Surfing

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Woah nelly!

(Have you read part i? If not click here, or this won’t make much sense. All stories need a beginning after all.)

On Valentines Day we drove into Agadir. We were excited to see the local city, and take in a different kind of culture than the village life we’d adapted to. Agadir itself was a mixed experience. Our first port of call was the Kasbah that overlooks the city, perched atop of a huge hill and visible from everywhere in Agadir. The view from there was breath-taking. I also saw my first EVER camel. The panoramic perspective clearly shows the shift caused by the disastrous earthquake that hit Agadir in 1960, killing half the population and completely destroying the old town. The Agadir we visited is apparently unrecognisable to it’s previous state, having been entirely rebuilt and so it’s fair to judge it bearing in mind that it’s a city still recovering from a devastating natural disaster.

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We spent alot of the day on the beach; which was clean and pleasant. The town however didn’t really have much to offer. Sadly (well not if you like that kind of thing) Agadir is dominated by resorts. Tourists flock for the cheap flights and guaranteed heat, but then stay in these Club-Med style resorts with huge walls and gated access. Actually I think I only need to say one thing to describe Agadir; there’s an English Pub. And for me, that’s exactly what I was trying to escape! We tried to make the most of the day by visiting the Valley of the Birds; a free nature attraction. However, as I excitedly scampered in and ran up to the first cage of blue parrots… I recoiled in horror. All the birds were balding. Some had almost no feathers. Some had actual bits of them missing, obviously having been gnawed off by their cage-mates. The ‘valley’ was an unfortunate one-way system so we were forced to carry on through what Nick coined the gauntlet of horror and we were very relieved to escape, if a little traumatised. One good thing about Agadir was that we could visit the huge Uniprix (supermarket). Morocco is a totally dry country = no booze for sale! So if you want a few drinks on an evening, you have to bring them yourself. Our Kasbah were very accommodating – and would happily put drinks in the fridge for us, open them to serve with dinner etc. They just don’t have the license (or inclination…) to serve it. The Uniprix is the only place in Agadir to legally sell alcohol, so we picked up a bottle of bubbles and also 4 bottles of the local Casablanca beer. I’m absolutely gutted we just had hand-luggage allowance as otherwise we would have bought a crate of this back! It was a beautiful beer, and a steal at just over £1 a bottle. The highlight of Agadir, and reason I would still recommend a visit, was twilight. As the sun sets, you can sit on one of the beach front bars drinking mint tea (obvs) watching the birds swarm around the port and then the motif on the Kasbah hill that says God, Country, King lights up and sparkles in the distance. It was a really tranquil moment and a favourite memory of the trip.

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Our big adventure day saw us drive the 2 hours down to Souss-Massa National Park. There were endless options of big day trips we could have done – Marrakesh, the oasis of Ait Baha, sampling fresh honey and waterfalls of Imouzzer or the imperial city of Taroudant. We chose the national park because it was close to the city of Tiznit so we felt we could have a perfect day of wilderness and then taking in a traditional souk. At Souss-Massa we were met by a local villager Ahmed (another Ahmed!) and his trusty binoculars. He took us on a 3 hour trek which trailed the river Massa to the beach, the sahara sands and a small fishing village where homes were carved caves into the sand cliffs. We knew before we visited that Souss Massa was home to the near-extinct Bald Ibis bird. Half of the worlds population (of which there are only 800) reside there and there’s a huge local push to preserve and protect this critically endangered species. Our guide suddenly whooped for joy, and a V of bald ibis swooped over our heads! As we stood stunned on the sand, we saw about 3 different flocks of these incredible creatures and I even managed to get photograph that shows their amazing baldheads. This has to be the highlight of our trip, seeing one of the rarest birds in the world. Ahmed kept saying bon chance, bon chance as it’s so unexpected to see them. We also tracked wild foxes, found a wild boar skeleton, flocks of yellow billed herons in the trees and of course… sea gulls aplenty.

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As we crossed the sandy planes to the fisherman’s village, I made Ahmed laugh with a crocodile impression (the international language of signing coming in handy again) and in return he gave me his Berber headscarf which I wore for the rest of the day. On another baking hot day, it was sorely appreciated. As Ahmed took his headscarf off, a big curly mop of sun-bleached hair appeared, and we realised that he was a cool surf dude undernearth the traditional dress. He also had an amazing ironic teeshirt, considering he is a guide at a national park, he was wearing a Yellowstone national park T! We took mint tea with his brother in his beautiful painted cave house. The language barrier was easily overcome by Ahmed showing us photographs of a giant dead whale that washed up on the coastline last May, with men stood around it looking the size of ants. Again I was struck by how little you need to be content, and how simple his life was looking out on the ocean. On the way home Ahmed encouraged us to climb up some stairs built into the sand cliff, which then turned into… just sand. The ground gave away (imagine how slippery vertical sand is!) as we scrambled our way up the cliff. Ahmed of course remained cool as a cucumber, whilst I imagined just how much damage landing on those spiny, sharp rockpools would do to my face… Another near-death scrape but as he tugged me over the final cliff-lip, the views were almost worth it.

