In a year that started off with a trip around Utah visiting it’s national parks, I thought that in my tenth year of seeing the world that I’d be following this up with a more adventurous trip to Chile and Easter Island. Unfortunately the friend I was going to be travelling with could no longer afford it due to a change in circumstances. This was something I already knew at the time of going to Utah so it meant I’d got some time to think about where I could go instead – if anywhere at all.
In the UK I’ve gone on a couple of training weekends for running which have been organised by Howard who runs an adventure travel company called Right Altitude. My experience of these training weekends had been good, and I knew that he ran hiking trips in the Atlas Mountains, but as of yet the timings of the trips hadn’t worked with my calendar.
When I saw the news that he’d be organising a trip in November I quickly did some research to make sure it’d be suitable, and paid the deposit. Within days of this though I became unsure what was going to happen as the Department of Homeland Security in the US announced a travel ban on electronic devices in aircraft cabins that are over a certain size. Although I wasn’t going to the US, it was rumoured that the UK would be following suit. On the American’s list of affected airports was Morocco.
When the UK finally confirmed that there’d be our own version of the travel ban I got lucky as Morocco was not included. It meant I’d be able to travel with my camera equipment as hand luggage. There are many reasons why this was significant, but for starters there is the concern that valuables stored in the hold are not covered by travel insurance. If anything was to happen to my cameras in the hold then they wouldn’t be covered – and this would include theft should they be stolen from the baggage carousel for example.
My next step was to decide what I was going to be doing. The Right Altitude section of this adventure would be for seven days, but I was keen on going off on my own afterwards to explore some more. To figure this one out I searched the internet for sights to see in Morocco and found the highest concentration of interesting places to be in the nearby city of Rabat. This wasn’t far from Casablanca, a place I’d been advised to not bother visiting. I did however think that because it was the setting for the famous movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, and also in a Marx Brothers movie, that it would be worth a passing visit. Even if there was nothing else to see I might get to take some photographs of the Hassan II mosque.
As I wasn’t sure I looked at what ground transportation was available and asked around about what their trains were like. Alice Morrison, an Arabist and explorer who presented the “Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure” documentary for BBC 2, commented that they were good so that was enough to confirm it was possible. I went ahead and booked a hotel in Marrakesh for the end of the Right Altitude adventure, and then booked a hotel for Rabat the following night.
Whilst looking at trains I was also looking at flights. I found that the best option would also be one of the most comfortable ones. I decided I’d fly business class with British Airways from London Gatwick directly to the airport in Marrakesh – this would be less than four hours in the air. Getting to and from the airport in London would be trickier for me though. It being a weekday I couldn’t get any family to help out, which meant I’d either have to drive there and park up for the week, take a taxi, or use the trains.
If I was to take the train to Gatwick then it’d be £91.70 in a single direction, and the same again on top for a return. The downside to this though is that my flight would be getting in too late to catch the train home so I’d need to find an alternative – especially if I wanted to be back in the office on Monday morning. A taxi was even more expensive – it’d be £110 in each direction, but would at least be an option for the return journey as well. This then left the option of driving and parking up – something I’ve never been keen on. Of the different parking options available I found that their premium valet service, although not the cheapest, would be £87 and would guarantee covered parking whilst I was away. It was looking like although this adventure would be tiring there would be some comfort too.
When I went back to looking at whether or not to visit Casablanca a colleague recommended a visit to the nearby Ouarzazate as not only was it used in the filming of movies such as Gladiator, it was also used in the HBO TV series, Game of Thrones. My only problem was how to fit it in – it seemed the only way to visit required a full day, which I didn’t have. Instead I found plenty I could try and find in Marrakesh.
For this trip it was advised that some sort of bag is used instead of a suitcase as it’d be carried by mules, and across river crossings. I didn’t have anything I could use, but came across a Cotopaxi campaign on Indiegogo for a new adventure travel backpack. It only had a 35 litre capacity which meant it’d be tight – but with the use of vacuum bags and dry bags things would fit and remain dry. This also needed to include things such as a sleeping bag (this would be needed during the cold nights), and a quick drying travel towel.
I didn’t want to take my camera backpack either as running with it would be difficult so instead needed to figure out a way to fit my camera equipment into a lighter backpack, and keep it safe. I packed it once with lenses and camera bodies wrapped in bubblewrap, but I still wasn’t happy with it. In the end I decided the only way was to change the plan – run with my camera backpack. I don’t think I’ve ever obsessed over what to pack and how to pack it so much.
My eventual packing list was:
- Cotopaxi Allpa 35l adventure travel pack,
- Sleeping bag,
- Sleeping bag liner,
- Inflatable pillow with cover,
- Solar-powered light,
- Travel towel,
- Running shoes,
- 6x running socks,
- 2x running shorts,
- 5x running tees,
- Running hoodie,
- Running cap with removable neck protection,
- 10x boxers,
- 5x walking socks,
- 4x tees,
- Baseball cap,
- Waterproof coat,
- Swimming trunks,
- Wash bag.
- Lowepro Pro Runner 350 AW camera backpack,
- Canon EOS 5D mk2,
- Canon EOS 5D mk3,
- Canon 28-135mm lens,
- Sigma 150-500mm lens,
- 5x camera batteries,
- 5x compact flash cards,
- iPad Pro with keyboard,
- Pen, pencil, and paper,
- 7x AA batteries,
- Card reader with built-in Wi-Fi and powerbank,
- 2x power banks,
- Charging cables,
It was a lot to take, but not all of it would need to come back with me. The pair of running shoes for example were reaching there end of life so would likely be disposed of before travelling home.