Last night, our guests left at 12:30 a.m. “Happy New Year!” we shouted into the crisp night air, not worried about bothering the neighbours. We knew they were up, you see, from the music and the sounds of partying. “I feel like we’re back in Mauritania,” I groaned to Donn about 1 a.m. as we lay, trying to sleep, twitching to the beat. In Mauritania there are no noise regulations, and we were often kept awake by the music of nearby (as in, within 3 miles nearby) weddings, which inevitably began at 1 a.m. and went till about 3 or 4 a.m. Last night’s party wasn’t that late, ending around 2:30, but it was loud enough to murder sleep. At least for me. No sooner had I reminded Donn of our sleepless nights in Nouakchott, when his gentle breathing told me that, once again, an annoying techno beat had not kept him awake. Grr. Sooo jealous.

The result was that I was none too happy to get up this morning. Normally, of course, New Year’s Day is a time to sleep in and then eat a big breakfast, kind of like Christmas without the presents and the overexcited small children who didn‘t understand the part about sleeping in. But we had an 11 a.m. (okay technically not that early) appointment with 2 other families to go to the beach. It was supposed to rain, but I forced my heavy eyelids open about 9 to see sun streaming in through the chinks of the shutters.

I packed leftovers from our small New Year’s Eve party into a carry-all for our beach picnic, and we loaded Donn’s surfboard on top of our friends’ car. This was a great beginning to a new year for him, since he hasn’t surfed since we left Mauritania in July 2007.

We drove in caravan, 3 families in 2 cars, heading south from Rabat to a suburb called Temara. We drove too far south and had to backtrack but I didn’t mind. The ocean was a deep blue on our right, and the ditches and fields filled with tiny yellow or orange wildflowers. The sky was clear, the breezes light. We passed fields of tomatoes and potatoes, saw women carrying large baskets of greens slung over their shoulders, or herds of ragged sheep tended by an equally ragged shepherd. Through it all, the light spilled through the clouds on the horizon, and the surf pounded the sand.

We eventually found the beach our friend had in mind. Donn took his new board and headed for the water. There was a big rocky break just offshore, and the current was strong, but he had a good time getting used to his new board and enjoying being in the water again. That rocky break meant that the water just in front of our picnic spot was shallow and calm, perfect for the younger children to splash around in, and older children to dunk each other. Nearby, a Moroccan family picnicked also, the dad fishing in the shallows.

There were tide pools swarming with hermit crabs, sea snails, prickly sea urchins in dark purple or green, mussels, and tiny fish. A Korean friend took several children out onto the rocks and they came back with a Tupperware container full of sea life. The little creatures were fun to watch, although I think our Korean friends were planning them for supper that night. Donn stepped on a sea urchin and got 3 prickles buried deep under his skin.

The light gentled into late afternoon. A lot of people, family groups and couples, were on the beach now. The tide was coming in and most of the rocks and pools were submerged under the spray. Elliot and I went for a walk and saw a young man on a beautiful, spirited chestnut horse riding down the beach. I suddenly and completely reverted to being about 10 and loving horses, although in real life I’m pretty much over that obsession. It was a beautiful horse and he let it prance into the edge of the surf, stepping high, tail swishing. So romantic, I thought, and then, “But I don’t think he should ride so fast near so many people.”

In the meantime, another 3 horses passed us. One in particular caught my eye–all black, glossy, just like the horse of my girlhood fantasies. This was obviously a riding school, and the girl on the back of my dream animal sat stiff and uncomfortable in the saddle, holding tightly to the reins. They went on ahead and we followed more slowly, chatting about various things like ancient battles and Elliot’s prowess on Tribal Wars. I was watching the horses, thinking again that the young man on the chestnut horse was an idiot. Suddenly, the black horse with the girl on its back broke free and wild, headed straight at a family with a toddler, veered off at the very last minute, and galloped toward the small hill that marked the edge of the beach, tossing its inexperienced rider into a heap on the sand.

Some young men raced after it and caught it, then we watched as one rode it at a fast pace up and down the sands, whipping it frenetically. I guess he was trying to get some of the wildness out, but it struck me as hardly safe, on a beach filled with families. Donn said to me, “What kind of man hits a defenceless animal?” (Movie identification, anyone?)

Her friends crowded around the downed rider, and soon she was on her feet again, and then on horseback, although not the same horse. Thankfully, they moved off down the beach, where if they killed any toddlers at least I didn’t have to witness it. I imagine that the horse was spooked by the other horse’s antics, although my obsession was never developed enough for me to actually know much about real life horses. We exchanged wry looks with the family of the mercifully unhurt baby, and headed back to the cars.

We drove home through the rose-coloured dusk, quietly happy after such a pleasant day. An auspicious start to a new year. Plus it took me an extra day to finish and post this, which is pretty much how things work around here. How was yours?

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