Mulling over mules

Imil, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

I sit on a stone in the shade of a walnut tree and watch a young farrier hammer 3-inch nails though a mule’s hoof, nipping the excess nail off before bending the stub over. It seems over-kill on size, but as I’ve never shod a mule who am I to say?

The mule gives the occasional enquiring look backward and downwards, but other than that stares placidly ahead. New shoes fitted, it’s led away and a blue plastic bag of feed hung around its neck. By the time it begins chomping, another shoeing job has been backed into place and the farrier begins hacking off the bent and split old shoes.

When the muleteer has hobbled his animal to a hug stone he walks across the street and sits under the shade a few stones from me.

“Hello, how are you?” he says.

“Very well”, I reply “And how are you?”

“Very fine, thank you.”

He’s from Armed, the village high above Imlil, and he’s come down to have his mule shod. He’s a mountain guide who, when times are good, will make the regular two-day trips up Jbel Toubkal, seven hours there, four back.

“So how’s business?” I ask

He puts his hand out flat and wiggles it up and down in the universal signal of ‘not so good’

‘Is bad’ he says, ‘not much tourist.’

We sit in comfortable silence for a while, until a mini-bus pulls up in front of the mule park.

“Bus,” he says, and jumps up, walking quickly over to the driver’s side. Words are exchanged and the driver shakes his head, while leaning back in his seat as a passenger points a fat lens at two tethered chomping mules. Photo taken, the bus moves off up the village street.

My new friend wanders back and sits a couple of stones away. We resume our companionable silence. A few minutes later we hear the peeping of a message on his mobile phone. As he takes it out I stand up, shake his hand and tell him I hope it’s a booking for him and his mule.



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