520 km done

After our rest day on Day 7, we continued on…

Day 8 – Mon Feb 3 – 44 km

Up at 6:45 am at the rest day Riad in Zagora, and Jude and I were ready to leave our room but were locked in. We couldn’t get the key to work, so we climbed out the window. We all had breakfast and checked out of the riad then drove down the road at 8, in 2 taxis with our bags in the Toyota that accompanies us.

We got to camp and all the horses were tacked up and almost everything was packed in the trucks. Got ready and rode off at 9:30 am.

Continued through date palms and past Nezrate, heading north-northwest out onto rocky plains. The Jebel Bani mountains were off to the left , with Zagora to the north (right). We followed the road for many kms, with motorbikes and a few trucks passing.

Stopped at a well at 2:20 pm for lunch. A family lives there and kids from nearby came to see what was going on and sell us their crafts. It was hot and good to stop and lunch in the shade. Horses got water and grain.

After lunch, several of the group bought stuffed camels from 4 kids, and gave them paper and pens.

Then we got ready at 4 pm and hand walked a bit more. Got about 200 m down road and stopped to get on but Michael wasn’t with us – he was just leaving the lunch spot. He had been giving the kids paper and pens, plus giving his horse water. Neither he nor the horse were concerned. Anyway, we got on and rode about ½ km then turned south to go through a low pass.

Rode south for 2.5 hours – had a good fast gallop, then walked into camp just before the sun set.

A very classic African camp in acacia trees, with a few small lumps of sandy bits and vast views north to Jebel Bani. Can see lights of 2 towns to the south and southeast. Mountains continue along the western horizon.

Day 9 – Tues Feb 4 – 36 km

Up at 6:30 and away at 9 am. Tania pulled a tick off her horse Farouk.

Trucks left first then we rode south-southwest across rocky erg that looked like former sea bed (because it is). We kept the Jemel Bani mountain range to the right (north) and just rode along it. We rode some gravel tracks, passed occasional nomad encampment and saw gazelles. Also saw a collared (ie with a tracking collar) antelope – cream coloured with long spiral horns, which we later learned was an addax. It was larger than the gazelles – about the size of a Canadian white tailed deer but wasn’t in very good condition. It was standing in small erg dunes. After we crossed the dunes, we saw 10 of them in better condition and another one was collared. Apparently they have been released as part of a conservation initiative.

We rode 26 km then met the trucks for lunch at about 2. Tied up and unstacked horses, watered and fed grain plus had a quick nap.

The rest of the afternoon was similar. Got to camp at a walled oasis at 6:30. Very large erg sand dunes are about 7 km to the south. We will ride by them tomorrow.

Day 10 – Wed Feb 5 – 29 km

Up at 6:30 and away at 9. Heard cooing doves in the morning from the tent.

Headed west keeping Jebel Bani mountains on our left. We immediately rode into rocks that looked like the sea had just receeded. It is old seabed so no surprise but still amazing how easy it is to imagine the sea coming back with the tide. Crossed some low erg sand dunes, while there were large ones in the distance to the south (right).

Interesting tracks on the sand dunes – great big dung beetles, fast lizards (about 3 – 4” long), and chirping birds. There seemed to be more life in the dunes than in the surrounding old seabed.

Wove closer to the mountains (more north), then the ground flattened to an old lake bed of firm sand and mud perfect for galloping. However, we saw our trucks for lunch and tied the horses up at 12:30. Untacked, horses rolled, watered and grained. Had our usual lunch then a 40 minute lie down.

After lunch we continued across the old lake bed, had a trot and canter, then back to walk and saw trucks at about 4 pm. It was very early to stop riding.

Apparently the trucks thought they’d gone 37 km but they’d only gone about 30. So an early afternoon which was nice although not good for mileage.

There was a long sunset over the mud/sand lake bed and we had a relaxing evening which was good for the horses and riders although some of us are concerned about our lack of distance. It’s hard to make up time/distance once you fall behind and we need to do about 40+ km/day to actually get to the sea as planned.

Day 11 – Thurs Feb 6 – 44 km

We followed rocky footing to a military checkpoint at 12:30 pm then hand walked across rocky footing past fossils to our lunch spot at 2 pm. The lunch location was just before the small (first) mesa / bluff of rock. There were goats at the lunch spot and it was very hot. 28 C?

