My previous entry – HOW WE CAME TO LIVE IN NORTH AFRICA AT MEHDIA PLAGE القنيطرة المهدية – introduces how we came to live in a villa on a beach in North Africa for some months.
Bob, a US Navy officer, and Robin invited us to share their villa, which they rented from a colonel in the Moroccan army and his wife, who was a niece of the King of Morocco, Hassan II. Several other villas in Mehdia Plage were rented by Navy staff and Peace Corps volunteers who worked out of Kenitra, so there were parties and barbeques on someone’s veranda every night with fresh caught fish, booze from the Navy liquor store, Spanish beer and Moroccan wine.
There was also a contingent of Australian surfers who were staying in their busses and vans on the beach or were crashing – now called couch surfing, in an interesting twist – with their new American friends. Traveler friends are easily made; these friendships may last a day or a lifetime. You never know.
While travelling, I often met Australians who were on an extended road trip in what I came to know as a “world walkabout” before settling into jobs and family and life in Australia. Sitting at a bar on a ferry from Italy to Corfu, an Australian traveler explained to me that because Australia was so far from anywhere else, when people left their homeland to travel, they would often travel for a year or more at a time. Three to five years was not unknown.
The standing operating procedure was to fly into Amsterdam, buy a vehicle, and hit the road with a vague destination or no destination at all. The only objective, if possible, was to set their homeward heading to return to Amsterdam, sell the vehicle to another traveler, and return to the mother land. My informant said they referred to it as going “walkabout,” after the traditional rite of passage for young indigenous Australian males who went into the bush for months. Modern Australians go walkabout to itch their wandering feet, travel beyond the horizon, and see what they haven’t seen. Don’t we all?
Crocodile Dundee: “I was sorta’ married once – – nice girl, good cook, biiig chest. Then I went walkabout, and when I came back, she’d gone.”
Turns out, the ocean right in front of our villa was a world surfer destination. Though we came to Mehdia Plage by happy chance, our new Aussie friends had come here for the waves.
Here is a link to Surf Photos of Mehdia Plage
Their collective walkabout, defined by a passion for surfing, was to hit every great surf beach on the African continent. Most had been traveling well over a year in a caravan collective of VW, Peugeot, Land Rover and Citroën busses and vans with surf boards strapped on top. They’d even picked up an American from New York City somewhere around Cape Town some months back, and he was starting to talk with a mixed New York/Aussie accent, which was sometimes unintelligible, but still a delight to hear.
That was our big, happy family at Mehdia Plage: US Navy, US Peace Corps, Australians, and a wide range of Europeans. We co-existed peacefully with Moroccans, who were either very pleased to be making so much money from renting out their villas or who were Moroccan military from the nearby garrison. A poste de garde at the entrance to the village, protected by a Moroccan soldier with an AK-47, kept watch on everyone coming and going.
Mid-winter coastal North African weather was a little chilly at night, with the morning sun quickly moving temperatures to the mid-70s. For Westerners, the uniform du jour was shirt, shorts, and sandals.
Daily routine was simple, beginning with a light breakfast of fresh oranges, Berber bread and coffee. Afterward, perhaps a lingering game of chess on the balcony, a trip to the Kenitra markets, a walk on endless beaches that stretched from one horizon to the other, or watching the Aussies catch wave after wave. Dinner was cooked chez nous, or we might walk up the street to join the Peace Corps, often barbequing a large fish that someone had picked up at the fishermen’s dock that morning.
The evening almost always ended with a glass of wine somewhere in the village with our Navy, Peace Corps, Australian, European or Moroccan friends watching the most spectacular sunsets imaginable over the Atlantic Ocean, the sun sinking slowly, slowly down, then suddenly, in a fleeting moment, being swallowed into the sea in a blaze of shifting color.
A word of caution: never try to outdrink an Australian. Consider yourself doing well if you can just keep up the pace.