Kakadu, crocodiles, mines, protests and ageless lands

Well, there I was, on a BUS, almost bringing the average age down significantly – or that is how it felt!!!!!

 

BUT, despite my doubts this 3 day trip into Kakadu and the tip of Arnhem land was better than anticipated.

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A very early start from Darwin took me into Kakadu.   On a great road past great places like the Humpty Doo Hotel.

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Don’t ask – the name could  be from one of so many origins, but I like the derivative from the cattle station Umpity Doo.  Slim Dusty clearly was intrigued too (Humpty Doo Waltz) And it was quite a lively spot as the following quote indicates:

“But it’s not just the proud men and women of the Territory who can sink a Darwin stubby, or two.

If you were around Humpty Doo in the 1980s, you might have come across Norman, the 600 kilogram Brahmin bull who could knock off a Darwin stubby in 47 seconds, and then wash it down with six tinnies and a meat pie.”  Rae Allen 2008

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Can you imagine that happening today?

We passed miles and miles of mango trees – all neatly groomed into ‘squares’ to facilitate easier harvesting.    40% of Australia’s mangoes come from this area which relies very heavily on backpacker workers and provide 4.8 mill trays annually

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The name Kakadu may come from  Gaagudju, the name of an Aboriginal language spoken in the park.   Or it may come from the Indonesia (kakatuwah)/Dutch (kaketoe)/German (kakadu) word.  Any or all anglicised into cockatoo.   You decide.

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Regardless,  Aboriginal people have continuously inhabited this area for more than 65000 years – before the last ice age!   Which interestingly enough is not as long as the crocodile has been there – try 200 million years – ‘unchanged’ – hows that for a fact.   But more about crocodiles later.

The park is located within the Alligators Region of the Northern Territory. It covers an area of 19,804 km2, apparently the same size as Slovenia and half the size of Switzerland.  Half of Kakadu is Aboriginal land and the other half is under claim by them.   It is a UNESCO Heritage site and leased  to Parks Australia by the Aboriginal people.

Why Alligator Rivers when there is not an alligator anywhere in Australia?   Well blame the explorer Phillip King (first English navigator who entered the Gulf of Carpentaria) who has seen alligators in South America and assumed these were they – not having any idea that crocodiles even existed.    He wrote

On our course up and down the river, we encountered several very large alligators and some were noticed sleeping on the mud.  This was the first time we had seen these animals, excepting that at Goulburn Island, and , as they appeared to be very numerous and large, it was not thought safe to stop all night up the River“.

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warnings everywhere
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low tide river crossing
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Sunday afternoon entertainment – waiting for?

Kakadu is vast with according to the indigenous people 6 seasons.

Yup, 6.   Forget spring, summer, autumn and winter.   Try:

Yekke (cooler (May-June) when the drying winds and flowering woolybutt tell the locals to patchwork burn the woodlands to encourage new growth.

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Bangkerreng (April) harvest time when the floodwaters recede and skies are clear.  Plants are fruiting and animals caring for young

Kudjewk (December – March) monsoon rains with spear grass over 2 metres high and high heat and humidity

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spear grass

Wurrkeng (June – August) early dry season, floodplains dry out; magpie geese fat and heavy after abundant food crowd the billabongs.

Kurrung (August – October) hot and dry means good hunting of file snakes and long necked turtles

Kunumeleng (October – December) pre-monsoon sees streams running, waterbirds everywhere and barramundi move to estuaries to breed.

So much more interesting and meaningful if you live in that part of the world than just 4.

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The bird life is amazing
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Not an alligator, but perhaps a saltie?
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or a freshie? You get both crocodiles here

 

Okay so with 6 seasons, why not for symmetry’s sake, 6 landforms here too.

Promise, I won’t go into detail;

Stone Country:  Savanna Woodlands:   Monsoon Vine Forests:  Southern Hills & Ridges: Tidal flats:  Mangroves & Coastline and finally Floodplains, Rivers and Billabongs.

I did not get to see all 6 landforms, but what I did see what beautiful, enormous and inviting to return.

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walkways to amazing ancient rock art
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river crossings….
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wetlands – looks like grassland but you couldn’t walk on it – wade perhaps, but unlikely
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breathtaking
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the Brolga – Australia’s largest waterbird
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Amazing rock structures
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and of course the teas
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River cruises to get an
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an idea of the scale of the country
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even the trees seemed ancient
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sandstone almost as old as time
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looking against that flawless sky
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the walk was so worth the view
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brooding or was it smiling?

There are some that believe it is brooding, because for millennia this land had been called ‘the sick country’ by the indigenous  with rock art showing people with misshapen limbs and ‘swollen’ joints.

