Tuesday, October 30, 2012

the beginning of an adventure

north of Mauritania , south of Sahara lies a baron land with a single road to make the pass 

A story os better told in person , more so , an adventure is best discussed over a beverage . hear is the start of an adventure . hit me up in the eddy or at the bottom of a rapid for the full story .

September was fast coming to an end, its was time to make the annual pilgrimage to some where hot with big waves.
 Id been hanging out in northern morocco with my little brother for a couple a months. After far to many gin and tonics and not enough swell, we concluded South was our only option.
But how to get there? Public transports a pain in the arse with a kayak.
Snap decision; fly home, buy a 4x4 and drive South.

south of the infinity wave lies a wreck marking the put in for a rare but cranking left hand peek 
The first I heard of this was when George arrived at my house with a crazy idea. Some nonsense about his brother being in north Africa with a plan to drive south. At first is sounded crazy and I thought it would never happen, then all of a sudden doug was transferring money into my account and I had the keys to an old Mitsubishi Shogun 3l V6 in my hand, waving George off as he headed back to Morocco.
Over the next 10 days I gathered some essentials, insured and taxed the truck and waited for the off.

Sunset and the dark early hours of the evening were always warm and offered a strange yet comfortable feeling. The street smells and foreign lights of morocco flooded back fond memories of time well spent on this rugged coastal strip of Africa.
I replaced the receiver of the grubby handset back in the phone booth and heaved a sigh of relief. George and Jake were on their way and it looked like the swell was going to pick up. All was going to plan. The boys had bought a pickup truck with my credit card and were preparing to drive to meet me somewhere on the Atlantic coast.

north morocco "The artillery wave " named after the wrecked gun ship sticking out of the reef at the peek 
The truck was piled high with boats, jerry cans, shovels, rusty old sand ladders bought on eBay and all manner of expedition paraphernalia. With a goodbye and one last cup of tea we waved farewell to old blighty as George and I boarded our ferry to Santander, northern Spain.
The 20 hour ferry was fairly uneventful apart from a few too many beers and a little sea-sickness. The food was terrible but the prospect of seeing Doug in Morocco kept us excited and anxious to arrive.
Before we knew it we were disembarking the ferry, nursing slight hangovers with highly caffeinated drinks to fuel us through Spain along with our tunnel vision and singular objective of making Algeciras that day.
The next thing I knew it was 4am, we’d already crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and we were passing through tall snow-capped mountains in the High Atlas range, sleep had become a thing of the past and fatigue was everything; but nearing our destination I drank some more red bull and pressed on.

nick pulling in to a dredger at the factory wave ( somewhere in morocco )
The boys were due and day now , so I went about preparing a roof rack for the truck. I called upon a good friend Hassan for help. Now Hassan has his finger in every pie and always bends over to help. In a word he really is a good friend . Catching the bus to the local town with him he took me to a shabby looking building . Inside was what looked like a prehistoric chop shop . A tired looking large man addressed us , “ salam al cume “ . Ala coum salam “ ( A Traditional arabic greeting ).
As my Arabic tongue was some what non existent , Hassan did the talking and within fifteen minutes we were drinking sweet Moroccan tea and talking about a price for what I had proposed he  might fashion for me and my truck. The deal done I headed home just in time to meet George and Jake as they pulled into the village looking sleep deprived and unshaven.

doug cooper at the wedge ( western Sahara )
There he was “Crazy Doug” making COFFEE AT sun rise in a crappy dented tin kettle shouting about good waves , stumbling out of my shack like accommodation thinking its way to early for this , I surveyed me surroundings. A roof top terrace half built about ten years ago by the looks of things , with a million quid view of the Atlantic stretching out as far as the eye could see.
 The ocean had perfect lines of swell as far as I could see , it was like someone had painted them on with a ruler.  The Coffee was bitty and strong but welcoming in the cool of the morning. George was already up and at the top of a rickety ladder looking out to the point brake in front of our shed. The plan was to get the already built Roof rack welded or bolted in a kind of fashion to the roof of the truck, and go surfing, something that was new to me and somewhat daunting.

