Day 16 – Tues Feb 11 – 36 km
Total = 548 km
Up at 7:15 in the riad. Heard the call to prayer twice before sunrise. Yeesh – can do without that to disturb my sleep. Packed up our gear and went for breakfast at 8 am. Had little pancakes, yoghurt, fried eggs (with very runny yokes and whites – blech), good bread. All done at 8:30 am and went back to my room to get gear. Paid 135 dh for drinks over the past day, then all threw our bags in the Toyota and piled into 2 cabs to go back to camp.
Got to camp and horses were already tacked up. Got ready and left at 10 am. Nice sunny day, 28C expected.
Rode west down valley to a river bed / oasis then turned south. Rode down through date palms then turned SE to go over a hill and into Tazart. It is a very wealthy town, with big fancy 3 story buildings and friendly people. Apparently some of the sons of people living there work out of the country and send money home which is why the buildings are so fancy. Kept riding south to a lunch spot by a prison. Tack off for lunch and had the usual salad etc. Then had a 40 minute nap. Very nice. Clouds moved in and it cooled off. Almost the whole sky was covered in cloud for the first time on this trip. Will it rain? We doubt it. Wind is from the southeast (desert).
After lunch, Jude’s horse had a rodeo. After the second bucking fit she pulled up and checked his tack. All seemed OK, so she got back on and he had another bucking fit for another 1 km of trot and canter while she was out front. Some of the other horses were silly, too. At the end she asked to switch horses with Ibrahim and ride Najm, which Abdel eventually agreed to. She had a nice ride for the rest of the day, which was good as none of us wanted to see her (or any of us) get hurt, and his bucks were getting bigger. Disappointing as he has tried several different tactics during the ride and just doesn’t seem to be settling down (first leaping, then kicking at canter, then swerving in front of people, and now bucking.)
Continued riding south with a dark/black igneous? rock wall to the west which had criss-crossed cracks through it.
Came across a very deep river bed with steep cliffs that ran across our path NW-SE. Found a way down into it, then hand-walked along the sandy bottom to the SE. Felt like the wrong direction but eventually climbed out and continued south.
There was a paved road running alongside us to the west but about 2 km away. Must be road N12 running south of Tata.
Hand-walked south through rocks and went by an airport that is apparently owned / run by Qatar who has hunting rights to this area. Apparently Morocco leases these southern areas to different countries to let them hunt here, for big money. Seems weird. They hunt gazelles, and ????
Camped near road N12 south of Tata. Stopped at 6:40 pm which is early for us but it was a good day.
Oh, and Abdel says we only have 7 days of riding to do until Guilimim, which is super awesome.
Day 17 – Wed Feb 12 – 33 km
Total = 581 km
Up at 7 am, had breakfast and tacked up. Clouds cover the whole sky and it’s darker to the north. Jude now riding Rajm and Ibrahim on Nassim. Started riding south, to the east of the road. Had a few trots, past a village that seemed deserted then across flats to an oasis for lunch. It was windy all morning and horses were a bit fresh in it.
Nice relaxed lunch. Did 22 km in the morning.
Set off at 3 pm for the afternoon ride and rode west, south of the road through rocky sections and past a palace that is apparently for the Quataries (or Suadis) as a hunting base. There were green cages where birds are raised, then released and hunted. Totally bizarre.
Camp was not far past the palace, south of Oum-el-Alek. As soon as we arrived in camp, Jude was whacked in the head by her horse and immediately an egg came up, above her left eye. Abdel treated it with Arnica cream but she’s gonna get a black eye.
The trucks showed up at the same time we did, and unloaded. Then half of us watered, hayed and cleaned bits while the others set up tents. Meanwhile, Abdel had tea and conversation with the mayor of Oum-el-Alek. Apparently every camp location is ‘booked’ ahead of time, and the mayor of each village plus the police are following our progress. So the mayor came out to make sure we were all here and get passport info. In Tata, the police showed up at the riad to check that we were all there and make sure everything was OK. They are following us closely. Not for any bad reason apparently, but for safety due to the deaths of the 2 women last November.
