July 27, 2019
Hello again from Spain and Morocco!
We have concluded our trip with two well deserved days of relaxation at our friend Mohamed’s Riad. Wednesday morning we woke up to the best breakfast we have had yet of homemade msemem, yogurt, orange juice, bread and jams- all made from the produce grown on the property. Once we had our fill, we headed to the souk to try our hands at some Berber bartering.
After an introduction to the history of the area, we headed to a Berber pharmacy where they showed us a myriad of famous argan oil products made by the women cooperatives. Collin lost his mind at all of the products and filled his shopping basket to the brim with oils and creams with sweet aromas. Next, we started meandering around the huge markets, overwhelmed by the amount of movement surrounding us. Caitlyn and Mary showed their prowess as they managed to bargain prices down to half of the original asking price. David chipped in and although he didn’t buy anything, was able to negotiate for Kate and get her reasonable prices on her gifts! Redmond bought some fresh peach juice that he watched get squeezed in front of him while Flannery had her dream of holding a monkey realized.
After a full morning at the market we returned to our Riad and played in the pool in the sun. Collin, Caitlyn, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary all recreated a silly video for all of us and had us rolling laughing. Christian, Jack and JF played with some local kids who were enjoying their summer afternoons at Mohamed’s as well. Adelaide and Lauren practiced their frisbee skills by the pool and we all rotated between game playing and laying by the pool and talking.
The evening was filled with a wonderful cooking lesson by the pool while the wind picked up and the temperature finally began to drop. We made Breiwart (veggie filled dumplings) and msemem (what we call a Moroccan pancake) and learned how to brew the delicious mint tea we’ve been drinking for the past week! We filled our bellies that night with the food that we had cooked and enjoyed our last night in Morocco by night swimming and gazing at the stars.
Thursday we woke up and began our journey home. When we landed in Madrid we made our way to our hostel in downtown, regrouped and began walking around town to take in the sights. We walked through Puerta del Sol and on to Retiro Park on our way to our banquet dinner!! We ate delicious burgers and fries and drank milkshakes to our hearts’ content before walking back to Retiro for our last Moonup. We found the perfect spot in the middle of a garden with the sun setting around us for our last night together. We played freeze tag under the stars and started walking back towards our hostel to get churros!
We woke up early in Madrid to head to the airport and had a bittersweet day together heading back to America and to our respective homes. Our goodbye was tearful but we are determined to make it a ‘See you later’.
Thank you so much for such a wonderful two weeks, we have missed you all and are excited to see you all!
Margen and Jojo
July 24, 2019
Checking in from Marrakech! We arrived just hours ago from the Moroccan mountains. We had dirt in our nails and were feeling accomplished, as we’d just summited the tallest mountain in North Africa, and the tallest for 1,200 miles in any direction.
Just four short days ago, we rose early in Madrid, Spain for our flight to Marrakech, Morocco. When we arrived in Morocco around noon, we immediately hopped in a van headed for the mountain town of Imlil, the gateway to the Atlas Mountains. During the drive, David was quick to improve everyone’s ride by sharing his chocolate covered Oreos with us all, and of course with his humor. Upon arrival in Imlil, we quickly checked into our rooms at our beautiful Riad, which had a cool pool and great views of the town. The group quickly got into cards, and Lauren showed off her skills by beating everyone repeatedly. Adelaide was the group’s quick learner, as she learned how to play the card game Hearts in no time and started beating everyone! We spent the afternoon relaxing, before heading to our friend Mustafa’s shop for tea and a chance to purchase authentic Moroccan textiles. Nearly everyone in the group purchased sweet jackets, and all were happy with their new items. Redmond proved to be the best bargainer in the group, as he managed to purchase something for less than one fourth of the initial asking price. We returned to our Riad for the sunset and our first real Moroccan meal which consisted of stewed vegetables and meats. Our two LODs, Jack and Caitlyn, then held Moonup under the stars, where they asked the group such incredible questions: What food would you eat for the rest of your life? What are you looking forward to in life?
We woke up and packed up the next morning to head up to the Mount Toubkal refuge. Before leaving, we enjoyed what the students have unanimously called the best breakfast we have had yet: crepes, yogurt, cereal, eggs, tea, and juice. This proved to be the perfect fuel for our hike, as we walked with pep in our step the entire way up. We made our ascent to basecamp in exactly eight hours, starting at nine and finishing at five p.m. on the dot. We also stopped for a hot meal on the trail, featuring veggies and meat balls. During the hike, Christian and JF practiced excellent Expedition Behavior (EB) by always waiting for everyone on the trail and making sure no man was left behind. JF also made sure to share his entire large pack of M&Ms with us after the hike, as we were all in need of energy after a long day in the heat. We then enjoyed our first dinner in the massive stone Toubkal refuge before watching the stars together. The unhindered view of the stars and the Milky Way were the best we have ever seen. Mary and Elizabeth even saw their first shooting star, and they were both jumping and shouting with joy.