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That Mine
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or perhaps ‘scar’ is a better description

It turns out, it was in truth ‘ a sick country’ if you spent too much time there.   Radiation from the uranium beneath the ground (which causes swollen joints) was found and hence confirmed their label.   And with that came the Ranger Uranium Mine – and you may recall the protests.   At the time, one of the largest uranium mines in the world.   It is now closing down, incurring losses for several reasons.   The 2011 Fukushima disaster and related market slump and the waste management costs.   The mine is being shut down with rehabilitation costs expected to be $800million!!!!!

And that is not taking into account the town of Jabiru which was a thriving small town supplying the mine and is now almost deserted.   Apart perhaps from the hotel – the famous Croc Hotel built as a 250-metre long, 30-metre wide giant crocodile.

It will be interesting to see the restoration when complete.

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From the air….
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a sense of
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the scale of
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the land
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and waterways

And ALWAYS worth a visit – this amazing part of our country.

Darwin – at the ‘top end’

Names like Kakadu, Arnhem Land, Jabiluka, the Kimberley

have been just that, names, to me,

tucked away in Melbourne.

Names slightly mystical in feel, often emotive in use and always, definitely remote.

Which in a sense they are of course, ‘tucked away’ in the far north eastern tip of this vast continent with me, in the deep south so to speak.

3 573 km apart according to google maps.

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So when a spot was offered me on a horse trail through The Kimberley’s, well you can see why I had no choice. 😉😉🐴🐴

Interestingly, anything that involves local travel, is quite expensive and a trip up north dents the bank balance almost more than if I was going off shore.  So I felt obliged to ‘do more than just the ride’ and of course dent that balance even more!

But so worth it – every cent.

Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory is closer to Timor than it is to Melbourne and it feels that way too.    In so many ways.

A million miles from Melbourne (okay I know, 3 573 km to be exact) but you get my meaning!

The climate which thankfully is less oppressive than I had anticipated creates ‘a look’ that is distinctive: shorts, sandals of varying descriptions or none at all.

Casual, slightly dishevelled, wind blown, sun swept, almost Californian but without the ‘bling’.     Not that there isn’t bling in Darwin, some of the jewellery shops show quite a bit, but the general feel is more frontier town than high end holiday space.   A  deliberate facade I felt.

Based on The Esplanade, I wandered around the city and took an evening cruise in the harbour.

View from The Esplanade

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was So much to see and learn.

Such as, NASA had a Darwin airport runway which was particularly long, earmarked as a potential shuttle landing spot if ‘things went awry’ internationally and they didn’t want to or could not land in the USA.    History shows it wasn’t used – but a good trivia question.

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That Runway

The Aviation Museum has 1 of the only 2 B52 bombers still on show. (lent to us by USAAF)

 

Amy Johnson was the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia. She flew from Croydon, south of London on May 5th 1930 and crash landed in Darwin, 18 000km  and 21 days later.  (crash landing after flying safely for such a distance – another blog awaits !)

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Amy Johnson and her Gypsy Moth just before taking off for Australia

Darwin was given the name by a British expedition arriving in 1839 in honour of Charles Darwin who had sailed with them on a prior expedition.

It has a small resident population (101 000?) but fills up during the winter with tourists passing through to a staggering 1.38 million spending over $1.5 bill.

It has a crazy climate of almost only 2 seasons, hot and hot and humid when the rains come between December and March.   The hottest month is November, just before the onset of the main rain season when the  heat index can rise above 45 °C (113 °F).

It is one of the most lightning-prone areas in Australia. On 31 January 2002 an early-morning squall line produced over 5,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes within a 60-kilometre (37 mi) radius of Darwin alone – about three times the amount of lightning that Perth, Western Australia, experiences on average in an entire year!

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Darwin has been destroyed and rebuilt 4 times in modern history (who knows how many times before ‘the white man’ arrived).

  1.   In 1897 a cyclone destroyed Darwin (estimated cost UK pounds 150 000 in 1897 terms)Cyclone_damage,_Palmerston,_Port_Darwin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2)    In 1937 another cyclone with estimated costs of UK pounds 100 000.Screen Shot 2019-07-10 at 5.50.43 PM.png

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3)    In 1942 Darwin was bombed by the Japanese and the military was taken completely by surprise.    Most of the ships in the harbour were anchored near each other, making them an easy target for air attack and it would appear no plans had been prepared for how the ships should respond to an air raid.

Interestingly more aircraft were used and more bombs dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbour.

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Interesting snippet I read:

At 9.35 am Father McGrath of the Sacred Heart mission on Bathurst Island, who was also an Australian coastwatcher, sent a message using a pedal radio to the Amalgamated Wireless Postal Radio Station at Darwin that a large number of aircraft were flying overhead and proceeding southward. The message was then relayed to the Royal Australian Air Force Operations at 9.37 am.   No general alarm was given until about 10 am as the RAAF officers there wrongly judged that the aircraft which had been sighted were the ten USAAF P-40s, which were returning to Darwin at the time after reports of bad weather forced them to abort a flight to Java via Kupang, West Timor. As a result, the air raid sirens at Darwin were not sounded before the raid.”

