This morning we met at the school car park at 8:30am which was the very start of our trip. We went and took a group photo outside of school and then we went and said goodbye to our parents. By 9:00am we were on the bus on our way to Uxbridge college in London were we were going to be stay for the night. By the time we got there it was around 4:00pm and, even though we had stopped a couple of times I was very glad to be off the bus and to be able to stretch my legs and start our first part of the expedition.
The first thing that we did was put up our tents that we will be staying in for the trek phase of the expedition. Surprisingly we all managed to put them up pretty quickly unlike when we were on the training weekend in the peak district. The most difficult part wasn’t putting it up but putting it down and fitting them back in their bags. When we were told that all of the tents and the rest of the team’s equipment was going to have to fit in our bright orange bags we all thought it was a joke as our bags were already crammed full. Eventually after Mr Miller had body slammed a few of the bags we finally managed to close them all. We were all really hungry by this point so all of the teachers decided to take us to pizza hut. Once we had eaten as much pizza as we could we travelled back to the college to try and get some rest. By the time we all got settled down on the ‘luxurious’ class room floor it was about 10pm which meant that we only had 3 hours sleep but most of us probably didn’t even get that.
So at 1am Ben came and woke us all up as he was the waker up er-er for the group. Once we all managed to get up and get dressed we headed out to Gatwick airport which was another hour away. Finally when we got there we managed to check in and get everything else sorted out. As we were all pretty smelly at this point me (Molly) and Emma decided to go and buy some Lynx Africa to obviously make us smell nice and to give us some African spirit with a hint of goat extract. We all managed to get down to the terminal on time for our flight we had no problems except I thought I had put my boarding pass in the bin with the bag from the lynx and Mr Redford didn’t seem best pleased as he shouted at Emma, but fortunately I had just put it in my pocket, so worry over. Finally after a full day of travelling we are now on the plane to Morocco and we only have about an hour left until we land, thank God, for that as I think we are all weary with travelling now. However the excitement of Morocco itself still lies before us………
Day Two – Marrakech
We finally arrived in Marrakech! The climate is red hot but that didn’t stop the excitement that the group had. We then got the bus to the busy centre of Marrakech where we experienced wonderful smells, sights and experiences as people on the streets tried to sell us toys and food. The group then split up to find the hotel and fortunately it was right in front of us! ‘Hotel Ali’ the small sign read… At first glance the hotel looks very petite but when inside it’s surprisingly big (which is practical). The hotel rooms were actually really pleasant and the beds were nice and squashy but sadly in my room the air conditioning wasn’t turned on so I appeared to be melting in the corner.
Next door to the hotel was a nice little café where we decided to eat – Paninis, pizzas burgers, this place had it all! A Moroccan waiter took our orders whilst everybody was glued to the television screen. A Moroccan TV soap was on and it told a funny love story (well at least that’s what we all thought). After a small rest we then all gathered on the hotel sofas where we then split into groups to find different products. My group found the mobile phones but other groups went out to find a hotel for the last night and some snacks that we will devour when climbing Mt Toubkal! When we were looking for the mobile phones several people shouted ‘fish and chips’ at us and we were quite amused.
The group then discussed our findings and the team that were booking the hotel for the last night managed to get a luxurious , high quality hotel that had a swimming pool on the rooftop! It also has musical entertainment as well as a Moroccan cuisine.
The teachers then gave us a few hours to wash and smell nice and I went on the roof of the hotel where I could see wild cats sunbathing and people rushing around the chaotic streets of Marrakech. The teachers wanted us to meet at 7.30pm so that we could then go out into the markets to explore and have a bite to eat.
Abbie then lead the group outside and all of the markets were lit up, the view was extraordinary! When looking around it was surreal, snake charmers made their snakes dance and one man even had a monkey wrapped around his back, I couldn’t believe my eyes. We all walked further into the markets where the streets got tighter and tighter. Moroccan locals drove their mopeds very fast through the small gaps (nearly knocking half of the team off their feet!) Everyone had worked up an appetite however finding where to eat was probably the biggest task of the day! The streets had very interesting smells as well as sights and when we did a vote to eat street food or on one of the roof top restaurants, the roof top restaurant surprisingly took the majority vote!
