The Cold Mountain

This past weekend Cori and I met up with one of our good friends to climb a mountain near Beni Mellal.  The mountain’s name, Tessemit, comes from a Berber word meaning ‘cold’.  For the end of March it certainly was cold!  This was also one of our final opportunities to hang out with some of our best friends that we’ve met here in the Peace Corps. The group that came to Morocco a year before us is about to close their service and return to the US – we will truly miss them over the next year. This was a great opportunity to share another few moments with a few of them before we head on separate paths.  Below, some photos of our trek.

Cori perched on the top of a cliff that we climbed near the beginning of our journey.

Cori perched on the top of a cliff that we climbed near the beginning of our journey.

Beautiful valley #1

Beautiful valley #1

Beautiful Valley #2

Beautiful Valley #2

Jeff kicking steps in the steep snow slow as we near the summit.

Jeff kicking steps in the steep snow slow as we near the summit.

Summit!

Summit!

???????????????????????????????

Posing at the top!

Also, here’s a bonus video!  It’s a tourism video from Morocco and it’s got some incredible images from around the country (aside from the belly dancer – I’ve never actually seen that here).  Enjoy!

Back to Work!

I never thought I’d be glad to hear those words… but after a summer where our entire job consisted of working the occasional camp, I’ve actually enjoyed getting back to work in Azilal. It’s been a slow start – school started at the beginning of October, but then there was a week off for l’3id. Then there were a couple weeks on, and another week off from school last week to celebrate the Islamic New Year and the Green March holiday. But we’ve been gradually increasing time at the Dar Chebab and letting people know that we’ll be starting classes soon. We’ve got a big project going on the next few weeks (you’ll hear about it in our next post!) but after that we hope to finally get back to teaching regularly.

Here’s what we’ve been up to so far this school year:

  • I’ve been teaching aerobics and beginner English at the Nedi Niswi, which is the women’s center (yes, this is the part where you all laugh as you imagine me leading aerobics). I’ve really enjoyed it though, not least because I can always fall back on “do this” and “like me” when my Darija isn’t getting the point across. Awkwardness (usually) averted!
  • I also attended a training to be able to lead business education programs at the Dar Chebab, through a Moroccan non-profit that’s partnered with Junior Achievement. Youth unemployment is a huge problem in Morocco so this is something that I’m excited about doing this school year.
  • Matt’s been planning some big projects of his own, including starting the C.L.I.M.B. program in Azilal and getting his foot in the door with a few PCV-organizational partnerships such as a rock-climbing camp and Engineers without Borders. He’s hoping to get more involved with all of these at the beginning of next year.
  • Together we’ve been going to the Dar Chebab to hang out with the kids there. Since we haven’t started any structured classes yet, our crowd is pretty small, but we’ve enjoyed playing Frisbee, Uno, Scrabble, Chess, paper football, and whatever other games we can think of with them. For kids whose main form of entertainment at home is TV, these games are a great way to pick up some new problem-solving skills, even if the English we use is minimal.

Even with starting up work again, we’ve still have some time for fun… we got to visit the Ouzoud waterfalls again this weekend with Max, a couchsurfer that we hosted from Germany. Got to see the beautiful falls, gorges and cliffs, play with some monkeys, and even do a little November swimming!

I guess Max shares some of Matt's crazy... and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

I guess Max shares some of Matt’s crazy… and they hiked around in their underwear the rest of the day to let them dry out. no joke.

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Picture courtesy of Max, who is a much better photographer than Matt and I put together

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Cropped to save you all a close-up of them in their boxers.

Beautiful Morocco

This video has been making the rounds among Moroccan volunteers lately. It’s a beautiful video that does a great job of showcasing the diversity of what Morocco has to offer, and it has some really gorgeous shots… if you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, I’d definitely recommend it (I feel the need to add a disclaimer that neither I nor Peace Corps are affiliated with the filmmakers in any way – I just think it’s a great video).

Matt and I have done quite a bit of traveling around Morocco (which anyone who reads this blog already knows) and we’ve really enjoyed getting a first-hand look at the beauty of this country. Our most recent trip was to go hiking out in the valley of Ait Bougamez, which is a popular hiking destination a couple of hours from Azilal. That area is also where a lot of health and environment volunteers used to live before their program ended; they lived in lots of tiny, isolated Amazigh villages way up in the mountains. It was really interesting to get a quick glance at what life in those towns is like, and what it would have been like to be a PCV in those areas. This hiking trip is probably the coolest trip we’ve taken so far, and undoubtedly it’s where we saw some of the most amazing scenery we’ve seen here. We’ve posted some pictures to give you a peek – enjoy!

