Thursday, April 9, 2009

2009 Tierras de Al-Andalus: The Migration

Thursday March 26 2009

For the fourth spring, the competition Raid Kaliber Tierras de Al Andalus comes together: the unique 8-day endurance ride across the southern autonomous community of Andalucia in Spain. Once Spain's poorest region, it is now one of the most popular destinations, with the wealth of its scenery, the warmth and joyousness of its people, and the rich historical treasures awaiting the visitor. It is the home of bullfighting and flamenco; it is bursting with fiestas, romerias and religious celebrations; it is home to the Jerez Horse Fair, "the most important equine event in Europe"; it is filled with traditions and architecture, food and arts, from the successive waves of Romans, then Vandals and Visigoths, then Moors (Muslims), and then the Franks that in turn conquered and occupied it.

The route will take riders past ancient Roman ruins from the third century; into a 14th century fortress; near a Great Mosque (church-turned Mosque-turned church) which was at the time the largest in all of Islam; over an old Roman bridge; through old city gates from the 15th century; past the port where Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan set sail around the world in the 16th century; through the sleepy little sand-street town of El Rocio which, during the annual Rocio Pilgrimage which began in the 15th century is saturated with a million people... and that is just to name a few highlights. A tour worthy of itself; but then add the horse into the equation, and a group of modern-day adventurers ready to test their skills and their endurance - people and horses - over 8 days and 500 kilometers.

And it is not just an endurance ride. It is an event. It is unique, challenging, tiring, and exhilarating - for the organizers, the horses, the riders, and the crews. It is extraordinary in its offerings of riding, sight-seeing, companionship, and culture, rich with thousand of years of history, rich with the traditions of the horse.

This year, though the world-wide economic crisis wreaked havoc on sponsorship, and was lurking just around the corners of conversations and minds of everybody, a larger number of riders and horses entered than last year, and competitors from Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, and Argentina descended upon Andalucia.

Every year the route varies; this year was 8 days and 514 kilometers along the Ruta del Guadalquivir, the longest river in Andalucia. The trail would begin at Jerez de la Frontera (the site of the 2002 World Endurance Championship in 2002) and move directly to Sanlucar de Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, working its way northeast, always close to the path of the Guadalquivir, into the Sierra mountains near Andujar, with the final day's finish ending with a steep climb to the foot of the 13th century Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza.

22 Equipos (teams) were entered - 1 rider and 2 horses, or 2 riders and 2 horses; and 21 Binomios (1 horse, 1 rider) were entered. Every day's ride was approximately 60 kilometers, the first 6 days being relatively flat; a rest day (!) in Cordoba on the 7th day; followed by 2 more days of climbing: to 392 m (1286') on day 7 and 619 m (2030') on day 8.

From the first day, Jose Manuel Soto, the native Andalucian singer/songwriter/actor/horseman and creator of this event, (he's from Sevilla, the home of flamenco, to be precise) encouraged riders to "go slowly. The last two days are very hard, so you must conserve your horses. Take your time! Enjoy the scenery!"

Enjoy the scenery, the food, the camaraderie - enjoy this rare and remarkable challenge and adventure that is Tierras de Al-Andalus.

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