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20 Jul 2011

Taghazout serves up an endless supply of surf all year round,


There’s nothing quite like a faceful of offshore ocean spray to let you know you’re alive. But then there’s also nothing like sliding on to a smooth early morning wave, riding the liquid glass on an uncrowded break with 
a handful of other surfers and the slow-rising sun as your only companions.

I would sit and contemplate all this, but there’s no time; more peaks are lumbering towards the beach at Panoramas in Taghazout. Forget thinking about the dream – I’m living it.

Surfing lessons
My Surf Maroc guide Zac, a Taghazout local with a style as wild as the afro atop his head, constantly chirps at me in broken English.

“Look up earlier,” he chides. “Trust yourself. Feel the board underneath your feet. You know it’s there, just point where you want to go.”

I launch myself into wave after wave, my fatboy board the perfect vehicle for hitching a ride on these small slices of oceanic perfection. Every ride is met with more approving words from Zac. From anyone else it would be wearing, but 
when you surf as well as he does, your advice means something.

I watch as he slashes his way down the line, smashing the wave’s lip and then cutting back to meet the peak. He pulls 
a neat 360 in the whitewash and then, 
as he paddles back out, motions to me.
“Come further out,” he calls. You’re ready now.”


Surfing at sunrise

Steering
Beyond the impact zone, there’s just a few of us. Aside from Zac, at 30 I’m the oldest by at least a decade; the line-up is made up of a group of Taghazout grommets, none yet even thinking about shaving.

They’re rippers and I have to be on my game to even think about catching a wave. But it doesn’t take long for me to find 
my spot in the hierarchy and score some good rides. Zac’s advice is paying off. The board floats beneath my feet as I learn to subtly distribute my weight and steer it along the green wall.

“No class for these boys today?” I ask Zac after I’m snaked for another wave. 

“No man,” he replies with a grin. “The beach is their school today … maybe everyday.”

The beach
The sun rises higher, bringing crowds 
– mostly novices going through the ‘learn-to-stand-up-on-the-beach-first’ routine.

By the time they hit the water, I’ve been out there for two hours and ready for a bit of onshore time to regenerate.

As a camel trots by, ridden by an eight-year-old in the foolhardy style of one who has never tasted pain, polite hawkers offer their wares, only too happy to chat and learn about the world outside Morocco 
– even though their offers are declined.

The groms are also in. They gather round hoping Zac can hook them up a sandwich. He does. Hopefully that’s bought me some waves in the afternoon session.

We surf ‘til mid-afternoon when the swell drops off. No work, no school – the groms definitely have the right idea.

Dinner
Back at the stunning Surf Maroc HQ, the sun is setting above the villa’s top balcony. I watch it from an almost upside-down position under the tutelage of Lindsay, an extremely lithe Canadian yoga instructor.

A solid stretching session – some time to clear the mind and focus only on my breathing – would seem the perfect end 
to the day. But it’s not over yet.

The Surf Maroc team has prepared their nightly feast. Hunger can be a horrible poison but these solid meals are the antidote. Our multi-national tribe of wave warriors gathers to break bread and share tales of the day’s spills and thrills.

As the pastel-orange sky fades to black, the ocean becomes a soundtrack to sleep. My weary head hits the pillow, happy in the knowledge that I’ll do it all again tomorrow ... and every day this week.



All levels welcome
No matter what your level of surfing, there’s a wave for you in Taghazout.

From the beach breaks at Panoramas and La Delle (for learners/ intermediates) to the long rides and barrels of Killers and the exposed reef and fast wave at Boilers (for experienced riders), there’s never a shortage of swell.

Surf Maroc provides transport to the beach and instructors know where to go to suit your level of experience.

On your day off, talk to the team about a day trip to the nearby Paradise Valley for bush walking and cliff diving.

Moroccan property takes a tumble


The terrorist bombing of a Marrakech cafe in April, which left 16 people dead, dealt another blow to Morocco's struggling holiday-home industry.

Five years ago, the North African country was seen as a rival to Spain and Italy, a less-expensive alternative, luring pensioners and buyers of holiday homes. Middle East developers such as Emaar Properties, Sorouh Real Estate, Barwa and Qatari Diar announced large, multibillion-dollar developments.

But the global financial crisis, political turmoil in the region and the cafe bombing have brought activity in the market to a halt.

"The second-home market collapsed totally," says David Le Bail, the director of consulting for the international property consultancy DTZ. "There were simply no transactions."

Even before popular uprisings began in the Arab world, the market was slowing. From 2008 to last year, prices for holiday homes in Marrakech fell as much as 50 per cent, according to research by the property company CB Richard Ellis.

The abundance of new developments, many as large as 400 hectares, resulted in an oversupply of luxury villas, often priced between €800,000 (Dh4.1 million) and €1.5m. Of the 10,000 homes available, 50 per cent were vacant last year, according to CB Richard Ellis.

There were fundamental problems in the developers' approach to Morocco, analysts say. Emaar and others were exporting a project model that had worked well in other countries, focusing on expensive villas usually built around golf courses.

Developers typically made deals with the government for land in exchange for building infrastructure. The deals lowered the cost of entry into the market but made it difficult for developers to arrange financing since they did not own the land.

"Only projects with access to other forms of financing are continuing," says Mr Le Bail.