IMG_2728

IMG_2787

IMG_2768

IMG_2783

IMG_2825

Let’s Climb!

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to help out with a program done by another volunteer called C.L.I.M.B (Creating Leadership In the Mountains and Beyond).  The program involves teaching Moroccan youth about teamwork, leadership, nature, wilderness first aid, and hiking over 6 months.  The final hurrah combines everything in a trip to the highest point in North Africa – Mt. Toubkal.  My job was as simple as it is awesome – hike with the group during the final ascent!

The climb itself was excellent.  We spent 3 days on the mountain.  The first was a beautiful 7 hour hike up (almost 4000ft) through the surrounding mountains to the mid-mountain refuge.  The second day was summit day, another 3000 ft of elevation gain to reach 13,671ft , and then a dangerous return hike to the refuge over loose scree slopes to the refuge – total time = 9 hours.  On the final day we made the 4 hour downhill return hike to our starting point.  Throughout the trip the kids were incredible – sure some of them had their moments where they didn’t think their legs could take another step or they thought there was no way that they could descend some of the steepest, loosest slopes without falling – but they pushed through and made it.  It really was incredible to see 12 kids that had never truly been hiking before this program summit the tallest mountain around.

IMG_2038

The last 1000 ft to the summit!

The last 1000 ft to the summit!

??????

Summit with the group!

Summit with the group!

With so much time together during the hike and at the lodges I really had the chance to connect with some of the Moroccans despite my lack of language skills after a certain point.  My favorite moment involved teaching the group the OH-IO cheer after finding out that one of the girls had a M*ch*g*n hat on the mountain – I have no idea how she got it and she had no idea how terrible a thing she was representing :).  Half the group said that Michigan was “xayb” (bad) after that and the other half used it as an opportunity to mess with me by saying that it was “zwin” (good) or “aziz عliya” (close to my heart – seriously who could say that about Michigan…).  I also got the chance to introduce them to geocaching – which they thought was really cool but also ridiculous.  Hopefully I was able to pass on at least some of my love of nature to them…

Ew...

Ew…

Introducing the kids to geocaching

Introducing the kids to geocaching

After all of the running around on the mountain and corralling kids I finally had the chance to reflect during my 4 hour bus ride back home from Marrakesh.  There I was, sweating profusely and sitting squeezed into a seat with a Moroccan woman and her small son… and I realized how absolutely ridiculous and amazing this whole Peace Corps experience has been so far. I smiled a huge grin and stared out at the mountains just happy to be lucky enough to be here.

-Matt

The Ouzoud Falls

The Cascades d’Ouzoud or Ouzoud Waterfalls are one of the biggest ecotourism sites in Morocco.  At 110m, the main waterfall is the 7th tallest waterfall in Africa… and luckily enough for us, the falls are only a 30 minute drive away from Azilal! A trip there has been hanging over our heads for months with questions about it nearly every day from somebody in Azilal: “Bonjour! Ouzoud?” (a lot of people think we’re French tourists) or, “Are you going to Ouzoud?” or, “Have you been to Ouzoud yet? No? Why not??”

People are mostly just flabbergasted because the only reason foreigners come to Azilal at all is to get to Ouzoud or to the Bougamez Valley (another popular ecotourism site that we have yet to visit…), so the fact that we’re foreigners and have not yet visited these places is a little odd. And now that we’ve  visited Ouzoud  we understand the question a little better – people keep asking because Ouzoud is BEAUTIFUL and what the heck were we doing living so close and not going to see it?!  We finally got our chance to visit this past weekend, and now we can finally answer all the questions with “Yes, we’ve been… and it was awesome!”

We really enjoyed getting a chance to see Ouzoud. There are tons of things to do there – artisan booths to shop at, a short hike to the big waterfall, lots of little restaurants, swimming holes and jumping rocks, monkeys to take way too many pictures of, and tons of little hiking paths for longer hikes (we explored for a couple hours and found some awesome scenery and a little cave)! Are you all planning to come visit us yet??

You need to look at this one full size to truly appreciate Matt's insanity

You need to look at this one full size to fully appreciate Matt’s insanity

Exploring the cave

Exploring a little cave

Monkey!

Monkey!

Gorgeous river valley

Gorgeous river valley – this is a nice hike way past the touristy areas

Did we convince you? Come visit!