capn_n_pye: (Pye)
[personal profile] capn_n_pye
Hey guess which mules didn't have WiFI ?
The trek began and finished at a very agreeable campsite, complete with restaurant, launderette and three different shower/toilet blocks (the kids never did find the best one, which meant no waiting in line for the grown ups!). Moose was getting used to the young humans by this point, and was feeling chummy enough to show his approval if he liked their choice of hat.
Departing the campsite, we headed off through ‘town’ and farmland for a bit, waving at goats, and festooning the occasional wall (some of us).
The trek had always been referred to as being in the Todra Gorge, but it turned out what that meant was we walked through the gorge (a feat taking 15 minutes once we got there), then took off into the Atlas mountains, leaving the gorge well and truly behind us.
The trek was fully supported, meaning we only had to carry our daypacks, and we had an extra-supportive mule (who Pye named Li’l Sebastian) to carry us if the need should arise. Moose tried to make friends, but Li’l Sebastian remained a bit aloof – obviously didn’t want to invest too much in a relationship that he knew would only last a few days.
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Somewhere along the line, Ismael, the trekking guide, pulled a gross bug out from under a rock, and we continued the tradition of forcing Moose to wear it like a crown. He will get tired of that and rebel one day, but it was not this day.
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Pye swiftly realised they’d designed the trek with feeble students in mind, as it turned out each day we would only walk until lunch (which was fully, expansively and deliciously catered, all we had to do was sit around in a tent, eat, then someone else would do the dishes), then chill out for the afternoon. This would have been very useful if the Squad had any particularly unfit, slow, or injured members, but it didn’t, so instead we got to enjoy the scenery and the walk, rather than feeling like it was a death march.
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And it was a very aesthetically pleasing landscape, can you see the secret moose in this one?
On the second afternoon, Moose was a bit bored, so decided he was going to use rocks to write out all his favourite words. We keep telling the Cabin Girl and Powder Monkey that he does naughty things, but if we don’t provide proof every now and again they will stop believing us!
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Team 2 was going to be coming through on the same trek a few days later, so Pye left Moose’s art for the other humans to find. She and Moose were both pretty devastated to learn later that they didn’t notice them, but perhaps some Berbers will find them later learn all the swears that Moose knows. Oh, and they did find it pretty hilarious when they found out that the Squad’s ‘worst case scenario’ for the next team came to pass, and Team 2’s muleteers did erect their Poo Tent in the same place as ours every night. The ground was very rocky, and while the Squad had struggled every afternoon to dig a decent hole, they did fill it in and cap it so well that when Team 2 went to dig their toilet hole, they could never tell if they were going to unearth our chocolate gold until it was too late. The last night’s ground was so hard that the main hole was shallow, so filled in very quickly, meaning a whole lot of smaller, backup holes were dug all around it, so apparently the despairing cry of “OH GOD IT’S EVERYWHERE!!” was heard from the Team 2 member in charge of Dug. They never found any of our toilet paper, though, because that was faithfully gathered up and disposed of with each morning’s Ritual Burning of the Poo Tickets.
The nicer rituals included sitting around drinking tea and playing games, but the nights were getting pretty cold by the time we returned to the first camp ground, so everyone agreed that five days was definitely long enough. The retail assistant who sold Pye a sleeping bag on the promise that it would be fine for 0 degrees had made it onto Pye’s shit list, and, adding to the stress, she also had to ensure that Moose hadn’t done a runner. Ismael liked Mouse [sic] so much he got him a nice rock, so Pye then had to keep checking Moose didn’t go off with him because he is an attention whore.
After defeating the mountains it was thence to Ouarzazate, a town whose industries are filmmaking, and tourists drawn by filmmaking. The Squad decided we absolutely had to go to a cinema museum. Moose didn’t mind, because he got to rub his arse on a lot of things and he likes knocking on things that look like stone but are made out of fiberglass.
However, in a reactionary response to Pissboy being an annoying twat, the rest of the Squad decided they didn’t need to visit the kasbah across the road (at this stage he could have suggested everyone stay in a 5 star resort and receive millions of dollars and they would have said ‘no’ because it was him making the suggestion). Pye waved to the outside of the kasbah and resigned herself to the World Challenge ethos of student-driven expeditions getting in the way of common sense.
The cinema museum must have whet their appetite, because they were pretty keen to visit Atlas Studios. Pye was interested to see what had changed in two years, even though she was also scared that Moose’s Facebook-stalky boyfriend from last time might be there. Thankfully he wasn’t, and the things that had changed included some sets had fallen down, a lot of stuff had fresh paint, and there was more Egyptian-themed gear.
Russell Crowe will be there in a month to film a movie, but in the meantime there was what Moose called this ‘smol cow’ to fight.
(If you watch the video, you will see that he was winning).

