I head to the coast to cool down from the desert's heat. I end up in the fishing village of Essaouira, a beautifully designed 18th-century military port surrounded by 40-foot walls. The town bills itself as the windiest city in Africa, and sure enough, down on the beach, several windsurfers are catching what's left of the day's breeze. Internet rumors tell me there's a "secret beach" nearby, but don't disclose its location. This secret place is supposedly home to some of the best wave surfing on the Atlantic.
A pretty girl in traditional garb approaches me on the beach and launches into conversation, completely dispelling the notion that traditional women are never in public without a man. After telling her of my travels, I reveal that I'm looking for a rumored surf spot, and she nods emphatically. She draws the approximate location on a map in the sand. "My brother is one of the original local surfers," she says. "His name is Samadi. He's there now."
About 15 miles to the south, she shows me the spotCap Sim. There are close to 20 surfers on the water and a few onlookers smoking kef, the Moroccan answer to ganja.
The waves are five to ten feet and rolling nicely. The surf is best here when there is low wind and a medium depression. I paddle out and flag down Samadi, a 20-year-old with sundrenched dreadlocks who has surfed these waters with ranked champions, including Kelly Slater.
"On Fridays the tide changes and sometimes that means Saturday and Sunday have little in terms of waves," he says. It's a Thursday, and the breaks are decent. We paddle out past the current and wait for a ride. In the distance are the Purple Isles, a small group of islands where an indigenous purple plant grows. Caligula and Nero both used the plant to color the royal fabrics during the Roman Empire. Samadi notices I'm not concentrating and warns me to be careful. "We don't have reefs or sharks," he says. "But the currents can make you disappear."
We ride the waves until sunset, then Samadi and his sister take me to a lila, a house party where musicians take center stage, playing gnawa, a kind of spiritual trance music. "They say gnawa cures the sicknesses of the soul," Samadi whispers during one performance. "Like surfing."
Walking back to my hotel I comment on the peaceful, hippie-type feeling of the gnawa. Moroccans are very accessible people, I tell them. They don't know what to make of my surprise, and I refrain from trying to describe how the American media portrays Muslim countries and Muslim people.
"I haven't seen one bandit since I've been here," I tell them.
"What's 'bandit'," they chorus.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication