injury if you want to practice freestyle moves. There are flat spots such as the speed strip but that will take you 20 minutes to get there (from Rio Aguilla/Nomad) and 30 minutes to get back, all depending on the tide and the wind not failing.
- There is a lot to take into account when looking at the forecast, as many elements here affect the daily wind. The tide is a big factor as to where you can ride and the thermals create strange pockets of wind leaving you unsure as to whether a trip of exploration will get you back home. The weather conditions further north (Agadir) affect the wind and the extremely heavy rain in the north of Morocco this year had a big effect during the time we were in Dakhla.
- It is 25km from town to the lagoon; if you do not have a car you are stuck! The Petit Taxi will only go as far as the Police stop, after that you will have to hitch a lift, which is not difficult, however getting back to town at the end of the day will be. There are no buses running this route.
- There are three camps at the lagoon and a forth is being built. They are, Rio Aguilla, Nomad and Dakhla Attitude, Mistral is under construction. Rio Aguilla and Nomad are basic, beautifully Moroccan in style with solar showers, they can be a little disorganised but very friendly and accessible by any vehicle. Dahkla Attitude is not so accessible (but we did make it a few times in The Bullet!) and is very European in its design and organisation.
- If you come in a van you can camp freely, or at one of the camps. Kilometer 25, aptly named due to its location, is very popular but can get very snug!
- Bring spare parts! The shops here struggle to get kit let alone any spares! If you rip your kite it cannot be repaired in Dakhla, it has to be sent to Agadir.
If you are staying at one of the camps, you might be lucky enough to catch a lift into Dakhla with one of the workers going to collect supplies, other than that you are stuck and if you are staying at Dakhla Attitude you will be paying a hefty premium for doing so! Two Spanish clients of BFs happened to be there at the same time as we arrived and went to explore. They were paying €56 a night for a shared room with communal bathroom, three meals a day are within this price but drinks are not. They were also paying approx €37 a day for kit hire, if they lifted the kite just an inch of the sand and the wind then failed, they paid. If they wanted internet, that’s another €30 a week! Dakhla Attitude aspires to be European, which it essentially is due to its ownership. Everything about its design is European and you could be sat staring at the water off an island anywhere in the world. The only thing that will remind you of where you are, are the staff and the repetitive food cycle. All that said, if I was still working in London and had two weeks escapism a year and the money to pay for it, Dakhla Attitude would probably suit me fine but if you like a little adventure and want to ‘live’ in a place rather than being waited on then I would suggest one of the other camps or a camper van.
When the wind blows Dakhla has all the potential to be an amazing spot (the summer is said to be much better) however talking to locals and those who have visited in past years, it is changing. The development of the harbour, some 25kms+ south of the lagoon (the other side of the main town) has bought with it a sea wall which is having a detrimental effect on the lagoon. In the past 4 years frequent visitors have seen the lagoon filling with sand, and a local friend who has sonar on his boat has measured the changing depth. The introduction of the new seawall about 4 years ago is hindering the natural out flow of sand with the high and low tides. Whereas previously you could sail (in a yacht) around Dragon Island on a low tide, there is now only one route in and out and Dragon Island is more or less accessible by foot when the tide is low.
The Western Sahara and Dakhla have been an amazing experience to travel through and I would definitely do it again with a camper van and probably in February/March when the winds, we are told, are better.
Click here to see all photos.
Now we are back in Essaouira after a lovely slow journey of exploration north, but that will have to wait for the next blog...
On our recent travels (Dakhla back to Essaouira - blog on its way!) we have seen some amazing camper vans but nothing can top my previous blog on Ulysee et Penelope, until we arrived back in Essaouira to find it here!
Here you can see it's three massive solar panels being put to use.
This really is a home from home and still makes my jaw drop in awe every time I see it.
Sunday, January 10, 2010, 03:19 PM - Kiting Surfing
Posted by Administrator
Posted by Administrator
We're on-line! After months of flying around and paper pushing I am very exicted to share our new project with you all:
Always Windy; Addicted to Kiteboarding
We launched on the Monday 4th January and you can read the launch message here, if you would like to join our mailing list please email me!
