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.
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.
with a hot sun most of the day
our very tiny ‘homes’
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.
My flea bitten gray – Zeina and I. The sweetest soul in the Sahara…
the guide “Da” Mohammed who took such care of me “Da” old lady (da apparently meaning ‘old/wise’ 🙂
My flea bitten gray – Zeina and I. The sweetest soul in the Sahara…
Perhaps these photos will illustrate where words cannot,
what was a most remarkable experience.
Some played while others watched…..
‘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…..
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.
There was a particular evening which perhaps sums up how amazing this place is.
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)
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
could not stop speaking – all at once,
trying to explain what they had just seen,
that no words could adequate describe their collective vision.
This is in many ways
an ‘other worldly place’
a night of singing with drums and a fire – our guides leading the way, as usual
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 🙂
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.
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.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,
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
that This is Epico. (on a good day)
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.
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!
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 🙂
Our days were spent riding through stunning cork forests
And the most wonderful lunches, outdoors, with smiles, drinks and such fresh salads
(well mixed in Miguel’s big tub 🙂 )
Cork is ‘harvested’ manually and the art of this is not to damage the tree.
This 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. )
We had stunning canters, and a wonderful day on the beach.
Full of adventure – the photos will ‘speak’ for themselves.
Which inevitably meant we just had to canter and race and have So much fun.
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!!!!
But it wasn’t all riding, there was laughter, drinks and a wonderful day out on the bay with the dolphins.
and the black pigs
and the black pigs.
A fun day out looking for, finding and watching the Bottlenose Dolphins in Setubal.
These are totally ‘wild’ and seem to be very happy playing around our boat for hours.
And suddenly it was all over.
I didn’t feel like I was trying to find my balance anymore..
I had found it.
But then again perhaps not
since I clearly lost it on the beach –
with a fractured wrist as a reminder.
I had made some new friends, knew where I ‘fitted in’ and was no longer out on a limb
(although I had a limb which was ‘out of order’ :-))
and was looking forward to our next exploratory ride in Morocco.
It is interesting how the dynamics of a group changes depending on the length of time one is going to be together.
In this case, only one night and so both the guides and guests seemed ‘more insular’ as though the energy required for introductions wasn’t warranted for just 24 hours.
What can I say?
What I CAN say, though ,
is that there is something about growing up in this country,
and even more so if horses have always been your love,
and the story of The Man from Snowy River.
It carries an almost mystical attraction
so that to ride up to Craig’s Hut becomes
for many a sort of pilgrimage, or so it seems to me.
I have now been lucky enough to ride there 4 times,
on on each occasion with different people
and each time I sensed they had a link to the place that I did not feel.
I am sure because I came to this place, horses and the story relatively recently.
For me, it is the ride, the mountains, the trees, the birds, the magnificence of the vistas. Breathtaking.
I was ‘moved up the ladder’ so to speak and my horse this time, ‘Billy’ was ‘more forward’ (for my non horsey friends – quicker, eager, needs more skill!) and allowed to ride with the front group.
A huge step up for this wanna be rider you must understand –
kind of like wearing my ‘big pants’ now.
So off I went with the ‘real riders’ through rivers, up hills and across dales,
(although I think I may have the wrong country – dales? Australia?)
We all know about mountain weather, and how unpredictable it can be.
We also know that is has been over 35’C for weeks and weeks and weeks and the weather forecast showed a narrow band of rain, about 30% showers.
Nothing too alarming, but just to be sure we all strapped a ‘dry as a bone jacket’ onto our saddle and confidently set off for a day of pleasure.
And pleasure it was for the first hour or so,
and then, it would appear,
we rode straight into the tiny blue band we had seen on the weather app –
that small 30% chance of rain?
Well, we found it –
and suddenly the temperature dropped to about 9’C,
the wind arrived
and the rain bucketed down.
There we were, astride our horses, committed and gradually getting colder and colder
and wetter and wetter.
I was fortunate I had gloves, which although so wet I could squeeze handfuls of water from them, they kept my hands protected from the wind.
The others were less fortunate and I noticed hands being clenched in pain against the cold.
Finally we arrived at our lunch spot – the sight of a fire and hot food.
We were more fortunate than our poor horses who were not fed, but rather tied up to weather the storm as best they could.
And of course we had our famous ‘dry as a bone’ jackets, which were in fact not dry at all and most of us were wet to our bones, but who am I to argue with an iconic name?
Finally, the rain eased and we tried to bridle our horses again.
My poor Billy was so cold he could not keep his head still and it was with great difficulty and much coaxing that he was finally all set to go.
