Song to self in Sidi Ifni


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Africa » Morocco » Guelmim » Sidi Ifni
April 21st 2019
Published: November 17th 2019
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Never say I regret, say I learned ~ Moroccan Proverb



HE SAID...
Today we were travelling southwest from Marrakesh to Sidi Ifni via Agadir.

We woke late. I’d accidently set the alarm for 6:30pm, so we had to hustle. We quickly organised our packs and headed straight down to breakfast. Ren wasn’t feeling 100%, as she had not slept well during the night (due to a constant cough). Her appetite was fairly low, but I made up for what she couldn’t eat. I had three fresh juices – orange, lemon and beetroot – along with mint tea, cornflakes, almond yoghurt, baguettes and jam. It was a standard way to start the day, and I loved the simplicity and freshness of our Moroccan breakfasts.

We dragged our packs down to the hotel lobby, loaded them into the back of the minibus and headed off on the third leg of our Moroccan adventure. We were heading to Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic coast, and it was an all-day road trip. To break it up, we were detouring into at Agadir along the way.

The first part of the trip was reasonably smooth, because we were on the A7 highway. With the bustle of Marrakesh behind us, we soon found ourselves surrounded by agricultural fields flat to the horizon, with palm trees, fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards interspersed on the dry arid earth.

After about one and half hours the landscape changed significantly. Flat agricultural fields gave way to large rocky hills with exposed sediment lines from centuries past. The A7 cuts channels through the Atlas Mountains, occasionally piercing them directly with well-built and well-lit tunnels, while higher snow-capped peaks tower in the distance. This was a landscape we’d become accustomed to over the past three weeks – it had a stark beauty that I loved. We passed a few small brick and mortar villages, but signs of life were few and far between. Every so often I’d notice a farmer tending crops or guiding goats and sheep close to the road, but that was the limit of habitation in this cold, dry and remote environment. As always, the standout structure in each small village (and the only real sign of affluence) was the ubiquitous minaret, from which a call to prayer would resound at set times during the day.

After about two and a half hours we started descending out of the mountains into coastal plains that stretched to the Atlantic coast. As we made our way through the outskirts of Agadir, endless apartment buildings jutted into the sky, all built to the same design. Many stood empty, while others were half-built. They rose from Morocco’s dry earth like symmetrical blocks – all the same colour, all the same size, all the same design. If you hanker for individuality and idiosyncratic expression, suburban Agadir is not for you. The apartments stretched endlessly along the highway until the detached houses of more affluent Moroccans began to appear closer to the coastline.

We had arrived, once again, on Morocco’s western coast, and the Atlantic Ocean stretched to the horizon in front of us. We stopped on the side of the road, crossed a busy highway and were welcomed into Azyam, a reasonably upmarket seafood restaurant. We settled at a table and enjoyed grilled sea bass (me) and a mixed seafood grill (Ren). The sea bass was fantastic, but the fried seafood was a bit hit-and-miss. Our mint tea came with an extra glass full of fresh mint, which we crammed into the teapot and poured over a lump of sugar in each of our glasses – it was fantastic, and very fresh.

After lunch we headed to Agadir’s beachfront and briefly stretched our legs on the sand. Small waves were breaking close to the shore and a few people were swimming, but the intense wind made it a challenge to stand in one place, so we retreated to the carpark. Amazingly, the beach was packed, and none of the locals seemed at all worried by the wind. For me, a beach is comfortable on warm to hot sunny days, but not when the wind is picking up sand and hurling it into your skin.

We jumped back into the minibus and continued our long southward journey to Sidi Ifni. As we made our way down the western coastline of Morocco, the towns we passed through seemed to be very industrial in nature – much more so than any other part of the country we’d visited so far. Luckily it was a Sunday, so there was not much activity in the towns, nor was there much traffic on the roads.

Flat coastal plains stretched to distant rolling hills on the horizon. This was such a different landscape to the mountains we’d traversed earlier in the day. Yet all the while the Anti-Atlas Mountain range was visible to the east. We stopped briefly in Tiznit for a cafe nous nous (a local cafe latte), then continued our journey south. The road narrowed and deteriorated noticeably, and within an hour we crossed the old border where Morocco was once divided by French rule in the north and Spanish rule in the south.

