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)

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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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images……
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and always food….. 🙂

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.

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No complaints
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Bottle-nosed friends
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each with their thoughts……
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Setubal
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as smooth as glass today
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where friends converged
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to chat
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and salute
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LIFE

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And suddenly it was all over.

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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.

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moments
unnamed
in time
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always the sky
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and water…

 

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.

 

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Farewell Miguel – till another time

 

Photos thanks to ‘the team’

for more on Portugal see Long day in Lisbon, or rather Portugal 🇵🇹Breakfast – Lisbon style 😉 ; Lazy in Lisbon;  and Sintra – Dreamy Castles

Weekend Getaway

“Come with me” I said.

“It will be fun.

We will escape Melbourne, the weather looks good

and it is sooo close”

And so she did.

Come with me, that is,

to escape Melbourne and because it is close.

Well to be precise,

I went with her since she has a very flash ‘ute’ –

with heated seats and all.

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Off we went on Friday,

two ‘gals’ on an adventure to visit the

Victorian High Country.

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We stopped for drinks at Bonnie Doon – seen the movie The Castle?

If not, why not, a great film and if you have, you know why we stopped here.

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Boonie Doon Pub

Mansfield was our next stop.

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It is a charming town, gateway from Melbourne to The High Country and always busy; with people –

riders like ourselves,

cyclists with their paraphernalia,

runners proving their worth to themselves, or someone else,

tourists browsing the shops,

locals doing their shopping and

everyone stopping at the many coffee shops.

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always a good excuse to stop

 The hospitality of ‘country folk’ the world over, knows no bounds and so it was here too.

Nelda and Greg opened their absolutely beautiful home to us for the night.

and what a night it was……

Four women from completely different backgrounds

sat round the table and laughed and talked as only women can.

moment
a moment captured
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a view captured
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a hug savoured

 

That we finished a bottle and a half of gin probably helped. 🙂 🙂

When we finally trundled off to bed wondering why we had lingered so long

when we had a full day of riding ahead of us –

we were tempted

not to,

ride that is, but just linger longer……..

joy
‘no words’ required

cheers

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ah the joys of ‘geselsskap’  (English words don’t cut it)

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The morning …
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after the night before….
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brought a hazy beauty, perhaps not just because of the light 🙂

Saturday arrived bright and early, and so did we.

Arrive at Telephone Phone Box Junction to be precise, at 9am –

where we were met by old friends –

I had ridden with Christian and Laura before (

in case you are curious: Hidden Trails…… (click on the link….)

and quite a few ‘strangers’.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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We all know about mountain weather, and how unpredictable it can be.

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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?

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our smiles, the horses heads down
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3 musketeers
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finding a hot drink
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and SO much smoke
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and rain
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while some burnt their pants drying to dry them

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.

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Does that look wet & cold? Hope so, because it WAS

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.

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Our horses rugged and settled….
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so welcome
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a hut to dry our clothes
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aptly named camp site

 

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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

Michelin woman

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because the look he gave me clearly said, “and now?”

And now……..

Of course.

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 🙂

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Michelin woman

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.

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Snow Gums, Mountains, Sky, Beauty

 

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We
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finally all
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got there together 🙂

 

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Those Musketeers!

 

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Playing is
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such fun
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My partner in crime sure knows how to ride
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The iconic Craig’s Hut
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Bucket list stuff
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And just as quickly
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as it began it was
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over….
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And it Was Fun

Thanks for coming for me, Jacqui.

It Was fun.

We Did escape Melbourne

The weather Was good (some of the time)

and it was sooo close……

…… to perfection, we may have to do it again

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Feb 2019

A Hammam

One of my reasons  for travelling is to expose myself to new ideas and challenge  my perception of how one ‘should’ live.   

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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.”

A Hammam

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.

Wouldn’t you?

IMAGES LOOMED……. 

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

We Paid

and squeezed into a tiny vehicle to go to our Hammam.

We squeezed in and off we went 

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 Our Hammam.

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.

Waiting.

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 –

Hair Washed.

I declined the hair wash

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.

Margaret River – Harmony

Nothing I have ever done prepared me for Globetrotting and Jesters Flat…….