It was great to get into camp early, relax and chat, then hang out. All is well.
Day 18 – Thurs Feb 13 – 33 km
Total = 614 km
Rode west across desert, leaving town behind us to the right. Went southwards and crossed trackless dunes (new from previous windy night?)
Had a long canter uphill then met a group of tourists in two 4×4’s who were coming from Agadir via Plange Blanche and on a 1 month drive around Morocco. They took a great group photo of all of us in a line. Saw camels. Then we continued southwest to lunch at noon. Saw camels at lunch – with 2 babies. Had ridden 16 km.
Mayor from the previous town came to chat. He said he could sell us arrowheads (which nobody bought) plus show us where the petroglyphs are.
Left lunch spot at about 3pm and rode southwest toward large hills to the south. Had a long canter – Farouk got tired. Did lots of handwalking.
Eventually turned northwest along a deep canyon / riverbed, crossed that then continued across a rocky plain to our camp spot.
The light was awesome and we took some good pics. Horses are down below in sand and around date palms, while camp is up above next to a line of black jagged rocks. Camp at 7 pm. Mayor was still with us.
Day 19 – Fri Feb 14 – 38 km
Total = 652 km
Had breakfast at 7:30 then walked up onto rocks beside camp (to west) and viewed some petroglyphs. I finally felt a connection with the history of this odd place. From the subjects of the petroglyphs, the area we’re riding through obviously used to be a savannah, with giraffes, elephants and large gazelle / ibex type animals. From a Google search, it seems that the rock art here is about 5,000 years old. I guess since then, the area has dried up and become the inhospitable and marginal place that it is.
The camp we were at must have been an important place, as there were many art depictions (and obviously some had been stolen), and they take quite some time to make. So people must have camped where we camped, regularly. It sure had a neat feel, and great views both east, north and west.
After viewing, we tacked up and rode west. Had 2 longer gallops, then Michael’s horse Atlas went very lame. So he switched with Ibrahim and rode Nassim – the horse that was bucking with Jude.
Lunch was at 1 pm and we rested until 3 pm then tacked up and rode west-northwest some more. Crossed the road (N12) and walked across a lot of rocks. Had one more canter, then hand walked a fair bit.
Rode into camp at 6:30, just south and east of Icht and an oasis. Camp was situated just south of a range of mountains which we’ll ride through tomorrow. Mayor of Icht was in camp chatting with the crew. All horses were staked out. We can hear the call to prayer from here.
Day 20 – Sat Feb 15 – 30 km
Total = 682 km
Rode west to the south of Icht (isht), then north up the west side of the town, through the mountains. Once clear of town, we had a long gallop across a sandy plain through acacia trees. It felt like southern Africa. Galloped across many survey lines, then stopped just before a fenced off area. This is the first fence on the trip that we’ve had to go around.
We rode east along the fence to N12 then north between the fence and road. The fenced area was an acacia bush/tree plantation in an attempt to revegetate the area. Apparently acacia trees only need to be watered in the first few years and then they’re OK on their own. The plantation had drip irrigation lines.
Once past the plantation, we continued north along a dry river bed, hand walking for several hours until lunch, where the river and road swung west. Did 21 km by lunch. There was lots of hand-walking as it was so cobbley. Didn’t take tack off for lunch. There were aragon trees at the lunch spot, so we checked those out. Aragon nuts look like large olives and are green until ripe, then fall from the tree and are picked up to harvest and make oil. The outer flesh is removed, then the encased nut is opened for the fruit (nut) inside.
Aragon oil can be used for cooking (as a salad dressing, or added to pasta etc but not heated), provided the nuts are roasted. If they’re not roasted, the oil is used for cosmetics, shampoo etc.