As the name suggests we will be in a place where there is wind (something we are currrently lacking here in Dakhla!). Many kiters and windsurfers have experienced the two week holiday of thumb twiddling after travelling to 'the best spot' only to find there isn't even a whiff of wind there.
We've certainly had enough of it and so Mark and I decided to launch our little project of kiteboarding holidays, in Gokova Bay, Turkey.
Whether you want to learn to kite surf, add some style to your riding, push yourself to the next level with our advanced clinics or just come and cruise around for a week with like minded riders, drop us an email and we can tailor a trip to suit.
Hope to see you soon, where it's Always Windy!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009, 02:10 PM - Travel
Posted by Administrator
Posted by Administrator
It’s a long ole road! Around 2,200kms to be more precise!
We left Tarifa on Friday 4th December, leaving the house late and keeping everything crossed as we raced across town, to the port, that we wouldn’t miss the first ferry from Tarifa to Tangiers and that everything would stay on the car! We made the ferry and made many smile on the way, at the sight of the car! The ‘Silver Bullet’ was laden with the following:
1 mini Malibu surf board
A 4-man tent
2 sleeping bags
1 two man inflatable bed
Gas cooker + 2 extra gas cartridges
1 Kg of porridge
1 spare tire
1 15L jerry can/solar shower
Clothing for 2 people
and a lot of other smaller things.
Who says sports cars are not made for real sports!
We were dwarfed on every side by 4x4's on the Ferry, who would have driven over us without noticing!
On arriving we had to go through passport and customs and pay this person this and get these papers from here and then pay someone else who knows what; there were a lot of people and not a lot happening! Fifteen minutes into Tangier and we had our first speeding ticket. As we were soon to find out, in Morocco, there are traffic police everywhere and I mean everywhere! If they are not looking for people speeding there is a random check point, where they will decided whether to pull you over or let you through. If you see a Police Halt sign, stop at it, if not, another fine; each of which are 400 Dh (just under €40!). One Policeman stopped us just to tell us we had a nice car! Whereas some are after money for a coffee or a cigarette, so you have to careful who you offer what! Generally they just check your papers to ensure your authenticity and purpose in the country.
We drove directly to Essaouira as we were under strict orders to be there for Sara’s birthday on Saturday! Having a GPS was great until the battery ran out so we picked up the Lonely Planet, found a town by the coast (El-Jadida) and then just followed the sea. We drove through many tiny coastal villages where the locals smiled and waved as we passed and were fortunate enough to watch the sunset over the ocean; a really nice diversion from the motorway. Then BF had a ‘MacGiver’ moment and resuscitated the GPS Lady to get us through Safi and on to Essaouira.
We arrived in the dark, parked up on the sea front ready to call our friends whose apartment we were going to stay in when I looked up to see Majid grinning through the window at us; he was laughing at the sight of the car and said he had to double take when he saw it! We are fortunate enough to have many great Moroccan friends in Essaouira, Majid being one of them, who all work in Tarifa in the summer. He invited us to stay at his ‘apartment’ as it was late, so we followed him the 10kms. Majid does not live in an ‘apartment’! On his families land he has spend the last 10 years slowly building a beautiful small Riad. He has taken some influence from Spain and other European countries but has kept the tradition of a central courtyard. Although still a work in progress you can see this is a project of passion and many of us dream of such a home. Next day we packed up the car again and moved to Sara and Nassers around the corner.
The following week was spent catching up with friends, exploring Essaouira, eating lots of yummy food, including a fantastic Lamb and Date Tajine by Nassers mum, getting back out on the surfboard and BF riding a horse for the first time! Five of us went for a sunset horse ride for Sara’s birthday, Sara and I went cantering off down the beach, turned to go back only to find Younnes and Nasser following. All I could think was, how did they get Marks horse to stay still? Next thing he comes bouncing around the corner hanging on for dear life with a great big grin on his face! I was very proud of him and also very glad I had had lessons as a child!
Essaouira has that picture postcard look about it with a long, wide sandy beach all the way from the port and fishing market to the sand dunes and wonderful views across to Ile de Mogador. It is almost perfectly preserved within the old city walls and is split into the mellah, medina and Kasbah. You can gain access, past the wood workers, to the ramparts of the Skala de la Ville, an impressive sea bastion built along the cliffs and the home to 18th and 19th century European brass cannons. You can get lost for hours here! Essaouira markets itself as ‘Windy City Afrika’; just not while we were there! Which was a real shame for the KPWT which was also there for its final round.
