<% pageTitle="2004 Dahshur Dawdle - Abu Sir Egypt" homeDirectory="/2004dahshurdawdle/" eventSponsor="belesemo" leftBanner="kerrit" rightBanner="ridecamp" %>



An interesting arrival (2AM, Maryanne had the wrong date :) so classic adventure in the airport trying to buy a visa (w/o money) to get out. Eventually my entourage/committee of men called a guy to open the airport bank so I could get some money, they called ma for me, she got out of bed, met me at the airport (free at last) and voila.

Yesterday a small army of men (and the boss) worked on the house, finishing doors, window, bathroom, etc. Totally amazing, they finally left here around 11pm (no such thing as a 9 to 5). It's so alive here - rich culture, noise, activity - we're at ma's new place in Abu Sir - farmland - on the outskirts of Giza (west bank of Nile).

I haven't taken many pictures yet, was busy all day yesterday helping with the house - boxes/sorting/organizing. Went for a walk with Destry and Alli (Mona's little boy) in the evening, then ma's friend Pol (Norwegian nationality) took Destry and I to a local market for roasted chicken. Very lively market, this place seems to come alive at night - shops, children, women, donkeys, trucks... it's very wonderful!

Today we'll eventually go out to check the trail, I'm not sure what else is on tap.

Destry is great - happy, seems to be one of the family. It was sure good to see him!

lots of love - MA is going over to a friends this morning, to do some business and send some emails.

I'll try to get some photos today, should have some more time today to play.



Grass Roots Endurance Riding in Egypt

After four years of watching FEI and UAE style Endurance Racing, a group of riders decided that there has to be something different. Maryanne Gabbani lives in Egypt, having married an Egyptian man whom she met at UC Berkeley over 20 years ago. Egypt is her home and horses and riding are one of her greatest passions. She helped organize the first Endurance Rides in Egypt four years ago, and then watched in horror as the emphasis on racing and prize money took away everything she originally loved about Endurance: Spending many hours with your horse and your friends. Riding for miles and miles and discovering new trails. On a horse that you cherish and hope to keep riding for a long time. So this year a group of like-minded equestrians decided that they would try something similar to our (AERC) style of riding - low key, relaxed pace - and show the disillusioned riders that there was an alternative sport: Endurance Riding.

The Egyptian Equestrian Federation (EEF) is the Egyptian parallel to our United States Equestrian Federation, the governing body for Equine sports, the Federation which is recognized by the FEI. The thing that has been missing in Egypt is an organization like AERC, an Endurance Riding 'club' where the emphasis is on horse welfare and riding for the pure pleasure of sharing the trail with your horse. Currently the EEF is not tolerant of any other organized Endurance sport in Egypt, but this group of grass-roots endurance riders has formed the Egyptian Endurance Riding Association. They are doing their own thing, following rules similar to AERC, and avoiding conflict with the EEF by not granting placement to the riders based upon the finish time. It is a non-competitive event. (at least on paper). They are riding for fun, with the emphasis on caring for and preserving their horses.

The Dahshur Dawdle was to be a club ride, a 40 km (25 mile) event, open to anybody that wanted to ride for pleasure (non-competitive). When I got the opportunity to go to Abu Dhabi to crew for Leonard Liesens at the President's Cup, the idea of being this close to Egypt (where our son Destry was spending the winter) and not going to visit was too much to bear. The timing was perfect to coincide with Maryanne's fun ride, and the chance to ride, and be part of such an event was the final straw. I quickly booked a flight. (and then so did Jackie, Merri and Tracy... but that's another story). I arrived in Cairo (and that's yet another story!) and was quickly embraced by this wonderful country. No time to rest, as I helped Maryanne set up her new household and make preparations for her ride. Jackie, Merri and Track arrived the next night, and Maryanne's new (still being finished) house was filled to the brim with dogs, people and boxes. And energy!

The morning after they arrived was the day before the ride. From first cup of coffee (on the roof, looking over the countryside, hearing the morning call to prayer, watching the men, women, donkeys and water buffalo begin their morning chores) to the last sip of wine before bed, we never stopped. We spent the morning helping Maryanne and meeting her friend Pal at his horse farm. Pal is a Norwegian National living in and loving Egypt, totally immersed in his farm and horses. Maryanne took us for a ride in the country, which was absolutely incredible - people, animals, noise, farms, tombs, ranches, subsistence living, nice villas surrounded by filthy canals and hovels, a strange beauty. Absolutely intriguing.

