I had virtually given up on the idea of riding a donkey around Morocco. It turned out after some investigation that from a Western animal welfare perspective you should aim to have an animal that’s 4 times the weight of your load. That put me and my luggage needing a sturdy mule if I was going to ride it. The thought of having to look after something that strong and that expensive, about 900euros compared to 100-200 euros for an ickle donkey put me off for this trip. Perhaps another time with a bit more preparation.
So it was a bit of a surprise when I hooked up with Dinky. The auberge I was staying in happened to have a donkey and my next few days walking was going to take me through a pretty much deserted valley. The owner did me a one way hire and said without flinching he would come and get it from my destination with the taxi! Perfect!
I have no experience with horses or donkeys what so ever, I have now ridden a camel twice in the desert so figured walking next to a donkey would be a piece of cake…..Oh my God, how wrong was that.
Mohammed took me to see the Donkey in its field and to my eyes he seemed ok. We put on the padded back pad and created some panniers out of some shopping bags and bosh my load was no longer on my back… Easy.
It was soon after I should have realised what lay ahead. As Mohammed was writing out the name of a friends auberge for me and Dinky to stay at, another fully loaded Donkey came up the path. Dinky went to investigate and when the handler of the oncoming donkey made a fuss Dinky shot off down the road to much laughter from Mohammed’s daughter. 10 minutes later Mohammed arrived back dragging Dinky up the path. Mental note…never leave it untied.
My instructions were short and sweet. Say “Zid” to make it go and “Ssshhtor” to make it stop. Before getting to the piste to take me through the valley I had to walk 4km along the road. The first km was basically me dragging Dinky behind me until I saw someone else coming the other way with their steed. They walked behind giving it encouragement with a thin stick. So I acquired a similar stick and gave Dinky a tap on the bum, he walked into the traffic! I pulled at his rope and reigned him in and he just stopped. This happened quite a few times much to the amusement of the locals who were all offering advice in Berber speak. Most of the advice was the same though. Hit him harder and shout louder. I wasn’t too pleased about the hitting so I tried to balance it out with louder shouts of “zid!”
After being directed onto the piste Dinky tried to drag me uphill. I corrected him and arrived back at the road. I was pointed back up the hill, the donkey knew .
Now on the quiet track I could concentrate on technique rather than panicking about one or both of us being run over. Unfortunately I had to agree with the locals that a firmer whack on the arsenal was the way to go. It was at this point I realised donkey luggage carrying adventures were probably not going to be for me. Even though I’m sure the animal would get a lot better treatment from me I wasn’t really happy doing it. Fear not though there were plenty more reasons to put me off before the day finished.
I imagined our relationship would go well. I’d give it lots more food water and love than it usually got and in return he’d treat me well…..idiot! Donkeys like to eat and if you don’t keep whacking them on the arse and saying “zid” that is what they will do. Not only that but the dirt track had lovely green stuff growing on either side and little old donkey was only interested in going there and not up the track. After about 5km I was pretty knackered. It’s definitely easier to carry a 10kg bag than constantly cajouling a donkey to carry it.
Never mind it’s all part of the adventure. We stopped for a snack. I made a triangle cheese and tomato sandwich whilst Dinky tucked into green stuff. I tied the rope round my leg so he wouldn’t run off. As I’m tucking into my sandwich Dinky starts making classic donkey noises and I hear some other donkeys in the distance. Two light grey ones start coming this way and Dinky wants to go say hello. I hold on to the rope with one hand and eat with the other. The two get nearer and I get dragged off my rock and have to use all my strength to hold onto the rope and untie it from my leg!!! As I’m concentrating on doing this one of the grey donkeys bites my donkey on the neck and doesn’t let go. Then from nowhere two men appear on little “pedal and go” motorbikes and chase the attackers off. This lesson stands me in good sted for later. Blimey it’s all go when you’ve got a donkey. Now the men and the attackers have gone Dinky gives me a nuzzle. Ah! I was hoping for a bit of that :)
Another major drawback of donkey travel is its so slow. I’m getting museum fatigue from walking a lot slower than normal, it’s also taking longer. I had envisaged it freeing me of my load but I’m so consumed with getting the bloody thing to go in a straight line and stop stopping that I don’t have time for any photos or any relaxing. Which is a shame as its a beautiful valley to spend the day in. Up ahead the bike men have stopped. I think they are keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m OK. The dirt track turns to sand and Dinky drops to the floor and rolls about in it. Can’t blame him for that so have a bit of a play with him before encouraging him to get up!