Doug :
It was with a sense of trepidation that I watched Jake put on at the break. His positioning was off, his timing was out and there was only one foreseeable outcome. A trashing! And a trashing he got.  Jake tried to make it out through the white water rather than Paddling around to the point, a feeling of bitter sweet nostalgia came over me as I watched him getting rag-dolled back toward the shore , once , twice
On his third attempt he managed to time the lull in swell and made it out back. 
“Welcome to the arena dude Its Heavy today”. Looking back I think Jake didn’t have the slightest idea about how the ocean worked.  I caught a few, right at the point skimming across head high glassy waves, I thought I better get out and give Jake a few pointers to make his day a bit better.

nick, broken again !
I hadn’t been expecting this!
The waves were relentless. I considered myself an experienced white water paddler having paddled in the Himalayas recently; however, nothing could prepare me for the raw merciless power of the ocean that surged towards me with every set. Time and again I got picked up and thrown over backwards, feeling the reef scrape past me, far too close for comfort.
I was genuinely relieved when Doug called over to me, and together (me following his line) we paddled in.
It was while we were sat on the rocks that we heard a call from behind us. Turning I saw 2 guys heading towards us. The first was tall and slender with a platinum blonde shock of hair, the second was a man mountain! Taller than me by a head and twice as broad at my widest point. Nick and Peter; Doug’s Canadian friends. I liked them instantly. Their friendly agreeable manner made them perfect company, and when Doug said they were coming South with us, I smiled to myself and thought “wicked”!

Francios Xmas wave 
After Heckling the Canadians for being Vals and silly stick riders , we all piled in to the Shogun which we now pretty cramped with five of us and Hassan in the boot, we headed back to the grimy chop shop to get measured up and hopefully fitted . Nouthing ever goes to plan in Africa , thats one thing I have learnt on my travels. The large welder and his two son’s measured cut and re measured , every time offering up the rack to the roof and having to take it down and cut it again. It was arduous watching them , the rack spanned the full length and breadth of the truck and weighed a ton.  Feeling  the cold of the evening we gave in to fast on set of darkness and drove back to Hassans place for dinner a spot of packing and to make a plan for the next day.
Finally the roof rack was finished and it looked badass! Painted red with upright welded to the sides for surf boards, it was the product of too many cups of coffee and perhaps a little delirium.
2pm plenty of time to race back and pack the truck, we might even be done by half past four and we could Make sidi ifni by 10pm. Said nick .
During the pack I fouind my self precariously balanced between a mountain of jerrie cans and boats , looking down on this scrawny looking kid . He addrerssed me “ are you Doug ? My friend said your driving to searra Leone ! Im hitchhiking to Guinni Bissau , can you give me a ride ? “  I laughed out loud “mate it might take a few months and if the boys don’t mind and my French Friend Francois cant come than I don’t see why not” Francois is an old friend who was currently hanging out in sidi iffni enjoying the heavy point brake there . “ look we are driving to Sidi iffni in an hour and you can come along to there but if francois is still coming then you will have to make your own way from there “  I explained that we planned to slowly explore the coast line and were in no hurry to make any progress.  The boys didn’t seem to mind , George looked a bit disgruntled at the idea of being a bit more cramped but collecting my thoughts I think it had more to do with his recent brake up with his girl.

the piste 
Jake :
So the party had grown from two to three, then to five, and finally now as we set off, six. All piled in the shogun I studied the cars we passed along our way and suddenly felt very in tune with the north African squeeze and drive way of transport. Every vehicle we passed was over loaded to the point of exhaust scraping and engine screaming. Id never seen anything like it; goats strapped onto flimsy roof bars with old frayed ropes, along with bags of coal bursting at the seams and all manner of other cargo.
The heaviest traffic of the journey we encountered was passing through the city of Agadir. Cars, buses and trucks so close as to be almost on  top of each other; heaving and groaning under their enormous cargoes. The jam was intense until finally we crawled past a truck upturned with its load sprawled across the road , the driver trying to collect his pride and cargo off the road as we rolled past.