The next morning, we awoke at 5 a.m. for our Toubkal summit bid. Collin was one of our LODs for his unparalleled toughness and his appreciation for other cultures and customs. Mary, our other LOD, was chosen for her ability to motivate the group and stay positive regardless of circumstance. Flannery was our queen of grit for the day, as she triumphed through stomach problems with gridiron toughness en route to the summit. During our four-hour ascent, Mary was singing nearly the entire way. Once we reached the summit, we all sang Kate happy birthday at the top! Not many people can say they celebrated their sixteenth birthday on the peak of a mountain. After spending some time reminiscing on our accomplishment, and even napping on top of Toubkal (Christian and Jack), we headed down the mountain back to the refuge, where we ate lunch, took naps, and played cards for the night.
Today, we hiked down from the refuge back to Imlil, and we played soccer and exchanged magic tricks with some local Moroccan children. We were also lucky enough to experience a Moroccan picnic with food cooked over an open flame. After this, we headed to the city to stay at Mohammed’s Riad! We were all ready to relax after three tough days of hiking. At Mohammed’s, our group has enjoyed a myriad of activities. We played games and relaxed by the pool, played ultimate frisbee, watched Elizabeth and Caitlyn’s choreographed dance routine to Rascal Flatts, listened to Flannery sing, swam some more, and ate great food. After an afternoon of rest, we are ready to take on a completely new challenge as we fully immerse ourselves in Moroccan culture, exploring the Marrakech market and learning to cook Moroccan cuisine tomorrow!
We are so grateful for these experiences we have had together and we cherish our last few days together.
Jojo and Margen
P.S. here are some shoutouts from everyone to all at home!
Kate- I love y’all and am excited to see y’all soon! I am having the best time and don’t want to leave! xoxo Kate
Mary- Mom, Dad, Rob, Tommy,TWO WORDS. SIMPLY. LEMONADE. I am literally having the best time of my life and I don’t want to go home. LOVE YOU! PS: I’m doing my push-ups and no need to feed Martha.
Elizabeth- Love you all so much. I am having the best time and have so many stories to tell you. See you in a couple of days. <3 Elizabeth
Lauren- Love y’all so much and see you soon! <3 Lauren
Caitlyn- Sup. Miss y’all! -Caitlyn
David- Mom and Dad, I am still alive. Love, David
Flannery- Hey Mom and Dad and Max and Wilson and Sarah, I miss y’all. See you soon. -Flan
Christian- Sup fam. Love y’all! Having a blast! -Christian
Adelaide- Hey Mom, Dad, Adair and Reston, I am having a great time! I can’t wait to see you soon. Love you! <3 Adelaide
Redmond- Thinking of y’all in Spain. Mom and Dad, y’all would love it! Miss you guys. Enjoy playing golf and say hello to christian and Jax. See y’all soon. Miss you AC. -Redmond
Jack- Mom, Dad and Amanda, I am having so much fun in Spain and Morocco. We are doing lots of hiking and having fun. -Jack
Collin- Having a great time! Please schedule me a haircut. -Collin T.
July 19, 2019
We have finished up our amazing time in Spain and depart tomorrow for the second phase of our adventure! We spent the last two days in Llanes, where we kayaked down the pristine Cares River and surfed in the Atlantic!
We woke up yesterday morning, on Lauren’s birthday (!!), to our LODs Collin and Adelaide getting us going and setting up our breakfast bar. With their guidance we made ourselves breakfast and lunch to be packed in our day packs. Next we headed to the river! It was cool to come full circle and kayak down the very same river we hiked along on our first day here. Our kayaking was full of surprises as we got warmed up and headed through the rapids. Justin and Elizabeth were the first to test the waters as they flipped, starting a train that led to Lauren, Christian, and David also falling into the water. Caitlyn remained in the kayak however, even though David abandoned ship and left her to navigate on her own. She made it through like a champ! Jack showed us all his superior captaining skills as he navigated the rapids and obstacles with ease. All the while, Collin and Mary had the party kayak, singing and joking through every rapid. Even with a few spills, we made it to the end in one piece and took our packed sandwiches to a nearby cafe for some local pastries, palmeras and corbatas, dipped in classic Spanish melted chocolate.
After we were way too full, we headed to the beach to try our luck at catching some waves! These kids were some of the best David got up his very first try!! JF and Christian were our other first-timers that killed it on their first day! Mary impressed us by landing a 180 on her board and attempting multiple handstands on her moving board. Flannery was a little nervous at first, but came out into the water and got up successfully multiple times! We were nothing but smiles leaving the beautiful blue water to head back to our apartments to cookout. We spent the evening grilling burgers, playing frisbee and a new game which Mary taught us called Spud. We concluded our cookout with birthday cake and singing for our two birthday girls, Lauren and Adelaide!
