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

Always read the fine print. Really?

If you have a legal brain,

 if you are naturally suspicious.

or if you don’t want any surprises.

 

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I, of course, do not have a legal brain,

and am,

some would say,

naively trusting

and since my life has been one surprise after another,

I am somewhat inured to the unpleasant ones and the good ones give me

no cause to complain.

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So I have No reason to worry about the fine print.

I usually scan read whatever it is,

decide if it is interesting enough to read more than every fifth word

and if it is still interesting,

I sign the dotted line.

 

And so it was that I signed up to do a horse ride in Morocco.

I read all about the exploratory nature of the ride,

the Barb/Arab horses, the camping, the sand dunes, the Daar Valley

and what I read ticked all ‘my boxes’ so I ticked all their boxes and signed on the dotted line.

‘Somewhat lazy’ must stand alongside ‘naively trusting’

so I said,

“whatever you decide,

I’ll go along with”

…….

And go along I did.

On a long trip,

which had nothing to do with horses,

(that was still to come, all 7 days of it.)

Rather this had much to do with a vehicle

and a road,

Over the Atlas Mountains,

from Marrakech to Ouarzazate

which as you can see, ‘Google’ says will take 3 hours and 51 minutes.

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And so it was that we happily jumped into our vehicle.

Oblivious of what lay ahead,

confident in our Google map information and

full of energy in anticipation of our horse riding adventure soon to begin.

Twelve of us squeezed into our van,

 every seat occupied, off we went.

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We went over the Atlas Mountains,

using the Tichka Pass.

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The Atlas Mountains – ethereal, like a mirage

If only we spoke or even understood Berber,

we would have known that Tichka meant ‘difficult’ and

this pass is listed amongst the

ten most dangerous mountain passes in the world!

Although even if we had spoken Berber,

we did not discover the name of the pass until we reached the top

and saw a sign the first sign marking the Tichka Pass.

But we didn’t speak Berber so it didn’t mean anything to us.

I jump ahead of myself –

forgive me, for we were not there yet.

We were leaving Marrakech, looking at the scenery,

ooing and aahing at this and that and

taking snapshots through the windows.

And then the ascent.

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As we left the lowlands,

those on one side of the vehicle looked downwards to a bottomless space

while the others side looked out at a dark wall of rock that blocked the light and stretched I presume to heaven, we could not tell.

As we left the lowlands,

conversation slowed, windows were opened, photography ceased and

slowly it dawned on me that we were in for a long day.

A long day

of winding roads, sick passengers and no way of preventing either.

And so it was.

We stopped when we could,

everyone descended to gasp for air,

empty our stomachs,

(again and again and again)

decide who would be best at which window,

fill water bottles and those who could, at any time,

take a photograph or two.

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But for the majority of the team,

this was a road to and/or from hell.

It seemed pointless to discuss this objectively since it was clear

that as far as they were concerned, death would be a welcome relief

from the hell of this road.

This road, which Google confidently forecast would take us 3 hours 51 minutes

actually took us close to 6 hours.

Which made me wonder if Google knew that there was traffic, an ascent and more bends and turns than in a game of snakes and ladders

followed of course

by a steep descent,

with another game of snakes and ladders!!!!!!

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Shadows of our former selves !

And I feel confident when I say that for many,

those 6 hours felt longer than the entire 7 days on horseback.

After the event,

hindsight being a wonderful thing – don’t we all know that,

I discovered the following tips:788eaad4-8c20-4a46-92ff-f6df41d4813d-drunkemoji3110

1) Hire a driver with an air conditioned vehicle who will stop every hour or more.

2) Take plenty of water to avoid dehydration – you are travelling to the Sahara desert and the temperatures and altitudes will be extreme

3) Take travel sickness tablets before travelling

4) Avoid eating too much – it may not stay down!!!!!

And the final line was a challenge :

What about you, are you brave enough to see the Atlas Mountains via the Tichka Pass?

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If only we had read the fine print !!!!!

 

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Keeping our spirits up at a stop along the way

 

Epilogue

Some of our team refused to do the return trip,

wisely finding an aeroplane to take them back from Zagora to Marakech.

Others elected to be passengers again,

but going back,

better prepared,

we seemed to fare better.

Perhaps reading the fine print isn’t such a bad idea?

Just a thought.

 

Thanks to Jo for many of the photos.