Many of the homebuyers in the developments were speculators who hoped to resell their homes quickly for a profit. But the financial crisis made potential buyers more conservative, especially in the UK, the primary supplier of holiday home purchases in the region.

Morocco lost its appeal when property started plummeting in Spain, Cyprus and other European holiday destinations. UK buyers could get better deals in the more traditional resort areas with better amenities and more frequent air service.

"Morocco was picking up because other places in Spain were getting too pricey," says Robert Lee, an independent consultant.

But the country was not an easy place in which to build, developers learnt. Government permits, restrictions on workers and requirements to use local companies in certain areas added expenses and delays.

"Morocco has proven to be difficult for most international developers," says Mr Lee.

Emaar Properties, based in Dubai, was listed as one of the largest foreign direct investors, with five projects in development. But last year the company's only sales in Morocco were 49 of the 123 homes released in Emaar Tinja, a 230-hectare housing development on 3km of waterfront outside Tangiers, according to a recent presentation to investors.

The project represents Emaar's lowest level of sales for international operations, outside Pakistan. Another 107 homes are expected to be delivered in the project by 2013.

A number of international companies pulled out of Morocco, turning projects over to local developers. A US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) development in Taghazout, originally planned by a consortium of international companies, is now primarily controlled by Moroccan interests, with Colony Capital, a member of the consortium, left with only a 25 per cent stake.

Work on most of the large projects has stalled. Of six tourist regions that the government had planned to create, three have been put on hold, industry executives say.

But Morocco remains a popular tourist destination. Arrivals jumped 11.5 per cent last year to 9.3 million from 2009. In the first quarter of this year, tourism figures were up 6 per cent from the same period last year, despite the turmoil in the region, which included protests in the kingdom itself.

"Morocco has been evolving for the last several years," says Yassine Hamdouch, a senior vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle. "The investments have not stopped in tourism."

This year, the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental luxury chains opened hotels in Morocco, and a Ritz-Carlton resort is expected next year. Thirteen golf courses are scheduled to open in the next three years, adding to the current total of 27, according to the tourism office.

A new constitution approved in a referendum this month offered hope that the country would avoid the upheaval experienced in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

The market is "going back to normal", says Mr Hamdouch.

Morocco offers buyers of holiday homes several advantages over its competitors, including tax breaks, long-term visas and a financial system based on French laws. But the political reforms may not be enough to woo buyers back to the market in the short term.

"I believe they need a lot more to restart the market," says Mr Le Bail. "There is increased competition from Spain, Portugal and Greece."

Developers have started lowering prices and offering deals, such as free furnishings, to compete with the low prices in Spain and other areas.

"I'm bullish on Morocco in the long run," Mr Lee says. "But what will happen is that a lot of developers will have to reset their price point."

Property experts say Morocco will start attracting buyers of holiday homes again when developers begin offering apartments and villas for €300,000 and below, once again providing an alternative to the popular European resorts.

"Gone are the days of multimillion-euro palaces," says Mr Lee.

 

12 Jul 2011

Costa del Sol red tide fishing warning extended across the Málaga coast

 red tide fishing warning which has been affecting parts of the Costa del Sol recently was extended across the coast of Málaga province on Monday, where fishing for bivalve molluscs has now been banned until further notice.

It comes after increased levels of the PSP toxin, which causes the phenomenon known as ‘red tide’, was detected in three types of bivalve molluscs.

The Junta de Andalucía’s agriculture and fisheries representative for Málaga, Mónica Bermúdez, informed Europa Press that the ban only affects shellfish. She said the fishing grounds can only be reopened after analyses show at least two negative results, with a minimum period of 48 hours between each sample which is taken.

The shellfish sector supports around 90 fishing boats in the province, and it’s understood the crews and boat owners will receive compensation payments for every day the ban is in place.

 

The Sierra Nevada biosphere reserve has been highlighted by UNESCO as a case study in good practice against climate change.



The international coordinating council for the organisation’s Man and the Biosphere programme met in Dresden, Germany, recently, which was preceded by an international conference, ‘For life, for the future. Biosphere reserves and climate change’. The conference analysed the work of 564 biosphere reserves and a report which has been now been published on good practice case studies includes the Sierra Nevada as a reserve which fully integrates climate change into its work ‘as a very high priority’.

The report notes that the Global Change Observatory’s monitoring programme is one of the key activities of Sierra Nevada, and adds that, ‘The Spanish biosphere reserve invests more than 30 million dollars on forest adaptation and 9 million dollars on reforestation. Many other projects of more than a million dollars are underway such as adjusting to increasing drought, adaptation in agriculture or protecting rare high-altitude flower species’.

Granada Hoy newspaper reports that Sierra Nevada is the only natural space in Spain which takes part in UNESCO’s Glochamore project, a world-wide network of 28 biosphere reserves which studies global change in mountain regions.

Six Spanish banks fail European stress tests

six Spanish banks have failed the European stress tests, including five savings banks and one medium-sized bank, ABC newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) will publish stress test results for 91 of the region's top lenders on Friday afternoon.

Spain's Economy Minister Elena Salgado said on Monday some banks had failed the tests as generic provisions - cash put aside by the banks to cover potential losses - would not be counted as core capital.

Spain's banks held some €27 billion in generic provisions at the end of March.

Nobody at the Bank of Spain was immediately available for comment

 

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