I’ve been drawn to go to Morocco since I first started dreaming of faraway lands. It was exotic, mysterious, and I really didn't know much about it, other than that I wanted to go. Over the years, Morocco evolved into an increasingly popular tourist destination; eventually, each time I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I would see photos of travel bloggers in pretty dresses, posing in front of gorgeous tiles and colourful markets. The perfect shots reminded me of my long-held desire to explore this mysterious country, but I still wasn’t sure what I would actually do once there. I knew I wanted to get out of the cities, explore the natural world, and have an adventure, rather than a photoshoot.
I found my ideal Moroccan experience while browsing the horseback holidays at Equitours, a travel agency that focuses solely on equine escapes, and who I had previously booked several excellent European riding trips with. The week-long ride would be a 230km loop, starting in the resort town of Agadir, crossing the foot of the Anti-Atlas mountains through to the silver-crafting town of Tiznit, then circling back to Agadir via the Atlantic coast. The riders would be mounted on strong, willing, endurance-trained Arab Berber horses. The trip profile specified only advanced riders should consider the ride, due to the fast pace, long hours in the saddle, and the sometimes challenging terrain. Additionally, it was a rustic adventure; riders would camp out in the Moroccan wilderness overnight.
I’d found my dream trip. As much as I love trekking, diving, road-tripping and island-hopping, my absolute favourite way to explore a new land is definitely on the back of a horse. Riding gives me a sense of freedom and connection to the natural world that is truly without comparison. Combining the ride with a camping trip was the ultimate combo; there’s really nowhere I'd rather be after a long day of riding than sleeping under the stars next to the horses.
The trip was scheduled for a time when I could be away from work for a short while, but as I researched flights I realized the journey was extremely inconvenient; it would take a total of 8 flights and almost 6 days for me to get to, and return from, a little Moroccan town that was actually a very long way from the tiny Thai island on which I live. The transit time meant it would not be reasonable to go to Morocco for only a week… but it would be possible, which is all that is needed to make a dream come true…
sunday, november 26
After nearly three days of travel (including a little stopover in Dubai to go camel trekking), I landed at the Agadir airport in the middle of a hot, dry afternoon, feeling exhausted but happy to have made it to the land I dreamed of for so long.
I was met at the airport by Rena Erroudani, a Swiss woman who has been living in Morocco for the past 30 years, where she owns and runs Club Farah with her husband. They have a riding school in Meknès, in the north, but also run a variety of riding trips across Morocco (including one that literally crosses Morocco in a month-long, 1100km endurance ride). Rena herself personally guides each excursion, which is fortunate for participants, because Rena is not only an amazing horsewoman, but also a really cool person to be around. She works incredibly hard and still, after these many years, it’s still obvious that she loves her job, her horses, and her adopted home country.
Rena brought me to our hotel, where I enjoyed a quick power-nap before heading to dinner to meet the other participants in the ride. Four out of the nine people were returning for their third or fourth ride with Rena, which I took as a very good sign. The rest of us were new to Morocco, but had all been on at least a few other riding trips, from Mexico to Madagascar to Mongolia (NB: I have ridden in none of those places, but now want to ride in all of them). We spent dinner chatting about horses, as only the equine-obsessed can truly appreciate, and I’m pretty sure I seemed a little delayed as my overly tired brain stumbled over my words. Fairly early on I surrendered to my need for sleep and went to get a good night’s rest before our first day in the saddle.
monday, november 27
I woke up feeling fresh and ultra-enthusiastic to start our ride. After a quick breakfast our group loaded up the trucks and spent an hour or so driving out of the city to meet the other two- and four-legged members of our team at their previous night’s camp.
As we piled out of the vehicles, Rena’s 5 dogs came running up to us in greeting, followed by the cook and grooms, who had already been busily working for hours. The horses were saddled, and ready to go. As they gazed curiously at us with their soft, kind eyes, we worked out horse and rider combos for the day. Unlike most rides I’ve done, where we are assigned a horse for the duration of the trip, with Rena we were able to switch horses as often as we liked. This gave us a chance to try out different mounts, since each horse, like every human, has particular strengths and weaknesses, and a unique personality. It’s beneficial for the horses too, as rotating meant they could have rest days, and alternate between carrying heavier and lighter riders.
Rena told us a bit about each horse, and I chose to ride Bahia: a dainty young dark bay mare. As we mounted up and started to ride through agricultural lands, under a completely cloudless, sunny sky, I felt the relief that I always experience when I get back on a horse after a while apart. I grew up with horses; I've said many times that they played a significant role in raising me. When I moved to the tropics over 10 years ago, giving up my horse was the hugest of challenges. Since then I’ve ridden at every opportunity… but I can’t really describe how much I miss being around them, nor how happy I feel when I'm with them.
We spent our first morning heading away from the city, crossing the fertile plains of the Souss, cantering past sheep and their shepherds, and walking our horses through Berber villages where the Moroccans, unaccustomed to seeing both horses and tourists, shyly peeked or excitedly waved as we rode by. We occasionally chatted with each other, but more often just rode in silence as we took in the unique environment surrounding us. We all paid attention, though. As soon as Rena lifted her hand everyone (horses included) knew it was time to fly; within moments we’d be thundering across the fields in a cloud of sand.
By the time we stopped for lunch, I was already delighted with my decision to come on the trip, even if I did feel like I’d inhaled half the desert. Rena’s team was waiting for us, and the grooms fed and watered the horses, while our amazing cook did the same for us; she had prepared fresh fish, salad, and bread for lunch, along with the mint tea we drank with every meal. We had a feast, then a rest in the shade, before getting back on the horses and heading out.
The next three hours were spent alternating between relaxing walks and thrilling gallops as we headed towards the foot of the Anti-Atlas mountains. I loved riding Bahia; she was energetic, willing, and sweet, plus had silky smooth gaits that felt like floating. Our ride finished with a long canter across a vast plain, with the sun setting at our backs, and the feeling that we were alone in the world (in a good way… totally non-apocalyptic). We walked the last bit of the ride to cool our horses as we reached camp; Rena’s team had everything set up and were ready to take care of our hardworking horses.
We were surrounded by nothing but nature, with the mountains on one side, and endless plains on the other. I bought my bag over to my tent (I chose the one with palm trees on it, to remind me of home), and watched the horses munching their feed while I pulled off my riding boots and swapped riding breeches for my comfiest sweatpants, as the onset of night brought a nice chill into the air. The group gathered around the table set up near the horses, and we excitedly talked about our day as we snacked on olives, then enjoyed another delicious meal (the name of which I have forgotten, but it was kind of like Moroccan nachos, and it was amazing). As is the typical way with campers, especially ones who have ridden all day, we all went to bed shortly after dinner, and I fell asleep feeling very grateful.
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