Great South Ranch, Morocco, 2011.
Holly Anthony, Far and Ride.
From 17th – 24th September 2011, Holly from Far and Ride joined five lovely ladies for a special week programme to Far and Ride’s Moroccan ranch. The week consisted of seven nights and six days of riding – three days of riding out from the ranch and a three-day trail ride through the mountains with two nights of camping. The programme also included extras such as dinner on the beach one night, Moroccan music performed by the staff, a spot of shopping in the local towns and some massages. Tailor made programmes like this can be designed for groups.
Below is Holly’s report on the week… it’s rather lengthy but there were too many good details to miss out! Many thanks to Holly (the other Holly!), Sonya, Katy, Liz and Jenny for joining the trip and to Maria for her great company and stories.
“OK, let’s go!”
Our journey from London Gatwick to Agadir on Saturday (via EasyJet) went smoothly, despite the failings of passport control in Agadir airport to work at any kind of pace. I managed to be the last person through, at which point the man at the desk looked at my boarding card and said, “You work for a travel agency? And you are the last one! Haha!” We moved on to change our money at the Bureau de Change and had to queue for some time (due to the fact the people in front appeared to be changing millions of pounds), but our driver understood what we were doing and waited patiently for us in the arrivals area. Importing and exporting the Moroccan Dirham is prohibited but it appears that there are many ways to source the currency in your home country (though we recommend you follow the guidelines!). The transfer to the ranch was approximately two hours and by the time we got there, we were tired and hungry, although the flight itself was only around four hours. We were greeted by Kamal, Lahcen, Taofik and Yousef and they were all cheery and eager to help carry our luggage to our rooms. The manager of the ranch, Leila, designated rooms and we dropped off our things before heading to the dining area.
Although rather too tired to fully appreciate it, our first meal was a sign of things to come. It began with a fresh salad of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers with bread, followed by a tasty chicken tagine and finished with ripe plums. Bottled water is included at all meals and we were given bottles to take to our rooms as well. The rooms themselves were bright, clean and comfortable with en suite shower rooms (designed as wet rooms) and towels provided. The rooms are simple (there is no air conditioning and the hot water is run from gas canisters so it fluctuates) but welcoming with good-sized windows to open and let in the fresh air. Each room has two single beds that can be pushed together to create a double bed. There are lovely touches such as framed photos of the horses and pieces of local pottery scattered through the rooms and around the ranch. By my bed was a beautiful photo of Tamazirt, a fine Arab-Barb mare, who would turn out to be my ride for the week.
On the Sunday morning we met Maria, a friendly Swedish lady who would complete our group. Breakfast was bread with butter, jams, honey, cheese and dates. Coffee and fresh orange juice was provided. It was then time to wriggle into our jodhpurs and begin our Moroccan riding adventure! Our first experience of riding from the ranch was a tour of a few hours including climbing the side of a nearby mountain and then riding along the beach. We were all able to prepare our own horses and they were in good condition, well fed but fit and lean, with strong feet and excellent shoes. Many bear the scars of their previous homes and although they work hard at the ranch, they are treated with care and appear to have kept their spirits in tact! The tack was adequate and generally well cared for, with the bits washed after every use, and the horses were hosed down after each ride out. We mounted in the ménage (blocks available) and walked around to get used to the horses and for the staff to put us in a suitable order. The initial horse and rider partnerships needed some tweaking in a few cases and it’s fair to say that our first taste of speed on the beach was disorderly – the horses knew this was our first day and were keen. Having said that, none of the horses disappeared into the distance and by our second ride that day, we were already getting the hang of them and were really beginning to enjoy our beautiful new surroundings. I loved my horse for the week, Tamazirt, who could offer a turn of speed whilst remaining controllable and steady. She was careful on mountain paths and had great stamina… also very pretty!
Throughout the week the horses showed great willingness and sure-footedness and when not gearing up to canter, could be ridden on a nice long rein. When it came to canters and gallops, most, if not all, were strong and eager (especially on the beach) but we were instructed to keep in line and in order and this worked out well. I appreciated their spirit as it showed an enjoyment in what they were doing and all were safe… I think it’s fair to say that we all came to love our new four-legged friends. People are often worried when travelling to Morocco and other North African countries for horse riding, fearing that the horses may be underfed or mistreated, but this is not the case here. They are without doubt working animals but attention is paid to their needs.
Our guide for the week, Lahcen, was safety conscious but fun, always looking back to make sure we were OK and increasing the speed when everyone looked comfortable. He also offered helpful tips and signalled each change of speed (both up and down) and his calls of “OK, let’s go!” were met with readiness. One day we took an evening ride and cantered down the beach in the dark with just the starlight and a few head torches to guide our way – although nerve-wracking at first, this was a truly special experience and we were followed by Yousef at the back to make sure that nobody was left behind. In fact, Kassette, the ranch dog, also joined us for this ride and took real delight in charging through the waves next to us. It should be noted that the guides and staff speak limited English, although Lahcen’s was easily adequate for guiding us, and the majority of the guests are French so visitors to the ranch need to be open-minded about socialising with a mostly French-speaking group. For this reason, I would not recommend it for single travellers who do not speak fairly competent French, though pairs or groups are fine if willing to share the simple pleasantries such as “bonjour!” and “ça va?” with others at the ranch and with the locals that they meet (part of the fun!).
