"I'm going to Africa for the weekend."
Leading up to my trip to Morocco, I couldn't stop saying this phrase. AFRICA for the WEEKEND? It sounded crazy and I loved it.
Living in Madrid with its large airport makes it easy to fly cheaply across Europe, but I had forgotten that Spain is also just one tiny Strait of Gibraltar away from Africa.
So one Friday afternoon with a cheap RyanAir ticket, I flew down to Morocco's capital city for a surf weekend with a few friends.
None of us researched much before the trip, but a friend recommended a hostel with a free breakfast and reasonable priced surf rentals and lessons - that's all we needed!
The hostel was located in the old part of the city, known as the medina. When you enter the neighborhood's clay walls, it is a maze of narrow, winding walkways with no windows or streets signs. We would have never found the hostel if one of the guys hadn't picked us up at the airport and guided us through the labyrinth.
When we eventually arrived at Medina Surfing Association, we were greeted by the owner and surf instructor Abdel El Harim. Abdel is Morocco's most famous professional surfer with repeated success in the World Qualifying Series.
Abdel gave us a quick tour of the hostel transformed from a riad: a traditional Moroccan house with an open-air courtyard in the middle. Each room faces the center and has no exterior windows. This old design helps residents cope with the Moroccan heat as the rooms stay dark and cold and the heat rises out of top of the structure.
We spent the day exploring the city, trying to navigate our way around the medina and then enjoyed tajines at Dar Naji to fuel up for the following day of surfing. And with no alcohol available in traditionally Muslim Rabat, our sobremesa wine was replaced with many, many cups of peppermint tea.
The next morning we began our day with a rooftop breakfast (and of course more tea) before squeezing into some wetsuits and hitting the beach.
Unfortunately, the pictures stop here. We could only bring ourselves, the boards and a pair of flip flops to the beach to be left underneath the cart of a street vendor.
Abdel helped us warm up and explained some basic tactics before ditching us to catch his own waves. This was a little disappointing, but I guess a pro-surfer has his own priorities. We hit the water with another instructor that only knew one English word: "UP" - very practical when the most difficult part of learning to surf is actually standing up.
Now this was not my first time surfing, but the sport has never been something I've really wanted to tackle. I had my first lesson in Australia in 2009 and then picked up a board every once in a while while living a year on the beach in Ecuador. I've always preferred to jump in on a game of sand soccer instead of getting beaten up by the waves.
But as the only one within my group of friends who had surfed before, I felt a tiny bit of pressure to do well. So we paddled out together and the instructor was to help each of us individually catch our first wave. I went first. We saw the wave coming, he gave me a little nudge and I paddled as hard as I could. Then a strong French accent yell "UP" and I thought about yoga class: engaging the core and floating from plank pose gracefully into forward fold. Lo and behold, I was up! First try, phew!
By the end of the lesson, all five of us were catching waves - with a lot of face plants, wipeouts and water up the nose in between. Overall, we had a great time and were discussing our next surf weekend before we even returned to the hostel.
It was quick trip to Africa - only Friday to Sunday, but I highly recommend a surf weekend in Rabat as a short getaway from Madrid.
Check out Medina Surf Association's blog and Facebook page for more info.
Have you surfed before? Always wanted to try?
Leave me note in the comments below with your favorite surf spots around the world!