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4)    Cyclone Tracey devastated Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people, and causing A$837 million in damage (1974 dollars).

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And then there is the harbour.   And a lovely dinner cruise with strangers who were friends by the end of the evening.

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And so a quick visit to an interesting town ended.

But little did I know What an adventure awaited me.

Kakadu and Arnhem Land.

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Barossa Valley heaven

 

I cannot in all truth begin this with

‘there are no words’

which is usually how I feel about my amazing horse riding adventures.

There Were words.

Plenty of them.

Well, for starters, there were 8 women,

thrown together by the love of horses and adventure.

And in case that was not enough of a conversation starter,

there was the countryside, the horses, the food and the amazing wines.

Allow me to introduce our ‘Barossa Belles’ by way of these photos.

(the word descriptions will follow)

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That’s “US”                                                                                                  The Formal ……
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and the far more ‘real’ us

And it turns out all the ladies loved words.

And we didn’t stop using them the entire trip.

Trail riding is something very special.

There is the ‘getting to know’ your horse.

We are each allocated a horse, based on, well observation during our first lunch together I think.

And with Jen & Jeremy’s uncanny skill, they matched us all perfectly.

No one at any time thought about changing horses.

And I, happily, had my old friend Basheer again –

goodness I had forgotten how much I loved him.

Tassie Tigers….. (a very good description of the love of my life is in this link)

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And so it was that we and our horses were ‘a pair’,

We had more or less worked out ‘the basics’.

Every trainer has different ways of ‘communicating’ with their horses and so,

apart from knowing which is the front and back ends

(I have more or less mastered That one now 🙂

there remains the small but important things like,

‘go’, or perhaps more importantly ‘don’t go’.

Which I can assure you differs from horse to horse.

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Not sure what exactly Piccolo’s trick was – but it raised a laugh!

 

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Ruby allowing Jan to show her trick
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Basheer’s trick is to cuddle – me

Trail Riding is something very special.

We ride together, we eat together, we share a house together.

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And we absorb together.

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We absorbed the beauty
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the conversation
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the space
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the solitude

The magnificence of the Barossa Valley.

The scale of the gum trees.

The tragedy of the drought.

The generosity of the horses.

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The views
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were breathtaking
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and sometimes took the
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horses breath away
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too with the steepness
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The trees
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were so amazing
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it felt as though each
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could tell us a
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a hundred and one stories
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about their lives…
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water so scarce, so muddy, the sheep get bogged and cannot get out
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almost the only water we saw on the ride

Sometimes we ride in single file.

Sometimes alongside someone.

Sometimes we talk.

Sometimes we don’t.

There are times when it’s all in my head,

the surprise that I am actually riding a horse;

the enormity of the space around me;

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A lunch time stop.

the sounds of riders talking to others somewhere in front, or behind,

-a soft murmur of words,

unintelligible but creating a sense of well being.

Reminding me as I write this,

of the murmur of parents voices when,

as a child one falls asleep safe in the their sound.

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smiles…
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Private thoughts….
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shared moment…..
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trail riders….
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finding our way

 

Trail riding is something very special.

Because it is not all about riding.

There is ‘down time’ – when we sit and chat,

when we sit and eat

when we sit and share:

our stories, our lives,

our adventures, hurts and joys

when we sit and laugh and even be foolish

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That sun ….
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Or perhaps it was that wine….
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Either way ….
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spooning was the way to go

Or perhaps more drinking.

Then again, just lying in the sun :  just ‘being’

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Of course
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the views
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and food
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made for such
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joyful smiles
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and conversations

Our home from home

Our making ourselves “at home”

Trail riding is very special.

You can cover so much ground and it is often so relaxing

but at the same time you can never really relax

as these amazing animals can spook at their own shadow,

or yours, or even a butterfly, or for no reason at all.

And it behoves one to always “be alert, so as not to be alarmed”

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and so we remained alert
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as we cantered through
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the most amazing forest

Of course your understand we are not cantering in these photos 🙂 🙂 🙂

We are absorbing the smell of the pine trees,

the hushed sound of the hooves on the soft turf,

the call of the  Currawongs  disturbed by our presence

for the duration of this particular ride, there really were no words,

we were in awe of the place.

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There was a very special night
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at St Hugo’s where
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we had scrubbed up and donned our bling…
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to learn about this estate, its history, it’s ups and downs
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all the while indulging …. but with class 🙂 🙂
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There was much to absorb
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and learn
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and put into practice
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with joy and smiles

The food was amazing,

the wine outstanding,

an evening not to be forgotten.

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And if bling isn’t your thing,

you eat at the Farmer’s Market.

Where the food is offered with as much love and care

And your back pocket will thank you

As we did them, for a wonderful breakfast.