I could feel his body shaking with cold as I mounted; it was a really awful feeling. Thankfully he warmed up quite quickly once we started down towards our camp.
And it wasn’t long before everyone felt a little better;
the rain had stopped, the wind felt less brutal and the temperature was
a little higher as we went lower.
We left our horses at Razorback Camp, unsaddled, blanketed and fed.
Some of us meet ‘the locals’, shared their fire and drinks until it was our turn to be taken to our camp, ‘unsaddled’ of our wet gear, blanketed in warm clothes and fed a deliciously hot meal.
And so to Sunday.
Which thankfully started bright and sunny.
Nonetheless I was not going to be caught wrong footed again, so when we were warned that it would be cold and windy ‘on the summit’ and we should dress warmly, I took them at their word and did.
For the first time ever, I wore two pairs of pants, thermals and riding pants, and because it would be cold, I wore TWO thermal tops, yes I know, overkill? But hey, you weren’t with me yesterday !!!!! My cotton shirt, my down vest and again because I knew what Cold meant now, my down puffer jacket And my purple Aldi rain jacket. Not to forget my thermal neck warmer and the ‘dry as a bone’ jacket strapped to my saddle, just in case.
I explained to Billy and asked his forgiveness for having to carry this
because the look he gave me clearly said, “and now?”
Sun and warmth and despite the predictions, not a breathe of wind.
In fact a perfect day.
Unless you are kitted out like a Michelin woman –
which of course I was as you can see by the shape 🙂
For about the first hour or so both Billy and I ‘steamed’ as the sun warmed us.
In Billy’s case the steam was literal and quite funny to watch.
In my case, not quite literal and certainly less comical.
He and the other horses stopped steaming.
I was less fortunate and for the rest of the day remained insulated in my private steam bath, unable to take anything off as there was nowhere to tie anything else on.
I did after all still have my ‘dry as a bone’ jacket, which interestingly was still very wet and heavy from yesterday, strapped to my saddle.
Nonetheless we had a magnificent day of riding to the summit of Mount Stirling, to Craig’s hut and back down to Telephone Box Junction –
A glorious end to an interesting two days of riding.
One of the joys of travelling, after exposing myself to new ideas and challenging my perception of how one ‘should’ live,
is returning home.
And so it was that I found myself happily (and sadly at the same time)
back home after riding a Stunning Arab cross
(horse🐴that is, not anything other😉)
for 5 days in beautiful Tasmania;
not camping but definitely ‘making like the locals’ in terms of
food and wine (plenty of it) 😍
Our little band of riders were closely observed by many of those around us who thought we must be mad, maybe not dogs, (as in Englishmen and that midday sun☀️) but clearly crazy with an enviable giddy kind of joy.
Because that ride was a wonderful exhilarating experience.
However it is not the topic for day.
Rather I want to share a differentexperience.
One I shared with my beautiful daughter.
We were each given a Christmas gift of self-indulgence
and when she suggested we went the day after 5 day’s horse riding, why wouldn’t I?
And so we did.
We hopped into my little car,
and drove to the appointed place without getting lost.
This could not be described as an unprepossessing building.
On the contrary it is anything but – bright, new, shiny and filled with exotic shops, people and a very large, very bold sign lest we had any doubts:
One of my reasons for travelling is to expose myself to new ideas and challenge my perception of how one ‘should’ live.
And so it was that I found myself in Morocco riding a Barb/Arab horse in the Sahara Desert, camping and ‘making like the locals’ for 6 nights and 7 days. No, let me rephrase that – the locals do not by choice do what we did; only mad dogs and Englishmen (or similar) go out in the midday sun, let alone in the desert, on the back of a horse 🙃. Our mob definitely fitted the mould of (or similar) 🐎🙄
And that ride was in itself a remarkable experience
but not the topic for today 🙂
Rather, I want to share a different experience.
And I use the word ‘different’ fully aware of the many meanings it can convey.
Throughout our time in Morocco we heard tales of how wonderful a Hammam was.
So what was this?
The word is derived from the Arabic meaning ‘bath’ – delve further into the history and ‘communal’ appears 😉.
Moroccans along the way gave us varied descriptions but essentially
“You will LOVE it. You lie on hot stones, you get wrapped in a clay/mud mask and rest and then you are massaged with oils and your hair is washed and you feel SOOO good and rested. It is amazing.”
Or words to that effect.
While ‘Google’, describes it as follows.
“A hammam is a traditional cleansing and beauty ritual.