Beautiful Perth.

My final few hours before returning to ‘the real world’

All to myself - time to reflect
as I walked along the banks of the Swan River

Enough time to marvel at what had happened over the past week at Jester’s Flat


Enough time to marvel at what happened when seven women, unknown to one another arrived in a place unknown to any of them, and challenged themselves to a completely new experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the 'gang'
doing ‘their thing’ at different parts of the week.

And what happened was that I found, in that a week a glimpse

of His creation in all its glory.

Miles of beautiful fields, grass bending in the breeze
Miles of manicured vineyards; shade and light playing with the colours on display as the wild flowers showed off their extravagance

Birds of remarkable colour and sounds more varied and sweeter than any music created by man.
Grasses, flowers, trees of every shape and hue –  so many variations of blue, baby blue, dusky blue, egg shell blue, blue blue light blue; as many pinks as there are adjectives;  every variation of white imaginable and then the yellows, oranges, purples, mauves, reds and every shade of green.  Some tiny delicate plants last but a few hours and are as small as a finger nail, some stand bold and strong for hundreds of years, each a miracle of design and detail.

Only with His palette on His canvas, can these colours work so beautifully

and not jar the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 800 years old, this tree is

Forest of intrigue filled with mystery and bird song

Whites whiter than white, pinks, blues, details

The sun played with us

with light and reflections....

adding to the joy of 'bush walking'

I found a sky that brooded over us, kept us jacketed but honoured us all the same by not wetting us.
A sun that teased us, warming us intermittently and unexpectedly filtering through the forest or lighting up the fields and fields of yellow daisies, until finally it exposed itself totally to reveal a sky of such blue blue our eyes were opened to a world of promise; shining new growth on the trees, shimmering in the light, red clover stark and strong alongside the vines which ran so straight and neat beside us.
Kangaroos by the score looking at us as we looked at them, scampering away, with their young sometimes peeping at us from a snug pouch and at other times hopping alongside their mothers. Was there ever a stranger creature?
Cows always curious running up to stare at us, eyes luminous and vacant at the same time.
Sheep taking no notice of us at all.
All though, taking notice of the season, and dropping young as Spring arrives with That promise of new life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entrance.....

that time of year.....

Rosie, the family 'pet' for whom....

dried noodles were as appetising as new foliage :)

And of course I found the horses.

The reason we were all here.

These four legged creatures;  as strong as an ox and as gentle as a baby, as wild as it’s possible to be and then again as submissive, as yielding as gentle as imaginable.

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There is nothing in the world quite like sitting astride a horse which weighs hundreds of kilos, and working with it to move, stop, walk, trot, canter, turn on a dime all with subtle body movements and a tiny metal piece in its mouth.   Having said that, they can be capricious and unpredictable, kicking and pulling for no reason and then again be kind and loving and snuggle you for no reason too (or perhaps it can smell that Apple 😜)

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And all the while seven women share their stories, their dreams, their fears.

They offer encouragement, a helping hand, a laugh, a glass of wine, a smile.

They stretch themselves doing things never done before (like trying to play polocrosse 😂😂😂)

They bond through a common love of horses and all that they experienced Through that love, in that place.

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And for one week His plan for creation shone; people and nature worked together in perfect harmony. Each leaving with a sense of being part of ‘what’s possible’ ; linked forever through Globetrotting.com.au and Jesters Flat – a very special time

Me and my special George

The “Mob” – if we weren’t eating……

We were probably riding 🙂

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Or resting

 

 

 

 

 

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The local Polocrosse team – yes, we did – or at least tried to play 🙂 

He kept us company and amused throughout the day

 

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An amazing morning

 

as we learnt SO much

about this amazing land

and how it is possible to

live united to and with it, in complete harmony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Essence of our week                                                                                                                      Tranquility, harmony, beauty, nature, breathing, joy, serenity                                                              Such a special time

Day 4: An easy walk 😜??

Today we went for a ride of a different sort.


A white contraption; I would like to say it was a car, except that it lacked most of what we today consider normal in a car, namely windows that open and close when we chose; similarly with the four doors, a boot that has a handle to open it with and side mirrors that one can see in.

