How I wrecked my permanent teeth: a week in Taghazout by Michelangelo Magasic
The highway is a ribbon stretched along the scalloped coast. A behemoth next to mighty mountains and tiny towns; the only thing moving for a thousand miles. It winds down along the way, curvaceous. Over hills where you see your future transit down below, visions of five slow minutes down the track. Out the window everything alike. Watching the mired swirls where desert meets ocean makes you contemplative, oh for a little middle ground. There are towns, half finished and without tenderness. A bus stops and a woollen figure descends and becomes small in the distance. The light is harsh, shining on hopeless rock strewn plains, the only trees growing tangled and thorny, the roads branching off from the highway all dirt. Kids in sweaters walk them, and one time play soccer as if their tiny field is the only thing in the world. Giant mottled seagulls festoon the dump and don’t those goats just go on grazing.
The breeze sews white frills onto the ocean, we travel close now, it and us, oily blue and even darker through the window. We drive beside the point at Boilers and it feels like we might just reach out and tag them lines out there running beside us. As the waves end they become the fuzzy chop which is everywhere out to the horizon. The land, augmented by its dullness, stretches forever too.
Way off into the afternoon. Finally, a clump of civilisation in the distance, we round a bend in the coast and find a bay sheltered from the wind. Goldish in the afternoon glow and looking as if a wave might never break on it, fringed by sun baked buildings, like a vision from the bow of a Mediterranean yacht. What do you know, it’s Taghazout.
Traffic is forced to slow as it enters town, the road here squeezed between foothills on one side and buildings on the other. Touristic humanity rolls around the valley in the middle: all hire-ables and street vendors, restaurant signs in English and Arabic Coca Cola banners. The sun peaks through gaps in the coastal vista and the scene is pleasant. Pale chests are born from half stripped wetsuits, their owners walk the road with tongues hanging out. Spritely kids chase errant bike tires, cascading down a flight of stairs with impossible youthful elan. Cloaked men stand round the place singing to the gravel. We pull over beside a busy plaza and alight, set upon immediately by sights, smells and mainly offers for cheap accommodation, ‘Yes! ‘ we say, me and Dan my German friend, ‘Take us there.’.
That night, resplendent, we sip the mint tea Dan made and wish for sugar to make it like the ultra saccharine brew pushed everywhere from here to Gibraltar. ‘Have you seen what they add? said the English guy we met at dinner ‘Sugar cubes like they give to horses! I make sure to sweeten it myself, and add some milk’. Forget that, add the lot and if in 20 years we have teeth like mahogany it was worth it.
Our room is perfect in its ambience: filled with cushions and matted flooring, the walls shiny and tiled, the door an iron grill through which the sea washes straight in. Quaint and windowless, it’s a sea level lair with a subterranean feel. How fantastically exotic, we name the tasteless but satisfying tea in honour of the den, Die Hunderhaus blend.
We had fallen in love as we first cast our eyes on the beach, following Muhammed onto the crescent esplanade, merely a few stones and the towns fishing fleet between us and the lick of the Atlantic. The corso caressed by leafy vinage and backed by stacks of cubit housing, strangely distinct from the hoary earth of north Africa and alluring. Sunglass wearing tourists and honest cafes everywhere, four languages dancing on the breeze; one could forget about the desert lingering out there.
We went straight out, followed the opalescent trail of effluent seeping into the sea. Dan treading water like a pup, his first surf in six years, grin like a cheshire hund. Bungling his way out the back to share chaotic peaks with every other surfer in town. Punchy and barely rideable, adorned with grey, lifeless plastics but somehow intensely tranquil out there in the fading light, a thin band of Moroccan gold visible in the silty lips.
We come in on dark and shower off well enough to use all the hot water. Leaving for dinner, the last of that gold hearthed vaguely on the horizon; tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow!
It rains bad temperedly all night and the sea is a mess the next morning; waves roll and die in a river of currents, chocolatey and unappealing. Water slinks down the slopes of town and adds to our lament. Up in the distance brown lumps lash the coast in the semblance of something classic but mainly just look scary. So we loaf for the day and the town is full of the same.
Its a popular spot, supposedly sunny, and wholesome almost. Both exotic and homely, serpentine streets shared by ageless Berber and this new surfer cat who comes from somewhere landlocked with sub zero temperatures. Lars don’t especially care for bars, he reads Keep Your Brain Fit books and talks about how he’s happy just to get out there. They are genuinely nice people, not animals. Some even venture in just to get washed back up, drowned rats and so stoked for it. Me and Dan hit the café and let mint teas disappear intermittently, resting our frames on layered cushions as the sun sets over an ocean swirling with dead dogs.
Dan gets me up in the morning yelling. ‘Unglobglish! Get up Ungy, its good!’. True to his word its turned on over night and even the ocean looks nice, the silty tones of the coast meeting the imperial blue of deep ocean in a milky turquoise. Right along the length of Anka coiled lines strike in majestic succession, dreamy in the morning light. I watch as a section wedges up on what appears the shallowest part of the bay and funnels across. Out there.