At the heart of the Spa, an authentic hammam provides guests with a signature bathing ritual that combines heat, fragranced steam, warm water, ‘marocMaroc’ hammam products and a cold plunge pool to revitalise the body and soul.”
It is important to understand that we had been in the saddle,
in the desert for 7 days
with only one brief shower during that entire time.
And while we were exhilarated by That adventure,
we were also dusty and saddle weary by the time we found ourselves back in Zagora.
So when our inimitable guide,
whose name I have forgotten, but whose smile I will not,
(it was a little too welcoming, a little too joyous, a little too jolly
and clearly as we were about to learn he was a lot smarter than we were)
suggested a Hammam, well we positively leapt at the opportunity.
And so it was that with the anticipation of an hour or two
of quiet, tranquil, relaxing, muscle soothing pampering,
the six of us women
(who were still to tackle the 8 hour road trip home over
on the the 10 most dangerous passes in the world the following day,)
jumped at the opportunity.
No warning bells sounded at the speed with which this was organised for so many of us all at the same time.
No unease appeared when we were quoted only MAD 100 each (less than A$20).
And still we were enthusiastic when we were told to hurry and come just as we were.
Because we knew all about the Hammams – Didn’t we?
We had heard about them for weeks.
And so we paid our smiling guide MAD 100 each
and squeezed into a tiny vehicle to go to our Hammam.
Not directly though, as our driver managed to get lost;
but eventually, after several u-turns, mobile phone calls and general chaos we did arrive.
At a most unprepossessing building with no signage to indicate this was anything at all – it may have been a factory, a closed shop except for the no windows. It could have been a disused warehouse, or in fact a deserted prison. It was not.
It was in fact, our Hammam.
Well therein lies the rub.
This Was OurHammam.
It was also the Hammam used by Every woman
(and None of the tourists) in Zagora!!!!
Our smiling guide shoved us through the door before we had a chance to say anything. It closed behind us and …….
He was gone. We weren’t.
And then again we were.
Or at least for an instant it felt like we had gone,
we were not sure where,
but certainly we must have left our planet and …..
…….well each of us had our own picture of where we were now….
and it was nowhere any of us had ever even considered a reality.
However, this was VERY REAL.
We were in a small room with a line of low wooden benches along 3 walls. The 4th wall had a high counter in front of it on which two women leaned; watching us. They were clothed from head to, I presume toe (I couldn’t see behind the counter) while the women, old and young seated on the benches were either naked, or in the process of becoming so. Quite happily it would appear.
And it was SO noisy.
That I think was the first thing to register in my mind after the first 3 or 4 seconds of blind shock!!! There were the voices, all raised, laughing, talking, shouting across at one another. There was a sound of water and steam and it all bounced off the tiled walls and floor so that one decibel instantly became five
And 6 Anglo tourists ranging in age from 65+ to 26+ stood amongst the Arab women, like rabbits caught in a hunter’s headlight.
Although, of course, no one was ‘hunting us’ (or perhaps our guide already had as turned out the locals paid less than MAD10 each for this adventure, we had paid 10 times that 😂
There was not much to be done now except ‘go forward bravely’ because, to quote Macbeth, to go back were as difficult as to go ….etc.
Breathing deeply, I decided to ‘go forth’ and slowly took my sweaty, (very sweaty, 7 day old riding shirt) off my equally sweaty body and stood there.
I am not sure what for but after a few seconds of standing there feeling very foolish, I removed my bra.
And rather like a reluctant strip tease dancer I slowly and very carefully took off my boots and socks (the tiles were damp and slippery), and then hesitantly my riding pants.
I was now as good as naked, my arms piled high with dirty clothes and heavy riding boots which I handed to one of the ladies behind the counter, along with my handbag.
In ‘our’ world, you would have received a receipt for these goods – not here. They just disappeared behind the counter somewhere and I wondered if they would ever reappear.
So I stood, on a wet, clammy tiled floor, stark naked apart from a tiny pair of lacy knickers which did nothing to ease my sense of exposure and vulnerability when the lady behind the counter indicated I should hand over my glasses. I refused as politely as I could under the circumstances. I felt vulnerable enough without losing my sight as well 😐
For a brief second in the chaos of emotions I was experiencing I was reminded of another time and different showers and the loss of identity. It took a strong ‘self talk second’ to get things into perspective.
My friends were on their own journey of ‘exposure’ so to speak until finally there were 6 very white bodies clad only in knickers (and my pair of glasses) standing sheepishly in what I shall call the ‘reception’ room.