As we sped through undulating coastal plains that were largely uninhabited, the bustle of Marrakesh became a distant memory. I loved the isolation. At one stage we came over a ridge and the Atlantic Ocean stretched out before us – it was a beautiful sight. With coastal sands stretching for miles and oud music playing quietly through the minibus’ audio system, I became entranced by this African wilderness. Every so often, the isolation would be rudely interrupted by half-finished resorts, ugly concrete buildings and coastal boulevards plonked near the beachside with no visual planning or sympathetic design to speak of.

Solitary palm trees stood alone in the middle of sandy fields, crumbling stone fences marked ancient plots of land, old farmers walked with donkeys and men prayed silently on the side of the road. And all the while the waves of the Atlantic washed against the shore (as they have for endless days). The sun sporadically broke through the clouds, and when its bright shards of light hit random parts of the sandy coastal plain, I imagined us driving towards a wild and remote outpost that was yet to be charted.

After a gruelling day on the road, we arrived in Sidi Ifni in the early evening. Our sprawling hotel (Hotel Safa) was perched on top of a cliff, but a block of apartments stood between us and the Atlantic, and a locked gate segregated us from the apartments’ private promenade. After dropping our packs in an upstairs room (which had a view of the street and surrounding shops), we walked a short distance to a dusty open field where a local Sunday market was winding down. It was basically a jumble of stalls selling fresh produce and second hand goods, and I think we were the only foreign tourists there – it certainly felt that way. After exploring the dusty market we made our way to Sidi Ifni’s clifftop boulevard, where we gazed out over the ocean and watched the sun set behind clouds on the horizon. It was a beautiful evening.

With dusk falling around us, we walked to nearby Hotel Ait Baamrane on the foreshore for dinner. I ordered a tagine poisson (fish tagine) while Ren opted for a tagine poulpe (octopus tagine), and both were fantastic. I also managed to order two beers – things were looking up! The restaurant itself was right on the waterfront and fairly basic in terms of décor and service, but the food was sensational. It was the first fish tagine I’d had since arriving in Morocco, and it was worth the wait – the taste was phenomenal. When the waiter lifted the tagine lid, the dish was bubbling with steam and heat. What a sight! I can see why Moroccans never tire of tagines!

We made our way back to the hotel and eventually retired at 11pm. It had been a long day of travel, and a momentous one. Our hotel was a bit shabby and run-down, and the township of Sidi Ifni was by no means picturesque, but the atmosphere of the Atlantic coast had completely charmed me.

We woke late (7:30am), and the extra sleep was very welcome. We headed downstairs to the bleak hotel dining area for breakfast, where we were served mint tea, orange juice, boiled eggs, baguettes, croissants and honey. It was fairly basic, but enough to energise us for the day. We headed out for a walking tour of Sidi Infi in the mid-morning, but I could hardly describe the experience as beneficial, because our guide (from the hotel) was not very fluent in English. However, we did manage to get a sense of the town as we wandered its streets, and it was very different to every other place we’d visited so far in Morocco. There was a sense of disinterest in us as tourists – it was as if we were in a place we shouldn’t have been. It wasn’t so much that we weren’t welcome, but more that we didn’t belong.

We visited a local museum at the end of the walking tour, and I was shocked by the number of local men that died fighting the Spanish in the mid 1950’s. As members of the Moroccan Liberation Army, they gave their lives for a country that had fallen under foreign control – something that has happened so often throughout Moroccan history.

We wandered back to the hotel, grabbed our day packs, jumped into the minibus and drove about 20km north to Legzira Beach. The sand was littered with marine waste, but the surrounding hills were spectacular, especially the natural arch formation at the southern end of the beach. I swam in the strong cross current for a while, then settled at Restaurant Abuios (an open-air beachside eatery) for lunch. We were served grilled sea bass with vegetables, and the fish had been cooked on a makeshift grill right beside us. While the fish may have been a little overcooked, our lunch location was incredible – we were on the beach looking out over the Atlantic. The sea bass was accompanied with a Moroccan salad, olives and fresh bread, and we finished the meal with oranges and bananas.