But I complain not : it had four wheels instead of legs, a steering wheel instead of a bridle and an engine that was filled by a kindly petrol attendant and not by us carrying bales of hay!!!!

(And I later learned 400 000 km on the clock – hey who’s complaining 😂🚑🚗)
Oh did I mention that unlike Luke who could be persuaded to reverse (admittedly it took some real persuasion) on the odd occasion, our white contraption could under no circumstances be persuaded to reverse😳
Leaving Luke, Patches and Sparky in the care of others we, or at least I dragged my weary body into that contraption 😂


We drove to Danger Point just in time to see the fog rolling in. We chatted to the lighthouse manager, and read the story again of the Birkenhead which I vaguely remembered from schøol.

A British military ship, one of first iron hulled ships, arriving in eastern cape for 1852 Xhosa wars ran aground here. It was a perfectly calm night when it struck an uncharted rock miles off shore.   In 20 minutes the ship sank. All women and children were saved, all soldiers and sailors were lost.  It is unknown how many horses died, 5 made it to shore.

193 survivors, 432 soldiers and sailors drowned.

There are 46 lighthouses round the South African coast, every one with a different signal. Danger Point’s signal is three flashes, 40 second pauses, three flashes. This continues from sunset to sundown every day. Still today in the age of technology !

Our lighthouse man also told us that last year they saw 60 pairs of whales compared to the year before when they saw 200. “Ek weet nie, dis hierie (sic) climate storie”

(I don’t know it’s this climate story)

Our contraption then took us to Gansbaai where we parked at the beginning of what was listed as an easy beach walk to De Kelder.

Parked is perhaps an over optimistic description of what we did, keeping in mind we had to be able to drive off again without using reverse.

We left her boldly pointing forwards, windows open, all our riding gear and ‘stuff’ inside challenging the world to come to her and help themselves 😂😂😂

What to do- we could not put our lives on hold because our car was unlockable. So we left, trusting that our riding gear which now almost had a life of its own, so full of sweat, salt and dirt as it was would lose appeal to any passer by and they would miss the rest of the luggage hidden under a blanket😊

Or better still not even give her a second glance as she looked as though nothing of value to anyone could exist in such a rusted contraption!!!
Benchmarks, life is all about knowing the benchmarks (see my blog – the Ik 😂) so when we read

I quote :

Start: Gansbaai harbour

Finish: Klipgat caves, De Kelders

Duration: 7 km, around 4 hours

Fitness: easy, children can do this trail

Unquote

I was confident.   In my head an easy seven km beach walk suits a plump person in sandals. Well I am old and perhaps not slim but not as plump as I was thinking of when I mentioned a plump person and I certainly was not wearing sandals.

Rather I was wearing very sensible walking shoes.


We did not find this an easy walk 😳. It was a walk, following green painted signs, rocks, bricks, up and down a narrow path until we finally arrived at our target destination, de Kelders.

We sat on the deck watching the fog come in and blanket the coastline.


Wisdom prevailed and we walked back to Gansbaai along the main road.

I know, I know, not very romantic. But I have had enough adventures for one week and as good a story (perhaps even a romantic one) disappearing into the sea cause we missed the green markers in the fog, may have been, we decided to disappoint 😜


A very late lunch in Gansbaai made up for the trudge back.


And of course our white steed was still waiting, as intact as she had been when we left her. Ready to take us back to our Klein Paradijs (little paradise) for the night

A drive past Pearly Beach in the cloudy evening was rewarded by watching a family fishing together – a past time as old as time itself


And a visit to the shop local shop where I could have bought anything my heart desired, from food, clothes, furniture, books, and if I had wondered into the back rooms, perhaps even a husband 😂😂😂

I settled for an Easter egg for Julia


Ps trivia question :

1. Why Gansbaai ( as opposed to some other baai)?

2. Why is baleen whale called southern right whale?
PPS trivia answer;

1. Resident Egyptian geese found there when settlers first arrived – cannot find out what happened to them 😢

2. Was called the right whale by early whalers because it was slow enough for them to catch with their boats: couldn’t dive deeply: light enough to float once killed and had high yields of oil and baleen.