Aragon nut trees only grow in Morocco and only grow wild. There is no cultivation and they cannot be grown in plantations (at least, that hasn’t been figured out yet). So all aragon trees are owned by the government and local people who live in the areas where they grow, harvest them. Women’s cooperatives generally make the oil and sell it. We’re going to check one out on the way to Agadir.
After lunch we rode a bit and then continued hand-walking west along the river bed until we were just out of the mountains and into a larger valley. Then we crossed over to the west side of N12 and rode about 1 km to camp. It has a great view down valley to the west, where the sun set.
Day 21 – Sun Feb 16 – 35 km
Total = 712 km
When we got up Ibrahim was shoeing a horse in the dark. Had breakfast then started tacking up and Abdel told us that Ibrahim’s father has died so he was going home. We all said goodbye to Ibrahim and he left in the truck to go to the local town. He would get a cab to Guilemin and then local transportation to his home 160 km north of Marrakech. His dad is a WWII veteran, so quite old. But they breed and raise Fantasia horses at their home farm and Ibrahom, although not the oldest, has some responsibilities. He has 4 brothers and 6 sisters. It was sad to see him go.
So Obama tacked up and rode Ibrahom’s horse and will accompany us riding for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately he speaks limited french and no english.
Rode down valley, had a bit of trot and canter. Good footing. Lunch at the end of a valley near a road at 1 pm. Had lunch then a nap. Police and local mayor (or government guys) showed up when we were tacking up. It took awhile for Abdel to do the paperwork and dispatch them so we could start riding at 3:30.
Rode down valley and across some flats, then past a low dam and through a channel that is used to disperse the water to plantations. For the first time we saw grass! Either barley or wheat, near a small village.
Had a canter. Eventually we got to camp about 5:45, right beside an oasis with large plants we hadn’t seen, and big pools of water, birds chirping and frogs? Or crickets croaking. It looked like the type of place dinosaurs would roam. There was a ridge of rock right beside us and a kasbah on top. We chatted about hiking up to it but it seemed too far to me (it was 6:30 and only 1.5 hours until dark.) But John headed up the face in front of us while I measured Farouk with Antje and David, had a shower and snacked.
The horses are settled and we’re waiting for dinner.
Day 22 – Mon Feb 17 – 35 km
Total = 747 km
Dogs barked a lot in the night and one horse (Nassim) got loose at 5:45 am.
Left camp at 9 am and walked down into the oasis beneath the rock mountain with the kasbah on top of it. Stopped while Abdel searched for a way through it. About 15 minutes later, Abdel came back, we mounted up and rode down across a small stream and along the sand through date palms. It continued quite a way, through date palms, across a couple of creeks, then along a path into the village. Rode for about an hour and a half through the village and out the other side, into fields. Had a trot and canter then continued down valley and eventually across a dry river bed which was dammed.
We rode past a village then turned north up a deep river bed to our lunch spot which was in a little side channel. Had a nice lunch and found 4 ticks on Farouk. Monique pulled one off and Obama pulled off the other three. They were probably from the previous night’s campsite.
After lunch we continued north – northeast up the river bed with the road to our right (east), then turned west through a small notch in the mountains and continued up the riverbed along with the road. We were on the south side of the pass, while the road was on the north side.
We hand-walked most of the riverbed west then southwest. It was about 5 m deep in places, with orange-red earth banks that were split by fissures and gullies, then the bottom of the riverbed was large cobbles like the Skeena.
A man hailed us from the bank and told Abdel that we should get out on a road access. So we walked up the west bank and crossed a tilled field which was prepared for date palms? olive trees? Camp was about 100 m downvalley in a privately owned olive grove.
We tied up the horses and set up camp in preparation for our rest day in Guelmim.
Dinner was our favorite – veggie soup, chips, turkey/chicken and a veggie dish, followed by oranges. Abdel has been paying attention! Crickets and birds are chirping and we can hear the road nearby, along with dogs barking.
I think we’re all looking forward to a rest day, plus celebrating Sam’s birthday. Hopefully there will be chocolate cake!