After lunch we walked the length of the beach to a natural stone arch that juts spectacularly into the ocean. We managed to capture a few photos from the southern side of the arch before the rising tide began to threaten our safe return. We retraced our steps back to Restaurant Abuios, where we sipped mint tea on the beachfront in the hot afternoon sun. I headed in for a final swim before settling around a table with some fellow travellers for a game of Gin Rummy. This was a very welcome and relaxing day, and it was one we desperately needed. I loved the constant sound of the ocean, and I felt incredibly refreshed as the late afternoon sun drifted behind some clouds.

We drove back to Hotel Safa, freshened up and headed out to dinner in the early evening. We were hoping to dine at Nomad (which was listed in our Lonely Planet guide as ‘the best restaurant in Sidi Ifni’), but the place was closed on Mondays, so we walked through the local market to Gran Canaria instead. Despite this popular eatery’s reputation for great pizzas, I opted for the paellas Valencienne (we were, after all, in an old Spanish stronghold), while Ren went for the tagine de poulpe (octopus tagine). My paella was great, especially when I added some chilli oil, but it was not quite as good as the one I’d enjoyed in Tangier a few weeks earlier. However, the standout of the evening was Ren’s octopus tagine – it was sensational, and there was so much octopus!!!

The light was fading and the night was long, so we decided to make our way down to the foreshore. We were returning to Hotel Ait Baamrane, the place we’d dined the previous night. We settled at an outside table with some fellow travellers and ordered a few Moroccan beers. Despite the poor light, we managed to play Gin Rummy until last drinks were called at 10pm. It was so relaxing to sit in the open air and play cards with the sound of the Atlantic crashing below us.

I enjoyed my time in Sidi Ifni, but I was (and always will be) an outsider there. I should have loved its magnificent Art Deco buildings, crumbling streets and dilapidated boulevards. I should have loved its wild empty beaches, heaving waves and fresh sea air. I should have loved the isolation it offered, and I should be dreaming of living there. But I’m not. I loved travelling to this remote outpost on the western coast of Morocco, but I wasn’t reluctant to leave.



SHE SAID...
Today we were travelling from Marrakesh to Sidi Ifni, via Agadir, by minibus.

We woke on Sunday after a restless night (my coughing had kept us both up). To add to our woes, Andrew had set the alarm for 6:30PM instead of AM. So it was a very rushed breakfast and packing of bags.

We met our remaining two group members – Stephanie and Vanessa – as we waited for our minibus. Our new minibus driver was Mustapha, and he was late on the first morning! And there was no wifi on his minibus. I know he had big shoes to fill after our fabulous driver Lahssan on the last trip, but he wasn’t doing himself any favours. 😊

We left Marrakesh just after 9am and settled in for a nearly six hour drive to Sidi Ifni. There were only nine of us in a 16 seater minibus, so it was lovely to stretch out and enjoy the space. We were heading south and after we left the confines of the city, the landscape was full of sugarcane and olive trees. However, that didn’t last long – it got very arid very quickly.

I slept for most of the first part of our journey, until we had a coffee stop about two hours into the trip (and an hour before Agadir). We arrived in Agadir and went directly to lunch at Azuyam Seafood Restaurant. The restaurant itself was nice and tranquil, but its position right on the highway wasn’t desirable. Andrew had a full grilled fish with vegetables, and I had a mixed seafood grill which was lovely, but I gave Andrew all the fish with bones from my dish. I have never mastered the art of deboning fish… but Andrew claims it’s only because I’m too impatient to eat. 😄

We were meant to have a beach visit (and possible swim) at the wide crescent Agadir beach, but it was waaay too windy to be pleasant. The other Andrew in the group (we eventually renamed him Tom to avoid confusion) was from London and had been hanging out for the beach… so he stripped down and dived into the waves with little regard for the horrible conditions. The rest of us braved the sandy wind for a little while, but then walked back to the carpark and sat waiting to be let back on the minibus! What wusses! But seriously, by the time we got back onto the minibus we were all covered in sand from head to toe. It was as bad as the Sahara experience!

For a town that had totally re-built itself after an earthquake in 1960, it was pretty impressive that Agadir had so much energy and vibrancy. The beach and beachfront promenade was full of local families enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon. It would have been such a lovely experience to explore the area... if only it hadn’t been for that damn sand-whipping wind.

