Live from Morocco
Morocco… such a magical and vibrant country! Our group of adventurer travelers and I have looked forward to this special journey for over a year.
Time is being spent in the exciting city of Marrakesh before heading to the High Atlas Mountains to hike, practice yoga, ride ATVs, and camp in the Agafay desert. The trip will then conclude on the Atlantic Ocean in Essaouira to ride camels and enjoy the seaside.
Before my group even arrived, I was able to enjoy two amazing activities – one authentic local experience and the other life-changing. First, there was the hamman treatment, a full body scrub with fragrant essential oils in a type of sauna room that goes way back to ancient Arabic times. You feel like jelly when it is all done. Talk about a great way of getting rid of jet-lag!
However, what truly brought me joy was going to the grocery store the second morning with $1500 to spend on food and other needed supplies for abused women and their children at a hidden shelter. It is a God-thing is that I had $1500 in donated funds, and I spent it to the penny!!! I filled 10+ grocery carts like I was on a reality television show and was not really surprised when the clerk told me the amount. Thank you, dear donors, for making this happen!!
The rest of the group arrived during the last two days of Ramadan, an Islamic holy tradition of fasting for 30 days from dawn until sunset. They are not allowed to eat or drink, not even water, during these daylight hours. This is a time of introspection and prayers for Muslims, the followers of Islam. It is celebrated the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (which changes each year) when Muhammad received the initial revelations of the Quran, the holy book for Muslims.
I feel very blessed and a strong sense of spirituality being in Morocco during this time.
The colleagues I have worked with for almost two years in preparing for this trip also made me aware just how much their religion and these particular traditions mean to them.
A time none of us will forget was taking all the food and supplies purchased to the women’s shelter on the day of Eid, a religious festival which Muslims celebrate all over the world.
It marks the end of the Ramadan. Eid is such a special time as it is quite elaborate: children wear new clothes, women dress in white, special pastries are baked, gifts are exchanged, and more!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be a day of celebration for these women withouttheir families and young children. Since 2004, this shelter has also assisted women who became pregnant out of wedlock and are ostracized by their family and the community.
Two women had just had babies in the last two days. One was forced to go home for a week by her sister to celebrate the holidays so their parents would not know she had had a baby. One woman was about due to deliver and was crying in the corner because she missed her family so much. Two sisters were recently placed there due to parental abuse and sex trafficking.
Now, fortunately, on this special day of Eid, we were able to celebrate as a group with dancing, visiting, getting henna tattoos, and delivering the food. Global sisterhood often needs no words. The executive director said this was the first time she had seen many of them even smile. It was a special time for all of us.
My dear friend, Deana Hayes, said it best after leaving the women’s shelter:
“Unloading the gifts of food, diapers, milk, flour, and so much more was so overwhelming that you just had to take a picture of yourself in the middle. The joy that flooded my soul is indescribable. I watched frowns turn to smiles. And fear or shyness turned to laughter and giggles. Seeing their eyes sparkle as I invited them to participate. They belonged! They were noticed! They were loved!! Thank you, Lord for this day to share your love with those around me.”
After an unforgettable time in Marrakesh, it was time to leave our beautiful Riad Sebban Palais for the High Atlas Mountains. A riad is a traditional townhouse with a courtyard garden. In recent years, many have turned into intimate boutique hotels brimming with Moroccan charm. And, they are decorated in Moroccan chic with vibrant colors and textures.
Even though these “women for adventure” loved their time in Marrakesh, many mentioned the time outdoors in the High Atlas Mountains is what had drawn them to this trip. We packed up our van and headed out for our hour and a half drive to our starting point to hike.
It is amazing that in such a short distance, we were suddenly surrounded by impressive mountain peaks that stretched for miles. We crossed a river via rocks and then started hiking steadily around the side of the mountains for over 2 l/2 hours. We had a picnic snack of nuts, figs, dates, cheese and bread before heading slowly downhill.
This was tedious as we had to walk on a rock or dirt path that could be slippery, even on the dry dirt. This definitely was not a walk in the park – it was challenging but doable. Some of us stepped out of our comfort zone, but what an accomplishment.
The next two days of more moderate hiking were totally different. One day you had an opportunity to walk up to a famous shrine or go part way with both groups having a fabulous picnic lunch overlooking the mountains.
The last full day of hiking took us down to a valley, which led us through some villages and then to a more desert area.
Our accommodations had a pool and a totally different feel than when we were in the heart of the mountains.
And, we were so ready for yoga at the end of each day!! Our bodies needed to stretch and bend after hiking up and down for miles. We did hip and heart openers, spinal twists, hamstring stretches and lots of pranayama. It was fun to add partner yoga into the mix one night. International guitarist and good friend, Michelle Qurishi, played her beautiful classical guitar for us during savasana as everyone was given a neck release with essential oil. After yoga every evening, it was time for dinner.
Did I mention the food? Morocco is for foodies! Every meal has been a treat…and so healthy. One of my favorites included figs and dates with homemade yogurt over couscous (who would have thought?). Mint tea is almost served after every meal.
After our three full days of fabulous hiking, we hiked for an hour, stopped for lunch on a reservoir, then headed to our camp site in the Agafay Desert. It was another magical day! We weren’t just in Morocco but in the middle of a desert staying in tents watching camels go by. We rode ATV’s all around the desert area going as fast as we wanted. What fun!!
We had breakfast at the camp before heading to Essaouira and saw the first Argan trees, a jewel of this region with its precious oil. We checked into another beautiful Riad right on the ocean then drove a short distance to Sidi Kaouki for a camel ride along the Atlantic coast. We enjoyed a stop at a women’s cooperative for Argan oil before heading back to Essaouira.
Another highlight, of course, has been the shopping. Every town and city has souks selling all manner of goods from leather bags, babouches or striking slippers with pointed toes, local ceramics, carpets galore, jewelry, clothing, essential oils, spices, Moroccan Argan oil and more! Of course, traveling with 12 women, it is fun to see what everyone likes to buy.
As we will be leaving this beautiful country soon, I am so grateful for each of the special women who said “yes” to Morocco. What a joy it has been traveling with these ladies!
With gratitude, I also want to thank the people here in Morocco who helped with making this a trip of a lifetime, to all the donors who gave on behalf of the women’s shelter, our PTYF Board Members, and, as always, for my family who supports my wanderlust and passion for leading trips. And, dear readers, we hope you consider joining us on our next Morocco trip April 3-13, 2024!