When reaching the roof top, a friendly waiter took our orders and many of us tried something different such as the ‘ couscous poulet’ or the ‘poulet pastilla’ and we waited for our glorious dishes to arrive! When they arrived everybody tried their meals and it proved to be a great success. Everyone was shocked when Abbie’s ‘poulet pastilla’ arrived because she expected it to be chicken pasta! It definitely wasn’t chicken pasta. It looked round and plump and seemed to be stuffed with chicken and almond inside. Looks can be deceiving because everyone in the group tried a forkful of it and it was delicious. The sweet almond taste blended very nicely with the chewy chicken and some people even tasted a bit of cinnamon in it!
After that everyone was shattered so we made our way to the hotel where our comfy beds were calling our names. Everyone slept like babies and we have a tiring Day 3 ahead of us.
Morocco Day Three– Into Asni
Today was the first day of our Asni Project work. We got to the village by minibus and we were welcomed with Moroccan Mint Tea and omelette sandwiches: they were lush. Personally I didn’t like the tea but this wasn’t the general consensus. We then went onto the main field/yard where we played football with the local children. This game soon turned into an international friendly with both sides evenly matched but England clenched a 2-1 victory over our Moroccan opposition. Along with the sport and fun we got to use our French language knowledge to speak to the local children to find out their names, ages and favourite football teams. This was a great experience and developed my French skills as I had to use them in a real environment.
After that we were greeted by a three course dinner of vegetable tagine followed by a chicken cous cous and finally, fruit for dessert. The chicken cous cous was my favourite as it had food that I knew and what I was comfortable with. Then after more games with the local children we were invited by the Mayor to have a tour of Asni.
This was very, very informative as the Mayor showed us the various projects around the village. He showed us the plantations, the terraces (for flood protection), the bee hives and the boarding school they wanted to build. We were then treated to a sunset view whilst a lightning storm occurred behind us. This was a splendid surprise but at a treacherous cost, as the hill/mountain we hiked was very sandy, and we were all slipping and sliding all over, as well as falling over. However, the rewards outweighed the risks as the views were astounding.
All in all I cherished the day as it is memorable as well as worthy of note. One and all enjoyed the day and had a great time. This was a day to remember and one we will forever talk about.
Morocco Day Four – Asni Project
Today we all woke up early to start our project work in Asni. Three people were assigned to go to help out in the kitchen making traditional Moroccan food, another three were assigned to do irrigation work and the rest completed a concrete stairway.
Once we had breakfast we all set out to complete our tasks which were all challenging but exciting in the same way. The weather was extremely hot to work in, but working hard to complete a task which was needed was all worth it in the end. The team on the stairway shifted around four tonnes of sand, gravel and cement during countless trips up and down the long and steep approach to the project building. This resulted in a permanent addition and improvement to the project headquarters where the girls were staying; the boys being accommodated in a house next door. The irrigation team did their work too in helping to keep fruit trees watered. All were exhausted by the hard labour in the hot sun.
After that we all went outside and enjoyed the rest of the sun with the children from the village which involved a very competitive water fight, this cooled us all down a lot and the children had a lot of fun!
We ate lunch and dinner, prepared by members of our group, in the headquarters which was delicious (all the food was) and then we talked to some of the Moroccans that worked in the community centre. The Mayor of the town, and the creator of the whole Asni project, along with the other workers came in to thank us for all of our work, then proceeded to give us all a bracelet in a locally made wooden box which we all thought was extremely thoughtful and kind, then we continued to get to know the locals. Now were about to go to sleep and get ready for day five!
Morocco Day Five – To Around
Today we woke up at 7:30am. After a quick pack we had breakfast which consisted of bread, butter, jam, mint tea and hot chocolate – it was delicious! A few students felt a bit run down after such a hard day yesterday and some had definitely caught ‘Moroccan tummy’ but morale remained high. After a few dashes to the toilet we vacated the community centre leaving only some unpleasant aromas behind!
We walked down the newly lain path to meet our buses. The ride was an interesting one with narrow roads. The pupils were segregated into 2 groups: the vomiting bus and the non-vomiting bus. We drove for about half an hour along steep cliff edges. As we drove into the mountains, the scenery changed from dry to surprisingly green.
We arrived in Malil. We requested some further transport to assist the sick people to the hostel in Around. They had to endure a very bumpy ride in the back of a windowless van, the roof of which was piled high with our distinctive orange duffle bags. The main part of the party set off to hike further up the valley to the Gite. We enjoyed the trek up through the hillside and the cooler breezes along the way. We were also able to catch an occasional glimpse of the orange-topped “invalid truck” further up the mountain.
