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Morocco 2016: DofE Gold Expedition

On 21st July 2016, a total of sixteen students set off to complete their Duke of Edinburgh Gold Expedition in the High Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Arriving in the early evening we were greeted by a wall of hot air as we stepped off the plane and were driven into the city of Marrakech where we had the chance to try some local cuisine and enjoy the buzz of the city. As we said our goodnights and prayed our air-conditioning worked, there was no doubt that the students were both nervous but very excited about the challenge that they were about to take on. Following our Moroccan breakfast, we left the city behind us and set off for the mountain villages. We were greeted by the local Berber community with whom we had three special days, getting to know our local guides Omar and Ibraham, being taught by a local woman in her home to make tagine, flat bread and Berber Whiskey (mint tea), as well as working in the community to build a water mill. The mill will be used to grind grain for the villagers’ bread and it was an honour to be involved and know we made a difference in the short time we spent there. I would like to thank all students for their hard work throughout the community project which was very labour intensive, and praise them for the respect they showed the local people throughout. 

Following an acclimatisation trek to the local shrine where we spent a night in luxury, our guides set the groups off on their 4-day exploration of the Atlas Mountains.  The expedition course had groups traversing breath-taking scenery, scaling high peaks and enduring 30+ temperatures, but despite the early starts, forgetting tent pegs (Maddie), putting up with Morocco’s equivalent of “Dehli Belly”, all groups successfully completed the expedition phase. Some highlights of the expedition include lunches alongside the mountain rivers, Siobhan Bye and Lily Bennet celebrating their birthdays, enduring the daily thunder storms, fresh orange juice from locals en route and washing our hair in the rivers as we enjoyed the sunshine. Students showed great determination, excellent team work and leadership skills and should feel proud of their achievement. 

Having been greeted by the impressive sight of Mount Toubkal on the final day of the expedition, students woke up with some new found energy ready to begin the trek to base camp, sensing how close they were to successfully ending their trip and spurred on by how much they had already achieved. The climb to the base camp was not an easy one, facing constant uphill’s, cooler temperatures and dealing with the aches and pains the previous 4 days had brought about. We were all happy to be welcomed to the base camp by our local team, finding that there was a café which sold sweets and drinks, and having a delicious tagine whilst huddled together out of the cold before an early night’s sleep acclimatising to the altitude. 

As we woke at 4.30am the next morning to the sounds of gale force winds and heavy rain on our tents we eagerly awaited the all clear from our guides. At first the hike to the summit looked less likely for those who had opted not to bring waterproofs but luckily thanks to the knowledge and experience of our local guides we waited two hours by which time the winds had calmed slightly and the rain had eased. We set off to tackle the mighty Toubkal (4,167m) and as a group we plodded steadily on and cheered each other up to the summit where we basked in sunshine and took many a photo to celebrate our achievement. Then came the descent, with our very sore ankles and knees we made it back down and all students should to be commended for their determination and for the maturity they showed, proving to themselves that they are indeed strong young adults who can achieve anything if they put their mind to it.  

The following day we arrived back in Marrakech for our final day as a team, now much wiser to the ways of haggling and far better equipped to negotiate favourable prices for our souvenirs in the markets.  Our final dinner gave us a chance to thank Omar and Shaun; our local guide and expedition leader, before preparing for the journey home.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Olivia Antolik who accompanied me on the trip and helped ensure the smooth running of our daily activities, but mostly I’d like to say a final congratulations to all those who took part and threw themselves into the challenge of a lifetime and ultimately we will forever have each other to share this experience with. Well done Team Morocco 2016! 

Samantha Amos