From Essaouira we travelled for three days to get to Dakhla. The roads from Essaouira onwards are single track in each direction. The road to Agadir was extremely windy and mountainous and took a lot longer than expected. Along the way we took a detour off to Immesoune, which had been recommend by many as an excellent surfing spot and we could see why! One friend described it as a surfing conveyor, you drop in the water at the point, surf the wave in, walk up the beach to the point drop in and do it again; no paddling required!
From Immesoune we drove to Taghazout where we stopped for lunch; a small laid back fishing town, apparently famous for its calamares and hippies! We certainly saw plenty of surfers, as this part of the coast line has the most incredible surf spots all the way down!
We set off again with Tiznit in mind as our overnight stop but after a rummage through the Lonely Planet BF decided we could make it to Sidi Ifni and on we continued. We drove through Tiznit and I’m really glad we went to Sidi Ifini as it was a lot smaller and really friendly. We stayed at Hotel Suerte Loca, a family run hotel, whose rooms are basic with fantastic sea views and their restaurant serves up delicious food!
Sidi Ifni, once the heart of the Spanish Sahara, is now fairly deserted but still attracts tourists with its beautiful beaches and eclectic mix of faded Art Deco and traditional Moroccan style. The Spanish influence can be found around the town with the Post Office sign saying Correos and the balustrade along the seafront. After coming under pressure from the UN, Spain finally returned Sidi Ifni to Morocco in 1969. Every year on the 30th June the locals still hold a 10 day celebration of independence – very Spanish!
From Sidi Ifni we drove to Laâyoune, stopping off at Tan Tan for lunch. Laâyoune is the principle city of the Western Sahara, primarily developed by the Spanish to administer the local phosphate mines. It is big and busy!
From Laâyoune to Dakhla there is not much, just Boujdour for lunch and lots and lots of desert!
Driving through the Sahara is an experience I will never forget and one we will repeat on the way back up! The scenery is stunning and at times it reminded me very much of driving up the west coast of Australia through the bush.
We arrived in Dakhla just before sunset seeing the famous lagoon sprawling in front of us – now all we need is some wind!
Our first accommodation was very basic but clean. Hot water is not very common here and the Sahara Regency hotel became my most favourite place, not only for its Wifi but also for its wonderfully normal standard of WC! Four days later we found an apartment and now have everything we need to live here for 2 months.
The Moroccans are wonderfully friendly and a few words in their language go a long way to making a new friend. Today the unthinkable happened; rather than finding another dent in the car, which has years of bumps and bruises from being in Spain, we found a dent had been removed!! We still can’t quite believe it! The car has had a lot of attention on the way down and we have been asked three times if it is for sale. Never did we think that the attention it has had would lead to someone admiringly removing a dents!
BF is, as always, is amazing with language pulling up French from many years ago and happily chatting away to the locals, although we have both had a few amusing moments, starting in French with the odd word of Spanish appearing and for some reason Turkish popping in too! We fall about laughing and the locals look confused!
So, here we are, finally in Dakhla for two months kiting until we pack up and head back through the country for lots of sightseeing before returning home!
Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 03:00 PM - Environment
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Posted by Administrator
If you thought changing your lightbulbs and driving a little less was going to help Climate Change then think again!
Annie Leonard presents another fantastic short yet informative film on Cap and Trade. It's a fast-paced, fact-filled look at the leading climate change solution on the table in Copenhagen and in the halls of Congress. If you've heard about Cap and Trade, but aren't sure how it works (or who benefits), this is the film is for you! Click the image below to watch on-line now.
We live in a rapid society of consume and dispose, as fashions change and advertisers tell us there is something ‘better for the job’. Previously Annie Leonard presented The Storey of Stuff a wonderful short film explaining the direct link between our consumption of stuff, the production and the effect it has globally.
Planned Obsolescence (designed for the dump) and Perceived Obsolescence (designed to date) have become a way of life since the 1950’s, created by Governments and Corporations as a way to boost the economy post war. Again click the image below to watch on-line now.