Later in the day we piled into Maryanne's Bronco, and Morad and Pal into Morad's Jeep and we scouted the course for the ride (the day before the ride, no problem, plenty of time), Maryanne drove us through the desert near the Dahshur and Sakkara pyramids, the Sun Temple, the Step Pyramid, the Melting Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid and an assortment of other ancient assemblages (and yes we turned right at the sarcophagus), through the fence, along the army compound with holes and mounds created by previous artillery practice, and finally over to the date palm groves of Dahshur where Maryanne has purchased 5 acres of grove and hopes to someday build a home and stable.

We skirted the lake, which was currently mostly dry and populated by cattle, sheep, goats, camels and the Bedouin herders. Every fall the government fills the lake from the Nile, and then drains it again in the spring. We followed a nice trail around the lake and onto the village access lane that goes to Maryanne's grove. It was a nice shady lane to ride on, and Maryanne was hoping that bringing the riders to her grove for a vet check would be a good opportunity to show them that there are nice places to ride - other than just the desert. The population density in the Cairo area is tremendous, and foreigners or vehicles or recreational riders can quickly draw the locals out to gawk and pester (money madam? money for me?) and many of Maryanne's riding friends don't enjoy riding in the country for this reason. But she is constantly scouting and finding nice relatively quiet places to ride.

With the course settled upon, we quickly (very quickly...) retraced our path across the desert, stopping for photos and discussions, and stopping to watch the sun set behind a pyramid, and then to the farm of Ali Abdel Rahim. The previous FEI races have been staged from Ali's place (a beautiful beautiful Arabian ranch at the edge of the desert) and this ride was to also start and finish from here. Earlier in the day there was a meeting of some of the club members at Ali's, with discussion of logistics for the next days ride. There would be a banquet for the riders after it was over. An 8:00 start (which meant that hopefully they could -really- start by 8:30, a 20 minute vetcheck at Maryanne's grove, and then back to Ali's by noon. They still don't consider taking 6 hours to do a 25 mile ride though - even though this was to be for fun, the last riders would finish by noon, a 3 hour 25.

We went back to Maryanne's to finish up the paperwork. Tracy was to be ride secretary and was focused on printing entry forms and timer sheets and organizing things for the ride. She would manage the registration in the morning and assign numbers to the riders. Jackie and I were to help with the start and vetting in, and then the three of us run the vet check (oh what an adventure that was!). Merri was to ride in one of the rigs following the riders and be official ride photographer. As well as help crew, and whatever else came up.

Since there were to be no trail markers for the ride we asked Morad if he could draw a map that we could print and annotate and hand out to the riders. He must have a very photographic mind, and quickly drew a very accurate map of the course on sheet of paper. The riders would basically follow the leaders (tracks in the sand, riders on the horizon) and have their maps for backup. Maryanne would bring up the rear, and make sure everybody got to the right place at more-or-less the right time following more-or-less the same course. So we were pretty much set for the day. Mohamed (Maryanne's' driver) would drive us (and gear) to the vet check, the vets would follow Mohamed and drive their car, and anybody else that wasn't following the riders through the desert could follow as well.

Up early, to Ali's for registration and start. Riders there don't have horse trailers (very rare) so those that wanted to participate had to ride their horses to the start, or have their grooms ride them over. Some from a fair distance away. The horses started arriving, some relaxed from their ride over, some excited from their ride over, but most overly excited because they were stallions and there were other stallions and mares in close proximity. Geldings are very rare in this equestrian neighborhood. The vets managed to get all of the horses vetted in, Jackie and I were vet secretaries and watched in amazement as they tried to get a stethoscope on some of the horse's ribs for even a few seconds, much less a full minute. Cap refill, jug refill, straight trot-out... perhaps.

I had planned on a ride meeting before the start, having everybody assembled... but the excitement and energy pretty much changed my mind, and I tried to catch groups of riders before they started and explain about the vet check, 20 minute gate-into-hold, etc. Whatever.... off they go. I watched from the edge of Ali's grove as 30 riders fanned out across the desert, the air misty and cool, with a rising hill of sand and three pyramids as a backdrop. It was beautiful.

