Max, Carlos, Bachir, Hakim
Carlos and I kicking on the beach in Mirleft
Over these past 10 months, Carlos Alonso Ruiz and I have become brothers. We first met in August 2009 during a lifeguard training camp at a beach on the French side of the Spanish French border, and have traveled together through five different countries since this first meeting. After France, I next adventure came forth after I had mentioned to him and the teammates of his lifesaving team Alcarreno, that I would be going to Peru to organize a youth lifesaving program, and if any of them wanted to help out they would be more then welcome- they would be useful. Two months passed before Carlos wrote to me in mid October while I was in Mirleft, Morocco, and said that he wanted to come to Lima. Over the following two weeks we figured out the details of our trip, and on November 10th 2009 we met up in Peru.
And the team is......Insha allah we will swim across the Strait of Gibraltar together in late June.
Together in Peru we worked with the lifeguard division of the Peruvian National Police to organize the first Junior Lifeguard program the country has ever seen, working together for approximately three months. We shared an apartment in a blue collar neighborhood of Lima and also extensively traveled the Peruvian coastline. Carlos returned to Spain in February to begin a master’s degree as a professional sports trainer, and upon my return to Europe in March, our brotherhood has flowered into a series of trips throughout Spain, Portugal, and most recently, his 10 day visit to Mirleft, Morocco.
Hakim, Carlos, Max...at Legzira beach south of Mirleft
To come to Mirleft, Carlos’s journey began by his mom taking him from their home in Guadalajara to the airport in Madrid, where he flew on a cheap flight to Marrakesh. Following his arrival in Marrakesh, he took an eight hour bus ride south to Tiznit. I was waiting for him at the bus station in Tiznit with Bashir, Hakim, Rachid, who stood with a sign that read CAR LOST, a joke I adapted from the stories he told of his Australian friends who made fun of his name. I watched from behind a wall as Carlost got off the bus and wandered over to a group of strangers holding a sign that had something to do with his name. After the first introductions and a joyful reuniting, we hopped in a shared taxi for the final 40 kilometers of Carlost’s journey from Guadalajara, Spain, to Mirleft, Morocco.
Grilling sardines on our rooftop terrace
After we had finally arrived in Mirleft, we collectively went to the small apartment I’ve been renting. Later that night we cooked a fish tajine and stayed-up late talking and laughing together.
Eating good food with great friends at our apartment
We spent our days at the beach and our evenings eating really good food that we either cooked at our apartment or we invited to at friends’ homes. I believe that the ease with which all of my friends connected with Carlos, and the way he adapted to life in Mirleft, was directly due to his focused vision of experiencing Morocco. Unlike many foreign tourists, he hadn’t come to Morocco to see something “exotic”, to buy things or to take unwelcome pictures of men and women (he actually didn’t even have a camera). Carlos came to Mirleft to be in the ocean, to help teach swimming, to surf, and specifically to meet Hakim and Bachir. After Carlos was initially introduced to my group of buddies, I often lost track of where he was or that he was my guest in the country. I would usually turn around to find him laughing and joking around with our friends, or spot him in the ocean catching some waves.
Carlos hanging with the homeboys
Carlos representing Berber culture with the symbolic Amazigh sign
Language and conversation was an interesting aspect of Carlos’s stay in Mirleft. Carlos’s knowledge of French is limited to an ocean centered vocabulary he’s learned over his summers spent in France, and he definitely doesn’t speak Arabic of Tashelit (the dialect of Berber spoken in southern Morocco). But between the English that he does speak well, albeit with a thick Australio-Spanish accent, and a little translating I did between Spanish and a Franco-Arabic lingo, plus the astonishing linguistic flexibility of most Moroccans (more on this topic later), he was able to communicate very well.
Karmous!!! My dog! Somebody gave him to me, and he lives on my rooftop and I take him to the beach. It is awesome.
During the first few days Carlos that Carlos spent in Mirleft, the ocean was a tumultuous mess of large waves rolling in short periods churned by heavy winds. This all calmed down by the weekend, and on Saturday and Sunday we were able to go for long swims with Bachir, Hakim, and a few other friends. On Saturday we swam from Tabu Greisht to Imin Trouga, covering the distance of about 1km that separates the two beaches. We started by meeting up at one of Ahmed’s houses. Ahmed is an older man that takes care a few beach-front mansions and lets us leave our beach gear and use the shower at one of these homes. Because we were 9 swimmers in total, we took a rescue board and rescue can with us on the swim, both turning out to be very useful.
Hakim kicking it outside of one of the houses Ahmed cares for and let's use.