We began our three hour drive to Sidi Ifni a bit earlier than intended. We had a short toilet and coffee stop in Tiznit, so I went hunting for an ice cream. I managed to find a coconut ice cream, but it wasn’t nearly as nice as the one I had on the way to Essaouira. I wish I’d taken note of that brand.

I slept for the rest of the drive and woke to see an amazing coastal scene around me. The landscape was rugged and sparse, and the road hugged the coast. At times we were driving high above the water with sweeping views of the rocky coastline, and at other times it felt we were right at water level. It was quite spectacular.

As we approached Sidi Ifni, it looked like no one was home! This was the first sign that the place was a very very sleepy town. We arrived at the quiet Hotel Safa, and after a quick check-in, we walked over to the Sunday souq (market) that was still going on in a large field across from the hotel. It was a mixture of a flea market and produce market, and it also had a lot of household items. We arrived during the last few hours of trading, and the market was getting frenetic in the produce sections.

Khalid (our group leader) took us on a quick walk past a gorgeous blue and white lighthouse, and then onto a clifftop esplanade to watch the sunset. We could see the beach far below us, and it didn’t look that inviting. The sunset was quite subdued, but I enjoyed watching the locals enjoying their evening on the esplanade. It was also entertaining watching the little kids in the hired remote control cars. Some of the cars could be steered by the kids – with hilarious results (for us, not them). 😊

After the sunset we walked down a street of zigzag steps to the beach. We were eating at the dodgy looking Restaurant Baamrane, which was linked to the even dodgier looking Bar Baamrane. This meant we could have alcohol with our dinner, which is usually extremely rare in non-touristy eateries. We were shown to a dimly lit back room. The disorganised service and grimy table cloth didn’t help matters either. However, I forgave all of this when we realised that both our tagines were very good! Andrew ordered a fish tagine and I had an octopus tagine – and I made a note to have many more of these while we were in this part of the coast. Andrew also enjoyed his beer, but I stuck to coke zero given I was on a course of antibiotics.

We walked back to our hotel along dark and empty streets. My initial thoughts of Sidi Ifni weren’t very impressive. It seemed like a tired place with weary people. However, I decided to reserve my judgement until we had explored more of this quiet town– especially the few beautiful Art Deco buildings we’d walked past in the dark.

Sidi Ifni was once a Spanish port city, and it has sadly seen many wars of ownership fought over it. It was always a large fishing port, but it was also once a base for the Slave Trade. Sidi Ifni wasn’t returned to Moroccan rule until 1969, so the Spanish colonial influence is still very palpable in the town – most notably in the food, architecture and streets still being called ‘calles’.

Out hotel room faced a main street and overhung the hotel restaurant, so I wondered if we’d be disturbed through the night. Well, this was quiet old Sidi Ifni, so there was no such thing as street noise! Thankfully we slept very well after our long day of travel.

We wandered down to breakfast via a set of back stairs that took us directly to the restaurant. I was very surprised to see other tourists there, as we’d been sure we had the whole hotel to ourselves. Our table was set with individual servings/portions of juice, a chocolate croissant, a baguette, an egg, honey and butter. It was tasty and adequate, but far simpler than the offerings at other hotels.

We gathered for a morning walking tour with Mohammed, who was the guy from the hotel reception. Mohammed was clearly very very new to guiding, and I’m sure we were his first guinea pigs. He was a lovely chap, but his guiding skills were very poor. His English was barely understandable, so the ‘guided walk’ consisted entirely of him pointing and naming buildings. He didn’t offer any explanations, and even when asked a direct question it was impossible to understand his answer. So we feigned comprehension in order to avoid embarrassing him. He was already nervous enough, and we didn’t wish to add to his anxiety.