The students had fun with the cheesey film magic…
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… and afterwards, Pye accompanied a splinter group to actually visit the kasbah (thanks to her masterful manipulation, consisting of waiting to be asked her opinion, then pointing out that if there are two tourist attractions in town and you only go to one, you are a stupidhead).
The massive kasbah was built in the nineteenth century (mostly so a powerful clan could more conveniently control the caravan route), but the guides like to claim that it’s older than that so that you can be more impressed that this giant sandcastle has withstood many centuries of weather. The splinter cell were not going to spring for a guide, but Pye once again implied that they were foolish and forced the point, otherwise how would we know which empty chambers were once reception rooms, harem room, bathrooms or palace kitchens? The views from the top highlighted the proximity to the High Atlas Mountains, as well as the river (which had water in it, witchcraft!).
After showing us around the kasbah, the guide took us on a guided shopping tour through the adjoining village (gasp!), pointing out such highlights at ‘Ben Ladin’s house’ (there’s a guy whose bread and butter is to feature in films requiring a Bin Ladin lookalike). We were tempted into a fabric shop where the students found themselves drooling over some beautiful agave-silk product. The shopkeeper was so pleased that Pye’s advice was, ‘Sure, buy stuff, kids, knock yourselves out!’ that he gave her a scarf for free, lol. She later got a free bag of tea by standing nearby smiling while students bought nuts and snacks, and a little mirror in Marrakech for bully-bargaining with a bloke in a souk for something for the assistant leader – the last trip was never this profitable!!
Meanwhile, Moose had been fooling around on the interwebs again and had sent the Cabin Girl and Camel another email…

Date: 13 December, 2015
To: PowderMonkey, CabinGirl
Subject: RE:I told you I'd know

Apparently they were a bit hurt at the implication that they would touch any of Moose’s stuff, but when Auntie Stinky explained that he thinks everything is his, including her, they nodded wisely and resolved to be more careful in future.

Eventually the delights of Ouarzazate were exhausted, so we once again boarded some pre-booked private transport (always so very un-World Challenge!) and turned our noses to Marrakech. En route we made an obligatory stop at Ait Benhaddau. Moose was delighted to be back, and immediately galloped through the olde sandcastle buildings to the old granary to commemorate the spot where he remembered a 15 year old dropping a fart and ‘ruining the sunset’.
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Sunsets do the opposite of ruining this particular UNSECO site. It was still pretty cool in the pre-noon light (even with the dry river bed being suspiciously moist), but since the best photos are being snapped directly into sun, Pye feared none would turn out okay. It is always best to face one’s fears.
Most of the kids probably couldn’t care less that it was ‘built’ in the twelfth century and had its heyday in the sixteenth and seventeenth century with being in the caravan route between the Sahara (Timbuktu!) and Marrakech, but they did agree there were some quite nice shops nearby, and Pye enjoyed wandering off on them, taking more photos, and rinsing the dust of the trek from her boots in the river.
In order to get to Marrakech, one must defeat the Atlas Mountains and the Tizi N'Tichka Pass. Pye was quite looking forward to the Mordoresque vistas from last time, but it turns out that World Challenge makes drivers not go down the, quote, “dodgy, dangerous death-road”, so while we did go through the pass, the rest of the road was less spectacular (and death-defying). The most exciting bit was where we stopped for lunch and Leader David took kids up a hill to pick up terrific crystals (one brought one back for Moose to turn into a pendant, she is his favourite meat person - for now).
When we got to Marrakech, the volunteer work continued, with the Squad devoting countless hours and dirham towards stimulating the Moroccan economy. It was very heart warming. However, they were so terrified that they were going to get done over in the square (involuntary henna tattoos, accidental snake-bracelets, unforeseen betrothals to a monkey) that they walked around with their hands firmly jammed in their pockets so that no one could trick them into an interaction they were too middle class to firmly remove themselves from.