Once we arrived at our accommodation Mr Miller sorted us out into our rooms which are full of king-size bunk beds. Shortly after, lunch was served. This included vegetable pasta, bread, tuna and a salad. Most of the group managed to have something and after some down time we were able to do some clothes washing on the roof.
Once that was done it was time to wash ourselves, only to find the showers were freezing cold! So it was a quick dash in and out of the water as fast as you could!
As we were all pretty tired and were facing a very early start, with the longest trek of the expedition, the next day it was early to bed in the comfortable accommodation.
Day Six – The Trek To Base Camp
Well, day 6 was possibly the hardest day of our expedition so far as we overcame an exhausting and demanding 7 hour trek from the Gite to La Moulfon Refuge which is the basecamp of Mt Toubkal. Every step was uphill!
We started the day early and packed our bags ready to leave. After packing the mules with our expedition equipment, we embarked upon our journey to basecamp stopping a few times along the way at makeshift cafes and we visited the shrine of mules.
The journey was made even harder due to the fact that some of the members of our Thornhill family group were ill, this was particularly so for Emma, Leoni and Mr Miller, who arrived exhausted and had to sleep immediately!
The basecamp refuge buildings could be seen from about three miles out and seemed to take forever to come close. On arrival at basecamp the team had to set about erecting their tents. After establishing that our invalids were continuing to breathe we set up our accommodation for the next 3 nights. The stony ground meant rocks had to be used to secure guy ropes and groundsheet corners and we hoped the threat of wind would not be realised and blow the whole camp away.
Dinner was served -and once again it was bread- with vegetables, after which some napped and others played cards. Then we all headed off to bed ready for an early morning start for our acclimatisation hike the following day. Sleeping in such small tents with all our kit in daysacks and duffle bags was quite a tight squeeze! P.S. Miss Paczynski, the best English teacher, never missed an opportunity to remind us of better words to use in our conversations.
Ben & Matthew
Day Seven – Acclimatising
After another early start, we were yet again fed like ducks with bread for breakfast, plus jam, chocolate spread and tea, we started our shorter acclimatisation trek up a valley in the mountain. Mr Miller and Mr Hallworth unfortunately were unable to join us on our trek but we continued on our way to make sure that we wouldn’t be hit by an illness whilst on the main trek to the summit.
Beginning our walk we were all energised, however, due to some people falling ill because of the altitude some people struggled but as a family we all pulled together and helped each other. During the walk lots of laughs were had and biscuits were shared to keep moral high as the boys enjoyed a sing-song along the way.
Once we had reached our destined altitude to help us acclimatise we shared some sweets and enjoyed the spectacular view which we took photos of to keep as memories.
On the way down the mountain back to basecamp, the terrain was slippery but we proceeded to descend, with Sarah, Stevie, Eve and even Abi all falling down but managed to succeed in finishing the trek back down.
When arriving back to our home of tents, we enjoyed some card games, and awaited a predicted storm. During the middle of a game, a flash a lightning was seen by all, suddenly followed by a loud bellow of thunder. After this had scared Miss P, the rain suddenly fell and started leaking into the large tent, the hail stones that were falling and creating snow and small ice sheets over the top of most of our group’s tents, it eventually stopped suddenly leaving a lovely ray of sunshine to dry off our tents for the proceeding night
After the huge storm the group decided to hide out in the refuge centre to get dried and warm, and therefore decided to play headbands with the post-it-notes, the objects people had to guess ranged from Lydan’s hair to she-wees! Once the storm had finally passed we returned to salvage our items that had been rained upon and hung some things on the line hoping that they would dry for the trek the next day.
An early and cold night was in order to prepare for the very early prompt awakening the day for our final trek to the summit of Mt. Toubkal!
Emma, Sarah and Molly
Day Eight – Ascent to the Summit of Toubkal
We began our greatest challenging day with an early rise at 4am when Mr Hallworth ‘kindly’ woke us, our typical breakfast followed: bread, spreads, chocolate milk and tea. We then set off, unfortunately leaving Mr Hallworth at basecamp due to a breathing issue exacerbated by the altitude but Mr Miller was able to join us as he had recovered from the previous day’s illness.
The team embarked over challenging terrain to begin our accent to the summit of Mt. Toubkal. Walking poles at the ready we began with half the group still asleep and looking like carrots and potatoes from the previous meals we had encountered – yum!