Not to be outdone,

a night at Grand Cru Estate

where 5th generation winemaker,

Peter Seppelt entertained us

with his home made pizzas,

Seppelt wines,

warm fires and hilarious jokes.

Or are All jokes hilarious if the food and wine is good?

Perhaps

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The pizza oven
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with everyone waiting
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The home……
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the food…..
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the company…..
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oh and the wine….
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Did I mention the
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food
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or the company
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and as for the chocolate dessert!!!!!
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Everyone was very mellow
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as we listened in awe
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to Susannah’s poetry recital

 

I said there were words,

heaps of them and

amazingly our resident poet produced the most wonderful limericks of

us and our horses.

So good I am sure you would like me to share:

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Lee and Basheer

A remarkable woman named Lee

Could never pass by a good tree

“Take a photo!” she’d cry

Bounding happily by

On Basheer (who I’m sure would agree).

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Jan and the matriarch Ruby

Striding out at the front of the pack

Unerringly finding the track

With the wind in their hair

A formidable pair

Boss girl Ruby, with Jan on her back

 

And tricky Vicky with her agile Moo:

A competent rider is Vicky

Whose jodhpurs were (luckily) sticky

Moo went down on her knees

But as calm as you please

She rode on and smiled “That wasn’t tricky”

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JANE and her equally striking Gem:

 

Now Jane has been riding a while

And it shows in her posture and style

With her Gem of a horse

She conquered the course

And all with a beautiful smile!       

 

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JUDY who bred miniature donkeys on Piccolo

For Judy, a donkey’s the go!

And she thought she’d prefer to go slow

Then she cantered the hill

And she’s praising him still

Her wonderful steed, Piccolo.

 

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Linda and Colt 45

This pair were so bright and alive

Gentle Linda and Colt 45

When we started to trot

Little Colty got hot

And his jogging turned into a jive!

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HELEN and Opal who clashed with a gate – no damage done 🙂

Opal had Helen’s trust from the start

The calm pretty mare won her heart

Until an old gate

Intervened in their fate

And caused them, just briefly, to part.

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The views, the light, the skies, the horses, the food, the people.

I almost said ‘no words’

But that would be untrue for as you can see

we had lots of words

and a final fling from Susannah

which I shall keep for the final lines of this blog.

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We rode through vineyards, gold and crunchy in the autumn sun,

the creak of the saddle and crunch of their feet in the leaves the only sounds.

And just because we could,

a visit to Maggie Beer’s Farm

and a cookery demonstration.

 

And just like that, a week of unadulterated joy was over.

And we went our separate ways,

Joined forever by memories to treasure

forever.

And summed up by Susannah in a poem she just ‘whipped up’ for us – quoted below:

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Susanna and her
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and her Jaberwocky
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who helped with the words

AUSTRALIAN HORSE ADVENTURES

There’s a stirring in the vineyards and a whisper in the leaves

And the magpies joyful carolling is heard

For Australian Horse Adventures have arrived back in SA

With their happy, willing, home-bred Arab herd

The beginner and the nervous, and the confident, the brave

The older, “Can I do it?” come to ride

There’s a horse to suit all riders, there’s a mount to keep you safe

And a saddle that will cushion every stride

There’s pretty little Opal, Ruby – Queen of all the herd

And sweet and grey is photogenic Moo

There’s Tikka, little Colty, and Bashir and stately Gem

And Jabberwocky – just to name a few

The team behind the horses? Smiling Jeremy and Jen!

There’s nothing that’s too hard or can’t be done

Every rider’s warmly welcomed, feels like family from the start

And they know that wine just magnifies the fun!

And their passion is their horses, they are proud of all the herd

Their barefoot, bitless, fit and healthy crew

They can tell you endless stories of adventures on the trails

And the tricks their clever equine mob can do

And Phil from up on Tower Hill comes down to lend a hand

To start your day with bacon, eggs and toast

And he boils the lunchtime billy and his pumpkin soup’s the best        

(sorry Jeremy, it just rhymes!)

He’s the humming kitchen fairy with the most!

And the countryside is stunning, ancient red gums, high bare hills

Where the breezes cool you after every climb

You can canter shady forest paths or trot between the vines

The only part you’ll hate is passing time.

And the food! The wine! (The laughter!) A gastronomist’s delight!

Each day a chance to taste Barossa’s best

The experience of meeting those who grow this produce too

Just makes this ride a cut above the rest.

And heading home – such sadness, the Barossa ride is done

But memories and photos tell the tale

Of a landscape of great beauty seen between a horse’s ears

And the best of times and friends made on the trail.

The oldest Shiraz vines in the world since those in France were destroyed by disease.

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Moments captured

Jen & Jeremy of

Australian Horse Adventures 

are the most amazing hosts

and without any doubt,

made this an extraordinary adventure.

Thank you Both.

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Morocco Ride – Kiddy Goats

And there we were, having to find a new campsite apparently.

