A knock on the door of the Moroccan riad woke us late at night. Along with the four other women I was with, I was sure it was the final member of our all-women’s team, finally arriving on our second night in the country. As the other guests slept, we ran across the courtyard to let her in. But we couldn’t figure out how to open the old, traditionally-styled door.
She kept knocking as we kept trying every lock. No success.
At this moment, the jitters I had accumulated about our trip subsided as we all struggled and laughed together. I realized these women were just as adventurous, excited, and nervous as I was.
The previous spring, my friend asked if I had any interest in setting up an all-women’s adventure trip for Outdoor Women’s Alliance’s team. The co-founder of MadebyAdventure, his mission with the company was to unite adventure travelers and local guides in a mission to foster healthy local communities.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I said yes.
A few months later I boarded a plane, headed to Marrakech, Morocco for a 10-day surfing and mountain biking trip across the country. I felt wary of traveling to Morocco in an all-women’s group because of the difficulties I previously heard about for female tourists and because of my lack of time to fully prepare for the language and customs of a culture so different to my own.
The morning after our final team member arrived, we met our local English-speaking guide, Houssain. Most of us had been so excited about this trip that we didn’t bother to question the details before we left.
Now was our time to ask, and then came an onslaught of questions.
Will the support van be available at all times if we need it?
Does our support team speak English?
Will there be showers?
Can we borrow bike helmets?
To our rapid fire questions, Houssain would simply respond with very unsure sounding, “Yes, sure?”
This was not exactly reassuring in a country where we didn’t know the language or even much about the culture. How could we be sure we’d be well cared for?
Over the next two weeks, we learned that “yes, sure?” was a common way to respond. There was something about the intonation of the way locals said “sure” — and how often. “Sure, sure” was also a common response. While we all interpreted it as a hesitant, uncertain answer, it actually was a confident “yes.”
Despite the phrase “Yes, sure?” starting out as an inside joke within our group, it began being our catchphrase, too; our way of saying “yes” to all the unexpected and new experiences we would encounter.
Our first day of mountain biking on singletrack was much more difficult than anyone in our group imagined. Twenty seconds after my tires hit the trail, I slid out on scree and scraped up the left side of my body. However, a few minutes later, we were all having Type II fun. There were sections of rideable trail, but then it would turn into a way-too-loose mountainside hike-a-bike.
Every time I pulled up to our guide at a rest stop feeling discouraged, he’d ask me if I was enjoying it and then remark on how much he loves this trail. I’d somewhat sarcastically responded “Yes, sure”, but over time, I actually began to have fun. While the trail never got any easier, I grew more willing to continue on and more open to letting myself enjoy the ride. None of us gave up that day, though lots of us began to master our hike-a-bike technique. And it came in handy for the remainder of the trails on our trip.
After five days of mountain biking, we finally arrived at the beach in Tamraght for a four-day surf camp. Daily morning instruction preceded afternoon practice. Surfing was a new experience for me and it showed. While figuring out the balance required came easy, standing up quickly to catch the timing of the wave never clicked. Day after day, I’d eat it — hard — often hitting the sand and becoming disoriented in the waves.
By the final day of the surf camp, my body was wrecked. I was completely bruised, sunburned, and had no strength left in my arms, chest, or legs to push myself up on the board. However, on this day, our instructors found us some great, big waves and wanted us to catch as many as we could. They helped us do this by pushing us into the waves at exactly the right time, so all we had to do was stand up and ride it into the beach. The quick succession of catching waves (and plenty more falls) was painfully tiresome and within an hour, I wanted to call it quits for the morning. But our instructors were stoked on our improvement and kept urging us to catch more.
“Do you want the next one?” they’d ask.
“Yes, sure,” I’d say, despite what I really felt. I knew I was only in Morocco with incredible surf instructors for a limited time and wanted to make the most of this experience. “Yes, sure” became my go-to response again.
Saying “yes” threw a slew of unknown factors into the mix, but it was the accompanying openness to the unknown that allowed us get the most out of this trip. We befriended our guides and trusted their knowledge, skills, and humanity, interested in and open to the vastly different culture surrounding us. We eventually became comfortable with our constant state of discomfort.
And because of this, we experienced things we never had before and possibly never will again.
Saying “Yes, sure?” to mint tea was, strangely enough, one of the hardest things for me to remain open to. As Morocco’s national drink, people in every village we stopped in offered us this highly-sweetened, hot drink. However, after spending long days on my bike in the Moroccan heat, the hot beverage never sounded appetizing. At first, I said yes because I didn’t want to offend. With hospitality ingrained into Moroccan culture, I soon learned that by saying “yes” to their constant offering of mint tea, I could immerse myself in the culture. Soon, however, I began to enjoy the drink and the ritual surrounding it.
During these times I learned more about our hosts, guides, and instructors. Our conversations usually began with mountain biking or surfing — our common connection. We talked about the trail or the waves from that day and plan out our next day. But each evening after our adventures, the mint tea came out and everyone gathered around the dining table. As we sipped our tea with the night wearing on, our conversations moved to our guides’ families, friends, where they grew up, their passions. These conversations taught me the most about Moroccan culture.
Thanks to my guides and my fellow travelers, I left Morocco a better rider and most certainly a better surfer. I also left the country a more open person. I’m now someone more likely to take risks, find opportunities and areas for growth, and say “yes, sure.”