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In 2012, the New York Times said Dakhla, Western Sahara was in the top 45 places to visit in the world. Well actually, they said it was in Morocco. The United Nations, also based in New York don’t recognise this area as anything other than an occupied territory. A non-decolonised and non-self-governing territory. Maybe that’s just semantics. Either way, the kite surfing fraternity generally agree that Dakhla peninsular is in the top 10 sites for wind powered surfing. So what’s so great about Dakhla?
If you drive 600 miles south of Marrakech you will find Dakhla, located on a 30 mile peninsula on the Atlantic Coast.
Kite Surfing Heaven
At the northern end of the peninsula is Dakhla lagoon. Vast swathes of flat, white beaches surrounded by desert cliffs and the occasional sand dune, with gently lapping turquoise lagoon waters. There is some stunning scenery, pink flamingos, fiddler crabs, islands that can be walked to at low tide and the odd mine field or two. This area is a wind trap and with 300 days of ‘perfect’ wind per annum, with a pleasant climate year round, it is apparently superb for kite surfing.
For the kite surfing tourists this is an expensive place relative to local prices. Well at 20 euros for a bottle of mediocre red wine you can get the picture. With daily flights from Casablanca, the surfers are whisked from the modern airport to their boutique surf camp hotel in funky minibuses. Along marble tiled, palm lined boulevards and through the city gates they are transferred north to the picturesque sandy surfing lagoon landscape. Conveniently by-passing the town. They are greeted by a bunch of very trendy, cool surfing dudes and even some former world champions. They will take you on a journey of fun and achievement as you learn to kite.
For those already proficient, have their own kite and won’t be renting any hotel supplied equipment, then naturally and understandably you still need to pay an additional 60 euros a week on top of the hotel bill for the “safety boat”. Being in vogue is a temporary status and something not lost on the hotel owners. They expect a place on the fashionable must visit list for only a few more years before somewhere else takes their place. So they are revving up the marketing and filling the bookings while they can!
Over the last 4 years or so European motor home owners hibernate here during the winter. These tourists are mainly French and Spanish, with a few from Germany and Italy. Not many Brits venture this far south, far too exotic and French speaking! There are the occasional rallies and overlanders like ourselves. Unless these tourists are kiters, generally, they are just passing through.
As an occupied territory, Dakhla is full of military personnel. All the Moroccan armed forces have bases here and they are ever present, keeping a watchful eye. Dakhla town also has many government buildings all flying the Moroccan flag; many private homes also patriotically fly the flag from their balconies and roofs.
Moroccan civilians were incentivised to relocate to Dakhla and the wider territory. There is a tax free lifestyle on offer here. We are currently suffering with tax free fuel, free camping and almost free drinking water (80p per 1000 litres). Electricity for a 4 bed detached home costs £3 a month, cheap fruit, vegetables and meat. Unlimited free security from the Royal Gendarmerie, National Securitate, undercover secret police and the armed forces. Then of course, there is the unlimited supply of fresh fish; that is if we ever manage to catch one. If we do, then apparently there is no need to worry about quotas or minimum sizes. Who could enforce international rules here anyway?
European supermarkets don’t mind sourcing high value vegetable and fish crops here so it would seem commerce accepts the current status quo as being good for business. Here in Dakhla there is a cherry tomato farm that allows the clipboard fair trade monitors to observe fine and fair working practices. That allows them to tick their boxes and secure their fair trade seal of approval. Of course, with quota filled and checklist checked, there is no need to visit the real farms further in land.
Further south on the Dakhla peninsular is a fishing village that is little more than a shanty town. There are many fishing boats but clearly not much money or wealth on show here. As visitors, we weren’t given an overly warm reception there. Apparently there is discrimination against the local Sahrawi people in favour of Moroccans. Some of that is very apparent, even to us as visitors here. There are a lot of authoritarian behaviours and anxiety about photographs being taken of anything other than the beaches north of the town. Maybe paranoia is contagious so we’ll save that for story for a later date.
So what’s so great about Dakhla? If you’re a cool and trendy water sporter, come to Dakhla, stick your head in the sand and have fun in the wind and waves.