Text by John Horne Burns
It was a thousand mile road trip through secular France, Catholic Spain and, eventually, Islamic Morocco. The journey was in a late model German camper van and featured one well known surfer on his last legs professionally and one surfer, then 16, who would later become very much the pride of his ancient country and even threaten qualification on the WCT. In Casablanca, the Volkswagen would stop at a souk in Rabat to pick up a young man who would, many years later, become one of the most significant Muslim surfers in the world.
What set the journey apart from others of the same predictable cloth was the diligence the gang of five spent on cataloguing Spanish rest-houses en route to Morocco. What the experienced traveller knows is that Spain is home to the greatest network of rest-houses in the world. They stretch from Barcelona in the east through Madrid in the plains to San Sebastian in the Basque Country. The rest-houses are recognisable by the word DISCO flashing in neon from the roof. Two internationally regarded writers and a famous photographer were on board, their assignment was to report on the infamous Spanish rest-houses for a major weekly American news magazine, as well as undertake research for a movie script they were co-writing on the subject. The rules were simple. No sex, at all. A budget of $US50 was allotted per rest-house for drinks and any tapas should it be available. The women, in the north and east, were a blend of desperate illegal immigrants from as far afield as South America, the Caribbean and West Africa, Russia and assorted Eastern European republics. In the flatlands, we noted teenagers chasing the glamorous lifestyle of sex and booze alongside transsexuals pocketing a few pesetas before heading back to Barcelona.
The surfer on his last legs professionally became a watchdog, sitting shotgun and barking directions if he spotted the tell-tale neon DISCO sign. Several hours before the Rock of Gibraltar was sighted, and with several clubs researched, we made our final stop. We hurried across the freeway and jumped a fence to get into the compound, it being on the opposite side of a major cord that was packed with cars even at midnight. A forlorn German Shepherd was caged out the back, ostensibly a guard dog but at this lonely hour, and with his insistent high-pitched howl, serving more to tug at a lonely man’s heart than to strike fear into it. The plate on the locked gate read, ‘Butch.’
Inside, two young women, one a delicious African, the other a dark-haired Colombian, surrounded me and softly kissed the nape of my neck. The rest of the gang were also surrounded by fiery beauties, such are the mechanics of their trade. Tempted, but never straying from the rules, we each drank a twenty dollar glass of beer, did our research and left.
In the cold air outside later, we walked past the caged dog. Our freedoms and pleasures were in stark contrast to his life behind wire. Imagine, said the surfer on his last legs professionally, if we were to steal Butch. I could use a dog like that at home, y’know, now that I don’t travel so much. I mean, we can’t leave him. His word was good. He leapt the fence, scooped up the fully-matured animal in his arms, and tossed it down to our waiting arms. With cars roaring past, the surfer on his last legs professionally zig-zagged his way across the freeway, and bundled Butch into the front seat. Two days later, Butch would enjoy front row vision to some of the best waves ever seen in Safi, Morocco.
It’s a tired maxim, but forever true: adventure and companionship is where you find it.