They got it into their heads that they should visit Jardin Majorelle, even though none of them gave two shits about Art Nouveau, twelve-acre botanical gardens, artists’ landscape gardens, Yves Saint-Laurent, or the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech. Nonetheless, they walked us across town and shelled out precious dirham, so darned if any of them was about to admit it. Mr Majorelle liked the colour blue and planted a shit-load of caculents, though as far as Moose was concerned, they had chosen very wisely.
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They also visited the Saadian tombs of their own free will, so bless them for seeking some culture. But what they were really there for was the culture of How Much Stuff Can I Buy With the Cash I Have Brought, and bless them even more for making the most of that. While they were off in appropriate-sized groups spending their money, Pye wandered around the souk with World Challenge Assistant Leader Stuart, helping him bargain. Compared to Indonesians, Marrakechians are soft as butter! In one case, Pye wasn’t even bargaining all that hard, she was having fun and this one guy (as he gave in) was like, “Shit, she’s hard, next time come shopping without her lol gawd!” (but then he gave her the previously-mentioned small mirror thing and was like, “Here, this is for not being boring!” so maybe he didn’t mean it).

From Marrakech it was onto Essaouira, along a the highway where shepherds festoon their argan oil trees with goats, and tourists are happy to be funneled into argan oil ‘cooperatives’ to be milked. In direct contradiction to all available advice, at least three students had brought Australian cash to exchange (spoilers: they could not do so), so they were grateful for the system Pye set up, wherein she determined a fair exchange rate, they chose argan oil products up to the value of their available cash, they gave her their cash and she added their purchases to her own to pop on the credit card. No one is more pastoral or caring than Pye, it is true.

Essaouira was right where we’d left it, hanging out on the Atlantic coast with its Portuguese fort and aesthetically pleasing fishing docks.
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And guess who was able to remember the town layout effectively enough to lead the Squad directly to a favourite jewellery shop from last time without hesitation - I’ll give you a clue it was Pye! Oh, and then she got 20% off because she was like, “LOOK I AM BACK AND HAVE BROUGHT CHILDREN WITH MONEY WHOO HOO!” Shameless, really, everything would have better been left to Moose.

Pye forced the Squad to shell out 10 dirham each ($1.40) to access the really cool bit because she said so (by now she was ready to fly in the face of the World Challenge ethos). At this point they worshipped him so much that they would do pretty much anything that Leader David suggested, so when he vaguely wondered how many of them could fit in the corner teeny-towery thing, they immediately proved that they answer was ALL OF THEM.
They also enjoyed him making them play games including building people-sculptures, and standing in configurations that evoked a pirate ship, and an aeroplane, while Pye enjoyed wandering off and singing ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ on one of the battlement spots that has cracking acoustics.
Moose enjoyed the same shit he usually does, including mounting cannons and threatening the populace.
In other news, look at this greedy fucker!
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Once they got tired of playing on the olde walls, the Squad opted for a walk down the beach, even though they weren’t allowed to go for a swim and anyway it was too cold. Moose’s hand/eye coordination meant that he was no good at downball, but took the opportunity to build a sand kasbah. Be proud of him!
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It was a very relaxing place to be, and the students became so self-indulgent that one night we were all treated to crepes and ice cream for dinner. However, apart from being forbidden in the Atlantic, Challengers are also forbidden to get massages (or any sort of treatment that requires a stranger to rub their hands all over them). Pye may be challenged in many ways, but she is not a Challenger, so as soon as the students announced two days of just wandering around Essaouira shopping, she booked herself a Berber massage. It was very agreeable, but somewhat startling when the masseuse decided Pye’s knickers were getting in the way of the bum-massage and confiscated them – YOINK WON’T BE NEEDING THESE. Normally there’s a modesty/comfort towel, especially for when they flip you onto your back, but not in this case – Berber massage, alien autopsy style! Then when she finished, the masseuse said, “Just relax for a few minutes,” which Pye thought meant ‘get dressed when you’re ready.’ So after a couple of minutes she sat up and reached for her clothes, but had not yet got her fingertips upon them when the masseuse returned and started toweling the oil off her. Pye wished she’d got her undies back on at that stage (especially since the door was still open), but oh well, it’s not like she’ll run into the masseuse at parent-teacher interviews or anything.

It was all wonderfully relaxing, even if students still felt the need to call on Pye to attend them while they vomitted once in the middle of the night. Most were very good at it - one honourable mention going to the boy who was able to get out of a tent in time, another to the girl who thought of munting in the nearby bath because the urge came upon her while she was mid-poo. Pissboy, however, was the only one who went full exorcist all over his bed, what a peach! He probably shouldn’t have left his passport and money-belt tangled up in his bedclothes when he allowed his roommates to clear the stinking mess away, and it certainly should have occurred to him to check on his valuables sooner than 13 hours later when the grownups enquired whether he had everything. Thank goodness house-keeping hadn’t got around to clearing the filth away in the meantime!!