We did a quick loop of the clifftop we’d walked along the night before, the main administrative area, the small fish and meat market, the main street and then ended the tour at a small museum dedicated to the Ifni War which began in 1957. The war was fought by the Moroccan Army of Liberation, which was made up of groups of militia who first fought the French and then the Spanish. The museum wall was lined with the faces of those who died in the war. I had wanted to ask so many questions about the town’s difficult history and its current position with Spain etc., but disappointingly, it was a lost opportunity. The only interesting piece of information I absorbed from Mohammed was that there was a Miss Cactus pageant at the yearly Sidi Ifni Cactus Festival. 😊

Sidi Ifni had felt like a sleepy town the evening before, and all this morning I had been waiting for it to wake up. But it just didn’t. There were a few locals around the market area, and in one or two cafes, but all the other streets were deserted. The empty streets coupled with many dilapidated buildings gave the town a generally fatigued feeling. The only energetic thing about the town was the sunlight – it was bright and sharp, and the perfect quality to photograph Art Deco buildings.

Many of the streetscapes we photographed looked like the almost-still-life urban paintings of Jeffery Smart. The buildings were bleak and geometrical, the streets empty and surreal. Even though there was beauty in the stark shapes, it also had a sense of loneliness. Sidi Ifni’s signature blue and white painted building also photographed very well.

Some of the Art Deco buildings had been beautifully restored, however, there were many once-grand gems that were very rundown. They had moved beyond ‘faded grandeur’ and were well on their way to being derelict. It was sad to see.

The people in town were friendly enough, but for the most part, had zero interest in us. While normally I love locals who are uninterested in us, it somehow added to my feeling of disengagement with the town.

After our walk with Mohammed, we gathered at our hotel for a trip to Legzira Beach, famous for its red stone arch. Our minibus dropped us off on the road above the beach, and we wound our way down through the buildings of small hotels and shacky restaurants that lined the shore. We were spending the rest of the day at the beach, so I’d come prepared with books and my iPad to hopefully do some writing.

Khalid walked us to Restaurant Abuios – the open air restaurant where we were having lunch, and it was also to be our general gathering place. The beach was sandy and lovely, and also relatively empty. Our end of the beach was guarded by rocks and in the distance, on the other end of the beach, we could just make out the stone arch. Andrew and Tom were in the sea and body surfing within minutes of us getting there, but I dipped my toe in and decided it was way too cold! I joined the girls in the shade of some beautiful rocks, and stretched out my towel in the sun hoping to warm up before trying the water again. I also needed to even out the various stages of ‘travel tan’ on my arms and feet. 😊

I only managed a couple of wades into the water before it was time for lunch. Lunch was freshly grilled whole fish accompanied by a potato and carrot salad, Moroccan salad and olives. As mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of whole fish, but this particular one was quite manageable. The meal wasn’t particularly delicious, but the ambiance and setting on the beach was priceless. There were a few seafood restaurants bunched together, and this had attracted a small population of resident cats. Although not especially friendly, they knew how to get what they wanted. 😊

There was also a pack of dogs who ‘guarded’ us and the restaurants from other beach dogs. They were well fed and had no interest in us or our food. And interestingly, they weren’t that keen on pats either. There were content sleeping on the sand and watching out for intruders.

After lunch we set off to walk to the stone arch. It was a lovely walk and we passed many local tourists cooking and picnicking in tents on the beach. There used to be two natural stone arches that extended from the rocks, over the beach and into the water, but one collapsed in 2016.

The arch was far larger and far more striking than I had imagined from the photos I’d seen. The process of walking under the arch was tricky, as we didn’t want to ruin the photos of the people ahead of us. Plus the tide was coming in, and there were already a couple of places we had to play ‘chicken’ with the waves in order to walk through.

I can honestly say that seeing the arch up close was a spectacular sight! We lingered for a while on the other side of the arch where the light was better for photos. We also walked a little way down the beach, but it had become quite rocky and pebbly which killed the ‘barefoot beach’ experience somewhat. We eventually doubled back in order to get through the arch before the tide cut off access.

We settled in at ‘our restaurant’ and ordered two mint teas – with a view! Andrew went back into the water while I settled into a game of cards with Sarah, Tom, Ineke and Khalid (with Andrew joining us after his swim). It turned out that every one of us had a different way of playing Gin Rummy! We tried the British, Australian and Moroccan ways… I still prefer the way we play it because it’s enables a fast and interesting game, but Khalid preferred his long and complex methodology! 😊

We eventually left that idyllic beachside setting and walked up to the road to meet our minibus. We gave a local lady a lift to a nearby village, and were back in Sidi Ifni with plenty of time to wash the salt off my skin and nap before dinner.