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Sandy and sun-kissed, we drove an hour to Tiznit. On the way we didn’t see another car, only ragged rudded plains as far as the eye could see, peppered with the occasional nomad’s tent. Tiznit was a delight, and I’d definitely recommend you visit. We were the only tourists and that always reassures me that you are seeing a city in its natural state rather than putting on a show for visitors. Tiznit is the capital of silver, and we got to see a local man creating silver that looked like delicate spun sugar. I bought an ebony bracelet with silver etchings, which has shot to the top of my most favourite and precious jewellery items and would definitely get saved in a fire! Tiznit is split in two, with an old terracotta town with huge towering walls and staircases that lead to nowhere. This was where the souk was, and it was a wonder to walk around – heaps of tagine pots, Moroccan slippers, jewels, oils and our new guide Saeed kept encouraging me to eat random bits of what looked like twig that he plucked from the market stalls that were apparently good for women (he didnt say how, and they tasted like tree. I even got a tongue splinter.)

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From Tiznet we drove out into the proper heights of the Atlas Mountains to the Ben Tachfine dam. As we wound narrow roads I had no idea what to expect, and as we stepped out of the car I couldn’t catch my breath. No photo or words or describing will do justice to how beautiful the view was, and how silent and peaceful and just mind-blowing this moment was. I couldn’t have felt further from home. An 86 year old nomad lived at the top of the mountain and invited us for mint tea… and offered Nick to swap me for his donkey. It was quite a nice donkey.

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So, days merged into days, and a lot of dips in the pools, hours reading in the dusky sun, exploring the high Atlas and sleeping (we averaged around ten hours a night) and for our final trip we drove out to a surf town near Essaouira which is fondly referred to locally as banana beach. Weirdly enough Nick & I had never tried surfing before, despite me having holidayed at Fistral Beach in Newquay and Nick having er.. lived in Australia! I can’t remember at what point we agreed to try in Morocco, but we thought it would be nice to try something entirely new for the first time together. We went with Surf Town who we were reassured were experts with beginners, and they lived up to the claims. We paid £54 for half a day surfing and that included a very hands-on tutor, equipment and wet-suits. We joined a group of 5 friendly Russians and together embarked our efforts to take on the sea.

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I couldn’t believe how MASSIVE the surf board was. I am a weakling, and could barely lift the thing let alone contemplate riding it! But actually once in the water (and attached to my foot) it was a little easier to control. We learnt the basics of surfing on the sand, and then hit the (huge) waves. I have to say, I absolutely loved it. Surfing requires intense concentration, a good sense of timing (to know when to paddle, when to attempt to stand etc) but once you get up on the board it’s the most satisfying, free feeling. Although every moment of exhilaration is matched with an hour of face-planting into crashing waves, sand and (for me) rocks. Woops. I definitely caught the surf bug though, and it helped to be doing it in a glorious exotic location with camels roaming the beach and herons swooping overhead. I managed to stand up once, whereas Nick was basically Beach-Boys level surf star within hours. What I didn’t expect was the world of pain that followed the next day. Every muscle in my body was screaming, so being squished into a full-capacity Easyjet flight for nearly 4 hours wasn’t the best treatment. We both agreed that it’s something we can’t wait to try again. I can’t see us getting his n hers boards and spending the days at the beach, but I reckon we’ll definitely go again this year. It’s quite nice to have started on one of the coastlines that worldclass surfers long to surf on!

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So that’s the end of my first ever trip to Morocco. You have probably gathered that it stole a piece of my heart, and I am desperately blue at being back in -5 degree London, which currently is snowing constantly at that level that makes me feel like I’m walking around in Silent Hill. Morocco has been my best ever holiday, and I would recommend everyone and anyone to visit. You can pick and choose absolutely anything you could wish for from a holiday, and be as adventurous or as lazy as you like. I also can’t recommend Atlas Kasbah enough. Every member of staff seemed so personally invested in us having a good time, and were patient, welcoming and endlessly friendly. Nothing was too much trouble, and they made our holiday so much more special because they were from the local area so were endless sources of knowledge and tips and information.

If you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into a travel blogging version of me, then don’t worry, my feet are barely on the ground because in two weeks time I’ll be in Los Angeles and New York for work so expect a bit more of the same.