The drive to sidi ifni was nouthing less than an over excited lads telling storys of big days in the sea and boozy encounters with women. The truck seemed to role with every bend in the road its huge load over head , but still it felt wicked, chuckling to my self as I reved the V6 lump as we roled past some old guys drinking tea pearched in dirty plastic garden chairs outside a caffe. The drive wnt by fast with nouthing but desolate scrub land and the occasional glimps of the atlantic now shrouded in darkness. Arriving in sidi ifni we all fell out of the truck stretched for a few minuets. I remember thinking “hey this is warmer and quieter than Tagerzout , and I feel pretty safe hear”.
Over the years of going to taggers it had become a place close to my heart , but in more recent years the searge in its popularity among the surf community had turned it in to the Disney land of surfing. I dread to think what it might be like in years to come, over populated with surf camps and crowded waves. The only thing it had left for me was memories and a few great friends.
ripping off the wreck 

Jake :
The guest house we arrived at was set back in a gully over looking the beach. In a darkened corridor I could see Peat and doug trying to organise a single room for all of us apart from our hitchhiker companion Zack who planned to sleep on the beach. The boys came back and explained that the hotel had to pay a tax on each person that stayed so couldn’t let us sleep in one room so we would have to pay for at least two rooms . It worked out at about five pounds a night each and I was pretty tired and didn’t really care. All I wanted was some of that sweet tea and a good nights sleep. Nick and Peat were pretty hungry and come to mention it so was I.

Mauritania, stricken by war and corruption , doug cooper enjoying the afternoon sun after a 1000 KM drive south 
George :
Doug was buzzing with energy as usual and Jake looked hungry as hell. Doug pretty much booted us out of the hoterl in to the dimly lit street. We must have looked a sight . Ambling up the hill chatting about how many waves we would score in the morning. The hill began to flattern upt and we found our selves at an ornately decorated rounderbout , or traffic circle as the Canadians like d to call it. Amongst the oray of freshly watered flowers and date palms were a few cloth tents half on the rounderbout and half on the road, puzzled at their out of placeness we continued so a street lined with the generic moroocan shop bearing everything you could possiably ever want  all hanging from the cealing and in fruit boxes spilling out on to the side walk. These shops litter the streets all over morocco. This street in particular they nestle between brightly lit shops and patisseries.
The road led us into a square filled with plastic tables and chairs. Around the circumference of the square were seedy looking food joints, bleching smoke into the atmosphere smelling of cooking meat and fish. My brother told me a rule about Africa, if the locals are eating there then it’s probably ok. Close up grime and fish grease coated the tiles like a second layer of grout. A huge dish full of oil nestled closely over a rickety gas burner again clogged and covered in brown grease.
Nick took one look at it, sat down on a plastic chair and said “this will do just fine hey”. The rest of us plonked ourselves down, briefly scanned the menu and all ordered a tajine and a coke.
Mauritania a war zone "mine field ahead "
Tajine is the staple diet of all Moroccans and not to be sniffed at. Its cooking process takes hours, sealing in flavour and juice, creating the perfect stew-like substance. My brother swears by them. At university he rocked up with a tajine pot and used it for the entire 3 years.
After stuffing our faces with the tajine and oodles of bread (which by all accounts is the Moroccan standard operating procedure). We paid up and slowly strolled back towards the hotel. Im not too sure about the rest of the lads but I climbed back into my board-bag (which doubled as a very good sleeping bag) and got down to some serious sleeping.

