Morocco trekking facts
Although Morocco is just a small hop across from Europe, it can feel very different. Most of the country is far less developed than the UK for example. Whilst we may expect reliable running water, electricity, warmth, comfort and even Wi-Fi as a matter of course, for most people in Morocco this would be considered luxury. For some travellers this is all part of the charm and experience, at least at first. For others they may get frustrated by black-outs, the water being turned off or the shower suddenly going freezing cold.
And now we come to the concept of the Moroccan mountain refuge. Some of you will have stayed in mountain refuges before; perhaps in the Alps or elsewhere. You may have also noticed that the level of comfort and luxury can vary quite a bit. Be aware, that the Moroccan refuges are generally nearer the bottom of the scale, especially when compared to those in the Alps. For some, it may be a fairly alien concept to find yourself in a queue of 5 or more people, all waiting in a cold communal washing area to use one of only a couple of toilets allocated to the full refuge of maybe 100 people. This is often a reality in a Moroccan mountain refuge. Similarly, if you are used to coming off the hill and jumping straight into a luxuriously hot shower, you may again be disappointed. Whilst in theory you can get a hot shower at the refuges, you may find that you again have to queue and it may not actually be hot when you get there. It may also very well display the fact that perhaps 50 other sweaty trekkers have been through it that day already, sock-fluff and long dark hair included.
It was Einstein who helped us all to understand that time is relative. Though he was perhaps not referring to time-keeping, the concept still holds. Those of you who have travelled, even within Europe, will know that 8am does not always mean 8am to everyone. In Morocco 8am can easily mean 8:30am, or worse. We do work hard to make sure that our Moroccan staff understand the cultural differences between Moroccans and their guests. However, you may still need to meet them half way on occasion and accept that in Moroccan culture it is simply not considered rude to show up late. They will of course understand if you give them some light hearted abuse if they are late; just please don't bottle it up and get frustrated.
Marrakech can be manic. It can be hot, dusty, smelly, and busy and it even rains sometimes. The Atlas Mountains can be hot, cold, dusty, snowy, sunny, rainy, clear, overcast and tiring. On some days we may expect you to up at 5 or even 4am, long before any hint of the sun. Your leader may keep on at you to force down some breakfast and a hot drink, to check your pack and to recall which mountain we are off to today. You may then not be back for a proper meal until maybe 2pm; you may have to survive on a few hunks of bread, a tin of sardines and a few handfuls of nuts for 8 hours on the go (especially if you ate all your personal snack supply the day before).
Food on any trip abroad can be a challenge to some, particularly for those for whom food is very dear to their heart and more than just fuel to get them up the hill. Moroccan food is actually extremely good. Almost all the ingredients are fresh and locally sourced and the amount of packaging that it comes in is almost nil. However, it may not be what you are used to at home. If you don't eat fruit or vegetables then you will be at something of a disadvantage. If you also don't eat pasta, rice, couscous, bread or porridge either then you may have a major problem surviving! If you are a vegetarian, there will be plenty of food available; however, be realistic about whether the chicken and the vegetables have been cooked in strict isolation or whether they will arrive on separate serving plates. Please do speak to us if you have any concerns about this. We will make arrangements where we can.
Sometimes it may be hard to get across the unambiguous detail of that witticism that you have been working on! If you are getting frustrated by any English language barriers, do bear in mind that most Moroccans already speak Berber, Arabic and French and write in two or even three different written texts. They can then perhaps be forgiven for not speaking perfect English as well.
You may think that some of the mules look tired. You may notice that they lie down for a roll in the dust on some flat parts, especially if they have just walked up a hill. You may even notice that they may do this even if their load has not been removed and end up needing the muleteers to help it back to its feet. You may also think that as you learned to ride a horse as a child that you are sure that the mule looks unhealthy and that that terrible muleteer is giving it unimaginable hell by walking along holding it by the tail. The reality is that mules are the cars, tractors, lorries and even ambulances of the Atlas Mountains. They are working animals, not household pets. However, that is not to say that they are not valued and looked after. For some families their one mule is the sole basis of their income beyond their subsistence farming. If you went to one of these families and asked them to carry more than the mule could manage, take it on a dangerous trail or pay them too little, they would refuse. By comparison, you may see women collecting brushwood in the hills for their home fire. The piles of wood and the terrain they cross exact just as much, if not more effort from them than they would expect of their mules. It is a hard life in many of the rural villages, and not just for the mules. Please do not automatically assume that you necessarily know better than generations of mountain life and agriculture. We do consult with our guides and muleteers about what the mules can comfortably and safely carry and about their welfare and treatment. Almost all the mules that we use are owned by the extended family of our guides and the muleteers are either family or close friends. They are never put under pressure to carry more or accept less pay. We have always made it clear that if we need an extra mule, we will pay for an extra mule. This is an understanding that we have reached in careful consultation and our muleteers are happy and appreciative of this arrangement.
We hope that the above information has made you stop and think twice about your trip to Morocco? We also hope that, having thought twice, you have continued to think that it sounds like a very interesting destination and a great place for a real adventure and to broaden your horizons; we certainly do.