ONDAATJE EXPEDITION: MOROCCO
MARCH 9th – 24th, 2012
14 nights / 15 days
Jasmine Chouinard + Lynn Harding
Joey Chan, Tao-Jung (Stephen) Liu, Ryan Harding-Marlin, Alexander Brodeur
The 2012 Ondaatje Team flew out of Dorval on Friday afternoon and landed in Casablanca before taking a domestic flight to Marrakech. In Marrakech, we headed over to our riad (bed & breakfast), to drop off our pack-sacs and head for a walking tour of the city. The open market and souks were busy with activities and people looking for bargains. Our first meal consisted of a traditional Moroccan spread with musicians and dancers.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS:
The following morning we departed early for the heart of the High Atlas Mountain, where we would be spending the next week hiking and discovering what we were capable of doing, individually and as a team. We knew that we could expect a minimum of 12 to 16 km of hiking per day, on rugged steep terrain with the sun bearing down on us, and the altitude potentially causing us difficulties. We were all up for the challenge.
We met up with our mule team and drivers on the Oukaimeden grasslands and soon were off on our life-time journey. We hiked for approximately 6 hours the first day, while Joey rode the mule for the entire trip (basketball injury prior to the trip). We spent the night in a very tiny Berber village of about 3 houses. The dinner was super and the accommodation was modest yet good.
Our second day of hiking, included a very early start, as well as passing though many villages along the Anemane valley. The villages along the way included: Imsker, Arg, Amssakrou, Ikis and Tamguist. At some point along the trail, we reached an altitude of 2200m.
By the time the third day came along, we crossed the Tamatert pass (2279m) and entered the valley of Imlil. From here, we broke into two teams. Joey, Ryan and Lynn explored the village, and got to see how things were made, while Alex, Stephen and Jasmine went for an additional hike to the waterfalls. Both groups were happy with their discoveries.
The longest & toughest days were about to begin... The climb was steep, the sun was extremely hot and the altitude was starting to take a toll on some members of the team. Through persistence and team work – everyone succeeded. We had a snowball fight at the edge of one of the trails, before heading back down, then up yet another mountain. Along the journey, we were able to visit a school, which was working on math at the time (to the delight of Mrs. Harding), and I got to use the First Aid training I had to help out a young boy that had a severe cut on his upper arm that had begun to fester.
We were fortunate to spend time in the valley of Assif N’Ouarzane, (part of the Toubkal range) before saying good-bye to the team of mule drivers.
PHASE 2 of our JOURNEY:
We returned to Marrakesh, by mini-van and got to spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening visiting Marrakesh, specifically, the ancient fortified city of Medina. We saw many monuments, an old traditional style University, Jamaa El Dna square which is now classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, the tombs of ancient royalty facing Mecca and many more off the beaten path sites.
Our next phase included a lot of travel by 4x4. We left the city for the Dades Valley, Tinerhir, and Erfoud. We saw a sand castle in the middle of an almond tree field, Kasbah (another UNESCO world heritage site), we walked the length of the Dades gorge, visited the Tinehir Oasis and its famous palm grove and walked the fields of the local farmers/berber.
We were very fortunate to spend an afternoon and evening at a luxury half-board, where we played 18 holes of mini-putt, ping-pong, jumped on the training equipment and spent some time in the indoor pool and spa.
On day 11, we headed to the dunes of Erg Chebbi, after visiting local markets, and picking up souvenirs. We got to 4x4 race in and around the dunes, until we got stuck. We dug out each of the two vehicles, emptied our shoes of sand, and learned how to wrap a turbin.
We met with our caravan of dromedary(camels) and guides and zigzagged through the dunes till we got to our camp, “tent city.” We arrived just before sunset, and were treated to the most spectacular sight. Mint tea, followed by a delicious Berber dinner of stew and breads, music and dancing rounded out a terrific day.
Early the next morning, Alex, Jas and Lynn got up early to see the sunrise. Unlike the three of us, who delayed till the last possible moment to get up. Our trip back thru the dunes was unforgettable.
PHASE 3 of our JOURNEY:
We soon headed towards Marrakech, via the Tizi N’tichka pass on our way to the white city of Essaouira with its blue doors and shutters on the Atlantic Ocean. Our trip was winding down, but we savoured our fresh fish & seafood lunch, shopped on the side streets, buried Alex in the sand, visited the fortified city that used to stop pirates from attacking in its glorious years.
Overall, the trip, the team, the chaperones, the guides, the people we met and especially the Ondaatje Foundation, made this trip, a worthwhile challenging experience that will never be forgotten.