There are vacations and there are adventures. With its “once in a lifetime” trip ethos, Forum 3 often chooses the latter path. And this year by choosing Morocco, Austin’s Forum 3 might have just outdone its already aggressive baseline.
Choosing Morocco itself was actually a last second decision. Originally, our group was planning to head to Panama or South America. However final thoughts on the threat of Zika led us to shift plans elsewhere. Places like Iceland, Prague, and Croatia all were floated, but October weather was an issue. After a lot of research, and the advice of the London-based Black Tomato agency, we choose a Marrakesh home-base and never looked back.
The trip started out in Marrakesh at the exquisite Villa D’ Orangers. From the street nothing looked special about particular Riad (Moroccan for house with courtyard). Yet immediately upon walking into the ex-Judges Palace we were surrounded by grand arches and magnificent architecture. One of the amazing charms of Morocco is you’ll never know when you will be exposed to a hidden world. Whether an nondescript door to a palatial hammam (Moroccon Steam room) or a hidden market, it is the Moroccan way.
It was at the Villa D’ Orangers that we met our guide from the agency Epic Morocco, Sayed. Out of the gate he challenged us to get ready for strenuous challenges of the trip, yet did so with a beaming smile that told us it couldn’t be that hard. We had a “few” drinks that night and set the alarms for 7:30am.
Well it was hard. The next day we took a ride to the base of the Atlas mountains and began a day hike with mules carrying our luggage in tow. Within a couple of hours the mules were carrying our luggage and a couple EO-ers! That night we got to a very basic Berber lodge in a small village. There we ate an absolutely authentic Moroccan meal, cooked by a local villager, and were wowed at how far we had left our known world in just one day.
Sayed got us up early with a joke and we set off for another day of hiking. Sayed’s participation was one of the best parts of the trip. Always smiling and accommodating, he practically felt like one of the group. Without a doubt his casual introductions to the locals shaped our prospective on the country. Easily one of the most tourist friendly and safe countries in the area, Morocco lived up to that part of its reputation.
After another day of hiking we got to an Oasis – Richard Branson’s private hotel/ palace – the 28 room Kasbah Tamadot. Upon walking in there were fountains, pools, gardens, and some of the most exquisite rooms that looked meant for Royalty. Not only was it arguably the nicest hotel many in our group had ever stayed in, Richard Branson was checking out right as we stepped in! We got to know members of his family that remained at the Kasbah, including his mother Eve, who even at 92 years was sharp as a whip and was the belle of the hotel ball.
But we were getting a bit too comfortable, and the next day it was off to the Sahara. At the foothills of the desert we got onto our vehicle of choice for the next few days – ATVs. There we rode and raced for hours until getting to a desert camp around sunset.
The camp itself felt out of a movie. Each one of us had a beautiful large tent with king-size beds and a functioning bathroom. “Glamping” had never known better. There we ate an amazing meal under candles, that led to a Berber show with a bonfire. We finished the night staring up at the beaming starry sky.
We awoke in the morning to the groans of desert camels before jumping back on our ATVs, and then it was straight to our hotel in Marrakesh. Well showered and back in civilization, we explored the city’s restaurants and markets. Also, one of us grossly overpaid to take a picture with a monkey. Then it was back to bed for the final day.
The trip finished off with a 40k super-fast downhill mountain biking tour that challenged even the most athletic of the group. It all ended with us eating lunch on a Summit overlooking the mountains and wondering how we had all come so far, so fast.
There is no doubt this trip left its imprint. Sitting at forum less than a month later not one of us doubted that we had delivered on “once in a lifetime”.