Tuesday 12th November
My alarm went off at 4:30am. My concept of time, including how long it takes to do things, or to get places, is dreadful and I'm more often than not late ... today I'm not taking chances ... in hindsight it was a little too early, but at least it gave me time to grab some porridge and ensure I had absolutely everything I needed to hand. Passport, phone, money. Tick, tick, tick.
I checked out of the Travelodge and waited outside for the transfer bus. It was probably quite close to freezing, but the butterflies in my tummy and the adrenaline in my system was keeping me warm at this point! The rest of the group had said they were planning to be at the airport for 6 o'clock ... with my keenness I arrived there a fair bit earlier than that, but got my bag checked in (thank heaven I didn't have to cart that thing around with me anymore) and got my tickets!
I hung around near the check in desk waiting for the rest of the group; the messages on our Facebook group page said they were on their way. I was so excited that I was going to get to see most of my Everest Base Camp buddies again; everyone besides from Ed, my tent mate Nicole and much to my despair, Mark.
Mark had initially booked to do the Toubkal trek with us, but unfortunately had had to cancel. He'd been one of my favourite people on our Everest Base Camp trek. His dryness and humour literally made my bad days there some of the best, and I was so devastated that he wan't going to be on this adventure with us. Who was going to make me cry with laughter?!
I'd been waiting maybe 10 minutes when I was approached by someone asking if I was part of the Charity Challenge group going to Morocco (apparently the huge rucksack gave it away)! This is when I met Pete, a new face for our group. He told me that he was doing the trek in aid of Bowel Cancer UK on behalf of a family member who passed due to the cancer. He said that he had this guy's sleeping bag with him, so ultimately it felt like he was doing the trip with him. So touching.
It was only a short while later when we then met Bob, Pete, Gemma and Kerry, and afterwards Anna and Laura (all EBC people). The only people to meet up with now were Simon (the doctor, again from EBC) and 2 other new people nobody knew. We decided to go to the departure lounge and grab some food.
I had a brief chat with Anna before we boarded the flight on how we were feeling about the upcoming trek. Both Anna and myself were renown on the EBC trek for being the slow people at the back, and we both pretty much admitted that things were probably not going to be any different during this trek!
It was comforting that someone else was possibly feeling as unprepared as I felt. I had not done as much training as I'd have liked to have done, or should have done. Don't get me wrong, I'd been in the gym and in the fells, but was constantly out of action every other week with IT Band Syndrome (I blame my mam for passing on her arthritic joints) and hip flexor strain. That combined with some more personal feminine issues, my body felt about as lithe and ready for a mountain trek as a walrus in stilettos. But, I was determined ... and I preyed that was going to be enough!
We boarded the flight and soon saw Simon the doctor, and our 2 other team members, Jon and Paul.
The flight was only around 3 and a half hours and we landed in a 20°C Marrakech around about 02:00pm local time. We got through the ordeal that is passport control where I was adamant for about 20 minutes I was stood next to Rami Malek (I tried to get a photo, but didn't know how to do it without being obvious)! We changed some currency into Moroccan Dirhams, and then went outside and met up with our guides Mohammed and Reduan (sp?).
Mohammed explained that the plan for the day was to drive about 30km out of Marrakesh, we'd stop and have a picnic, then we'd drive another 30km into the mountains, then get out and walk from Imlil to our resting place for the night in the village of Aroumd. Sounded good.
Marrakesh reminded me of Paphos, Cyprus in the 1990s, except with crazy traffic ... seriously ... they have their own rules there, or perhaps more accurately, no rules at all! I'd have heart failure if I had to drive on those roads! But yeah, for me it was just like Cyprus with an Arabic twist.
As promised, we stopped for a picnic on a lovely little sunny side of the road, which again, reminded me of a road in Cyprus in the Troodos Mountains. Mohammed handed out brown paper bags with our lunches in, and to my surprise said that he had a gluten free one for me. I was surprised as I remember struggling with the dietary requirement side of things during EBC. Charity Challenge hadn't passed the details on so nobody was aware of what it entailed, and I found myself eating Dal Bhat twice a day for a fortnight straight! It was reassuring to know that this time round, people were on it!
After the picnic we set off again and drove into the mountains, passing villages filled with locals selling little knickknacks at the side of the road. As we got further up I noticed that the cars on the opposite side of the road were having to drive uncomfortably close to the edge to pass each other, and I remember thinking that I wasn't looking forward to being on that side on the way back down!
When we got to Imlil we left the minibuses behind and set off on our first official walking of the trek through the village. We were still very much in civilisation at this point; there were cars on the road, shops, salons, butchers, cafes, etc. It was an easy walk until we got to Aroumd which is a village basically built on a hill ... and our house was at the top of this hill! I set off on a good pace before realising I couldn't keep this pace up and struggled to the top. Great start.
I settled in a room with Anna and Laura, and then went for dinner where Mohammed briefed us on the upcoming trek, and Simon went through all the health information and advice in relation to altitude and other issues. He described headaches, breathing difficulties, insomnia, fatigue, nausea, nosebleeds, diarrhea and vomiting ... basically all the very pleasant symptoms you can have when it comes to being a tad higher up than you normally are!
I remember from EBC I encountered the nosebleeds (to a horrific degree) and the breathing difficulties, so I expected the same this time, but was hoping for no more!
We ate dinner and I had my first heart sinking moment when I finished off the lovely soup we'd been served, only to find there had been pasta in it. I didn't make a fuss and just hoped that it didn't upset my stomach too much; I thought that I could at least contend with cramping and bloating, which thankfully is all it lead to.
I took advantage of the hot shower in the house and got ready for bed. I had a decent night's sleep; just waking up every now and then from being far too hot in my sleeping bag, and feeling like I couldn't breathe. I think the latter was more in my head than anything else as we were only about 1900m up so couldn't have been anything to do with altitude!
First official day done.