The craziness of the whole thing struck some of us then and we could laugh at ourselves. Nervous laughter, perhaps, but still a laugh as we looked around at the equally naked women watching us and going about their business with No sense of unease, despite their nudity.
And their business was?
Well having their weekly Hammam of course.
Dressing, or undressing in this room
and then walking naked into the next room while carrying their basket of “cleaning materials”.
All the while talking loudly and laughing and thoroughly enjoying their time here. This is their weekly gathering place, a chance to say hi, to catch up on gossip, share recipes, joys, sorrows, to look for prospective daughter in laws (all 10 fingers, child bearing hips.. you get the picture),
and savour the most precious commodity in that part of the world – water.
There were elderly weathered bodies, young lithe ones, children, babies in mother’s arms, teenage friends.
All naked, all comfortable and sitting around either on low wooden benches or on the tiled floor. Watching us as two very large, very black women, wearing ‘almost’ knickers, silver necklaces and nothing else appeared and ‘herded’ us from the reception room through a middle room into the last room and pointed to the floor against the wall.
(By this time my glasses had completely steamed up and I had no choice but to walk back to the ‘reception’ and hand them over – not knowing if I would ever see them again, or I guess, whether I would ever see again full stop. (My spare pair was far away in a bag in what seemed like another planet at that moment in time.)
Back though, to the floor against the back wall where we now all sat, facing into that room and beyond that into the middle room.
Ah, if that was all we were doing – facing.
But not so.
We were facing and looking directly at pendulous breasts and huge thighs occupying low benches along the walls, all at eye level. And it didn’t matter which way your eye went, there was another body or part of a body. 😂 The rooms were filled with bodies.
We watched arms, legs, thighs, all being massaged by either the owner of said limbs or in some instances by someone else.
And everywhere NOISE and heat and buckets of water into which ladles were dipped and water poured over bodies.
It is difficult to describe this place and how like ducks out of water we felt, even though we were actually in water.
Slippery water all over the floor which was diligently swept away by a naked lady with a large broom. She moved the water around and with it, mandarin peels, banana skins and you don’t really want to know what else.
The experience continued with our ‘black herders’ (for that is what they felt like to me, the lamb being herded) ladeling water over us, giving us slippery black soap to massage into our bodies (which we duly did). Surprising how submissive one becomes when out of one’s comfort zone, just following orders whether verbal or otherwise.
So there we were on the hard wet tiled floor (for some reason I was given a tatty piece of linoleum to sit on – go figure). Our two ‘ladies’ then came back and poured more water over us to rinse the soap off. With sign language we realised we were to lie down on our stomachs (on the hard wet tiled floor) while our bodies were subjected to a brief but very severe ‘massage’ with a loofah glove that had been who knows where 😫😅.
And Yup, you got it, we were turned over and the process was repeated on our other side, with equal vigour only now I was facing my ‘masseur’ and her very large free swinging bosoms which hovered before me so I dare not move for fear of making contact with one or both!!! 😳 That completed I saw Jo alongside me, with complicated sign language say, ‘yes please she would like her hair washed’ and ‘no she had no shampoo’.
No problem apparently, as our large lady simply poured water over her head from a bucket. I watched Jo splutter and spit like a child caught unawares under a shower, have her hair ruffled by said lady who poured more water over Jo’s head and hey presto –
One more bucket of water over me, (and the others) cooler this time, and we were ‘free to go’. Back the way we came –
through the middle room,
into the reception room –
not only naked (bar the skimpy knickers) but sopping wet too.
At this point we realised what the ladies had in their baskets apart from shampoo –
towels and dry clothes.
We had none of those and while our ‘used clothes’ along with handbags, boots and glasses were returned we struggled to get dressed on a sopping wet floor with now damp as well as dirty clothes, and of course in full view of our gallery of voyeurs.
But dress we did and with a HUGE sigh of relief
walked out of the front door.
Away from the heat, away from the noise, away from the complete strangeness of the local Hammam.
Some of us were still laughing at the craziness of this adventure, some were close to tears.
All of us needed a drink (or two or three) and so we crossed the road to a tea house and sat down with a deep inhalation of clean air.
While we may have wanted something stronger, no alcohol is served in Morocco (or at least that is the official position) and we settled for several cups of coffee while we discussed and digested our experience and waited for our guide to meet us again.
I go back to where this all started:
“One of my reasons for travelling is to expose myself to new ideas and challenge my perception of how one ‘should’ live.”
I was most certainly exposed 😜today – in more ways than one!
And yet, we all lived to tell the tale – and quite a tale it was.