Day 1 of Walking with Nomads: The Ambulance Mule
Every year the Ait Atta nomads, who live in the Saghro Massif in southern Morocco, trek for two weeks to the high pastures of the Atlas Mountains with their flocks. They stay there all summer, feeding up the goats, and then walk back in September. This year, I went with them on the first part of their journey courtesy of www.shepherdswalksholidays.co.uk
We lived, walked, ate and slept with our host family and their animals to try and understand a little bit about their life – so far removed from our own. Our little band of adventurers had come from all over to be part of this – Australia, UK, and America.
The first day was to be one of the longest of the whole trek as we had to get to our rendezvous with Zaid and his family in their camp in the mountains. Until lunch, we were walking along a dried river bed and then over gently rolling, stony hills. The gradient was relatively easy but it was rocky and uneven underfoot and the sun was beating down hard. The last hour, especially, was tough, and there was mass relief when we came to the oasis where our picnic was laid out.
The oasis was typical of the area. A small amount of water is fully exploited: date palms, fig and pomegranate trees, vegetables and barley were all planted out and that is enough to support three or four families.
The heat and rocks had taken their toll and after lunch, a couple of members of our group had to take advantage of the ambulance mule. We had 6 mules with us to carry our food, gear and water for the week, but one of them doubled up as transport for when the going just got too tough. In Morocco, there is always a solution…. Animals here are not really given names, but we decided to call him George after George Clooney as he was so handsome and shiny, with just a hint of grey round the muzzle.
The only disadvantage of the ambulance mule from my perspective, was that I had to try and keep up with him, and his four long legs, were definitely quicker than my two shorter ones, so the second half of my day was a panting trot up a perpendicular hill.
Zaid’s campsite was perched on a small, flat plateau, surrounded by huge outcrops of dark rock. Volcanic plugs that had been smoothed and weathered into sheer faces. There were three tents pitched: the family’s, the mess tent and the most crucial of all, the toilet tent, complete with a beautiful white toilet seat and a view of the far valley.
Zaid was waiting for us with a very warm welcome. We were immediately brought down to the family tent, woven out of goat hair from their flock, and given the obligatory tea, made by Zaid’s mother, Aisha, the spiritual leader of his little tribe and the boss in many ways. There were nine family members to meet: Zaid and Aisha, Zaid’s wife, Izza and half sister, Fatimah, his three sons – Mohammed (14), Maymoun (8 and at school), and Hassan (3), his two daughters, Zahra (10) and Aisha (1). Over the next few days, we were to get to know, and fall a little bit in love with all of them.
Dinner was outside and as the dusk deepened a caravan of camels driven by a tall blue-clad figure straight from a cinema screen came up over the ridge, ready to join us the next day. I had imagined sleeping in the deep quiet under the majesty of the night sky, but the reality was rather different. The stars were indeed majestic but quiet was there none: goats are noisy, and so are shepherd dogs, especially when they spot rival shepherd dogs and get into a barking stand off, and that barking stand off is doubled through the amazing echoes of the rocks. But my mattress was comfy, my sleeping bag was warm and my legs were tired, so it wasn’t long before I drifted off.
Tomorrow: A little donkey, a new tribal leader and my first nomadic kiss