Trekking with nomadic Berbers on their High Atlas migration

Andrea Wren is a freelance journalist and travel writer, and author of travel site Travelling Wren

Keeping up with the camels. Courtesy of Andrea Wren

If there’s an extraordinary travel experience to be had, then accompanying a family of nomadic Berbers as they make their way through Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains has got to be one of them. Not easy, to say the least – but something never to be forgotten.

I was lucky enough to travel with On The Go Tours for their inaugural nomadic Berber migration trip in May 2009. This meant being with a family of Berbers and their animals (including camels, mules and 250 bleating goats) as they travelled on foot from the heat of the Dades Valley into the cooler High Atlas Mountains.

The journey took almost a week, with between 4 to 6 hours of trekking a day – starting from silly o’clock times like 5am and setting up camp for lunchtime. Sleep was hard to come by with the night sounds and camel grunts, so morning was never welcome – but the afternoons were restful under the Moroccan sun.

Preparing tea in a Berber camp

Getting to know the family was the best part. What a privilege to have such insight into lives that otherwise I would never have known. One particular fond memory was singing with the Berbers and their extended family around the campfire as dusk shrouded us. One of the uncles was very out of tune with his clapping, but it didn’t matter to anyone.

Living life as a nomadic Berber is living life completely at nature’s will – without running water, electricity, toilets, showers or anything else most Westerners are used to. The families rely on their animals for trade, food and to work for them, and the children are rarely educated in any kind of formal way.

According to our guide, about 10% of Morocco‘s population are nomadic Berbers – and these nomads make up different clans with different outlooks, In some clans, the women are the workers, in others, it’s the men.

The trek was challenging and by the end, after 7 days without a proper wash (and with a dicky stomach and only rocks to dodge behind!) I was glad to get back to a proper bed, a hot shower and some sleep without the cacophony of goats.

But, though at times I wondered what I had let myself in for as we climbed up ever steep ascents, I came back with such wonderful knowledge of a whole way of life that was until then beyond my understanding. Something I will always remember as an amazing opportunity.

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