But no, waiting around- off we go to the vet check. The riders only had 20 km to go, and there is no such thing as an 'easy' drive to anywhere. Small single lane roads (with random 2-way traffic, donkeys and carts, water buffalos, camels, children, trucks) are the main travel mode, and we had a 30 minute drive under the best of circumstances. We had to take a side trip to help a lost/forgotten rider retrieve her car so she could follow us and participate at the vet check. It cost us precious time, but oh well... in Egypt time is relative. Mohamed is an incredible (and safe!) driver and managed to lead the caravan safely and successfully to Maryanne's grove. We had just a few minutes after arriving to start setting things up before the first riders appeared. We decided to stage the vet check along the lane rather than down the trail in Maryanne's grove. It was nice and quiet and shady. (at least until the locals started wandering over to watch, and the donkey carts started coming through, and the trucks loaded with brick and sand came rolling by, and everything else that we simply couldn't have imagined would appear on a nice quiet shady lane). Plus we hadn't really accounted for the extra space that 20 stallions might need in order to relax and eat and drink. It's a little different over there... perhaps our choice of vet check could have been better.

But we muddled on, lavishing extra smiles and attention on the bewildered riders to compensate for the complete chaos. Very patient and tolerant people though, and determined to view the ride as an adventure, for fun. Several actually did comment later on how much they enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the vet check (go figure). Compared to the UAE/FEI vet checks, this was a picnic. Finally the last riders came through, with stories of the water crossing adventure (the first in the history of Egyptian Endurance!), of losing the trail, and then finding another trail, and generally having a good time.

The vets were fantastic, very patient, and a great sense of humor. They were weaned on Endurance as vet students with the first FEI riders, and quickly got into the spirit of this ride. They were tolerant and communicative with the riders, but always attentive to the horse - making sure there were no horses that might be showing signs of heat stress or fatigue. But other than a few minor lamenesses and a few that took 10-15 minutes to recover, there were no problems. The lame horses took a short path back to Ali's through the country lanes and around the village rather than going back through the desert. (remember, there are no horse trailers). The horses that were slower to recover spent extra time at the grove relaxing and eating and drinking. All was well.

We sent the last riders off to finish the course, packed everything into the rigs (again Mohamed was wonderful!) and worked our way back to Ali's. We had to stop at one point for several minutes for a funeral procession, a hundred solemn men walking down the lane, bearing a coffin. Plus there was a large herd of water buffalo moving through the village that occupied the lane for a while. Eventually we made it back, and set up to wait for the riders to finish. The first (Morad) was in around 11:30, and the rest came in over the next hour or so. There was one lameness, and a couple horses took the entire 30 minutes to recover to 60, but the grooms and riders were diligent, with plenty of water and shade, and eventually all the horses were in, and recovered, resting and eating. (and ready to be ridden back to their stables).

There was a lovely banquet for everybody, wonderful Egyptian food, rugs and blankets laid out under the palm trees, tables and chairs with umbrellas. Very nice. We were all a little dazed, laughing at the mishaps, wondering how to do it better next time. Yes, the next time.

The week after the ride, before I left to return to the US, we went to the lovely home of Mohamed Kharma for a small party (pizza and beer) to talk about the ride, and answer many of the questions that the riders have - how we do things in the US. Feed, training, electrolytes, etc. It was fun to share knowledge and swap stories. Towards the end Jackie and I were asked 'what would you recommend to us?'. Jack gave them a nice description of how we do our rides, and how riders carry gear with them and learn to be self sufficient. My answer to the question was that they should expand their horizons, consider different trails, different locations. Up until the lane to Maryanne's grove, everything has been in the desert, only sand. This led to Maryanne insisting that there were wonderful places to ride in the country, she know ways to avoid the villages and traffic. Well, ok - they'd just have to try it then.

We then started talking about multiday rides in the US. A horse can ride 80km per day, for five days??? The same horse??? Amazing. Then talk of the desert, the stars, and Ali's wife mentioned the beauty of the White Desert east of Cairo, where the stars shine brilliantly enough to light the night. Then talk of a beautiful lake east of Cairo, and yes, one could probably ride around it - oh, probably 70 or 80 km to ride all the way around. And then we could ride the other direction the next day. And we could hire Bedouin to feed the horses, and we could set up tents and camp, and somebody had a contact in the Army so they could arrange permission ... and wallah! a multiday in Egypt has been planned. The best time would be next November, after Ramadan, when the temperatures are cooler, and the sky is clear and the days are beautiful.

And this, is the spirit of Endurance Riding :)