Last summer, ten of our students had the most amazing experience when they travelled to Morocco as part of our World Challenge series of expeditions. Freya Wagland in Year 12 tells us more in her blog post:

The disappointment felt whilst being told we couldn’t spend another night sleeping on a roof in the Moroccan desert – due to a sandstorm – was a feeling we didn’t expect to experience, however it made us appreciate sleeping under the dim glow of the stars tenfold.

Nerves and excitement combined themselves with backpacks and prolonged goodbyes in the Sports Hall pre-departure, whilst we filled up with pizza in anticipation for the minibus to take us to the airport. We shuffled into the terminal entrance at Manchester in the middle of the night, struggling to stay awake, but soon enough we had arrived in Marrakech airport to be overwhelmed by the intense wave of heat – which was drastically different to the dull, English weather we had left behind.

Not long after, relieved to find some air conditioning, we sat down on the beds in Hotel Allí, our home for our first night, before exploring the vibrant local life of the markets and souks in the centre of Marrakech. Our acclimatization that night was the most difficult, yet we were comforted by the liveliness of the Medina markets which continued through until midnight. As we set off the next morning to our next destination, we encountered our first and only major issue – a drive of more than four hours in the wrong direction. Despite our setback, a traditional Moroccan tagine for lunch ensured that spirits were held high and before we knew it we had arrived in Taghbalt – miles into the desert and six hours away from our starting point.

We were greeted with a luxurious, flavourful spread of Moroccan cuisine, cooked by our host family, consisting of dishes similar to what’s eaten for Iftar. After nods in agreement of satiety we took our roll mats onto the roof to sleep under the calmness of the sky, which felt seemingly unfamiliar as it was free from the interference of artificial light. The next few days were spent working on our project element; chiselling tiles and painting walls of the local school’s grounds to provide a more creative environment for them to work in, and a safer, more educational playtime area was formed as a result.

During our stay we sampled locally sourced camel and goat whilst spending evenings connecting to our host family through enjoying dances to traditional Berber songs. We rounded off our phase in Taghbalt with a short drive into the sand dunes to eat, followed by the warmth and glow of a small campfire whilst watching the family and friends of our hosts perform the traditional Amazigh dancing and music called “Ahidous”. The men played the “Idgems” (drums) whilst the women repeated poetry sung by both groups which stood parallel to each other. After appreciating the talent and culture of the area, we were welcomed to be taught the traditions ourselves, and quickly picked up the steps of the dances before our journey back to the house.

The next day we travelled four long hours to the Atlas Mountains and were met by our inspiration for the next few days, Fuad – our guide. Trekking in 35° heat was a challenge which was both physical and mental, yet the peaks of the mountains were met with great relief and a sense of immense reward (including an incredible spread of food and trail mix). The terrain was demanding, however this was erased from the group’s minds periodically due to the presence of mountain goats, which we all took a fondness to. The nights spent trekking were significantly different to those in the desert. The coolness, which was greatly valued when sleeping on the roof, was soon unappreciated as temperatures dropped during evenings at the base of the mountains. Our first night camping was filled with shivering regrets from group members after foolishly believing we could get away with not using sleeping bags.

Waking up to the sounds of the call to prayer combined with the loud mules at 5am was endured on both day two and three of the hike. Burdened with 3-litre water pouches and the blazing sun, we set off on our third day trekking and spent the day chatting and laughing at each other’s complaints, which soon came to a halt after seeing even more remarkable views from the summit. At the end of the day we were welcomed by a viridescent opening amongst the trees, next to a stream of fresh spring water, which turned out to be our final campsite before returning to a mountainside gíte after a final day of trekking. Although relieved to finish four days of physical strain, the last night of our hike was overtaken by chats about the trip so far and how proud we were of each other, sharing our sentimental ups and downs with the group.

Emotions were high when leaving our guide on the 12th day of the trip, who had kept us all going through the toughest sections of the mountains. However, soon enough we were greeted by the cooler (but by no means cold) breeze of the seaside town – Essaouira. Here, we enjoyed the rest and recuperation section of the trip; spending time at the beach, enjoying crepes and souvenir shopping, whilst quickly learning the art of bartering – a strong element of market culture. We spent some remaining group budget on a more expensive Moroccan meal, which became one of the groups’ favourites, and the walk back through the streets to our hotel was joined by kittens and dogs on every corner. For the final component we returned to Marrakech to test out our new bartering skills in the souks, visiting incredible tombs and palaces tiled with the most intricate patterns.

To conclude our trip, we visited the first women’s history museum, in the heart of the Marrakech Medina. We ate our final meal on a rooftop restaurant overlooking the glistening market lights and busy nightlife, before expressing and reminiscing on our highlights of the trip together. Tears were shed on the same hotel roof that we started the trip on, and even though we were pleased to be able to reunite with family soon, the disappointment of leaving the once in a lifetime experience behind was evident in all of us. The journey home began in the early hours of Thursday morning and though expected to be home by late afternoon, a three hour delay was met with group-wide grumbles and the excuse of spending our final money on food for the wait ahead.

Stepping back onto the school grounds, embraced by smiling family and friends, was inevitably one of the most emotional parts of the trip. But the bustle of storytelling blended in with goodbyes and thanks to Carly, Ross and Dan who joined us on one of the most memorable trips we will ever undergo.

Upon reflection, on behalf of the whole group, I can say the memories made will be taken with us through every experience for the rest of our lives. Take a look at some of our pictures HERE.