A Letter from Central Morocco

A Town That Maintains Its Unhurried Mien

A faint smell of feces rides ahead of the morning breeze, washing up from the river that trickles past my apartment and sullying the crisp air. Romantic visions of the sweet scent of saffron percolating with the shrill hail of morning prayers have long been shattered. The small fishing town of Taghazout, which swells with Moroccan holidaymakers in summer and is home to a motley crew of transcontinental surfing vagabonds in winter, is not an exemplar of sound waste management. Patches of trash dot the roadside: a haphazard collection of plastics, bottles, and glass. On some days these piles are in flames, but this morning they're being picked apart by a tribe of scavenging goats. The hungry rogues ferret through everything, gulping down whatever edible morsels they find.

They barely flinch when one of innumerable RVs that ply the coast from the bustling port town of Tangier, which flanks the Strait of Gibraltar up North to the desert regions of Dakhla, in the still-disputed annexure of the Western Sahara, glides past. Kitchen-appliance white, it glistens artificially. The silver-haired retiree behind the wheel waves no greeting and stares straight ahead, mind focused on the next camper park where he'll wedge in between a swarm of mobile homes, all jostling for a position closest to the ablution blocks. There'll be bowls, a few games of bridge, and maybe some bottles of French Chardonnay. A generation of pensioners living it free and easy. Behind the RV, a cream Mercedes 240D, 1970s edition, lumbers along, caught in the jet stream and aching to pass. Morocco's trademark grand taxi has four in the back, two squashed in the passenger seat, and the driver nonchalantly tending the wheel. He's the man I learned to watch out for: innocuous on the outside, but inwardly a moral sociopath. Surfboards, backpacks, and foreign accents make his eyes moisten and his mouth salivate. His palms sweat bullets of grease the minute he spots you outside the airport or bus terminal. Tourists exist to bulk up his pension fund or pay for the repairs on his cab. A genial attempt at an Arabic or French greeting does nothing to temper his cunning. He will charge you three times the going rate; he will not feel bad about it.

Further down the street, a board-laden SUV idles patiently outside one of the surf camps. Its roof sags beneath an assortment of mals, pop-outs, longboards, and thrusters. The guide is up on the roof, tying knots in the straps, making sure it's all secure. Below him a group of patrons mingle uncertainly. They don't know each other well enough to look comfortable yet, aren't sure about their companions' skill levels. The where-are-you-from-and-what-do-you-do small-talk has already dried up. Like most variants of the modern surf camp, there are no tents here. No need to pull out a compass or pore over maps; nothing to do with camping at all. The fast-food of surfing: compressed vacation packages boxed and ready for those with the cash to pay for it. But what to expect? This town is the mainstay. Here the crowds congregate and clusters of learner surfers clog the gentler breaks. But let them have Hash Point. It's an imaginary non-wave that should be celebrated solely for its allusions to high times and nothing else. There are surf camps, surf restaurants, surf shops, apartments for surfers, and over-priced ding repairs. But for all the by-products of surfploitation, it lacks the garish seediness that coats somewhere like Bali's Kuta. The odd block of hash goes unnoticed. The town maintains its unhurried mien and take-me-as-I-am disposition.