Up in the distance the rocks which jut into the ocean are spangled with little shifting specks, its everyone else. Taghazoo, a surfer town, one of those places where the buzz of a swell is palpable. I let it infect me, hurriedly buying bananas and skipping across gravel and broken glass up to the point, wincing as rugged truck drivers pass close, how strange they must think this part of the highway. Cars are nosed into every available ditch and gully and the entire promenade of the point is occupied watching. Surf guides and camera lenses point at the lineup, there are bikini girls even on the foreshore.
The current is relentless and we scurry like insects against its flow. It is unabashedly a scrappy session; plenty of paddling, no friends. Waves, when had, are long and fast, surprisingly round in the pocket. They warp and splinter with the inelegant bumps coming off the rocks, always a feathered lip waiting down the line. Eventually I find myself way down the point and close enough to the cafe to give it up.
Mint tea in hand, the evening stories are told in succession as the ocean continues to pulse in silvery inaccessibility. We sit around all evening secretly plotting over how to destroy the morning session but this is an Arabic land and there is no way to do it. By ten everywhere is closing up, staff waiting good naturedly as we linger over our dregs. We exit to the corso and taste the salty air, raising voices in a final cheer, ‘Who cut their feet today!?’. Then bed.
Waking up late the following morning, the water bluer today and lines still coming in slender and inviting all the way out there. I linger over coffee and pleasant introductions and before I know it the waves have vanished with the tide, the bay as full and still as a lake and swept gently by the breeze. It is midday, the most relaxed hour in Taghazout; beyond morning’s anticipation and without the rushed pursuit of dinner. The time when everyone remembers they are on holiday and plans bow before the midday sun. Fisherman watch as their catch goes slimy, their little anchorage now a tourist town. Blessed with sun, well arranged coastal rocks and buildings to which stories may be added at will. Winding alleys add to the charm, unplanned and beguiling, all at a slope as the land rushes to cool itself. Iron gates painted gaily and the tiny views which slip from them; straw mats, faded tiles, wafting smoke; a little cave of wonders. Nice, to see real life still eaking into the streets aside gentrification. Imagine Taghazout in the 70’s, the deep, deep and raw, raw meeting in the feeblest splurge of adornment where some greasy fishing boats are stacked. I’d wager its changed a lot, the boats, however, are still greasy.
The next day I set off on foot up the coast a little past Anka, over the bony, air daubed ribs of a reef which I end up surfing later as the tide rises with amazing haste. Clambering up boulders on the way in, delighted with how they fill the lonely landscape with their cacophonous grinding back and forth. Sitting up on the rocks among giant carbuncled palms and the greying ruins of some building which in decay has become like the sandy cliffs here. Feet tenderised on the walk back, arriving home so glad for steaming minted water and knowing my only duty is to that idyllic sunset out front and the fragrance of the vine which frames it. The next day Killers, following the base of the cliffs to the very tip of the point with its ledges and holes. Shifty but fun in its chaotic runs and ramps. Heading in as the fishing boats make there way out, setting sail with the benign, wakeless movement of the barely mechanised. That night town gets a little spooky after the minglers go to bed. Muffled sounds travelling from far away along the crooked passages. Cats slink around corners and goats look at you with those eyes they have whilst gnawing away on trash. Here you are almost remembering that you are in Africa. Instead, you track down friends, sit up late drinking mint tea, legs crossed, toes wagging. Please Allah, send me a disco!
The waves pick up again and the points are as crowded and excited as before. Surfer cars clog the highway. With waves the ancient landscape gains a modicum of purposefulness, as if crawling with a species of beetle obsessed with the 10 seconds of down the line exhilaration they need to procreate. Even the everlasting hills seem surmountable with the promise of a wave on the other side, the undrinkable Atlantic all the more munificent while promising gifts on its rippled shoulder.
Blue meets yellow in the barest slice of green in the ceiling of one of Anka’s sandy throats, there’s a local guy crouched under it. Taghazout too like a shelter for people from any which where and the waves a space for all to play. How great it is, images are recorded with digital cameras to prove it. But what about years ago, when land and sea could hardly bear to meet. When unfinished concrete was barely a consolation from the misanthropic ache of the coastal landscape. When rooms were mined into the floor of the desert by ancient moaning, rusty door ajar at the mouth. Inside the surfer’s meagre possessions arranged on the ground: his board, glass textured and raw like the earth, big fin inert and tracked with the scratches of its refinement. The man sleeps atop blue mats, the next day airing gangly legs in purposeful strides, out towards the spinning eye in the distance. Nimbly threading the natural alleys of town, all damp with the tailings of washing, just follow a rivulet. Towards the point as the cream Citroens drive past, one every hour. Off the rocks in a single leap, energetic in the fresh morning light and out there still, silohuetted, in the harsh glariness of the afternoon. Pushing the whole time through ribbed sections, spray skittering off his round rail. Down, down, down the line, knees bulging outwards, raw bone arms spread at his sides. He must stay out all day, the poor guy, he has nowhere to buy mint tea yet。