The libraries of the desert route. Part IV
This is an article about Sidi Ifni, an old Spanish territory in the current Morocco, one of the last colonial dreams in the African Atlantic Coast.
It took the whole day to me to arrive to Sidi Ifni from Ouarzazate. There are no direct buses neither trains to reach Sidi Ifni from the inner South of Morocco. It is a minimum 10 hours long trip by bus, besides the time you spend in the stopover. Since I needed to stop, I decided to take a look to Agadir, the main point on the coast from where you can get to South following the shore. My transport option was again a CTM bus.
Agadir is a vivid Atlantic city located next to Souss River mouth, where the Atlas Mountains reach the sea. It is approximately 600 km from Rabat and 850 km from Ceuta. The city is very well connected with Marrakesh, Casablanca, Rabat and Tanger by a new highway and a modern airport. Honestly, I didn’t like it. Probably needed more time to catch its way.
Agadir was founded by the Portuguese around 1500 and today is a modern city, but I missed there some authentic character. Agadir is cosmopolitan and modern, with nice avenues going through the tourist area. The main boulevards are surrounded by restaurants and shops and some other cute modern streets with tourist apartments are quite empty off season. Indeed, Agadir is far from the typical image of a Moroccan city, since is rather an exception of European touch.
I sat upon my backpack for a while on the sand at the large beach. Some kids played football and some adults completely dressed approached from time to time to the water. That is the picture I got in my mind before coming back walking to the very far away from everything bus station. Finally, at dawn, I arrived to Sidi Ifni where the European touch was immediately very familiar to me, very full filled with a well-known Spanish flavour.
Sidi Ifni (Arabic: سيدي إفني) is a small town of 20,000 inhabitants on the Atlantic coast, located 180 kilometers south of Agadir. Once upon a time, concretely in 1476, the Crown of Castile founded an settlement called Santa Cruz de la Mar Pequeña. The new small village remained in Spanish hands until 1524, when it was abandoned because the constant Berber attacks in the area. And it kept as a forgotten territory, which officially belonged to Spain, since the 19th Century when the Canary fishermen realized about the amazing odds of those waters for they job. The Sultan of Morocco recognized the property to Spain through the Treaty of Wad-Ras, signed on April 26, 1860. But, besides some non-permanent settlements, the Spaniards did not take formal possession of the territory until April 6, 1934, during the II Spanish Republic. That was with the acquiescence of the locals, who preferred the Spanish presence to the French and they expectation also not having to pay tribute to the sultan.
Sidi Ifni became the capital of the Spanish territory of Ifni until 1969. And even being ruled by a very catholic and repressive dictatorship at that moment,the Spanish political management in the area was into the recognition and respect for the culture of the Baamarani population, as well as their religious beliefs. For example, Spain provided the construction of mosques and Koranic education of Muslim schoolchildren. In exchange, the locals cooperated with the Spanish civilians in peace and they worked mainly for the Spanish army based there.
I set up my tent, almost alone, just in front of the Ocean when was already dark. There are three camping areas in town; Camping El Barco, Camping Solymar, and Camping Sidi Ifni. There are also some hotels in Sidi Ifni like Hotel Safa, Suerte Loca and Xanadu Guesthouse, besides apartments and houses for rent.
When I wake up in the morning I realized how white everything was. I got amazed by the Spanish names of the places and touched by that very Southern Ocean mist which was the background for legionary stories in that legendary sweet Oasis in the middle of an hostile territory.
Indeed, after the independence of Morocco, Moroccan irregular forces attacked the territory between November 1957 and July 1958. The attacks began on November 23, 1957, when in the headquarters of the Spanish army found out that communications with the exterior were cut off. Regular troops of young and inexpert Spaniards soldiers on their conscript military service, some legionaries and a branch of local loyal policemen defended the territory untill the arrival of reinforces and supplies from Canary Islands. The War of Ifni was a hidden and silenced war, still much unknown in by Spanish mainland population, regardless provided several bloody combats, many deads and very painful economic consequences at the territory. Because all of that, Sidi Ifni is interesting for history lovers’ tourism.
Personally I enjoyed very much walking on the streets recognizing the patters on the walls and buildings, the old school Spanish signs and the style of the bars and shops. In Sidi Ifni center the houses are usually low, they are painted in white and blue and the traces of the Spanish past are visible corner. I could spot Hassan II Square (old Plaza de España), with a fountain and Andalusian-style tiles, and its surroundings where there are plenty of buildings from the Spanish era, some reused and others abandoned. The visitor can find there the Town Hall, the Church of Santa Cruz (now the Palace of Justice), the Military Hospital (hospital). The Post office, the Spanish Consulate (closed today) and some military barracks built in 1934 as the best of colonial architecture.
Taking a stroll I passed in front Cine Avenida, a very sixties looking like cinema, currently closed, and I found nearby a bar to get in. The tiles, the dirty bar and the shelves reminded me the very old school bars in Spanish popular neighbourhoods of my childhood. The owner had still a worn out sign on the wall where was written Café Madrid. I would wished to order a coffee with brandy to keep the old Spanish vibe but the old local barman meant in Arabic he could only offer tea. He suddently jumped in the backroom and five minutes after he approached to me and discretely he showed, smiling, an almost destroyed more than 50 years old expired Spanish DNI (Spanish ID card). When I got out I saw an abandoned building with a blue gate, above it there was a sign where I could read “Twist Club”. I immediately imagined the hits of Los Sirex, Los Mustangs or even Los Bravos sounding there while the legionaries tried to pick up random girls after some Spanish beers,
Today, Sidi Ifni is the capital of the province of Sidi Ifni, created in 2009 within the Sous-Masa-Draa region. It has a very nice location on the coast of the region of Ait Ba Amrane. It has a dry climate with Atlantic influences, with tropical flora, good farming and goat cattle. The strong wind and the currents formed wide and spectacular beaches, which are an ideal place for sea lovers, surfers, admirers of virgin beaches and fishing fans. It is also possible from town to hire 4×4 routes through Ait Ba Amrane and the Anti Atlas.
Speaking about current culture, in August, the Moussem Aknari Festival takes place and it is a good opportunity to get some knowledge about the local chumbera and its fruit (prickly pear). Sidi Ifni Mausoleum is located on the beach next to an old Muslim cemetery and a park. It is the oldest construction in the town.
Walking and walking I arrived to the old Spanish aerodrome and I could imagine those old planes there and the snob airmen with their leader helmets and jackets in the middle of the adventure. Getting back to the center, I jumped into a market and I got lost into the reek of meat for sale until the strong smell of a street sardine barbecue showed me the way out. I arrived to the Ocean and I saw a beach café with a terrace. I got there from a young boy a worn out menu: patatas bravas, chocos and the basics in Spanish tapas. I ordered a couple of them and beer that I could drink openly outside under the sun. I was invited to a nearby table with some local folks of all ages. They were drinking wine and we started a small talk conversation. An old guy told about he had been downloading goods from the Spanish ships and said he was happy with the salary, some fishermen explained how illegal immigrants are transported in random trips to Canary Islands from time to time and, even one of them, could show to me a decent Catalan language to refer to his years in prison in Barcelona.
The vibe, indeed, in Sidi Ifni was different. In 2016, the Moroccan government repressed protests against the regime which claimed for getting back to the Spanish nationality in Sidi Ifni. It was not the first time. When I left the town, some days after, I could feel a strange melancholy, the sweet sadness of an ending nice experience. That feeling was very far from the grief they might have felt those other Spanish leaving their homes, the only known land and universe for them, in 1969 on a huge ship that took them away from Sidi Ifni, to never come back.