Or rather our back up truck had to find the new campsite.

Which did not impress our lead guide,

(who of course, did the least of the work – just between you and I)037e79b2fb52127537be79110891ae3f

I on the other hand thought it an imminently sensible decision.

Once I learnt we were not the only madmen horse riding in the Sahara.

There was another group, and they were indeed mad and men.

Or at least their horses were, a group of stallions.

And considering all our horses were mares.

Well you see why I thought it an imminently sensible decision.

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Apart from anything else, I personally thought it was one of our loveliest campsites.

Nope. that does not mean it had any amenities,

but it did have

a hill!!!

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The hill alongside our campsite

Which served multiple purposes as you shall see.

The first and most significant one is

we could walk behind the hill and not be seen

– a very big plus in a desert with no toilets (or bushes).  21-emoji-tears

But be that as it may.

It was the spot where we saw, or let me rephrase that,

others saw

The Most Amazing Something flash across the sky.

(see Morocco Ride – the next days)

And it invited us all to explore.

It was enough of a hill to offer views, but not so much of a hill that it was daunting

so despite a whole day in the saddle,

3 of us raced off to see what we could see.

And no sooner had we begun to clamber up the rocks

 

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Than we heard the strangest sounds and looked back to see these kids

(little goats, not children, although we saw them too)

come running towards us as though their lives depending on reaching us.

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The ‘Hill”
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They clambered up the rocks like
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proverbial mountain goats
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bleating all the time and leaving us wondering
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what was going to happen when they reached us already at the top.

And what happened is that they stopped,

looked at us, looked around and

then scampered down with equal haste.

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Rushing back to ‘mumma’

Leaving us very bemused and feeling quite ungainly as

we clambered down the same rocks they had jumped and leapt down.

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The ‘Hill” with us clambering down – not quite like the goats 🙂

Through a conversation with ‘Da Mohammed’ my ‘go to’ on this trip

I believe I worked out the following:

The adult goats are taken by the shepherd to find feed while the

youngsters remain at the Bedouin camp.

For some mysterious reason, they (the youngsters)

thought we were their mothers

and they came running across

bleating to greet us and I presume seeking milk.

Imagine their disappointment!!!!

 

As the women from the camp came to call them and take them back ‘home’

It was such a fun interlude and surprise and

no sooner had we arrived back in camp than another group went up

to see the setting of the sun.

Without the goats this time.

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view from
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the top
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looking at our camp
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and at the camera
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Miles of not very much…
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Lovely Jo, whom I thank for all these photos – waving as she reminds us – life is good…

Silhouettes against ……

a setting sun.

A appropriate way to end.

An amazing adventure.

Morocco Ride – the next days…

(To be read after Morocco Ride – day one )

And just like that, the horses and riders worked together.

The first day was,

for everyone, a surprise,

requiring much energy, patience and self control.

But here, on day two,

it felt as though we all knew what was required

and were confident we could survive

and even enjoy the seven day ride.

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It is true they were long days in the saddle.

It is true it was hot.

It is true we had tiny tents and no ablution facilities.

And it is also true that I loved every moment.

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Long hours in the saddle

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with a hot sun most of the day

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and thankfully a cooling in the evening

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our very tiny ‘homes’

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Someone made these barriers – miles and miles of them.

The long stretches of silence as I absorbed the vastness around me

The companionable times I rode alongside someone and we shared our thoughts

The kindness of “D”‘ Mohammed, the guide who ‘adopted’ me

The responsiveness of my amazing horse, Zeina,

her kindness, generosity, strength and endurance.

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the guide “Da” Mohammed who took such care of me “Da” old lady                                      (da apparently meaning ‘old/wise’ 🙂

Perhaps these photos will illustrate  where words cannot,

what was a most remarkable experience.

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We passed a Bedouin Family. I did not go in, but some did.
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The miles and miles of ‘nothing’ – with it’s own kind of beauty
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And so much room to gallop, canter and have fun
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The only ‘fresh’ water on the trip
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It was hot and dusty
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and sometimes it felt like a looooong day
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Once we rode under a ‘shield’ of shade for about 5 minutes – I remember it was heaven and I thought of the cowboy movies where they always found shade. 🙂  Perhaps the heat had made me hallucinate – who knows, but I clearly remember thinking about cowboy movies!!!!!
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Biblical in its symbolism – like so much of this trip
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pulling up water bucket by bucket

 

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to give to our horses

 

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no words,
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just vistas
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of a land
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both harsh
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and beautiful
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whichever way I
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looked

 

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Feeding our horses was a daily ritual
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required everyone’s help – even the little travellers who joined us and gave us so much joy
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as well as giving our lovely horses food

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Some played while others watched…..