The next morning dawned bright and cold! It must have been about 7am but the room around me was empty. I crawled out my sleeping bag and began to dress. It was only at this point that I realised just how cold it was, shivering I pulled on my jeans and pulled on my checked flannel shirt. Stretching briefly, I left the room and made my way down the dimly lit corridor. The door to the roof was open so I mounted the stairs, which had been meticulously etched and placed to make a mosaic-like pattern on the floor, and made my way up to the roof. Cold air rushed past my cheeks as I stepped out onto the rooftop.
Taking a left, stretched out in front of me was the glistening blue Atlantic. The lines of swell rolled towards the pebble beach. Ever enticing us in.
I dragged my attention away from the ocean towards the collection of people sitting at a small table eating Madeline cakes and sipping hot coffee out of tiny glasses. There was Doug and Nick, Pete was in bed and George, as yet had not appeared. The last body at the table I’d never met before. Before I had a chance to introduce myself, he’d got to his feet and turned towards me sporting a massive grin.
“Jake. This is Francois” Doug said as I shook his hand. Over coffee the relationship between the guys and this odd French guy became apparent. Doug explained that he had lived with François for over 2 months in Taggers at the aptly named ‘Crack-Shack’. There they had got talking about waves and had hit it off straight away. François was to be the last member of our intrepid group. We weren’t to know at the time, but this was not to be.
It was as we finished our coffees that George and Pete appeared with yet more Madaline cakes and a sack of oranges. The only person not present at this time was our bizarre hitchhiker Zack.
Peering over the roof top out on to the beach we could all make out what looked like a small blue tent that had been sat on by an elephant. We all had a bit of a laugh about how absurd  it was that he planned to hitchhike across a country rife with al Quaeda, land mines and vast desert all on his own. At this stage we didn’t know how contemptibly inadequate his planning and execution had been.
nick tripping out 

It was as we watched his tent for signs of life that I realised that i didn’t actually care that much . What I really cared about was the sweet looking head and a half high waves peeling across the bay.  Ok so it was cold but I had some shiny new gear from Nookie which should keep out the cold and unlike my other gear wasn’t still wet and in the bottom of my boat covered in sand. Bonus.
“Last guy in the water is a Kook” I yelled as I lept from the table and ran toward the stares. Minutes later the race was on. Falling over in my tiny room, I wrestled on my spraydeck and wetsuit boots. As I hurtled out the room Nick, his wetsuit half on, came running past his board in hand towards the stares just in front of me. I pressed on. Wetsuit boots were my advantage but Nick was a tall guy. Speedy but barefoot. It was neck and neck down a wide flight of cobbled stares winding from the hotel, further in to the gully, down to meet the beach. Suddenly we rounded a bend together and emerged onto the beach. We stopped dead. We just stood there and gawped at the sea.
“Great swell” Nick remarked “at least head and a half on the set”.
Gasping for breath I gave him a cheeky punch in the ribs and ran down to the shore.

doug cooper seeking the barrel 
George :
I leasurely kitted up and and made my way down to the beach followed by Jake who kept asking things like “What the hell is head and a half?”  and “what is a point brake?” Laughing I told him he would find out soon enough.
The sun now warming my back and glisstning off the surface of the sea I cursed for not slapping sun cream on , a mistake I would make on numerous occasions. Nick and doug were well out back and catching waves , they looked about 8 ft high but clean and glassy. There was a clear channel of deep water with a bit of a rip current to aid our journey out back. I explained the route to Jake like one would talk about running a rapid on a river, he seemed to get the picture and we pushed off in to the shallows the small breaking waves sending a chill to my forearms. Arriving out beyond the breaking waves we sat bobbing about in the channel watching the boys tearing across wave after wave.  
I heard Jake remark “Thats not too bad. Ill give that a go”, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this was a small day and the waves further South would only get bigger and stronger.

