Here’s what the first 6 days of our trip looked like…
Day 1 – Mon Jan 27 – Rode 2 hours to first camp
We met for breakfast at 7 am and were ready to go at 8 am. We started driving east between the Atlas Mountain range to the west (tectonic) and the Anti-Atlas range to the east (volcanic). We were driving along an old old sea bed.
Eventually we crossed the river Dades which is dammed and forms a reservoir near Ouarzazate where it joins the Dra’a River and flows into the Dra’a valley. It used to be the longest river in Morocco and and flow 1200 km to the sea but is now dry due to the dam. We will ride across/through this valley later in our ride.
We drove northeast 4 hours then stopped for lunch. We went thru Skoura where the horses live, at the base of the Atlas Mtns. We drove another 2 hours past largest erg sand dunes in Morocco then close to the end of the road and onto reg (stony) desert. The van was unloaded where Toyota and big truck were parked. The horses were already saddled, so we changed into pur riding gear and had a sit down tea. Everyone was asked about their riding experience and what they wanted to ride then paired with the horse Abdul (guide) thought would be best for them.
Abdul started by hand walking away and we all followed as a group. All the horses eventually settled and could walk on a loose rein. We had a (very fast) trot, and a short canter that was more up and down than forward.
We rode for 2 to 3 hours as the sun went down, and the moon came up. It got quite dark and we rode towards the headlights/lights of camp.
We got off and walked the last 100 m into camp. Took the tack off and tied horses to pegs in the ground. We all found our headlamps, watered, hayed, then had tea and nuts. Some tents were already set up. Thick foam mattresses were provided (nice!), along with dinner
Tues Jan 28 – Day 2 – 6 hours. 43 km
Up at 7 am, breakfast at 8:20 am after packing up tents. Tacked up and away at 9:45 am. Had a couple trots and canters, and Sam broke a stirrup leather while cantering. Then we had a gallop across a former lake / lake bed from rains 5 years ago.
At the end of the lake bed we went up a steep sandy (erg) hill then across a flat to lunch at 2:45 (4 hrs riding). Left saddles on as we were running late. Horses got a bran/oats mix and water. Some tried to roll (and did) with tack on. Lunch was fresh salad fixings (tomato, green pepper, cuke, onion, beet, carrot) with dressing, buns, cheese, tuna, plus macaroni salad. And tea.
After lunch we wound through orange sand dunes (erg). Deep sand, cool topography. Then rode for the rest of the day across a former river bed. The river last ran 5 yrs ago (2015) and before that, in 1962!! Must have been a BIG flood event.
Done at 6:30, just as the sun was setting. Took the tack off, horses held to roll in hand, horses tied, watered, put the gear in tents that were already set up. Total 8 tents for all of us. 6 people sharing (me and Jude; Sam and John; David and Anje). Then we washed our hands, had tea, then showered and had a late dinner.
Day 3 – Wed Jan 29 – 5 hrs. 35 km
Up at 7 am. It was cool – there was frost on the inside of the tent fly and ice in one bucket. A horse got loose at 4:30 am and was quickly caught as he started squealing with another. Rosie, Amanda and Michael all changed horses.
Once we were all tacked up, we helped push the big truck (that was stuck in sand) out, then started riding at 9:30.
We walked west then south up thru a couple of passes – past old falling down rock structures – and over to a valley where a dune buggy / tricked out sponsored trucks were on a rally (Rally Riad?)
We followed them up to another pass going west thru orange erg sand. There was a great view from the top of the pass (the rally check point) that stretched way out across a dry lake bed – perfect for galloping. My horse jjigged down the hill (about 20 min?) then we practiced our spread out line gallop (like in Fantasia events) across the flat.
We then walked into a lunch spot for a nice 3 hour morning. It was quite hot so we took off all the tack for lunch, and the horses had a roll. Had lunch and a quick lie-down then re-tacked and continued on.
We walked across more flat ground, then over rocky flats, past a hotel that looked like it was being claimed by sand, past a cemetery where stones were vertical and (?) – 1 room structure with curvey top. Continued walking along a driven track, then had a final gallop into camp.
Got to camp about 5? but it wasn’t set up as the trucks had just got there. So we untacked then took the horses to the dunes to roll. Set up tents, and had dinner.
Day 4 – Thurs Jan 30 – 45 km
Up at 7 am. Had breakfast at 8:15 then got tacked up and away by 9:20? The Toyota had left to go to town (for bread etc), and we left before the big truck.