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and the men hauled water
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bucket by bucket at the wells along the way (there were not many of them I might add – those horses were remarkable)

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‘Da Mohammed’  Whose kindness gave me courage. Whenever I looked around, there he was, keeping pace, watching out for me – and it wasn’t just me he cared for     He loved the horses passionately and was always working. – I shall forever remember him with fondness

And of course there was the necessity of feeding ourselves as well…..

 

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whether it was buying an orange from the locals (loved the clothes!)
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or trying to buy something to drink…
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and our daily delicious lunch – fresh salads, tinned tuna and bread pockets that were fresh on day one, not so fresh day seven 🙂
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but always prepared with such love by our amazing guides
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while we were left to search for ‘the proverbial’ ablutionary bush…… and may I add, it took some searching – good ablution bushes were few and far between.
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Our campsite was always a welcome sight – table and chairs a real treat and many happy hours we spent round that chatting and sharing

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One night we slept in luxury,

a Bedouin camp with

‘stand up tents’

and sit down toilets,

even if they didn’t actually flush

and real warm water dripping out of a shower – of sorts.

How easily we were pleased.

How quickly we learnt to appreciate what a week before we would have despised.

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A “Stand up” tent – didn’t matter that four of us slept in it – it was LUXURY – Fully lined with the most beautiful rugs
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Some even did washing!!!! Drying was not a problem

Our neighbours

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That bizarre time warp
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the juxtaposition of the modern
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and the ancient
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They munched
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and sat and pondered
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as a herder sat and munched
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and pondered

There was a particular evening which perhaps sums up how amazing this place is.

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look carefully you will see the light of our camp

We were seated at our table – 8 one side and the rest of us on this side,

it was dark, the sky ablaze with trillions of stars.

(In fact someone had counted

28 shooting stars in less than 29 minutes one night)

Shooting-Stars

Conversation and laughter was alive with energy when

out of nowhere those 8 faces opposite us

 froze for a few seconds,

then there was a collective cry of amazement.

They had all, at the same time seen something in the sky –

we are yet to define it precisely.

Suffice to say, this meteor, comet, or something else flashed across the sky,

so vividly and for such a long time

that they were stunned into silent awe

while those of us who had our backs to this wonder

were left amazed

at their amazement.

They were speechless at first

and then

could not stop speaking – all at once,

trying to explain what they had just seen,

clearly frustrated

that no words could adequate describe their collective vision.

This is in many ways

an ‘other worldly place’

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a speck in the sky
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grew larger
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to reveal an Air Morocco plane – how appropriate!!!

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a night of singing with drums and a fire – our guides leading the way, as usual

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One day,

We went over a mountain pass .

I write it so casually,

but it was anything but a casual passing through a pass

(I seem to remember another pass that was less casual then casual 🙂

Always read the fine print. Really? )

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We went over on foot

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It was steep
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It was hot

We lead our horses, always hoping they did  not step on our heels 🙂

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it was Up and Up

 

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taking a break whenever we could…
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leaning on each other while we took a breather….
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or some photographs
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it felt like there was no end…
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… to the slog.
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and the heat.
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and then we were
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at the top – recovering and

 

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and contemplating the
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amazing vastness ahead.

It was a very real and yet at the same time very surreal experience.

And as I sat there, catching by breathe and looking

at the land before me,

I was drawn to The Book and the Promised Land.

And the time warp took me there –

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I couldn’t help but think of Moses (Deuteronomy 34),

who was allowed to see the that promised land

but was not allowed to cross over into it.

Craziness, Heat, Weariness?

Or perhaps this place truly is something different.

Of course I wasn’t looking at The Promised land.

For one thing I was in the wrong country.

For another thing,

there was nothing attractive about what lay in front of me.

Stones, sand

and no milk or honey.

And yet that is where my mind kept taking me.

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Promised land?

And then began the descent….

Mercifully in the shade of the mountains for a short while.

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Coaxing our horses we began the descent
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Down and
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down.. careful step…

 

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by careful step
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Until finally we could ride again.

Welcome shade, for a short while,

and then the sun again.

As I said.

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It was a very real and yet at the same time very surreal experience.

Trudging along, with my horse, with the heat, with no idea of what was ahead,

and in my head a picture of

Mary and Jesus going to Egypt as refugees,

trudging along, with their donkey, with the heat, with no idea of what was ahead

and once again this amazing country

took me into a time warp.

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Images along the way……

From shopping and eating…

To sights and views

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Jan, who gave this ride a miss and was always waiting to welcome us with Such a Lovely Smile…..
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That sun and dusk was something to behold
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and so we pretended to be masked bandits 🙂
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The most precious commodity in the desert
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alone in an almost alien world
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with the occasional sign of habitation
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and then again signs of absolutely
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absolutely nothing……..
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but miles of stone and sand
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and occasional ‘hills’
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follow my leader for 7 days.

A truly remarkable experience.

 

Thank you Jo, for all your lovely photographs. 

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Morocco Ride – day one…..

