Intrepid Morocco: Women’s Expedition

Processed with MOLDIVI was sold on this trip (https://www.intrepidtravel.com/uk/morocco/morocco-womens-expedition-117509) by reading an article in the Times by Alicia Burrell (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/wander-women-a-women-only-trek-through-morocco-s-high-atlas-3wktc8pl2) and the blog by Patricia Maurice (https://sites.nd.edu/patriciamaurice/2018/11/01/intrepid-travel-morocco-womens-expedition-i-meet-and-greet/). As it was such a new trip for Intrepid in 2018 and little had been written about it at the time, it was their write ups that convinced me to book, especially as the reviews gave little information of what to expect. The review section on the Intrepid site only gives room for 50 words or less, therefore I’ve made note of a few of my experiences below. I hope it helps others already signed up for their trip and encourages others to take the plunge. You won’t regret it – the country and people are amazing!

Marrakesh Airport is a large modern building with plenty of artisan shopping in duty-free, if you somehow miss out on buying what you want in the souks! Upon arrival, queues can be long at immigration, but once through, there are free trolleys for your baggage, money exchange (not the best rate so you might want to exchange only a bit here and use better exchange locations in the city), and sim card kiosks, which I recommend doing, if not here, then in the city. (Research this before you arrive.) I wish I had!

I booked my taxi to/from airport through Intrepid, but you could easily do this yourself, but as a female travelling alone, I preferred the sense of security through the company. Plus, I didn’t want to have to deal with haggling as soon as I was out of the airport. I exchanged a small amount of money at the airport so I could tip my driver.

The Mogador Opera Hotel has good amenities and is located in the new part of the city and pretty much across from the train station. You could easily fly into Casablanca instead, and take the train to Marrakesh, which some of our group did. The pool is inviting in the hot weather. They have a fantastic spa if you wish to partake. Breakfast is an excellent array of choices with amazing juices. Rooms have fridges and safes, though you may need to call security to assist you in initiating the safe. The desk will convert currencies, but cash only. Considering this is a trekking trip, the fair distance from the hotel to Jemaa el-Fnaa should not be a problem for you to walk, but if tired at the end you might want to negotiate a taxi or horse carriage return.

As this is an all women’s trip, I felt that maybe it would have been better if Intrepid had made an effort to arrange for a riad in Marrakesh as that would have been more in keeping with the type of traveller this trip is designed for, would be more intimate for the group and promote more of the local experience. However, if you intend to arrive early or stay on later it is something you could ensure you still experience.

It was amazing how quickly we bonded when we met for our 6:00pm meeting and then dinner in the square. We converged with differing and overlapping experiences, but an openness and curiosity for what we were about to share with the talk and laughter continuing throughout our trip.

Instead of Hafida, our group was led by Chama, a newly trained guide who is a young and enthusiastic Berber and strong woman advocate, which was inline with Intrepid’s commitment to empowering women and communities.

As a taster to the Moroccan tourism culture, Chama arranged a few shopping experiences on the way to/from our trekking base Tamalout Gite in Bou Tharar, which included argon oil, a herbalist and carpet seller amongst other stops. As a lone traveller, I would have felt intimidated visiting on my own so experiencing it with Chama and the group was an interesting experience and I am glad I did not miss out on it.

Travelling in the last days of April and first days of May 2019, the spring weather was perfect! We had dry warm days with cool winds and a few showers too. It was much warmer in Marrakesh and the mountain coolness was a relief. Whilst we only had brief light showers in the mountains, on our return to Marrakesh there was a quick substantial thunderstorm that if encountered in the mountains would have left us drenched, so be prepared with the correct weather gear for your season of travel. This includes having an appropriate sleeping bag as some of the accommodations provide only a cushion or mattress, though these were very comfortable. Intrepid recommended a 3/4 season bag, but the Moroccan weather had already warmed up and I was very comfortable in my 2/4 bag.

Our amazing local guide “Mama Beia” and muleteers Zahra, and her two male co-workers Basu and Mohammad really looked after our safety, comfort and entertainment. I was humbled by Beia and Zahra’s tireless commitment and limitless smiles on the trail. I never knew you could create such delicious and beautifully presented food in the middle of a field or cave. Shukran. As we were guided through the green valleys of roses and red poppies or red rocky mountains, we were welcomed with such grace from the Moroccan people. I loved how we were included in the prepping of the meals and bread making, but it was more about sharing the time together with talk and laughter! And whilst the real cooking was done by the muleteers, and in particular, a very busy Zahra, they still found the energy to entertain us with traditional singing and dancing every night.

Always around, Chama, our leader, ensured that our trip was one to remember. I liked the personal touch she gave with the henna decorations on the last evening. It was an ephemeral souvenir to bring home. She also set up a WhatsApp group for us to share our collective photos, which I greatly appreciate. She was a good ambassador for Morocco.

For such a short trip, I found it difficult to say good-bye to everyone in the mountain team and then again in Marrakesh as we all went our separate ways. Shukran my fellow strong women!

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