This morning we packed up and headed to the beach again to get a few more waves in before ending our time in Llanes. The waves tossed Lauren but she never lost heart, and stayed surfing until the bitter end. Redmond killed it today, standing up before the waves broke and riding down the line! As we said goodbye to Marta and Carlos it became real that we were having to leave this wonderful part of our adventure behind. Kate ran back off the bus to bid them a teary goodbye. How lucky we are to have had so much fun that leaving is this tough!
We are on to the next great part of our trip and we can’t wait to share with you what we have in store!
Jojo and Margen (Justin and Margaret)
July 17, 2019
Hola familia y amigos!
Time has flown by in the Picos de Europa National Park, and we cannot express how much we have enjoyed our time here. Each of your children has been such a joy to get to know over the past few days, and we are ecstatic for what’s to come.Just a few short days ago, thirteen jet-lagged teenagers hopped off a plane and were greeted by a long bus ride. Nonetheless, within two hours, everyone seemed like they had already known each other for two weeks. We really hit it off, and we could tell that this was going to be a great two weeks. Even as we stopped to take in the views while driving in, Lauren was already helping take pictures of Mary, Caitlyn, and Adelaide doing handstands in front of the views. Once we arrived in Caín, the town we would stay the first night, JF and David taught the guys how to play a card game called Presidents, which we have found to be one of the most intense card games we’ve ever seen. Soon after, we explored the famous climbing town, making sure to dip our feet in the frigid river, and played a few games before dinner. We were welcomed by our wonderful hostel staff with a dinner of chicken, Spanish fries, bread, and pasta. This was only the first of many awesome meals we have shared together.We awoke the next morning to sunny weather and happiness. After breakfast, Jack and Redmond used their Boy Scout knowledge to teach the group the seven Leave No Trace principles. After the lesson in hiking etiquette, we zoomed towards the caves, waterfalls, and cliffs of the Cares River trail. David, one of our LODs (Leader of the Day), made sure to keep us all motivated with his humor and his humorous hiking outfit. Mary, our other LOD, always kept the conversation going and kept the handstands coming to inspire the group. Collin practiced his Spanish for hours with our favorite guides, Marta and Carlos. The sun was high and the views were top-notch. We all fended off the heat and jet lag with Iberian ham sandwiches, then rewarded ourselves afterwards with ice cream. We later drove into the high mountain town of Sotres, for more cards, views, tapas, and desserts. We had local cuisine in a restaurant in town after we spent some time taking in the scenic glacial valley around Sotres, then entered an in-depth discussion on whether Crocs were better than Vans (Vans won 9 votes to 8). We were all exhausted from the day’s hike so we soon went to bed after some more conversation.In store for the following day was a longer, steeper hike. Thankfully, Elizabeth was one of our LODs, as she always cared for and motivated everyone during the hike. We hiked up to an old zinc mine and were able to explore the cave, stopping for Cokes at the refuge nearby. We then moved up to the high-mountain area, where we sat for lunch inside a crater created by a former lake on top of a mountain. Redmond, our trip’s photographer and our other LOD for the day, got some unreal shots of everyone during this hike. He even was able to capture photos of the elusive rebeco, an animal similar to a mountain goat but slightly smaller. Other animals we saw during this day of hiking included cows, horses, goats, and sheep, which all traveled freely without fences around the National Park. Flannery, our resident animal whisperer, loved to get close and communicate with all the animals. After getting a view of Sotres from above and of course eating more ice cream, we drove into the clouds to our mountain refuge for the night. While there, our great host Guillermo served us up spaghetti and salad which many called our best meal yet.Today (Adelaide’s birthday!!!), we woke up to some fog and decided to hike around the lakes nearby. A short hike turned into six hours of trekking, and we got a true Asturias experience. During the hike, we were so lucky to meet Amalia, a shepherd who makes her own cheese in her small mountain house. She is only one of five shepherds left living in Asturias, and she is the oldest living one at 92 years of age! Christian, our cheese-loving LOD, convinced the group that we should get some of Amalia’s cheese, which she makes in her house out of milk from her own grass-fed cows. Our other LOD, Kate, was chosen for her constant positivity and her person-ability at all times, and she helped push our group through the long, fog-filled hike. After checking out the cheese, Asturias’s famous lakes, and hiking through a cave, we headed to Llanes to celebrate Adelaide’s sweet sixteen with more ice cream (!!!) and great food.Tomorrow, we’re excited to celebrate our second birthday of the week (shoutout to Lauren for her sweet sixteen) and take on some surfing and kayaking. We are so thankful for the opportunity to hang out with your children and friends in this beautiful country.
Thank you for sending them our way!
Justin and Margaret (affectionately dubbed Jojo/Sesame and Margen/ Gingeroo)
July 14, 2019
All students have arrived in Madrid and we can’t wait to hear about their adventures!