Day 3: A walk with friends 

I went for a walk today, to use different muscles after so many hours in the saddle.
Joining me was my delightful young German companion, a volunteer at the stables, the two resident dogs and a ginger cat!!!😻
We set off on a trail marked ‘Fynbos’ with no idea where it lead nor how long it would be. It took us almost two hours and our remarkable cat walked with us the entire way!!!
The dog’s of course ran back and forth and in and out and up and down exhausting us just watching and we took our weary bodies up through beautiful leucadendron forests – taller by far than we.
We passed a dam used usually for swimming and kayaking which sadly was empty, another one which delighted the dogs; beehives, protea fields, and grasses with strange scents.
Everywhere again we saw butterflies – such a good omen in these times.
Different continent, different ‘friends’ the same unity of spirit as we take a walk


 

No Clothes

There is something very liberating about having no clothes.

Every morning we put on the same things.

And when we return from our rides, shower and change, it is into the same tracksuit pants and top every evening .

I intend to get into my pyjamas each night and instead crawl into bed just as I am, tracksuit and all.

My breeches, chaps, socks, (there was a clean pair; still drying in a truck somewhere I’m thinking) helmet and jacket now stand in the corner, almost by themselves, so coated are they in sweat, salt, sand, and above all memories.
Waiting for me to put them on again : safe, smelly, secure and with no choice.
It is very liberating to have no clothes 😄

Today I Lived 

Today was the kind of day for which there are no words.
We set off from Stanford River Lodge, a lovely spot for a repeat visit and rode for almost two hours towards the beach.
A different road today took us along a dirt farm road, past beautifully groomed homes, guest houses and boutique wineries- almost all foreign owned.

I thought I had been transported to London when in the distance I saw a bright red, very bright red body, a black, very black, large, very large hat. It was not a palace guard but a cheerful lady waiting for a bus.
That bus came, towards us on this narrow sand road. We pulled up and out of the way as he rumbled past and thanked us by hooting!!!!

Clearly he doesn’t ride😉

Luke was having none of this greeting business and bolted into the bush.

I was not on my phone, I was holding the reins, we both survived and continued in silence.
I don’t believe we said more than 10 words all day. Each of us absorbed in the uniqueness of the day and place.

We walked and trotted, feeling our bodies, feeling the heat, listening to the creaks of the saddle and the horse sounds.
The birds and butterflies floated around us, the mountains loomed to our right and we turned off the road into the ‘bosveld’ (bush)
A different type of riding as we picked our way over logs, round bushes between trees

Trying to get to the dunes without asking our animals to climb an Everest of sand!
We only asked them to climb one half the size- still a challenge for my weary body and doubtless for Luke. And again navigated our way through dune after dune.

White hot sand, sinking hooves, air like a hot blanket, we moved forward, up, down,up and there it was.
The roar of the ocean, so loud we could not have spoken to one another even if we had wanted to.

The breeze from the sea was like a draught of Guinness after a hard days work. It smelt wonderful, felt wonderful and tasted to our parched throats, wonderful .
And there it was.

An hour of perfection.

A beach, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Low tide, gentle waves, mussels scattered all over the beach, gulls hovering, a seal playing in the waves.

Two fisherman in 15km of beach.
There are no words to describe the feeling of walking, cantering, galloping, cantering, walking, galloping in the shallows.

The exhilaration of the vastness, the miracle of oneness with the massive body beneath me, the security of being able to look around at the same time – relishing the speed, the rhythmic sounds of us each galloping at our own pace and in our own worlds.   The waves at our feet, the wind in our faces, the salt on our legs and arms.

Truely today I Lived.

And I am grateful.
My body is tired.

Who said your bottom would be sore😂😂😂. Mine is fine and even my thighs managed to survive (not known as thunder thighs for nothing 😜).

No one said the small of my back and my torso and those other parts I didn’t know exist would ache and grow voices of their own.

(Did I mention we have riden 80km in 3 days 😳)
A shower (no bath here😢), cup of tea and  a glorious hours walk with two dogs, a cat and my lovely Julia ends a day I feel few are privileged to enjoy.

I am grateful