The thought of ‘thundering’ through the plains of Mongolia

was what got me on a horse in the first place;

and here I was,

about to ‘thunder’ across the plains of  Morocco, on a horse!

Who would have thought!

And while I am still to see the Mongolian plains,

I have seen miles and miles of the Sahara desert,

some 100 something kilometers I believe.

Nor I am complaining.

After all they both show up on the world map,

both begin with an M, 

and both are exotic sounding.     

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And so after some adventures along the way Always read the fine print. Really? 

which reminded me this was an exploratory trip,

I was relieved to find that we were not going to Tombouctou

appealing as the name is….

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(although I always thought it was Tim Buck Too)

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Because 52 days of travel was not appealing at all – again I suggest you ‘read the fine print’ to find out more 🙂
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some of the crew – full of anticipation….

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Instead,

we found ourselves in Zagora

where we needed to stop,

regroup,

shop,

stock up

and meet our horses.

 

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Not one of our horses, but certainly ‘the stables’ where we found our horses 🙂

Did I mention this ride began on my birthday?

No, I don’t believe I did – but there you have it.

To celebrate my 65th birthday I was about to ride a horse for 7 days in the Sahara.

Tells you something about what has happened to my mind in my old age!!!!!

And so the first night, spent at the ‘stables’ as shown above was round a table with delicious food and celebratory musicians.

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delicious food
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enthusiastic musicians

Sadly I do not have any of the promised Professional photographs yet but these lovely ones are largely thanks to Jo – so very much appreciated.

Where they fail, use your imagination.

We had two belly dancers and a group of male musicians all of whom wanted to party long after we were all ready to retire!

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Beginning to wish they were as ready for bed as we were !!!!

 

So far so good,

We had all had much fun,

survived the drive from (or was it too?) hell to get here

and  were about to begin a different ride bright and early

the day after the night before.

 

So how do I explain our first morning?

Maybe refer to my rough notes which I show below.

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They say:

“WOW!!!!!!  CHAOS

Barb & Arab horses.   

Good riders and still chaotic.   

What am I doing here

Fractured wrist and all

Stomach churning,

Ready to bail 

 But do what? 

Sit in the truck with no one speaking English?

Stayed – so nervous couldn’t even see the views”

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Really difficult to explain how hectic this morning was.

18 riders, more than I have ridden with before.

All of them much better riders than I am and still they had their hands full.

Of course these photos hastily taken by someone show tranquility –

that is because when there wasn’t (tranquility) which was most of the time that morning,

no one Could take photos 🙂

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Waiting as they saddled
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our horses, which took
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a looong time

Luckily for me I had Not done my homework on the Barb horse (or Berber)

because they are described as :

” generally possessing a fiery temperament and an atypical sport-horse conformation,

but nevertheless has influenced modern breeds”.   

It would appear even the Andalusian was bred through the Barb.   

 I certainly saw some of that fiery temperament on that morning.

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I did learn that they had been fed oats for a few days prior,

with no work,

in anticipation of the 7 day ride ahead.

Oats apparently makes them ‘full of energy’.

 

And so I was here – for better or for worse.

Finally I was allocated a mount, Zeina, a flea bitten gray (again)

although this time a Barb Arab cross and happily for me,

the kindest, most willing, even tempered friend I could ever ask to spend 7 days with.

Fortunately too, I was the last to be saddled up

so I did not have to keep her tranquil for ages waiting for the others.

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My flea bitten gray – Zeina and I. The sweetest soul in the Sahara…

So what were the views I according to my notes not see thanks to my nerves?

Well we left the ‘stables’ and found ourselves in the streets of Zagora.

Narrow lanes really,

where the sound of horses feet on the ground brought people rushing out from

every nook and cranny (of which there were many)

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people appeared
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from everywhere…..
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and apparently nowhere to….
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watch and even try to touch
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observing us as we
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passed through – and not just people stared at us!!!!!

Finally and thankfully we were out of the ‘crowds’ and could settle our horses and ourselves.

For what lay ahead……

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Finally “Far from
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The Madding Crowd”
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we became the mad crowd  🙂

Which was fascinating.

The Draa Valley to begin with.

(the Draa river when it flows is Morocco’s longest river, 1 100 km)

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a river valley filled with palm trees
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with occasional ‘farms’
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The Draa Valley
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those ‘farms’
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silent walking…
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and sometimes talking
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but always observing the scenery

It was an incredibly long day,

both in terms of hours in the saddle,

and emotionally as we settled with our horses

and worked through the Adrenalin of our start.

And my notes remind me we arrived at camp well past dusk,

weary, grateful for an AMAZING meal, and our tiny tents.

I for one, didn’t care that I wasn’t going to shower or wash,

I was just pleased to crawl into a warm sleeping bag, with a nourished body.