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As you’ve probably gathered, I have never been so happy to kiss goodbye to a year as I was as 2012 ticked into 2013. I know resolutions divide opinion and of the blogs I read, it seems to be pretty evenly split by haters and hopers. Personally, I never reflect and mull (get it!) more than I do over the festive December period. I think it’s a combination of being around loved-ones and family, the kind messages scribbled into Christmas cards, spending time back in the house and town I grew up in… oh and the fact I am drunk at some point most days. This means that when December 31st comes around, I couldn’t be in a better position to really give myself a shake and think about what I want from the year ahead.

They are probably of way more interest to me than anyone else, but I feel if I put them out for the world-wide-world to see, then perhaps I’m more likely to achieve them.

2013

2013 New Years Resolutions

01. Read 51 books: In typical fashion, after basking in my 50-book reading challenge victory for about ten minutes, I decided it had to be upped to 51 for this year. So far, so good, and I am on book number two. I’m currently reading Invisible by Paul Auster which from the description I was desperately hoping for something similar to one of my absolute favourite books The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It doesn’t really bear any similarities other than being based in an American university but it is a very captivating read. I am only a quarter through but the fact that whilst reading it I was stood in the kitchen cooking my dinner and let the the pasta boil over for about three minutes whilst I got through a particularly tense bit says quite a lot.

02. Learn to surf: In February I’m finally taking the holiday I was meant to have in October but my cyst Vs body take over hijacked. Nick & I are spending a week in the depths of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and amongst many activities (hikes, a bird sanctuary, haggling at souks, star gazing… oh and a few massages and dips in the pool of course!) we are going to spend the day learning to surf in the bath-water warm sea. I’m so excited to try something so entirely new, although not too hopeful at my ability since I am clumsy enough walking on two feet in flat shoes.

03. Visit 3 countries (not including Europe) and 10 new cities: This sounds like a vast amount but with Africa already booked, then being fortunate enough to travel with my job (although it’s not like a holiday as I used to naively imagine work jet-setting would be. Oh no! Try 15 presentations in 14 days, with jet lag and a broad accent that not a single person understands thrown in) and a few other tricks up my sleeve… well lets just say I think I’ll be a different person come 2014 with a much broader view of the world and my place in it. I’m going to buy a big map and some coloured stickers and chart all the place I go. Note how I even manage to make something fun and spontaneous like travelling, organised and colour code-able.

04. Climb Snowdon: I’m also keen to make the most of the UK and see more of it this year. Part of this is a pact I have made with a good friend to join him on his conquering of Mount. Snowdon in Wales (his new years resolution is to climb a mountain in England, Scotland & Wales). I know it’s probably wrong that at the moment I’m most excited about what things I can bake for a picnic (!) but it will definitely feel like a real achievement.

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05. QUIT caffeine: Caffeine is pretty sinister. I highly recommend the you are not so smart blog on it. I never really thought I was addicted to caffeine, I just knew that I loved coffee in all it’s forms and also as a proud Yorkshire girl had an excuse to drink 20 cups of tea a day. I’m not kidding, I regularly had 2 or 3 cups on the go at my desk (the difference in shades of tea-brown was very aesthetically pleasing!) Then had my C-scare and all round month of medical misery, and I did everything I could afterwards to find out how to avoid a relapse. Part of this was seeing a nutritionist who believes that the key (in my case) is to keep everything in my body as balanced as possible, and part of this is avoiding spikes in blood sugar/adrenaline. And part of that? Quit caffeine. At the point I was given this I was having 3 coffees a day and yes, about 20-25 cups of tea.

Soooo… I didn’t go cold turkey obviously, but I started replacing tea for the wonder that is Rooibos (rank on it’s own, yet a taste sensation with milk). I also made the glorious discovery that my beloved Yorkshire Tea make a decaf version and are still are polite enough to use the lets make a proper brew tagline on it, even though I am from Yorkshire and definitely don’t think it’s a proper brew with non of the good (hmm, bad) stuff in it. 3 Months on and I now just have one coffee a week, as a treat on a Saturday! Cutting down was far more brutal and painful than I ever imagined. I got the absolute worst splitting headaches that no pain killer could touch. I swayed deliriously between napping on the bus and nights of sweaty insomnia. I know this is very un-PC but at one point I did say “If it’s this hard to come off coffee, how hard must it be to come off heroin?“. I just massively under-estimated that yes, I was addicted to coffee. In fact (and my bank balance could have told me this years ago) I was a heavy user. Anyway, this year I aim to cut out all caffeine entirely.

