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.