six months on the road !
The waves were sick! Taggers seemed like a distant memory, dodging other surfers and getting dropped in on. Doug and I were the only people on the water. Although I had been hanging out with doug and his kayak for a month it still seemed a little odd to be sharing waves with a kayaker. Back home in Canada we never see any on the ocean. Non the less doug could really turn it on surfing and he was about as gooder company as you could ask for. Banter, wave sharing, and good times were shared. George and Jake had got on the water but they had been sat in the channel for about an hour and hadn’t really caught anything. But I was hungry for waves so didn’t pay to much attention. Taking off at the peek on a real pushy steep wave I hurtled down the face catching doug swearing at me out the corner of my eye, making a few cutbacks and one really nice top turn manover I dove over the back of the wave in to the clear water and recovered my board via the leash. Peat happened to be just behind me and I waited for him to catch up and we both paddled back toword the peek duck diving our boards under the white water and back to a grinning doug. “ Oh shit now there are two of you wankers, just don’t drop me you bunch of Kooks” He loved it, any chance to throw out some surf slang or oppose his views on surf boards over kayaks he took with delight. But to be honest it was funny as hell and I gave it back as hard as he did calling him a filthy Goat Boater and floating idiot . Times were good, Peat new to the sport caught a few and Doug and I watched and shouted inspiring words of encouragement.  Getting off the water after a few good hours of surfing, we climbed back up the hill to the hotel to find Jake and George sitting on plastic chairs at a table eating Crepes and drinking hot coffee with our hitchhiker. “what happened to you guys out there ?” asked Peat  George said that they had got a few but couldn’t work out where to take off, but they had enjoyed themselves non the less.
doug and george , Ngor senigal 

Jake :
After getting off the water and changing in to dry clothes, George and I made our way down to the  Caffe style reception of the hotel, ordering a couple of coffees and then having to make a second trip back after perusing the menu to order crepes. We settled in to a couple of crappy plastic chairs outside the front door in the sun and soaked up the rays which were now beating down with some force.
Zack slunk up to us muttering a greeting and eyed our coffees with envy. Asking George if he wanted another I went inside and ordered 3 black coffees. Retaking my seat and waiting for the coffees to appear I asked Zack how his night on the beach had been.
“Well, it was all great until the police turned up” he said. I glanced at George, who was totally engrossed in his iPhone playing solitaire. This should be good I thought. “ I was happly fast asleep when, in the dead of night a police man stuck his head in to my tent! He asked if I was sleeping. I asked if it was ok to camp and he said that it was allowed and bid me farewell and stay safe. He promptly left afterwards”. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, this guys planning to camp the whole way down to Guinea Bissau? The next person to wake him in the night wont be a conserned policeman. Itll be a blood-thirstly gun-wielding bandit set on robbing him, raping him and leaving him for dead.
Fuck! That could be me too! Doug told me we would be camping a large part of the time here. What have I gotten myself into?!
The coffees arrived and I handed one to Zack.
“Thanks man” he said “I’ll hit you back”.

Arriving back at the hotel after a good surf felt great, but I was starving, the feeling of emptiness crept over me, George and Jake were tucking in to Crepes covered in honey. “Christ my stomach was churning. I didn’t even bother to take my wetsuit off , Stroled strate up to the strange kitchen bar style counter and ordered coffee and a pile of crepes. The lady behid the bar scowled at me pointing at my wet sandy feet and told me to wash off befor I came back in. I hurried off to change leving nick and Doug yapping about who got the best wave. Nick and I were lucky and had scored a room with a balcony at no extra cost. Strolling out the tiles on the floor  felt almost hot under foot and taking my wetsuit off I couild feel the sun kissing my skin. The communal shower was filthy and cold but I could wash my wet suit and get away with it. After hurridly showering and changing, I returned to the sunny hotel front to see Doug and Nick still kitted up but now pearched on a low wall sippig coffee and chatting to a Moroccan guy with a thick bush of beard and hair. They all looked pretty excited, and started to wave François over as he walked up the cobbled stares from the beach. 

Hear are a few more shots of our journey , we were out of the Uk for seven months and made it as far as senigal befor having to turn back , but thats another story !

see you on the water

 Doug cooper

doug about to score a bomb 

the cave 

more shit roads

nick a la wedge 

doug wedge tripping 

Nick and peter setting up for the night 

peter at the ferry wave 

Tafaya a welcoming home to rest in , thanks boys 

north of Mauritania south of everywhere 

nick looking local 

the road to nowhere 

the whole crew at the tropic of cancer

kids in senigal 

new years day , tiny waves but the water was clear and warm , St Lewis Senigal