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The mobile ‘kitchen’…
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from which amazing meals were created
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our mobile ‘homes’
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Our Amazing support crew – 1 truck. All our gear, tents, food & horse food etc
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Time to put our heads down for the night

Portugal – Dolphin Trail

 

I am used to travelling alone and often find myself ‘the odd one out’ in a group.   But never more so than when I joined a group of horse riders in Portugal.

  The group  had been riding together for several months and were

winding down towards the end of their epic adventure.

I had just arrived, all enthusiastic and

wound up at the beginning of my epic adventure.

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They had long ago worked out where they ‘fitted’ in the group and their conversation flowed quickly and with a familiarity that left me ‘out on a limb’ for the entire evening.

That first dinner I felt like I was on one of the wobbly things you use in the gym.70275_1_Something designed to keep you on your toes; fully engaged and concentrating and wriggling this way and that to keep your balance!!!

 

But ‘find my balance’ I  did,

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And the first morning of riding was filled with sunshine, smiles and a natural order….. me at the back, comfortable on my horse, Epico, by name,

following the straight backs and confident body language of the riders in front.

Now I know I don’t know much about much,

but this time I had done my homework.

I knew I was riding a Lusitano,

whose ancestors were found on the Iberian peninsula as long ago as 25 000BC.

Not that my Epico was that old  you understand,

but his father’s father’s father etc….. was there once.

   In fact, apparently this is his father,

which is hard to believe when you realise

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that This is Epico. (on a good day)

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But I digress (again).

Lusinatos and Andalusians were only recognised as separate lines in 1960.  Apparently the Andalusian has a straighter head profile and carriage and used for dressage and the Lusitano a rounder head and stronger athletic body for herding cattle and those bulls.

I also knew that the Iberian Peninsula was where Portugal ‘found’ itself, and the use of the word Iberian dates back to 500BC!!!

It is the second largest European peninsula (after the Scandinavian peninsula) with indications of habitation more than 1.2 million years ago.

The truth is the history of the Lusitano and the Iberian Peninsula is actually quite interesting, but something tells me it would bore you, so I shall remain interested without sharing 🙂 🙂 🙂

What I Will share, though is that I was on an ‘exploratory ride’ which meant we had a vague idea of what lay ahead, but only a vague one.

Which suited me.

I was on a 5 day trail in the  Costa Azul (blue coast) of Portugal,

with our guides, Miguel, Dennis and Vladimir

and waiting to see what unfolded.

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Vladimir – so helpful
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Miguel – so amusing
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Dennis – so good at creating a feast

 

We had amazing weather considering it was mid November.

We had wonderful riding, through villages where the horses hooves clanked on the roads, conjuring up memories of bygone days in books of those times.

And where Epico lurched and lunged when a bus or truck came rumbling past –

I was too busy staying on to see what vehicle it was 🙂

But I certainly learnt to hang on tight, breathe and expect the unexpected!

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The sound of horses hooves on bitumen is such an ’emotive’ one – at least for me….
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that sound
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mirrors to avoid traffic!

And what an unexpected morning it was.

A lost shoe meant a halt for running repairs.  Well actually not running at all, it was standing repairs so that we could go running later 🙂

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That’s my Epico
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while the others took a leg stretch.
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and still others grabbed a bottle…….
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which was shared all round – such a delicious port – at 11 am!!!!!!
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and which obviously intrigued the locals 🙂

Our days were spent riding through stunning cork forests

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so beautifully old
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images of the countryside
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beautiful in their neglect
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Epico and me….
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gazing across…
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at our reflection
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drinks time

 

And the most wonderful lunches, outdoors, with smiles, drinks and such fresh salads

(well mixed in Miguel’s big tub 🙂 )

 

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even our
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4 legged friends
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had a siesta
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and savoured the aroma of our lunch

Cork is ‘harvested’ manually and the art of this is not to damage the tree.

IMG_4084This is how it is done.  – Each tree is debarked every 10 years

 

(Portugal uses cork in so many fascinating ways, shoes, bags, hats – really beautifully made. )

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cork stacked and ‘ready to go’

We had stunning canters, and a wonderful day on the beach.

Full of adventure – the photos will ‘speak’ for themselves.

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I love the light….
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shadows and
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sky
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The team
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solitude of a stunning beach

Which inevitably meant we just had to canter and race and have So much fun.

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miles of nothing
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sea and light
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to take your breathe away
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even though it was not warm

Until, one of the waves washed up some green netting just in front of my Epico.

Dear strong and brave friend that he is,

he needed to save me from this monster

and so swerved (suddenly) away, without warning, and left me behind!!!!

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and that was me, 20 seconds after falling
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not sure exactly how I feel
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but better laugh – just in case
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while I have my glasses
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cleaned and returned – Note the green netting – Such a Monster!!!
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and there I was back on Epico!!!!

But it wasn’t all riding, there was laughter, drinks and a wonderful day out on the bay with the dolphins.

 

 

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views
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pools
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skies early
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and
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late
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