06. Finish knitting my scarf: For a decade my new years resolution was consistently to learn to knit. I have finally succeeded! So proud! I’m so nauseatingly twee that it was ridiculous that I couldn’t actually knit before. The other day I found myself knitting, drinking herbal tea, wearing a floral dress & listening to the Magnetic Fields. I actually out-tweed myself.  So I am well on the way with a neat maroon/navy striped scarf. I need to get a wriggle on and finish it in time to gift it next winter, and to finish the knit-your-own-owl (!) of dreams Craig bought me.

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07. Brush up my Spanish: I did Spanish GCSE and got a B. Nowadays I can still pronounce the funny j noise and I can say I’ve got a hangover. Then it all gets a bit fuzzy. In 2003 I backpacked in Spain and after a week of stuttering and stammering over my hola’s, me and my backpack buddy went to a Spanish rock club and drank aLOT of bodka and suddenly I was conversing with everyone in there about how many brothers/sisters they had and whether they preferred the beach or the forest. Important GCSE level questions  My friend couldn’t believe it and thought I had been lying the whole time about my level of Spanish ability… but it proves that with me it’s a confidence thing as much as a forgetful thing. So I signed up for a 10 week course (beginner level as I miserably failed the intermediate online test!) and am really looking forward to getting grips on another language again. And I got given a really beautiful handprinted notebook for Christmas that I can use for my homework. New stationary makes any project instantly exciting non?

 08. Write half of the secret-project: Well isn’t this annoying? It’s something I am sworn to secrecy until the future, so this is all I can say… for now!

09. Blog more than 2013: Given the fast and furious pace I am blogging at the moment I have probably already achieved this! You’re going to be sick of the sight of me. It feels really good to be writing for myself again, rather than just at work, and it seemed such a shame not to be using my little slice of the internet pie that actually costs me money every year. I’m not really hung-up on the fact it’s not a beauty blog, it’s not a fashion blog, it’s not a book blog etc etc. It’s a lifestyle blog. That covers all bases right!

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09. Alter my work/life balance: I graduated university, I moved to London and I became a rat race face and never looked up. I dread to actually think the hours I have worked in the last 5 years and getting ill made me realise that the body can only take a certain amount of burning the candle ferociously. So I have thrown myself back into my pilates, swimming and am being really strict not to book & doublebook every evening, night and weekend up with seeing people and going places and packing and unpacking and then tossing & turning all night having feverish work-dreams. Something definitely has to give, and I’m determined not to end up on the operating table again any time soon.

10. Be brave: I never associate myself with being brave, and it’s something I aspire to be and know I am really, but this year more than ever I will be putting myself in positions out of my comfort zone just to keep on growing into a big tough lion girl… woman.

11. Get back in music: I used to be surgically attached to my mix tapes, homemade CDs and always ahead of the curve with new bands. I am now SO sick of the same songs on my itunes and the fact that I ‘forgot’ to get the new Metric CD… who are one of my favourite bands?! Also that I didn’t even know about the Kings of Convenience side project? Poor show. Going to End of the Road festival  really whet my musical appetite again and since then I’ve enjoying some of the lesser-known acts I discovered. I’m currently listening to a lot of Alessi’s Ark, Tennis, Dead Man’s Bones, Foxes, Kimbra, Band of Skulls, Kurt Vile, First Aid Kit, John Grant, Django Django, Miracle Fortress and Tame Impala. It’s so nice not to be stuck on a permanent shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-same-old-stuff cycle.

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12. STOP saying “Oh my God”: Why do I say this? Why oh why. I have actually adapted it to Oh my gosh but that’s still very annoying. How do other people express surprise?? I hear myself saying Oh my godgosh in my shocked-voice and I must say it multiple times a day and I hate it. Can you please recommend other words? Or maybe I just need a shocked noise?

13. Daily Records (Thirteen resolutions for 2013!)Last year I took a photo every day and it was so useful for my sieve brain to remember events and orders of occurrences that usually drop out of my head as soon as they’ve happened. This year I am going to continue taking a photo a day as it’s a natural habit, but I’m also going to take a photo of my face everyday! I’m not really vain I promise, but as I head towards the big 3-0 (not til 2014, phew) I am really curious to track my outfits/hair style and well skin to see if I start to look older. I’m not going to put them anywhere public, just for my beady eyes. I’ve shared one below though, which perfectly illustrates my current no-make-up state and also the lions man hair that I couldn’t tame. The final record I am keeping is that I bought Lol & Craig this for Christmas. You get asked a question a day, and keep it for 5 years. Then another one arrived from Amazon randomly so I get to partake too. The questions are brilliant and go from the deep (Can people really change?) to the inane (What was the last restaurant you went to?) I never know what on earth to write in a diary, so the daily prompt is perfect.

& That’s it. Have you got a resolution? Have you seen any other good bloggers list theirs? I’ve seen a few but I’d love to see more. Roll on 2013, I have a really good feeling about you being sparkly and shiny and super.

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