This afternoon, there was a violent rainstorm. As it drew closer, the whole family, sprang into action, covering the tent with a big sheet of plastic, doing the same to all the piles of provisions, bringing in anything that might get ruined by the rain and making sure the firewood had somewhere dry to sit.
There we were, our motley crew of foreigners and Berbers, with no languages in common but masses of goodwill. So, we did what all good people do when stuck in a rainstorm, we played a game guessing how many stones there were in everyone’s hands. In the UK it is a drinking game, here we did it with just mint tea. Everyone loved it.
Rain and water is the big preoccupation for Zaid and his family. There has been a drought in the region for the last three years and it has affected him badly. This year he spent over €1000 on feed for some sheep he had in his flock, but he lost 35 of them through starvation. Goats eat anything, but sheep are fussier. I am holding the lone survivor up above. We could see the lack of water even in the little wells and springs that dotted the route. All were just puddles.
For Zaid and his family to survive, everyone works and does their share. From first thing in the morning, even the little ones are working. The tea goes on, the family sit together and eat bread and olive oil or butter, then they are packing up the tent and provisions and getting the animals ready. The chicken is strapped to the mule, Zahra, picks up the little sheep, Zaid and Izza count the goats out of the enclosure and everyone sets off.
Sharing is instinctual here. On the walk, I had lent my poles to Maymoun to try out. He loved them, he was so proud, walking in front like our guide, checking back to make sure we were all following and joyously prodding every piece of dung on the route. But when I looked up 5 minutes later, he had made one of the poles shorter and given it to his little brother, Hassan, so they could both enjoy it.
It is a small illustration of the core value of this culture. It is completely communal, everyone sleeps in the same place, eats from the same bowl of food, takes their share of the work and sits together in rest time. It would be very hard to be lonely.
Tomorrow: Herding and endings
To do this walk: http://www.shepherdswalksholidays.co.uk
After my crushing and humiliating last place at the Marrakech Marathon in January, I bring glad tidings of GREAT news. 50km Nomad’s Run in the Agafay desert and who was first lady back? Me!
Imagine my delight – and my exhaustion – but let’s go back to the beginning. The Nomad’s Run is a mixed biking and running event – organised locally at the beautiful La Pause guesthouse in the Agafay Desert.
With just over a month to go till the Marathon Des Sables, it was a perfect chance to have a bit of a dress rehearsal so Charlie and I turned up for the 50km run with our packs fully loaded and our water/electrolytes and food rations as we would have them.
Charlie, of course, knew everyone, and it soon dawned on me that this was going to be a pretty experienced crew, and I was likely going to be running alone at the back. Four of the other nine runners were also doing the Marathon Des Sables, and they all took one look at my pack and firmly told me it was way too heavy and I was mad to carry it this early on and for this event. I had decided that I really wanted to give it a try, but I did unload three kilos in weight – a good move as I had miscalculated and this still left me hefting 8kms on my back for the day.
The gun went off at exactly 8 am and off we went. The first 17km was along a river valley – all stained red by the morning sun. It was sunny but still cool and even though I know I need to face that heat, I was pretty relieved. By the end of the 17km, I had been passed by the leader of the 20km sprint – who had paused long enough to wish me “Bon Courage” and give me a Twix, and two of the mountain bikers.
After the river valley, we turned off into the wider desert and navigation was to ensue via les petites pierres bleus. About ten minutes in, the 20km female leader came sprinting back towards me as she had lost her route – her petites pierres were orange and there were none in sight. I had Fred the Organiser on speed dial so after a hasty call to him she re-traced her route – calling wildly “Mais j’etais la premiere” I really hope she won, even though she had gone off course,
The next couple of hours were uneventful for me. I wasn’t drinking as much as I thought I would – and by the end of the day had only got through about 3 1/2 litres, and had eaten one of our nutritionist, Diana’s, Epic Boost bars every 10km (www.mymealplan.co.uk) so my energy levels were high. I trotted along playing the usual mind games and trying not to think about my back, my legs, my snail’s pace, the fact that I would have to do another five of these in a row…..
Then I hit a snag. For those of you who know me, it will come as no great surprise, I had missed a turning somewhere and was now lost – a junction with the little blue stones but no ongoing signs. So, I once again called fabulous Fred and after a few detours, started to retrace my steps. Far in the distance the bright orange 4×4 of the organisers loomed and I was picked up and set straight. I reckon I had done an extra 4-5km and as it turned out the race was only to be 44km so I probably came in at around 48km in total.
After that, I was tailed by some very kind men with very large moustaches who assured me that they would stick behind me, no matter how slow I was, and see me through to the end. This was really a very honourable offer as I am very, very slow and we were still a long way from the end.
I had been on my legs for about 7 hours now but was still feeling pretty chirpy and had launched into a long and initially welcome descent. But those descents can really knacker your hips and quads and, of course, the jolting meant my backpack was moving a lot. BUT I have to say that in general it is excellent – it is the Marathon Des Sables pack.
The afternoon light was working its magic on the desert at this stage and far ahead I could see a man walking with a blue jilbab on. He was actually going to rendezvous with his friend, who had brought a picnic for them to share. As I caught them up, they kindly offered me some mandarins but I wanted to keep to my own supplies so had to refuse. The kindness lifted my spirits though.
At the bottom of the hill, Charlie was waiting, having completed his own run in a magnificent 5hrs 15 – which would put him in the top 100 for MdS. So he relieved my moustachioed escort and tailed me for the last – and increasingly grim – kilometres.
That last 10km took a long time. Not helped by the very long climb. But really I think that I had just been out for too long. My slowness does catch up with me but I am where I am with that and am afraid that sucking it up is the only option.
At last, I was on the last two kilometres and Charlie ducked out to meet me at the finishing line. And what a great finish it was. There were still some people left and they all turned out to cheer me on, which was amazing. I felt like a champion when I got over that line and threw my backpack gratefully to the ground.
And – I was in a way! I was in fact the first woman back from the 50km – the fact that I was the ONLY woman who had entered, and that it took me nine and a half hours – I reckon is neither here nor there. For the first and the last time in my entire life, I have won a race. Woo Hoo!