Morocco 2018 - ‘The journey begins’

Following 18 months of planning, training, preparation and fundraising it was with much excitement and a hint of trepidation that the expedition team consisting of 12 Ribblesdale High School pupils, 2 teaching staff and an Expedition Leader (Simon Ablett – ex Naval Officer and military weapons expert) headed off on the coach for the airport to board their fight to Marrakesh, via Casablanca, on Royal Maroc airlines.

Following a smooth journey, during which we were given the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine the team arrived on African soil at around 11.00 pm and, after taking care of the administrative necessities disembarked in central Marrakesh around 1.00 am. Tired but wide eyed, and slightly overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of central Marrakesh, the team where happy to bed down at Hotel Ali located on the main square, Jemaa el fnaa, and in spite of the heat and the noise a welcome night’s sleep was had by all!

Development project phase

After enjoying a local breakfast featuring mint tea and honey the team had only a little time to acclimatise before being transported, by people carrier, to the development project phase where we would join a small team working as part of the Avon academy trust, founded to improve educational opportunities for young people in North Africa. After 6 hours travel and some questionable singing we were met in Ouarzazate by our host Baali, and his family and shown around his traditional Moroccan house, the place we would call home for the following 4 days whilst working on the project.

Our project tasks involved hard manual labour working at a local school helping builders to construct a water tower to provide clean water for the hundreds of pupils educated there. Operating in 40 degrees heat the team worked extremely well for 4 days surpassing the expectations of the project leaders. Though the jobs were hard it was not all work, work, work, and in the early morning sun of our third day we managed to squeeze in a game of football having the opportunity to mix with some of the local pupils; we also had regular drinks breaks throughout our work days and became increasingly accustomed to the Moroccan mint tea provided by the builders!

Once our work was complete, we received recognition of our achievements from the Headteacher and project leaders in a formal presentation before being invited to enjoy an afternoon and evening’s recuperation and relaxation in an exclusive Moroccan Hotel.

Having spent our final evening, some of us underneath the stars upon the cooler roof terrace of the house, it was time to say farewell to Baali and his family and to thank them for the incredible hospitality and fabulous food that they had provided for us, before departing for the Atlas mountains to embark on the Trek phase of our expedition!

Trek phase

Having arrived in the foothills of the Atlas range we had an hour’s ascent to our basic mountain side accommodation. This would be the last place to eat, rest and make final preparations before the 4 day altitude trek that lay ahead! The following morning we began our 15 km ascent to base camp, 3000 metres above sea level. Accompanied by 2 local mountaineers and 4 mules we set about our journey as the strong Moroccan sun began to climb above the imposing peaks and valleys. Eight hours later we arrived at base camp for dinner which had been prepared in a tent and featured mountain goat, amongst other local delicacies! Having set up camp we ate, drank and talked together before retiring to our tents to sleep beneath bright celestial sky far beyond the influence of manmade illumination.

To acclimatise and assess the effects of altitude on our bodies the 2nd day of the trek involved a steep acclimatisation ascent to 3, 600 metres. The team climbed remarkably well and though the debilitating effects of altitude prevented one of the group completing this phase the team remained united and spirits were high.

On Sunday 22nd July at 9.00 am team Ribblesdale reached the summit of Mount Toubkal (4167m) stopping briefly to enjoy the views from the highest point in North Africa before descending back to a safer altitude (3600m!) to enjoy a well-earned traditional breakfast. Having set out on the summit bid at 4am to avoid ascending in the hot summer sun the team arrived back at base camp tired yet elated just in time for lunch.

R and R in Essaouira

Following the trials and tribulations experienced in the Atlas mountains a tired yet proud team travelled to the coastal town of Essouira to enjoy a few days of relaxation and leisure before leaving North African shores to head back to our beloved hometown. In this vibrant and picturesque town the team where able to enjoy a range of activities including shopping, dining, sightseeing, sunbathing by the Atlantic waters, dancing (Jason!) and most notably - Camel trekking!  It is fair to say that we certainly made the most of our days in Essaouira and enjoyed the relative luxury of our palatial hotel accommodation having spent the previous nights under canvas.

28/7/18 ‘The journey ends’

There was blood, there was sweat and there were also a few tears, in various quantities, on our adventure but I have heard it said that anything which is acquired without effort is not worth having and the memories, skills and attributes that our pupils developed and gained on the expedition are, in my opinion, of immeasurable value. The pupils were a credit to themselves, their parents and their school and, having achieved so much personally, they left behind a country which was a better place for having had them visit.   

We will never forget the two weeks we spent together in North Africa in the summer of 2018 and I know that we all arrived back slightly different and much improved human beings for the experience. I would like to thank the pupils for their company throughout the expedition but my final thanks must go to Mrs Porter who so willingly and ably assisted me and the pupils along every step of the way and without whom the journey we took would not have been possible. I wish all of you well on your future adventures and would like to take this opportunity to wish those pupils and staff accompanying Mrs Porter on leading the next expedition to India in 2020, the very best of luck!

A very proud Mr Mark O’Donoghue