On our last night in Morocco, we took care to have an affirming final reflection, and then dashed out to enjoy the sunset over the Atlantic…
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… and the students had decided to do KK presents, which was just really adorable, given that Challengers don’t often think of spending money on anyone but themselves. Pye found the secret-distribution-time particularly hilarious, because, after the sun had slid from view, they decided we should all stand in a line with our eyes shut, and take it in turns to place our gift behind the recipient. Then you tap the next person on the shoulder, they place theirs, and so on. It was pretty amusing cracking an eye slightly to watch baffled passers-by stare at fourteen people standing to attention with their eyes firmly shut in the face of a fading sunset, but when the poor security guard came to clear the ramparts in time for closing, Moose almost ruptured himself rolling around laughing. He was so polite, and just wanted to get our attention so he could gesture and show that it was closing time and we needed to go, but no one would look at him. It was all in the name of gift-giving, which, for the most part, was the delicious polystyrene-packing-peanut treat that is Gangnam Snacks…
An early night would have been great, especially since we had to be up at 3:30 in the morning so we could ride on a bus for five hours to Casablanca in time for our homeward flight. Everyone pretty much just passed out on the bus, to the disappointment of Pissboy, who had hoped to photograph the rising sun.
“Doh!” said he, “Was there a sunrise?”
“Yes, there definitely was!” avowed Pye, knowing quite well what he meant, but choosing to ignore it.
“Are you sure, was it good?” he asked worried, for he is a chronic sufferer of FOMO (‘Fear Of Missing Out’).
“Couldn’t tell you if it was any good,” replied Pye, blithely unconcerned, “But I can 100% assure you that the sun rose this morning!”
The look he bestowed upon her was one much coveted by all trolls and makers of terrible puns, but he didn’t actually stab her in the face.

The sun rising steadily in the sky, we achieved the airport and bid fond farewell to Leader David. The remaining grown ups checked in first, ostensibly to clear the way for the group, but really in order to wrangle an exit row. It also gave us time to slap pens from the hands from students inclined to answer ‘Yes’ to departing-health-card questions like, “Do you have a fever/rash/diarrhoea?” (“But I have a rash from chafing!” “I had diarrhoea one time three days ago!” “It is hot in here!”).  When an expedition starts to go home on 21 December and is not scheduled to arrive home until 23 December, the margin for error wherein one of the little bastards can fuck up your Christmas is quite small, there is no patience to be had.

The other two teams also arrived and boarded safely. Team One’s grown ups saluted us cheerfully from exit row opposite us and we settled in to enjoy the Casablanca/Dubai stretch, having first lined up the cabin staff to surprise the Squad’s birthday girl with special cake, a crew-signed card some polaroids (“You little shits!” she said, shaking her head at us – that’s actually a term of endearment, it warms the heart). Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, until we noticed that we didn’t land in Dubai until 20 minutes before our next flight was scheduled to depart. It looked a bit tight, but not insurmountable… unless they unload everyone onto various buses and you can only see where three out of 44 students are and they claim to close the boarding gate 15 minutes before departure, ah ha ha ha… Luckily with a group our size they did the right thing and they even managed to get all-bar-one of our checked bags across to come home with us (impressive).

So after that, there was just an annoying extra stop at KL (so we could get off, go through security and get back on, what a treat!), and only about nine hours more before we were back at Tullamarine! At least 10% of the combined students chose to answer ‘Australia’ to the arrival question “In which country did you spend most time abroad”, but quite frankly, once you’re back in Australia, their dear, simple, naïve arses are their parents’ problem. Even at 2am, Pye skillfully ripped through duty free and passport control well ahead of most of the kids (a skill born of much experience), and we once again discovered that Melbourne customs doesn’t give two shits about anything if you arrive between 1 and 6 am - to the point where two boys carrying 3-foot-long Berber swords in their checked luggage had no problem whatsoever (apparently it’s fine because they’re not concealed blades; however, Victoria Police might have a different opinion if they choose to take an interest).

Some students’ parents loved them enough to drive to Melbourne in the wee small hours, but most waited for us to get a bus back out to school, whereupon the sun rose on many glad shouts and hugs and thanks. Hooray for everything!
Pye can say unreservedly that it was the nicest World Challenge expedition she’d ever been on, and if they were all like this, no one would mind giving up a month of their lives in the lead up to Christmas. So… shhhh, maybe don’t tell anyone…?
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