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Butterflies hit the Sahara Desert

Travelling to Dakhla, Morocco

As the sun started to set over the Sahara desert landscape, gently tinting our world every shade of orange, I stepped off the plane and was immediately hit by the gusts of wind that blew around me, with dust and dirt and desert sand blowing into my eyes… the temperature feeling slightly colder than I was expecting, I have to admit. I suddenly understood why Dakhla has suddenly become one of the world’s top Kiteboarding and Windsurfing spots. With an estimated 350 windy days per year, Dakhla is boasting some pretty high statistics, and the best part of it seems to be that it maintains these amazing wind and weather conditions all through the year.

I stood at the baggage belt next to another 12 courageous girls who had decided to join me on this trip. We had decided to come to The Butterfly Effect Dakhla. For those of you who are not familiar with the Butterfly Effect, it is a world wide water- woman movement that has been dedicated over the last 7 years to empowering women through watersports in a non – competitive setting. A way These events are designed to bring confidence, joy and skill to each girl’s boardriding skills. Founded by Hawaiian Waterwoman Tatiana Howard, the Butterfly Effect now has around 8 annual events all over the world, in locations such as Maui, Cabarete, Fiji and Tahiti… But we had decided to not choose the more tropical options and instead come and experience this movement on the edge of the Sahara Desert… in a small town that is located just 200 kilometres from the Border of Mauritania, and is a town mainly dedicated to Fishing Export… but has now received as much attention for its wind and has become one of the favourite spots of the PKRA World kiteboarding Tour…. And as I study the people disembarking our flight, and unloading board bag after board bag from our plane, I would estimate that around 80% of the people who just landed on our Royal Air Maroc flight , were here for exactly the same reason that we were…..Wind.

As we emerged from the airport, each of us dragging our board bags and luggage, we were greeted by Tarik who was to become our driver and local guide for the next 7 days of our Saharan adventure. Bags loaded into his two 1962 Landrovers that didn’t look all that roadworthy to me… It seemed that only one of the doors could actually be opened, and the sound system consisted of his nokia telephone hanging from the rearview mirror…. but off we went leaving the town behind us, passing several police stops on the way, and heading out into open desert. Squeezed together and virtually on top of each other as our jeeps bumped and rattled into the dark night.

Arriving at the camp, the first thing I noticed as I step out of the car is the vibrant starry night…. with no light pollution to affect the view, the star gazing possibilities here were exceptional! Our accommodation consisted of cute little wooden huts and traditional Moroccan tents spread out over the hillside, which over-look the immense 45 kilometer Dakhla lagoon. That’s right, 45 kilometers of flat water stretched out before us… surrounded by desert dunes and beaches. The wind still seemed to be blowing consistently , even at 11.30 at night…

After a great welcome dinner, a traditional Kefta meat tagine and a couple of local beers, we were ready to get some rest. Don’t come to Dakhla expecting 5 star comfort… the wind can blow all night long and the sand seems to get in everywhere, but besides the minor discomforts the place has an amazing authentic charm… there is just something about being in the desert that is hard to described and should be experienced at least once by everyone.

The following morning we woke nice and early to find our traditional Moroccan breakfast ready and waiting for us. I poured myself a cup of coffee and looked out to the water, and out of the corner of my eye caught sight of a dolphin jumping out of the water just in front of us. According to the locals, it’s common to see them and even get to sail around with them here in the lagoon. The desert seems an unlikely place, but It seems these dolphins now call it home.

Turns out we are a really varied group of girls on this particular Butterfly Effect Event. Obviously we have Tatiana who has come all the way from Maui, and Gretta Kruesi as our coach who has come from California to start teaching and helping us with our progression. Other particpants have flown in all the way from New Zealand, Abu Dhabi, London and Spain amongst other places… all hoping to get a maximum amount of time on the water as possible. All joined together by a passion for wind and water, and curiosity for this unusual desert location.

The wind in Dakhla is extremely consistent. It most often blows from the North East, an averages around 20 to 25 knots, though in the summer months of July and August its known to increase to up to 35 knots. There is an immense 45 kilometer long lagoon which ideal for freestyle and freeriding and then on the other side of the peninsula, just 5 minutes away by car, you can find an idyllic wave spot where the only people around are a couple of lonely fishermen. It seems crazy that this gem of a spot exists yet is still so untouched. The spot only really comes to life once per year when the PKRA World Tour comes to town and the place becomes a circus of media and press, riders and spectators… once everyone goes home things go quiet and back to normal. Not a soul in sight, and some of the best wave riding conditions that you will be able to find in Morocco.

