by Allison Macsas
Travel is full of surprises, and has a particular knack for turning all of your expectations upside down. The first group that we took to Morocco this year – “Week One,” as we creatively reference them – did just that. Despite our experience with the itinerary, the place and the people, time after time I was hit with the unexpected.
THE FLIGHT DELAY:
I will fully admit, I was a bit uncertain about this group prior to the trip. We’d had a couple of get-togethers and everyone was great – but also quiet, and the excitement level seemed low. Although deep down I knew better, a small part of me worried that this wouldn’t change, that we’d spend ten days traveling and running in awkward silence.
Arrival day came, and Gabe and I woke up in Marrakech to a text – half of the group had been delayed in Dallas, and missed their connection in Madrid. Rerouted to Casablanca. The girl who had texted was “pretty sure” that there were 9 of them, but wasn’t sure that she knew everyone. Our stomachs sank – although a common travel reality, this was not how we wanted to start off the trip. They’d be so tired! So cranky! So jetlagged! But, there was nothing we could do except go to the airport at noon to pick up the 10 who did make it on time.
Those ten were very happy to be there, and we got them settled in as planned with the option of either eating dinner at the planned time, or waiting until the rest of group arrived, which was looking quite late. Gabe stayed back while I headed back to the airport with Hamid around 9:00 that night. The place was packed with drivers holding signs, and it was apparent that a lot of planes were landing at once which, in Marrakech, means never-ending immigration lines. 45 minutes passed. I bought a Snickers bar to tide myself over. Another 30 minutes passed, and the flight that they were supposedly on updated to “arrived” on the status board. 30 more minutes passed. Floods of travelers had come out – French retirees, German hikers, British teenagers on holiday – but none of our people. The crowds of drivers thinned. The floods slowed to a trickle. Hamid, who never looks nervous, looked nervous.
Just as I was starting to panic a little, I saw a Rogue Expeditions shirt. Then another! All nine of them came out together. They were exhausted, hungry and antsy, but they had also had six hours trapped in a tiny airport to get to know each other. We got them to our riad, checked in and up to dinner as quickly as we could. The rest of the group had chosen to wait, and we soon had 19 talkative and extremely excited runners around a table, all clearly bonded over the experience. My worries disappeared, and I joined them in anticipating an incredible week.
IT NEVER RAINS IN MOROCCO:
I made a packing list for this trip that I’m very proud of. Many people have followed it to a T, and fully enjoyed traveling light and having all that they needed. However, it doesn’t include any mention of a rain jacket. In the time that I’ve spent in southern Morocco and in the stories I’ve heard from our crew who lives there, I was convinced that rain just isn’t going to happen in that area. The rivers come from High Atlas snowmelt, the irrigation and drinking water comes from springs and wells and a huge reservoir in Ouarzazate … not from rain.
Fast forward to our very first run, the afternoon after the flight debacle. Clouds had been gathering during our drive, but no worry – they would simply keep the temperature at a pleasant 60-something degrees. We had a wonderful picnic lunch and began what is one of my favorite runs of the trip, heading down the backside of a quiet mountain road for miles, through a few small villages and eventually to the Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. About 30 minutes in, we felt some raindrops – it felt great. They became a bit more steady, but stayed nice and light. Not too long after that, thunder rumbled. Villagers appeared at the doors of their houses – it wasn’t clear whether they were more surprised by us, or the water falling from the sky. We kept running – the rain came down harder. Then, it started to hurt. Hail!
At this point, it was clear that we should probably take cover. The drivers made sure that they picked up everyone, and we huddled in the trucks as they insisted that it hadn’t rained in this area in years. The hail was short-lived, and most of us decided to get back out and continue running once it tapered off. I endured the “it never rains in Morocco” jokes, both that day and on our rest day in the Todra Gorge, where it poured for an entire day. Needless to say, the packing list has been updated.
The question of whether kids are welcome on our trips had never crossed our mind until a couple asked us prior to this trip. They had a 13 year old boy, Gabriel, who runs and has traveled and has no problem hanging with adults. We couldn’t think of any reason why not, especially since he’d be with both parents, so we said sure! Months later, just a few weeks before departure, one of the other couples that had signed up asked us a similar question. They were having second thoughts about leaving their 9 year old, Mitchell, with a caretaker for so long and his mom wanted to give him her spot. He too was a runner and had traveled – nine seemed young to us, but we again could think of no reason why not. Mitchell was in.
I was a bit apprehensive, wondering how much they would run, if they’d be bored around a bunch of adults and whether the adults would mind having kids along. But, again, my concerns proved unfounded. Gabriel definitely had a mature personality, and was happy to relax and hang out and soak up everything he was learning about Morocco. Mitchell was pure energy – talkative, but never once cranky – and provided an endless source of entertainment even as he ran circles around many of us.
And what a place for kids! There is much open space, so little traffic, such a sense of freedom in the areas we travel through. Kids (and adults, for that matter)) can run free, climb sand dunes, fall down, make friends – I was shocked when I went through photos and video and realized how often Mitchell had village kids running alongside him, how he’d end up in the middle of a pickup soccer game at rest stops. Language didn’t matter, and he was not the least bit shy or self-conscious, as adults tend to be – he just jumped right into everything. The drivers and other locals doted on him. We all kept commenting on what an amazing education he was getting – to see and experience so much at 9 years old – and he certainly was. But, it soon became clear to me that he was educating us at the same time – to let go, jump in, have fun and take full advantage of everything in front of you.
THE SOCCER BALL
We had a former soccer player, Jarrod, within the group, which never really came up until our third day of running. 4 or 5 miles into the run, we turned into a village where soccer match was happening on a dirt plot. He asked, more or less, if he could join and they said, more or less, sure. So he jumped in and played awhile, and played very well.
He was hooked on the thought of the sport after that – after all, it’s played in every village, seemingly at all hours of the day! A day or two later we had all gone for an evening walk in N’kob when he spotted a ball displayed in a street vendor’s shop. He bought it, and we all kicked it back and forth as we strolled through the town. Before long we caught the attention of some small kids, who joined in and soon had an intense match stirred up with Jarrod in the middle of a maze of mudbrick homes. We all watched and laughed, local women came out and watched and laughed – it was a spectacular evening, full of smiles.
The ball traveled with us for several days, making an appearance on Iriki Lake, among other spots. On our final full day in Morocco, we had a long journey from the desert back to Marrakech. At one of our many rest stops, there was a pickup game happening in the middle of the main street. Mitchell of course joined in, and Jarrod made his way over. After noticing that the ball they were playing with was completely flat, he tossed his in as a replacement – and left it. Faces lit up, the game sped up. Such a small item, such a small gesture, but at the same time it was so, so big.
I went into that week feeling uncertain about the dynamics, confident in my no-rain declarations and completely unaware that a cheap soccer ball would play such a big role throughout the week. As it happened, the group could not have been better, very real friendships were developed, that cheap soccer ball brought many smiles, and we got a little wet. Surprises are a given when you step out into the world, and they always provide lessons, provided you are simply open to noticing them.
Missed the first part of the World Wind series? Catch it here, and check back soon for the Kenya installment!