Riptide & Camel Ride

Paddling, paddling like crazy in the foamy water and big waves off the shore of an African surf and fishing village called Taghazout in Morocco.

There’s no ATM in town, so you have to bike to the next village over to get cash. It’s just that kind of place.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am convinced I can rip on a short board, so I have rented one along with a wetsuit, and I am getting churned, tumbled and plunged under waves like you would not believe.

This is session two for the day. Did one in the morning, and the sun is going down now. In a calm moment on the water, when I turn to face shore, the village is…gone. Only tan desert hills with dark green splotches of short juniper trees cover the landscape.

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One mansion with a high wall and big tinted windows stands alone. North-ish of me, deep in the distant hills, there is a tiny stripe of white cubes. Buildings veiled by haze. Those cubes are the hostels, restaurants, cafes, and surf shops of Taghazout, where I am staying.

Miles and miles away. How did it get so far away so fast?

Those riptides are sneaky, treacherous entities, huh?

Nothing to do but start the long, slogging trek back in wet sand.

But wait, what’s this? A man in a blue robe and straw hat is napping between two camels in the shade of a dune. One camel is tan and one camel is white. The logical choice, the correct decision becomes clear.

What’s more, on impulse, I stuck 100 Dirham in the back pocket of my board shorts. That’s ten dollars in American money, and it is the key to unlocking this whole situation.

The guy with camels is named Hassan. The tan camel is Bolo, and the white camel is Carlos.

“Can we ride back to Taghazout?”

Hassan nods and grins.

“Even if I got this?”

I show him the surfboard. He looks at the cameIs and nods.

“Be careful,” Hassan says. “They spit.”

“Can’t be worse than my last wipeout. Imagine doing 20,000 ice cold neti pots at once.”

Hassan laughs.

“Clears the sinuses, though.”

I will be riding Carlos the white camel.

Hassan shows me the stirrup, a metal bar, and how to get up on the dark red, hand-woven, rug-like saddle.

Then Carlos stands up. Back legs first, and I’m pitched forward at a steep angle, gripping the surfboard under my armpit, lurching and staring at the back of Carlos’s long, hairy neck with its patches of knotted, dust-filled fur. Up go the front legs, and here we are. What an elevated view of the ocean and shore.

Hassan mounts Bolo, and we start towards Taghazout carried by the forward rock and roll motion of the indolent, dour lipped, heavily-lidded camels.

“I take your surfboard,” Hassan says.

I press the yellow board deeper into my armpit.

“No, I got it.”

“Please, I carry for you.”

“You wouldn’t ask a knight to let someone else carry his sword, would you?”

This, Hassan understands. He laughs and does not offer again.

The waves that plunged me under and rolled me all evening long are roaring to the left. The desert hills with their tent camps and RVs stand to the right. On a camel, wearing a wetsuit and surfboard, plodding back to where I’m staying.

It does make me wonder, if ever a term such as camel hypnosis was coined. How can it not exist? Drying out under desert sun, gently rolling along without so much as a car stereo to distract you.

“These guys must get great miles to the gallon.”

Hassan stares at me.

“Of water!”

Now Hassan stares at me while I laugh at my own joke. Nice, cool, we’re having a good time.

Eventually, when we arrive at the eroded, worn out, stone rocks that lead up to Taghazout, the camels kneel once more, again with their steep pitch forward.

“Thank you Hassan, and thank you Carlos.”

I unzip my wetsuit, find the soaked, but honestly still very crisp 100 Dirham note, and give it to Hassan.

It might be too much, it might be too little, but it’s all I have, if you know what I mean.