With endless hours being spent on the water, our main priority during the week was which time lunch would be served and which size kite should I Pump up. Every other thought and concern seemed to melt away. The great thing about being on the water with a group of girls is that you push each other to learn and progress… it’s not a competitive feeling, but an encouragement to do the best you can and push your self that little bit further. We would spend hours and hours on the water, and as the sun would start to set it would be time to pack our gear up for the day, climb to the top of the dune with a few cold beers and get ready to watch the golden colours gently fold over the desert and across the horizon. Dakhla is not really the place to go if you are looking for full on nightlife… but we still managed to get a few great campfires going, mojitos and sangria behind the bar, and the guys pulling out the djembes for a little traditional music sesssions. With Tatiana teaching us the Hula dance, and the Moroccan girls teaching us the more local version, hips were swaying and drum beats could be heard all the way across the desert. A few beers later and we normally seemed ready to retire back to our cozy little tents and once again enjoy the silence of the desert nights.

After a couple of days on the water, the wind dropped down and we decided it was time to take a littlee drive down south….. We packed up the landrovers and started heading down on the road direction Mauritania. Not sure what were looking for, but the driver, a local Saharaoui, had mentioned something random the day before about a natural water source way out in the desert, forming several pools of water filled with tiny fish, that could apparently give you a Japanese style pedicure by munching away at your dead skin. Not so appealing to me, but some of the other girls seemed to be into it, so off we headed on a mission south. After driving down a straight and endless desert road for well into an hour, we turned left and followed a track straight into the dunes. Surrounded on all sides by wild camels and the occasional desert pastor, it felt like we were literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s essential in these areas to have a driver who has a lot of local knowledge. The area used to be riddled with landmines, remnants of war as a result of the 16 years of fighting between Morocco and the Frente Polisario forces. Though these have now been removed, its always best be cautious when heading offroad in the more remote areas. Our driver however seems to know each grain of sand and each lounging camel that we pass, and before we know it we pull up to our destination…. An oasis in the middle of the Sahara desert. Glistening water, green plants and trees growing all the surrounding area, such a contrast to the barren terrain which is all that we have seen since we arrived.

Gently putting my feet into the water, I could barely keep them in their once the hundreds of little fish surrounded them and started nibbling away… not something anyone ticklish would ever be able to handle! We started off with just our feet, but the desert sun was starting to burn our backs and the temperature was definitely rising. Before we knew it, all the girls were diving into the natural ponds, scaring the fish away before they knew what was happening. Such a surreal and unique experience, swimming in our own little oasis, with nothing around other than a few wandering camels.

Arriving back to our area we headed to have dinner in Dakhla city. Not as tiny as I had first imagined, Dakhla was originally established as a Spanish trading port in 1476, back then known as Villa Cisneros. Now under Moroccan rule, the town has a population of around 60,000 people. It’s mainly a military and fishing export town, but lately things are changing, and more and more tourists searching for good wind and nice weather are starting to head to this lazy sun drenched town on the edge of the desert. Situated just 22 kilometres north of the tropic of cancer, Dakhla maintains warm temperatures all through the year. January is usually the coldest month, with temperatures of around 22degress, and the summer months get slightly warmer at around 28 degrees. Located just a few hours flying from Europe, this makes it a pretty ideal place for a quick winter get away. Mix this with the option of both flat water and waves, and wind all year round, and you have a pretty winning combination!

We stroll through the market, shop after shop not selling the standard stuff you expect from a Moroccan market. But then again, this is not Marrakesh…. Here you will find local things, the traditional multi coloured fabrics that the women dress in, traditional saharoui suits for the men, Moroccan pastries, and all kinds of handicrafts that have made their way up from Senegal and Mauritania… it’s a fascinating combination and we spend hours browsing through it all.

For dinner we decided to try the local delicacy… Camel! Not as bad as I had anticipated, we enjoyed this meal! Mixed in with fresh Moroccan salads, I was getting into the local vibe. After travelling a lot around Morocco, the thing I really notice about Dakhla is the friendliness of the people. It’s a place that has not yet been marked by the arrival of tourism, so you can feel really comfortable wandering around and getting to know the place and truly enjoying the authentic feeling that Dakhla radiates.

Just a wind swept town, on a little spit of land in the desert, surrounded by Ocean and lagoon. Such a unique spot, and a very special experience that I got to share with the other “butterflies” who had come to join in also. Its always amazing to share new experiences and make new friends from around the world. After 7 days of experiencing the desert, the sand, the African sunsets, the full moon over the lagoon, the camp fires and drum beats, the mojitos and Moroccan beers, smiles and good times, we all boarded our flight back to Casablanca. From there each of us would fly of in our own direction to a different corner of the world taking with us some amazing memories of a unique place, and most of all having connected with other girls through our amazing Butterfly Effect experience. As Tatiana would say, sharing the Aloha Spirit throughout the world!

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