Apart from the occasional nomadic types out with their herds of goats and sheep it’s pretty devoid of people. The dusty track winds off into the distance and on the horizon I see a couple of horses. As we get nearer they approach, they seem huge. I decide that attack is the best form of defence and raise my stick and shout at them, this puts them off a bit but one of them kicks its back legs in the air as it goes past. I can’t imagine surviving get a thwack from that. I whirl my stick around a bit more and do some more shouting and they stay away. Little old Dinky still wants to follow them though I have to use all my strength and more to dig my feet into a small ditch to keep him from dragging me off. I have no doubt if he wanted he could drag me behind him no problem. All the while perched up on a rock are my moped guardian angels keeping watch. I wave at them to let them know it’s all going ok.
A man rides past on a horse and says hello as do a few Berber ladies. Everyone is quite interested in the fact I have my own donkey, either that or the fact that I have no idea how to handle it.
Very early on in to this adventure I realised that doing twice the distance tomorrow was going to be beyond me. I made the decision to phone Mohammed when I eventually arrived in Bou Tharar and would get him to come and collect him from their instead of the original destination of Kalaat M’gouna.
Finally signs of human life start to appear. A long crumbly old wall with a small hut at the end looks as though somebody may have been here in the last decade. Then newer buildings (well probably less than a century old) appear and I can see the shape of the town. As I descend down beyond the city walls a pickup truck stops to say hello and the turbaned man invites me to tea. I pass on the offer as quite frankly my main objective is to get the donkey tied up and make arrangements for its collection. Once that’s done I’ll be able to relax. Town even though small means more attention somehow Dinkey seems to be happy trotting along all be it super slowly and with the help of a local I find the auberge of Muhammad’s friend who I’ve been reliably told will feed, water and house me and Dinky for 150dh. When we arrive I tie up the donkey to a log with the only knot I know. It’s not like the westerns I’ve seen. They always seem to have more rope and a sturdy fence to casually lasso the horse too before strolling off to the saloon to be met by saucy ladies with frilly skirts, large chests and kinky boots as a shot of red eye slides down the bar..Not so much as a tin of cheap lager is available to me. The owner is on holiday and the auberge is full with a group of tourists tonight. Shit! The local talks to the manager and they both decide to send me to Gite Tamalot. I untie the hooved one and trudge dejectedly the extra km to the next place. We pass a hotel, I think go in there and ask but my brains not working properly and the effort of tieing up and translating and organising donkey bedrooms is too much and decide to let the local do the talking at the next place.
At the next place the story is told, I’m shown a room which is fine and of course it’s double the price. All my bargaining powers are gone and the owner knows it. I try to contact Mohammed to make sure he can get here to collect the big eared one. I sit on the floor of the impressive but faded courtyard of the gite. I’ve been watching a few films set in Morocco over the last few days and the setting is conjuring up a feeling of days gone by. I grab a coke and the caffeine and sugar give me some energy to negotiate. As we discuss prices Dinky decides to piss all over the courtyard, the manager is not impressed. It’s then that he tells me that it’s more expensive because you are paying for two! I have to laugh. I get him down to 200dh and finally Mohammed phones back. I explain that his donkey is too slow and he will have to come collect from Bou Tharar. I’m not open to negotiations. He has no trouble with this. I unload my bags give Dinky a hug and watch him being lead out to the donkey bedrooms. Wow what a lesson. At least I haven’t had time to think about my aching feet.
The room has really got character with landscapes painted on the walls and psychedelic roses. Coloured glass windows open onto a large terrace where I drink ginless gin and tonic and watch the sun set behind the hills in the valley of the roses through the intricately carved arches of the facade of the balcony. Down in the street below a group of girls (eldest aged about 12) sing and dance and juggle pebbles in the hope of my throwing down a pen or a dirham, I sadly explain I have neither, so they ask for a cheese triangle or even the remainders of my bread I’m making a sandwich with. I don’t think they are starving, I just think they want to be rewarded.
It had only been a 10 mile walk but it seemed like a truly epic adventure. It’s not the miles travelled or the speed but the journey. Always the journey. To then arrive at this town felt so cinematic as to be laughable. I’m still up for actually riding a mule around Morocco but I’m definitely going to get some practice in before disappearing off on my own.
Dinky , it’s been emotional.