During the rides we encountered ladies tending to their sheep and lambs, men climbing mountains on their donkeys whilst laden with crops, fisherman and even one cheery fellow out for a run. The locals were friendly and answered our greetings and the children took great delight in running after us calling “bonjour madame!” When not in the saddle we were able to visit the local swimming pool and jacuzzis, enjoy massages at the ranch and do a bit of shopping in the nearby towns of Sidi Ifni and Mirleft. Leila accompanied us to help with the haggling and bought us mint tea and Moroccan style doughnuts. Our taxi driver greatly enjoyed learning the word ‘bee’ as we passed the local hives that were spread across the mountainsides and we were able to see the beautiful beach at Legzira, a more swimmer-friendly beach than that near the ranch where the currents can be very strong (but OK for paddling in the shallows). We also had dinner on the beach one night, after which the team played some Moroccan music for us under the stars.
Our three day trail ride was Wednesday – Friday with two nights of camping and a return to the ranch for a final night on Friday before our Saturday departure. The trail involved long days, sometimes up to seven hours of riding, and allowed us to see more of the real Morocco beyond the pretty beaches and ranch surroundings. We passed through small villages, along paths lined with olive and fig trees, where the land was irrigated to allow crops to grow, and we crossed ancient, dry riverbeds as we meandered through the dust. We cantered through the desert, climbed steep mountain roads (standing in the stirrups is a good workout!) and saw beautiful views across the land. On the Wednesday we stopped for lunch in a cave that had been made into a little sitting/dining room and were served grilled fish that the owner of the home had caught himself. The horses were tied to a long line and had their bridles removed and girths loosened before being watered and fed nutritious green hay, enough to last them the time that we were eating our lunch and relaxing out of the sun. Our evening campsites were well organised with several two-person tents and a large dining tent with a table, cushions and chairs. From the truck hung a ‘sun shower’ that is designed to heat up in the sun throughout the day. The team erected a shower tent around this so that people could rinse themselves off after their day in the saddle (the water didn’t get very warm but people were glad to get clean!). Water, coke, mint tea and salted nuts awaited us and Hamid was there to freshly prepare our dinner. The horses were always dealt with first – untacked, fed and watered, having a hard feed as well as their hay. We washed the bits and then were able to peel off our less than fresh riding gear and get into something more comfortable… and clean!
The Thursday was very hot but a long, leisurely lunch stop with plenty of water and my favourite ‘Hawai Tropicale’ saw us through the afternoon. Leila and her partner, René, came out to the campsite to meet us that evening and we were treated with Leila’s delicious apple cake (to which Sonya simply said “MORE CAKE!”). On the Friday morning we paused for a few group photos before mounting and riding into the village to water the horses at a nearby well. Some local boys helped us and in return, Lahcen let them sit on his horse, Ifoulki, as a treat – a kind gesture and an example of the nature of the staff here. We then rode through a town to meet some local women who make huile d’argan, oil made from the nuts of the Argan tree which is endemic to certain parts of Morocco. This oil can be used in cooking and cosmetics (rich in vitamin E so lovely for the hair and skin!) and we were treated to delicious snacks and more mint tea. Before we left, the ladies mixed up some henna to put on the horses, a tradition to bring good luck that the horses didn’t seem to mind. On arrival back at the ranch for our final night, the horses enjoyed a well-deserved rinse with the hose before having a kind of mud poultice applied to their legs to help relieve the tired muscles. The stables were clean and stocked with hard feed, hay and water ready for them. As for us, we were all eager to get showered (Leila had washed our towels for us) and the ladies could begin their one-hour massages before dinner. Everyone was happy to be clean and enjoyed a glass of wine and a lot of laughter that evening, along with the company of the guys who joined us for a while before our meal. René was out on the BBQ, grilling fish and tomatoes that we had with rice (yum!), followed by a birthday cake for Liz.
On our final day we enjoyed a last breakfast before saying a sad goodbye to Liz and Maria, who had different departure times, and most of the staff. Hamid and Yousef packed up the truck and we loaded our luggage into a minivan before heading out for a final lunch. Our lunch spot turned out to offer spectacular views over a large reservoir one side and across the Sahara desert on the other. We sat with an elderly Moroccan man for lunch and he wrapped our heads in scarves he had made and served us the final mint tea of our trip. He was also very eager to show that he could still get his foot behind his head! We paid him for the scarves and departed for the airport, stopping for a tour at a pottery factory where we were able to purchase beautiful handmade goods, trying desperately to cram them into our luggage for the trip home. Soon we were back on a plane (well, after a delay of course!) leaving being the beautiful ranch, the honest horses and new friends.
Riding in Morocco was made particularly special by the staff at this destination, all of who were extremely hardworking, cheerful and good at their jobs. Add in the lovely horses, the surroundings, the good weather, the delicious Moroccan fare and all the little extras and it was certainly a week not to be forgotten. The ranch run a full week trail programme or you can enjoy a ranch based stay, riding out once or twice a day leaving time for other activities or simply relaxation. A combination of the two, such as our week there, allows for great beach riding and extras whilst offering you the chance to explore further a field during the trail. Special group packages can easily be created to suit your needs. Don’t hesitate to get in touch so that we can arrange your Moroccan adventure!
Read more about the ride here: Great South Ranch, Morocco.