A restaurant (Nomad) we’d all been excited to try was unfortunately closed because it was a Monday. So we walked to the main street and settled in for dinner at Gran Canaria, which was essentially a pizza place. Er… yes. But thankfully the menu also had Moroccan dishes! I ordered an octopus tagine, and Andrew ordered a paella. My tagine was fabulous and the paella was passable, but I had expected much better from an ex-Spanish colony.

Afterwards a few of us (Tom, Sarah, Monica, Andrew and I) wandered back down to the beach to have drinks at Bar Baamrane (next door to the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before). It was a very seedy place, but it really didn’t matter in the least. We sat outside at a very dimly lit table that was only metres from the crashing waves of the Atlantic… and played cards. That kind of atmosphere can’t really be beaten!

We eventually wandered back to the hotel when the bar closed. After hanging around in the dark lobby trying to check emails and social media (there wasn’t wifi in the rooms), we crawled into bed and slept the sleep of happy campers.

Sidi Ifni is certainly as quiet and un-commercial as promised in the guide books – there’s wasn’t a hint of beach resorts or tourist shops, or even tourists in the streets! While I enjoyed exploring the Art Deco buildings in diverse states of repair, there weren’t really that many things to do in town. It’s touted as the place to go to do nothing and relax, but what’s sold as a calm and laid-back vibe seemed to be more an eerily quiet and lethargic vibe. I just didn’t connect with the energy in the town. There was a feeling of forgotten-ness that was quite sad. I hope the town can get enough investment to inject some vitality back into its streets.

While I won’t be rushing back to Sidi Ifni anytime soon, I absolutely loved our lazy and languid day at nearby Legzira Beach. The clean relaxed beach, the striking natural red stone arch, the atmospheric thick ocean mist and low key seafood restaurants and cafes at our disposal… that’s my idea of a grand day out at the beach! 😊

Next we travel northeast to Tafraoute, in Morocco’s rocky Ameln Valley.

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17th November 2019
legzira beach

Incredible
The wonder and power of nature!
17th November 2019
legzira beach

Re: Incredible
Thanks Chris. It was a very striking sight :)
17th November 2019

Food
Looks like you had some great tagines , especially the octopus - a favourite of mine when I’m in Spain. A pity you couldn’t connect with the place , but good that you had a relaxing day on the beach. You both probably needed that .
17th November 2019

Re: Food
The tagines were so delicious! Yes I developed my love for octopus through Spanish (and Greek) dishes too. I'm still not entirely sure why I didn't connect with Sidi Ifni, but I loved almost every other place we visited in Morocco :)
19th November 2019

Lovely photos
It's a shame Sidi ifni was not exactly your cup of mint tea but I'm tempted to go there. I'm loving the colours. I'm now off to paint my back bedroom sky blue.
20th November 2019

Re: Lovely photos
Thanks :) Sidi Ifni certainly had it's photogenic moments, and it wasn't hard to imagine how amazing it would have looked when it was a thriving town.
20th November 2019
mint tea on legzira beach

Tea, tea, tea
Never enough tea.
20th November 2019
mint tea on legzira beach

Re: Tea, tea, tea
Never enough tea... especially in such beautiful settings :)
20th November 2019
grilled fish lunch

Yum
This caught my attention.
20th November 2019
grilled fish lunch

Re: Yum
These restaurant guys were so hospitable... we were so lucky to have this restaurant to lounge around in for many hours :)
20th November 2019

Sidi Ifni
Not every town will steal your heart. It is always great being near the water and eating great seafood.... and oh the tangines.
20th November 2019

Re: Sidi Ifni
That is very true Merry, and luckily we don't feel this disconnection very often. The seafood was SO good :)
22nd November 2019
streets of sidi ifni

I love this kind of architecture
I love this kind of architecture. It is very photogenic. When I look at this photo I get flashbacks from Asmara in Eritrea. That was an interesting city. /Ake
23rd November 2019
streets of sidi ifni

Re: I love this kind of architecture
Me too Ake - the architecture was very eye catching in certain parts of Sidi Ifni. I'm now very curious about Asmara :)

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