Inshallah means…”God willing” in Arabic. For the last three years I have been following a unique swimming event, Morocco Swim Trek. This year, thankfully “Allah willed”. I tried to get other swim buddies to join me for this journey to no avail. I was on my own-solo!
Morocco Swim Trek is a staged swim of different distances over four days for a total of 30km. The setting is the disputed territory of the Western Sahara. Yes, you can swim in the Sahara Desert. Specifically, the swims were in Dakhla Lagoon a massive lagoon and peninsula off the Atlantic Ocean. This unique location is little known too many travelers except for avid European kite boarders and windsurfers.
Casablanca, Morocco is the point of departure for Dakhla so I spent a day in Casablanca checking out this fascinating city.
(Mosquée Hassan II)
It was then off to Dakhla to begin this grand adventure. My flight left at 9:30pm and I arrived in Dakhla at 12:30am. A new experience to be dropped off in the desert in the middle of the night.
There were 150 participants registered for this event and only three Americans. I must admit I was a bit nervous as I didn’t know a sole, I don’t really speak any languages other than English and I was going to be bunking with unknown room mates. A bit out of my comfort zone. The base of operations for MST was Ocean Vagabond Ecolodge that sits at the end of the lagoon. The bungalows fit nicely into the desert landscape and are set around a large common area for dinning and socializing.
The night before the first swim was a bit intimidating trying to meet new people in a foreign environment with a multitude of different languages being spoken. Despite the cultural and obvious language differences I had to remind myself that we were all there because of one thing…we all liked to swim! I also met my two Danish roommates as they came crashing into the room at 1:30am without any luggage. According to my roomies I snored!
After registration and an early afternoon briefing we were ready to start Morocco Swim Trek 2018. The first stage was Dragon Île De Dragon a 6500m swim from Ocean Vagabond to Dragon Island. I may not have been paying attention or maybe it was a language issue but it wasn’t a swim just to Dragon Island but around to the back side of the island and to the very end of it. 6500 meters in open water is a healthy swim any way you cut it but this was likely the hardest 6500m I have ever done. Due to our late start the wind had picked up and were fighting a current and waves crashing over our heads. Mentally, when you think you only have to swim to the island but then find out you have to swim to the backside it was a bit crushing. That night we shared our stories of the day with each other and new friendships started to form.
It’s a staged event so the second stage, La Pearle De Dakhla, had us starting back at Dragon Island. The boat ride back to Dragon Island really put yesterday’s swim into perspective. We baked in the sun on the beach for quite some time before we actually started. It was pretty much 8500 meters straight across the Bahia de Dakhla to the La Dune Blanche (White Dune) and then a slight left up the coast to the finish and our camp.
(8500 meters 2:29.47)
It was a much easier swim than the day before. I went faster than the day before with 2000 meters more distance. I found my groove and was able to sight fairly well off the White Dune and the shore. I also randomly synched up with my similarly aged and paced sans combi (wetsuit) Moroccan friends. There was a bit of a headwind at the end of the swim just enough to keep it interesting.
(Apparently some Danish people don’t like pineapples)
That late afternoon and night was truly a memorable experience as all the swimmers ate and slept in a large tents set up on the dunes.
We ate well and were entertained by the locals and then slept on thin mattresses in the tent with thin blankets. Surprisingly, I wasn’t cold at all. Also memorable was looking up at the beautiful star filled Saharan sky in the middle of the night when I had to relieve myself as there were only two porta-potties for 150 people!
Stage three was the longest stage, L’Envol Des Flamants Rose, the 10k marathon swim. After a night of sleeping on the ground I was somewhat suspect of how I would feel. I hadn’t swum 10k in a while. The swim was from the White Dune a long way down the beach to Dakhla Attitude Resort. Dakhla Attitude is on the point and the last major beach head before heading back further into the lagoon to Ocean Vagabond.
(10,000 meters 3:00.04)
The scuttlebutt before the swim was that we were going to be fighting a headwind and current most of the way. That put a little tension in the air. The water started off a bit cooler than it had been on previous days but after a couple hundred meters it was no problemo. Fairly early on in the race I found a nice pack of swimmers most with wetsuits that I clung to their toes for the ride. At the first feeding I noticed that the those without wetsuits in the pack were my Moroccan friends from yesterday and a few of their buddies.
We all remained fairly close to each other the balance of the swim. There was a bit of headwind at the tail end that made the finish challenging. It may have also been that I was getting tired. I never felt lonely or bored. It was a really fun and enjoyable swim!
(Pierre, Dino and me)
I stayed at the finish for quite some time watching people and waiting for my friends to come in. Loved seeing the happy and relieved face on swimmers as they crossed the finish line.
The final stage of 5000 meters was modified due to the winds. Rather than swim from Dakhla Attitude back to Ocean Vagabond we did an out and back from Ocean Vagabond.
(5000 meters 1:36.43–total time all four stages 9:49.19~26th overall including those with wetsuits)
The first 2500 meters was smooth sailing with the wind and current working in our favor. The moment we made the turn at the buoy to head back it was a different story. It was a total washing machine. Enjoyable for a bit, it got old real quick when I felt like I was swimming in place (I wasn’t). Obviously, I persisted but it was suffer-fest at the end. I lost my sans combi Moroccan friends at the turn but we caught each other at the end and finished within seconds of each other. Watching people finish the 5k was equally inspirational to the 10k as it was a hard swim and swimmers had completed the full Morocco Swim Trek challenge.
(The roomies Bo & Kim)
That night there was big awards celebration with the local politicians (treated like royalty) giving out the awards. Traditional music was played followed by a dance party.
It is almost too hard to put into words what a fun and different experience Morocco Swim Trek was for me. The fours stages were unique and challenging swims in their own way. The setting was crazy cool and very memorable. In the end, I think there are two big personal take aways for me.
First, do something out of your comfort zone. My biggest fear when boarding the flight to Africa was traveling solo and not knowing a soul. If I wasn’t traveling solo I would have never met new friends and interesting people from all over the world; the Netherlands, Denmark, Morocco, England, France, Italy, Qatar and Spain. These new friendships were truly a highlight of the trip for many-just ask our WhatsApp group. Be open to doing new and different activities. Seek discomfort.
The second, may be a bit esoteric in that Morocco Swim Trek was a reminder to me that people swim for a lot of different reasons and that swimming is truly a team sport. To see the looks of joy on swimmers faces as they accomplished something they had never done before or achieving personal milestone was touching. Moreover to see swimmers cheering, hugging and high-fiving swimmers from all over the world and the results of that encouragement was truly inspiring. Isn’t this what sport is all about? Very happy to have been part of this experience.
Looking forward to future Morocco Swim Treks…Inshallah!!!