Swimming from Tabu Greisht to Imin Trouga is something that you can brag about in Mirleft. While the ocean culture here is strong, going for long swims in the ocean is rare, thus swimming 1km from one beach to another is a big deal. The water was calm, although unseasonably cold, and we swam in groups. At some time during the swim, however, Bachir began to get really cold and didn’t tell anybody. Bachir is super skinny and was wearing an old and thin wetsuit, something that didn’t protect him from the cold. While his body temperature dropped, his reasoning skills did as well, and at a certain point he passed into hypothermia. I was patrolling the waters with the rescue can, and when I asked him how he was doing because I could see that he was really cold and had this glazed look in his eyes, he said “I’m doing great, we’re already done”.
The group before a swim
Shit. I screamed for the rescue board and Carlos paddled over, pulled Bachir onto the board, and paddled him to shore. Because I was swimming, it took me longer to get to shore, but when I did, I found that Bachir was sitting there on the sand without his wetsuit on, cold stiff and not past the shivering point, and his friends were just laughing at him. This would have been fine if Bachir were “just cold”, but he was hypothermic and couldn’t even think clearly enough to know how cold he really was. I yelled at his friends for not helping him and ran with Bachir to Ahmed’s house where I placed him on the shower floor and put hot water over him for 30 minutes. I would have stayed with him in the shower for longer, but the hot water ran out, and so I had to dry him off and dress him in all of the clothes I could find strewn around Ahmed’s place. He came back to life, but definitively learned that he can get dangerously cold.
Bachir getting ready for a swim
Meskine. Bachir getting warm after a swim.
The next day I went on a swim with just Hakim and Bachir, but we were accompanied on the paddle board by Boosein. I didn’t expect Bachir to swim considering that he got hypothermia from doing the same swim the previous day, but he was determined to get back in the water. Hakim wanted to do a round-trip swim from Imin Trouga to Tabu Greisht and back, and so we started in the water with Boosein on the paddle board, me and Hakim swimming, and Bachir waiting for us at Tabu Gresiht. It was a great swim on another beautiful day of clear and calm waters, and Bachir was able to swim the whole way back without getting hypothermia.
Hanging in old French ruins on Hakim's birthday. Always swimming
One of the most memorable experiences of Carlos’s stay was celebrating Hakim’s birthday at the French ruins on a hill overlooking Mirleft. In Muslim culture, birthdays are not recognized with a celebration and many Muslims I’ve met in Morocco, Tunisia or Yemen don’t know their birthday, only the year they were born in. Because Carlos was here, however, we decided to celebrate Hakim’s birthday in a fusion of European and Moroccan tradition. We hiked to the ruins towards sunset with pieces of cake and everything necessary to make tea- a kettle, sugar, water, sugar, tea, sugar, charcoal, sugar, a lighter and a little bit of sugar. What ensued were a few hours of singing, dancing, taking pictures, drinking sweet tea and eating cake. It was awesome and simple and highly memorable for all of us.
Drinking tea (what they jokingly call Moroccan whiskey) to celebrate Hakim turning 23.
During the 10 days Carlos was in Morocco, we went to the public bath house twice. The first time was with Mohammed and Hussein, and the second was with Hakim and Bachir. Going to the public bath house for the first time is a very intimate experience. You feel lost inside layers of rooms that extend into the deep and hottest abyss, where steam flows out of a hot water well and men lay relaxed on the floor in their underwear. Eating a communal plate of tajine of couscous for the first time is also an intimate experience, where hands shoot out from all directions and dive into an aromatic dish. But Carlos was so comfortable and open with it all that he fit right into the cultural experience and I believe had a very enriching time in Mirleft.
Getting ready to dive into a plate of couscous at Hakim's house. Carlos and Yousef (Hakim's brother)
Couscous. The Friday tradition.
I returned to Madrid with Carlos, going first from Mirleft to Tiznit by shared taxi with Hakim and Bachir. In Tiznit, we spent the afternoon training at the pool. Carlos was Bachir’s trainer and I worked with Hakim. Afterwards we went shopping for a few boxes of dates to bring back to Spain as gifts, and then hopped on the bus for an eight hour ride to Marrakesh, arriving at the lovely hour of 3:30am. We went directly to the airport and slept on the cold tile floor until our 8am flight. Arriving in Madrid we separated, Carlos getting picked up from the airport by his mother and me taking the metro into Madrid to meet up with Marga, the other Spanish swimmer involved in this project. When we bid farewell, Carlos gave me four kisses in the traditional Moroccan manner of two on each cheek followed by a long hug. We laughed and he asked if that was how it was done in Morocco. I laughed again and gave him another four kisses.