After lunch we continued along the south side of the Dra’a River valley (which is dried up due to the dam at Ouarzazate) and across rocky footing and sandy tracks past a couple of nomadic people, camels and goats to the shadow of the second (larger) mesa where we camped.

Day 12 – Fri Feb 7 – 42 km

There were clouds and cool weather in the morning. To the west, it looked like rain showers. So I asked Ibrahim if it was going to rain and he said no. So I asked Abdul and he said maybe. And then Abdel commented that they don’t like to talk about the future as it’s up to Allah (Inshallah – God willing). Which explains a lot about this trip and is a difficult concept for production oriented westerners 😉

We left at 9 am and stayed on the south side of the Dra’a valley. It was windy (from the west) and cooler. We rode along sandy tracks past the embankments of the second larger mesa. It was really stunning scenery and looked like photos of Monument Valley. A valley went south with ships prow headlands.

We went through an oasis that was producing salty water and took a group photo in front of the mesa.

Then we went over what seemed like a low pass, that had a pump and water troughs in it so we stopped to water the horses. Abdul said it was 2 km to lunch but it was actually about 3 or 4 km – which has become a recurring theme on this trip. Kilometres are a different distance here.

It was a nice lunch spot and we had a good rest / nap.

Then we continued south and west downhill over rocky / sandy flats and through bits of Dra’a river valley. Even saw a pool of water in the river bed.

We continued across flats and crossed paved road N12. Then rode a short distance to camp which is on the north side of the valley, beneath the Jebel Bani.

Day 13 – Sat Feb 8 – 47 km

There was a beautiful moonset as we got up in the morning. After breakfast we rode up hill behind camp to a smaller stony plateau then rode along that to a gully where there was running water and it was very cool. A natural oasis – very green. Crossed the oasis creek and went up the hill to another little plateau of sand. Crossed a lot of sand beside a rocky hill to the north and passed a nomad camp, and goat herder.

We continued northwest across a flat toward Tissent which is in a very, very tight gorge.

We got to the narrows and a flowing creek/river. Followed the gorge through a beautiful section of greenery, flowing water with little waterfalls, lots of herons, and some ruddy ducks. Rode up what appeared to be a water overflow (which was filled with sand), along river left. River right was a cliff, with the road and buildings above. There appeared to be a touristy-type of outdoor patio up there and we imagined stopping for coffee and baked goods.

Eventually we crossed the river. The water was up to Moonlight’s belly (Rosemary’s horse) and he wanted to roll. The footing was a bit mucky but solid and all the horses were willing to cross and drank from flowing water. It’s not often they get to do that in their lives here.

We crossed back over the river to river left and continued to a small palm tree grove between the road and river where we had lunch. We had ridden 27 km.

After lunch, we rode north up through the now dry river bed through cliffs and embankments, eroded areas. Turned west and could look back to Tisent gorge. Was formerly used by French as a military installation. Very strategic location.

Then we rode west through a dry river valley that looked like a mini Grand Canyon. It was really spectacular.

We rode west up the river bed and surrounding plateau area. There was good footing, and lots of photo opportunities. Finally up on a solid flat Abdel said there was 2 km to go – which means 5 or 6 km! There was a stunning almost-full moon rising behind us in the east, while the sun set in the west.

We got to camp at 7:20 pm, near a village and could hear the call to prayer. Probably the most spectacular day so far.

Day 14 – Sun Feb 9 – 43 km

Today we’re riding close to Tata so we can have a rest tomorrow (after 7 days of riding).

There was a stunning moonset in the morning. We left at 9 am and rode west over a road and up the valley. We had an awesome canter, then rode up to a pass, and walked down the other side, across the road and into rocks. Started up a long long rocky valley to a pass.

Just before lunch Tania’s horse Farouk stumbled and fell on his knees and face. Hamburgered his knees. So after lunch Ibrahim led Faroul and Tania rode his horse Najm.

We continued up over what seemed to be a pass then slightly down valley through endless rocks to camp near a few nomads. We were about 5 km southeast of Tata.

Once in camp, a great big full moon came up. Meanwhile, there were dogs barking near camp. We’re all due for a rest, particularly the horses, many of whom are quite tired.

Day 15 – Mon Feb 10 – into Tata for a rest day (0 km)

Total to date = 520 km ridden with 11 riding days left to get to the sea.

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