Half way through, the team unexpectedly came across snow which we had to venture over, this resulted in lots of screams and shouts – and that was only from the boys! Following this we were falsely told the summit was “just around the corner” which hyped up the group, who were then not too pleased to find even more mountain “around the corner”.
After another 45 minutes the pyramid at the peak was only just visible but spurred the team on to a 5 minute burst of energy which then fizzled out when the team realised it would be another half an hour to the summit trekking upon ever more challenging terrain.
Once the summit was in clear view and now visibly reachable, Mr Miller decided he would be first to the top so began to run, but to his displeasure was out of breath after just 5 seconds (he blames the altitude!). His burst of energy spurred the remainder of our expedition family to arrive together as one at the summit. As many pictures were taken and tears were shed the cooks prepared us a picnic to enjoy which involved sardines and more bread - from the endless supply that the Moroccans seem to have - but this time with happy cow cheese and a beautiful view to enjoy it with.
Ending our photo shoot with the repeated dreaded words of our guide, Abdul, “LETS GO”, our decent began.
Big rocks, slippery stones and unbalanced group members resulted in many slips, trips and falls from just about everyone, with many stops on the way down due to Jake’s toilet breaks. Once we had made it to half way down the mountain our guides pointed out that a typical mountain storm was brewing and therefore was imminent, so the team were advised to exit the mountain quickly which resulted in the team speeding up.
Unfortunately this was decided during one of Jake’s many call-of-nature stops so he was left with Emma, Mr Miller and Mr Redford who were slowing, being left up on the mountain with the remainder of the group way ahead of them with both guides.
As the guide realised the four of us were behind, he returned, to our delight but then he grabbed Emma by the hand and preceded to assist her down the mountain at top speed which left Jake, Mr Miller and Mr Redford all alone to descend at their slower pace.
Once the group were further ahead (with Emma somewhere in the middle) the three lonely men preceded to make their own way down onto further increasingly demanding terrain. Once both basecamp and Emma were in sight, the three lonely men felt relief as they were nearly home to their tents.
(At this point we were still awaiting the viscous storm which was predicted to hit 2 hours before! The clouds had decided to circle around us instead of tracking over us.)
After returning to basecamp, Mr Miller clapped out in his tent whilst everyone else enjoyed a chocolate bar each kindly bought by Mr Hallworth. Tea arrived and was eaten, followed by an exclamation from Mr Miller outside the tent who had finally produced a number 3 on the Bristol Stool Chart after shouting “I’VE FINALLY MANAGED A SOLID!” To which we all cheered “HORRAY!” at a now joyful looking Mr Miller after days of illness.
After the storm had encircled the camp it eventually hit, leaving us huddled in the large tent sharing our summit experiences and having a good laugh. Following the excitement of the day, our whole team were exhausted and therefore headed off to bed in the comfort of their tents, preparing for another day to descend back to civilisation of the Gîte.
Emma and Jake
Day Nine – Descent trek back to Around
The day started at six o’clock when Emma burst through our tent door and woke us up. With tired muscles and weary eyes after our previous day’s trek, our breakfast was eaten after tents and bags had been packed ready to descend back to the Gite.
Our team then ventured through the mountain valley trying not to fall over the lose stones and rocks upon the track. After 2 hours of trekking down, the team stopped for a rest at a café and enjoyed a glass bottle of coke or sprite whilst Molly and Eve had their feet problems resolved as Molly had blisters and a bruised foot due to a parkour accident involving a gigantic rock.
Continuing our trek down we powered through until we reached another café, which before arriving at we had to move to the side to allow the mules to get past, which allowed us to have short breaks along the way.
When we thought we were almost back to the Gite we turned onto another path which took us through the scenic route on an uneven track walking through foliage and over a small river until we got back to our accommodation.
After the walk back, we sent people to the shop to buy our supply of water for the next night and day. We all sat down to play cards and had a rest after a long day, climbing down the mountain.
Following a tea of chips, beef and carrots, we were all given a name of someone else in the group. This was to be kept secret as the next night at our final meal we would be giving each other a certificate saying what that person brought to the expedition.
Tonight we are spending the rest of our evening writing out our certificates and packing our bags ready for a short walk back to the buses to take us back to Marrakech.
We are sad that tomorrow night is our last night, but we hope we will all enjoy the final meal together as our expedition family.
Kristian and Josh T
Day Ten – Return to Marrakech
Today was the day during which we would travel back to the city we began our expedition in – Marrakech.