We rode about 45 minutes across the toe of some small sand dunes (erg), and just past a riad (hotel). The we stopped as thebig truck hadn’t gone past us. 45 minutes later we heard that they were stuck. A bit longer and the truck came close to us but got stuck again in deep sand. We all stood around (off the horses) while they dug, pulled, and pushed the truck out. A military jeep showed up and helped. Then they continued and got stuck a third time. They backed out and went over a small hill on hard ground. Everyone was patient, and there was no grumbling which was nice. Shit happens. Hotter day. About 26C?
We got back on our horses and they drove off across hard packed reg then rode through reg for most of the rest of the day. We had some good gallops then stopped for a late lunch and took the tack off. All the horses rolled.
It was a long day, across flat flat flat reg with escarpments to the south and north. Looking west, we were heading for Anti Atlas Mountains and a camp at the base of the mountains. We past 2 villages to the north. One is at the end of the road.
We arrived in camp about 7 pm. It was a long day.
Day 5 – Fri Jan 31 – 39 km
Up at 7 am. When eating breakfast at 8, the local herd of camels which had been roaring all night walked by. It was a big herd with a brand new baby at the back. Horses watched; we took pictures. The guy herding was on a motorbike.
Tacked up and started riding at 9:20 am southwest towards the road, then turned south. We had a nice gallop across erg desert then into rocky, rising hills. We got to a well in acacia trees, with watermelon (platique) fields with a few dwellings at 12:30 and watered the horses. Paid 2 women 100 dh and some antiseptic cream which they asked for, for using the well. SWe also got directions from a local on the route through the ‘mountains’ and started southwest up and over quite a few rises. It was all just rock split by dry creek beds. There was very little vegetation, although one plant is flowering yellow, and another purple. The trail got quite rocky so we started leading the horses and eventually led them up a narrow creek bed with little to no trail.
We came out on a bluff over a wide valley and it was apparent we had gone up the wrong drainage. So we led the horses south over a headland and had great views from the bluffs into the valley we were heading for, plus down the range. To get off the escarpment, we had to drop down to a lower section.
It was 4 pm and hot, everyone was thirsty. Algeria was in the distance to the south. There was a steep rocky trail down off the bluff into the valley. Abdul arranged for Mo-mo (cook in Toyota) to meet us at the bottom for lunch. Abdul and Ibrahim took 2 horses down then we all led down. No problems. Tied up horses for lunch at 5:30 pm and 3 young boys checked us out while we ate.
Continued south across fields, and past a goat and sheep herd. A women took pics of us. Then we cantered down a road and walked across more fields to where camp was set up.
We didn’t get as far as was planned, but still a good distance.
Tomorrow we will continue down the valley (south) then head west over the next mountain range into the Dra’a valley.
Day 6 – Sat Feb 1 – 55 km
Up at 6:30 am as will be a long day. We left at 8:20 am heading south down the gravel valley road. Had some trot and canter, through road works, travelling approximately 20 km then started into the hills to the west. They were rocky, and barren. We stopped at the base of the hills for lunch at noon and watered the horses. Antje gave 2 kids some paper and pens; Rosie gave a kid a stuffed bunny. There were 2 women – Abdul gave one eye drops for the older woman who had cataracts. The women and/or a man who had come through the mountains on a motorbike said it would take about 2 hours. To cross the mountains. Abdul thought it would take 4 hrs.
We started up the track at 1 pm, riding up beside a gorge that had occasional puddles. It was a good track, used by motorbikes with great views back over the valley we’d travelled down and across to the embankments on the other side which we had ridden down the previous day. The mountains were flat and rolling at the top, then we started down the other side and got back onto flat ground about 4 pm.
We then rode across a vast flat, rocky plain towards an oasis – obvious by the extensive date palms (greenery) and buildings. We had a short canter across good footing then continued walking and arrived at a road just outside the oasis at about 7 pm. We started through the oasis which was an amazing change from the desert. There were date palms, crickets, birds, green alfalfa growing, the moist earthy smell of the tropics, a fantastic ditching system where gates are opened to flood fields and the whole town is built so that water is gravity fed to southern parts of town. Followed the main road through town, past school and lots of kids, men on motorbikes, women in full black, mini bus, donkeys, past 4 mosques, power poles. Water is wealth and this town is wealthy.
Call to prayer as dusk fell, then continued walking as it got dark. Arrived in camp at 8 pm.
11.5 hour day. All tired but in good spirits.
Day 7 – Sun Feb 2
Rest day in Zagora – one hour drive north of camp. Took taxis to Riad Laname and had a ‘town’ day. Looking forward to more.