Thursday, January 18, 2018

Across Morocco on horseback - Full Story

A month-long adventure from the dunes of the Sahara to the Atlantic coast

January 17 2018
Saskia Burgess

The night before I set off to ride on horseback across Morocco, I spread the map out on the kitchen table. This is a trip I have dreamt of doing for years but it is only now that I am starting to focus on the reality of what I am attempting. I draw a sloping line from Erg Chebbi on the edge of the Sahara to Plage Blanche on the Atlantic coast. The ride is — although I don’t know this yet — 956km from start to finish, across sand dunes, desert plains and mountains. I’ve tried to read the itinerary but each time I start, I stop: “Long canters . . . big black plain . . . lonely valley . . . stony road . . . red sand.” If I can’t even read to the end of the trip, how am I going to ride it? It will take a month — there will be nine riders and we will be camping, although I note that there are hotel nights and days off in Zagora, Tata, Foum Zguid and Guelmim (counting the hotels is a soothing sport). The best way not to feel daunted is not to think at all.

I am reading, for moral support, the extraordinary early 20th-century memoir of a woman who crossed Morocco on horseback before me. Lady Grove, author of the not-very-catchily entitled Seventy One Days’ Camping in Morocco made the journey in 1902, with 25 armed soldiers. She carried a pistol and a “white, green-lined umbrella” and “never rode a yard in the sun without holding it up”. She developed a “catlike affection” for her tent and “beloved” holdall. Mine, even minus pistol and parasol, is threatening to turn into an enemy. I’ve been reasoning (rightly as it will turn out) that luxuries — a down-filled pillow, a sheepskin seat-saver, flexi stirrups — will be necessities. But struggling with the holdall at Heathrow, I am likely to do myself an injury before even getting on a horse. I am travelling with two friends. We are in our sixties — our bodies neither pliant nor compliant. Why are we taking this on? Easier to ask than to answer.

We fly to Ouarzazate where Renate Erroudani meets us. At 55, she rides like a heroine on a grey Arab mare and wears a turquoise turban that flies behind her as she sets off at a fast canter. Delacroix could have painted her. I first fell for her outfit on a trip along the Agadir coast (she ideally likes riders to have sampled a week before committing to the marathon month). Originally Swiss, she is married to a Moroccan and has organised rides in Morocco for 30 years. An endurance rider with no need for GPS, the desert is in her head...

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