Our day started with a luxurious ‘lie in’ as we were woken up at 7:00am. Once the full expedition team eventually managed to pull ourselves together, we were instructed to pack both our bags before breakfast was served at 7:30am. The breakfast included the typical hot chocolate, chocolate spread, jam and bread.
Following breakfast, we were ordered to put our large bags in a specific area, in order to ensure that all bags were still with us and that we had all of the items that were required to be in them. We then moved all of our large bags outside the Gîte in order for them to be picked up at roughly 9:00am. After this, we then strapped on our day sacks, picked up our walking poles, and began yet another trek back to Malil, where we would be picked up by yet another bus in order to be transported back to Marrakech. This time, the full expedition group were able to take part in the interesting hour long walk due to the fact that no one woke up unexpectedly ill.
For the first time in our expedition, we turned up early for something, and that was for our bus to take us back to Marrakech, due to the fact that our big bags had not yet turned up. We were roughly 30 minutes early and during this time, we were disturbed by two street sellers – this is how we knew we were on the way back to city life! Once we all placed all 23 large bags onto the bus, we enjoyed a 45 minute bus journey, which included multiple sing-alongs.
Once we had all turned up outside our hotel’s front door, we all checked in and dumped our bags into our rooms and ourselves onto our beds after an exhausting morning. The group were then given an hour to do some shopping within the streets of Marrakech after we found a restaurant for us to enjoy a tasty lunch. There was quite a lot of bartering in order to purchase items such as headphones, sunglasses and interesting temple pants. – Miss Paczynski revealed a special talent by using her ‘flirty eyes’, which were successful enough to knock off an extra 20 Dirhams in order for the temple pants to be purchased that bit cheaper.
The team were then given the opportunity to enjoy several hours in the pool at the hotel, which everyone took part in, even Mr Hallworth pushed Mr Redford into the water! Within or pool time, there were several piggy back ‘fights’, lots of photos taken, and quite a lot of banter. At 5:20pm, everyone was instructed to exit the pool and get ready for our meal at 8:00pm in the hotel. We didn’t have to worry about our budget due to the fact that the meal was included in the one night’s accommodation in the hotel we stayed in.
To or surprise, the hotel staff forgot to book us 23 seats for our meal, so that resulted in an extra half an hour wait for us to be seated (Or maybe we were too this time?)….
The meal included the usual meat and cuscus, which came after an unusual starter. There were 6 bowls in which contents included potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes etc all in special sauces. Finally, for desert, was both of our most favoured foods, melon, and watermelon! Some of the group were quick to dive in, whereas others were cautious due to the fact that the worst place to have diarrhoea is on a plane – and we didn’t want that!
Day Eleven – Coming Home
A 6am alarm call woke us to ensure everyone was assembled and ready to catch the 7.15 public bus to the airport. This took us from the faded grandeur of our hotel on a route allowing us to see parts of this bustling city not previously experienced. We drove through the very modern and sleek ‘up-town’ shopping and financial sectors which provided much contrast to the Soukes and extensive market place we had become familiar with.
Breakfasting in the airport terminal we presented each other with the special certificates to commemorate the contributions each member of the group had made to the team, as during dinner time the night before we hadn’t managed this opportunity. Everybody was pleased to be recognised for the particular part they had played in our fantastic endeavour.
The flight home was spent catching much needed sleep, engaging in conversations about our expedition and practicing tricks with cards, as taught to us by our very own magician, Mr ‘magic’ Miller.
Gatwick saw us touch down once again on UK soil with a transfer coach awaiting ready to take us to our pick up point at Uxbridge College for the mini buses. A long drive ensued, due to the density of traffic around London and out as far as Milton Keens, but good spirits, and the need for further sleep, filled the journey. A meal at Macdonald’s provided the antidote to all the vegetables, couscous, rice and bread we’d consumed in the preceding ten days and kept us going until we turned into the Thornhill School gates in the early hours of Thursday morning and the welcoming arms of parents.
I wish to conclude this blog with a tribute to, in particular, Mr Redford, for his energy and dedication in planning and organising such an extraordinary time in Morocco and then having the fortitude to engender the whole experience with so much fun and joy. To the staff who accompanied the pupil group, ensuring all were safe and that everyone gained so much from our time abroad and, finally, to the pupils themselves for being such a great team, the comradery they developed and all the laughs along the way. It was a truly amazing experience.
Click here to see some of the pictures and the video of us reaching the summit.