Journey to the Atlas Mountains

Skylar Sundquist
March 11, 2020
Five people sitting next to Wiwan Lake in Morocco

At the end of February, I went on the IES Abroad Rabat field trip to the Atlas mountains. This trip was one of the highlights of my time in Morocco. When we left for the trip, I knew very little about the Atlas mountains or the trip itself. I was practicing going with the flow. I didn’t obsessively Google everything about the trip like I normally would. I just decided to show up and experience the trip.

The IES Abroad students met at the Kasbah at 7:30 am on Thursday. I loaded my stuff onto the bus for our 5-hour trek to Ben Smim, an Amazigh village in the Atlas mountains (the Amazigh are the indigenous people in Morocco). I get really bad motion sickness, so I took a Dramamine and dozed while I listened to podcasts.

A few hours in we stopped at a museum about the cedar forests in Morocco. The museum was all in French and Arabic. I understood approximately 2% of the information displays. But the museum was still fun to explore and it was good to stretch my legs. 

Outside the museum, there was a cedar forest. And monkeys! How did I not know that Morocco has monkeys?! These monkeys were very used to people and dependent on people feeding them. One of the monkeys stole someone's water bottle of their hand. Although it was fun to see monkeys, it was sad to see how much they relied on humans. 

After the stop, we continued onto Ben Smim. When we arrived in the village, we visited a women's co-op that made tea, rosewater, essential oils, and several other products from local herbs. The co-op's intention was to provide local women with jobs so they could help provide for their families. Unfortunately, the co-op faced regulatory roadblocks that made it difficult to sell their product. I bought tea and a few other products to help support their work. 

After our visit to the co-op, we went to the primary school in the village. Our host families for the weekend insisted on throwing a little welcome party with food, mint tea (of course), and traditional Amazigh music. After we ate, one of the host moms got us all up and dancing. Soon, some of the local kids joined the dancing. 

The host moms took us to one of the houses to show us how traditional bread is made. A host moms started a fire in the traditional oven (kind of like a pizza oven but outside) and threw the bread into the oven. I ate some of the local bread later that day, and I can confirm - it is amazing. 

I was placed with a new host family for the weekend. As soon as we got home, my host mom offered mint tea and milwi (a pancake-like dish). I ate milwi until I felt like my stomach might explode. My host mom had the best milwe I ate in Morocco. That evening, I spent time with my host mom and host sister. They taught me Arabic words and showed me how to write them.  

On Friday, we went on a hike through the cedar forest. It was the first hike I had been on in a loooong time. It felt good to be outside. Our guide showed us cedar trees that had been cut and burned to collect the cedar sap. He said this method allowed the trees to survive after the sap was collected. Along the hike, I even saw a little patch of snow! While it was fun to see the snow, it reminded me how much I did not miss Michigan winter.

After the hike, our guide took brought us to a nomadic family's home. The family had herds of goats, a few chickens, dogs, and donkeys. We were introduced to the family and the family welcomed us with mint tea and couscous. After our visit, we went back to Ben Smim for dinner with our families. After dinner, all the IES Abroad students reconvened for a bonfire.

Saturday was the last day of the trip. I was sad to say goodbye to my new host family. They were incredibly welcoming. A bus took us from Ben Smim to Wiwan lake. We got to see the lake and spend a little time exploring the nearby area. We even got treated to lakeside mint tea. After the lake, we got back on the bus. We were on our way to the water springs if Oum Rabea. 

When we arrived at Oum Rabea,  I had no idea what to expect. We hiked through the small village and arrived at an incredible waterfall. Later, our lunch was at a restaurant in the same village. The restaurant was right next to a stream that flows through the village from the waterfall. It was beautiful to watch the water flow down the stream as we waited for our lunch (tagine). After lunch, we got back on the bus and started the ride back to Rabat.

It was a long, exhausting trip. But I am so happy I had the opportunity to see a different part of Morocco.

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Skylar Sundquist

<p>Hi! I'm Skylar. I'm a senior at Hope College, majoring in Chemistry on the premed track. The semester I study abroad is my last semester and I will graduate (and apply to medical school) when I come back to the States! I am thrilled I get to study abroad before I graduate. I am so excited to share the adventures I have while I study abroad in Rabat, Morocco with you all. After 3.5 years of all science all the time, I am looking forward to taking a break and explore Morocco with&nbsp;IES Abroad. I am most looking forward to learning Arabic and living with a host family.<br><br>Fun Fact: A few summers ago I drove from Michigan to California to hike in Yosemite and see a total eclipse!</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
Hope College
Big Rapids, MI
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