Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Exodus - Mount Toubkal climb trip - Day 1 - Marrakech!

So I'm finally putting up posts about my trip to the Atlas a slightly different format to my usual posts. I'm basically posting my trip journal, with pictures. So there's a bit more writing and a bit more detail than usual. I'm splitting it at each day and I'm beginning in Marrakech, tired and sweaty! Annoyingly, I find I don't have very many photos for Day 1. I guess I was too tired and hot to think about it.

This wonderful trip is organised by Exodus and they were so great. Really well organised, perfectly planned. They even gave us bags! And most of the meals were included and the food was amazing. I hope you'll get a good idea of the trip from this post and the ones to follow. I was very impressed with Exodus. Here goes:


We set off in the dark. Stu drove me to South Mimms services for 5 am to meet Hobs (already my friend) and Eley (to become a new friend). Stu is the actual best! I have no idea how I'd feel in a reversed situation, if he was going on holiday without me, in the company of 2 women. I'd like to think I'd be cool with it though. It got light as we drove and there was basically no-one else at the services so it was pretty easy for Hobs and Eley to spot us when they arrived.

Eley and I agreed we probably met last year at Hobs’s birthday BBQ but not properly. And then the 3 of us set off towards Gatwick (Eley drove) and Stu set off home to go back to sleep. Bye Stu :(

On the plane, Hobs kindly sat with me because flying makes me nervous (I don't want to die in the sky, next to a stranger). Eley slept anyway. (There weren’t any 3 in a row seats left for the 3 of us). Ooh and we got food, because we flew BA, not EasyJet (flights are included in the Exodus cost). And the flight magazine had an amazing photo of dogs with their owners wearing jumpers that had been knitted using their dog’s fur and it made me laugh every time I looked at it. I should have kept it.

We landed in Marrakech about 3 hours later with no problems (yay, good start!) and went through all the required form checking and passport stamping and collected our matching Exodus bags.

We spotted some other people with Exodus bags too, so we all headed out of the airport together and waited for someone from Exodus to find us.

Soon enough, Hassan (our lovely leader) found us and took us to the mini bus. The drive to the hotel was short and we sat in the lobby of Hotel Gomassine while Hassan sorted out our room keys. I got a room to myself without paying the single supplement which was excellent. It happened by default as there were 4 women in the group – 2 friends who booked together, 1 who paid the single supplement, and me.

Hassan advised that we put our bags in our rooms, get cash out, then walk to the Majorelle Garden. So that’s what we did.

It was extremely hot! And I wasn’t wearing my hat! Because it was in my Exodus bag and I’d sealed it shut with a cable tie that Hobs gave me and hadn’t had anything to cut it open with once alone in my hotel room.

Hobs said “Where’s your hat Emmie? You don’t deal well with the heat!” because I'd told him that the previous day I’d spoken to my parents and I’d said “It’s going to be 30-40 degrees so I have bought a hat!” and their response was “Oh my god it’s going to be really hot! Wear a hat! You don’t deal well with the heat!” So Hobs repeated this refrain throughout the entire trip, possibly to annoy me, but I found it funny.

The 15-20 minute walk to the gardens felt long because it was so hot and so blindingly bright even in sunglasses. And I kept falling down these square holes in the pavement that are meant to have trees in them but probably just have cat poo buried in them. There are lots of skinny cats on the streets of Marrakech.

The Majorelle Gardens were as lovely as I remember. I didn’t pay to go in the Berber Museum again (even though it’s a good museum) and just loitered around enjoying the shadows and the light on the colourful walls/floors while Hobs and Eley went in. It’s such a peaceful shady garden full of exciting cactus and bright Majorelle blue and bright yellow and Moroccan dusty pink.

I stroked some excellently fluffy cacti.

Hobs couldn’t see why Mickey Mouse cactus is Mickey Mouse cactus.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a snack at Café La Pie, as Eley was pretty hungry (he was asleep during the plane snacks I think). We sat on a little table in the street. Café La Pie man’s English wasn’t great but Hobs and Eley had amazing looking/smelling sausage tagine things. I'm a vegetarian and so I ended up with a really crap omelette (tiny and plain). At least it was cooked…could have been worse. The bread was nice and it was yellow. (Being veggie in Morocco is actually fine, just got unlucky with this place). A skinny cat meowed at us, hoping for food. 

At the hotel, Hobs cut the cable tie off my bag and then we went for our group Exodus meeting. We met everyone else in the group and Hassan explained our itinerary, where would be camping and what the food would be, gave us advice and showed us our walking route on a map.

Afterwards, me, Hobs and Eley went round the corner to the supermarket to buy water. (We didn't really socialise with the rest of the group on this first day.) The supermarket was in a big mall and we looked in some sports shops as well because Eley wanted some sweat wicking pants (magic pants!) as cotton pants are not good when you are sweating profusely. We did find some but they were too expensive (£20!). Luckily for Eley, Hobs had a spare pair of magic pants he could have. We got GIGANTIC waters. Too big to fit in the mini fridge in the hotel. And too big for me to pour into my camelbak/smaller bottles by myself. Side note, the cashiers in the supermarket really don’t like it when you try to break your big notes buying water.

Another side note, I was prepared with my own magic pants - I got these ones by Yvette (however looking at them now, the price has gone up - I'm seeing £12 but I'm sure I paid £7 each. £12 is a lot for a pair of pants...even £7 is quite a lot! I'm loving them though, super comfy and flattering and non sweaty - useful for gym days as well as hot countries!).

That done, we walked to the medina. It was interesting to see the modern side of Marrakech as I pretty much only saw the medina on my last visit. We passed ordinary high street shops, a fancy looking Mcdonalds, big fountains and a beautiful park full of palm trees.

We wandered through the square (Jemaa el Fna) and into the souks and got lost and harassed pretty much straight away.  We did get to see a pile of bread getting crawled on and eaten by a bunch of cats though.

I started to get hangry and Eley wanted to eat in the square so we headed back to the stalls there. It’s full on. Everyone wants you to sit at their stall and every stall looks the same. I cracked at around the third stall and said “They’re all the same! Let’s eat here because I don’t care anymore!” 

The food was ok, I had an ok vegetable tagine. The olives and chilli sauce were good. But I probably wouldn’t eat in the square again purely because of the hassle. (Stu and I didn't bother eating in the square when we went to Marrakech in February, I think it was a good decision). So many women and children approached to try and sell us pocket tissues (there was already a huge box of tissues on the table) and a man selling pictures made from collaged butterfly wings was very persistent (because Eley and Hobs expressed some admiration). I thought the pictures were kind of horrible. Corpse collages. 

Eventually, we walked back to the hotel, passing stalls piled high with aromatic mint as we left the market square.


Tomorrow, the mountains!!!!

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