Saturday, May 22, 2010

Morocco 2007

When I told them where I was going, a lot of people asked me, “Why Morocco?” I can’t say I really knew how to give a straight answer. It was a mix of wanting to go somewhere, and somewhere that was different. Morocco, with its air of exoticism and its unique blend of the Middle East and Europe, seemed to be it.  I was travelling solo, and friends and family were worried that there’d be trouble, seeing as it would not be a well known, developed country. As it turned out, it was one helluva adventure and besides being ripped off all over as an ignorant tourist, I was never seriously harassed.

In any case, I spent quite a few days taking in the sights, and the riding section of my trip was an 8 day jaunt that I booked with Hidden Trails. In the end, I was the only person on the trip, enjoying the services of a cook, a groom, a driver and a guide. Talk about extravagant. The stable was owned by a Swiss lady - Renate and her Moroccan husband, and she was my guide for the 8 days.

The horses were rough and tumble horses - small, lean, and strong. It scared me how skinny they were compared to ours but I came to appreciate that it was a build of hardiness and endurance. Mine was called Mahera, a sweet mare who was responsive and steady.  We also had with us a greenhorn called Etken on the trail, who was there to gain experience.

The trail took us through some incredible scenery and narrow trails along sharp drops that were not for the acrophobic. There were mountains and deep ravines, streams and farmer’s fields. A section even took us to a village perched on a mountain side which I was told, could not be accessed by vehicles. The horses brought us to beautiful abandoned villas, where we picked fresh figs from the trees. We watched the sunset camped next to Roman ruins and had ice cream in the holiest city in Morocco.
Our nights were mostly spent in tents and sleeping bags. Washing water came from jerry cans and light from candles and lamps. Mahera would be tethered nearby and as I lay down I could hear her chewing and snuffling at her hay. As the ride consisted of fairly long hours in the saddle, and lots of galloping and cantering, I slept like a baby through each night and could never really finish most of my diary entries!
Meals were simple and I don’t know if it was the exertion of travelling, but it was some of the most delicious food I have ever had. I put it down to the fact that their food is incredibly fresh. A chicken in the market is selected live, and then killed, stripped and plonked in front of you in a few minutes for you to take home for dinner.
 There were so many moments and so many experiences that the few photos hardly do the trip justice. They don’t capture the whooping cries of the farmers urging you to race faster as you gallop by them. They don’t show the children following you through the village (and occasionally throwing rocks!) They can’t quite express the warmth and hospitality of the people. Most of all, there’s the simple and personal joy of spending time with your horse and the rush of adrenalin as she surges forward and gives you wings.