When you think of Morocco, you probably think of bustling souks, colorful rugs, and luxury hotels and riads. However, there is so much that lies beyond Marrakech and your Instagram feed.
The vast majority of the Moroccan population comes from Berber descent. The Berbers are the indigenous people of Northern Africa, representing a culture that goes back thousands of years. However, beyond touristy day-trips to a traditional Berber village, visitors to Morocco rarely see this side of the country. Our team at THE VACATION PROJECT recently went on a trip to Morocco with a specific mission: Discover the genuine side of Morocco by appreciating the luxury, art, and social life of Marrakech while also immersing ourselves in a remote Berber village, spending 4 days volunteering and becoming a part of the community.
“At THE VACATION PROJECT, we design curated group trips that are focused on discovering the authentic side of our destinations to connect with local culture and place with an itinerary that is equally focused on volunteer service, as well as social and cultural outings.”
With our NGO partner, the High Atlas Foundation, we created a custom experience for this trip, staying with host families in the Berber village Tizian, located deep in the Azzaden Valley.
To kick off the trip, we landed in Morocco ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The two days were a whirlwind of souks, local restaurants, and outings. A common misconception about Marrakech is that there is no alcohol. While Morocco is a traditionally Muslim country, many parts of the country have a vibrant nightlife scene.
After New Years, began our adventure to the mountains. Although the village is only 60 km outside of Marrakech, the drive itself takes over 2 hours. This is due to the windy, cliff-side mountain road that leads to the valley. Our group learned all too well how intense of a drive it was when we had to force two wheels onto the side of the mountain to let a truck go past the one-lane road. We held our breath basically the whole way, but two hours later we arrived in Tizian.
“I have never experienced hosting people from another culture, living with my small family, but I’m super excited to spend these 4 days together.”
Our trip was planned in partnership with The High Atlas Foundation, Morocco’s largest NGO who is working on driving sustainable development in Morocco using a participatory approach that involves the local community in identifying their particular needs.
Once we arrived in Tizian, all of our travelers met their respective host families. This was a completely new experience for both travelers and villagers, as apart from the occasional hiker dead-set on Toubkal, we were the first tourists to spend an extended period of time in Tizian.
As Brahim, a host and village leader said, “I have never experienced hosting people from another culture, living with my small family, but I’m super excited to spend these 4 days together.”
The next few days were spent watering apple trees previously planted by the High Atlas Foundation, visiting the local school to drop off supplies that we had fundraised, and participating in a workshop run by HAF project manager Errachid Montassir.
The workshops asked villagers to envision their village of the future, and vote to prioritize their needs. In the workshop with the local farmers, the top three priorities surfaced were: 1) a local community center, 2) a hospital and sewage system, and 3) an apple cider vinegar cooperative to employ the local women. Contrastingly, when we held a workshop with the local women, their top needs were: 1) a public hammam, 2) an apple cider vinegar cooperative to employ themselves, and 3) a sewage system.
At the end of our 4 days together, both the travelers and the villagers were left feeling emotional and changed. Despite the language barrier of Berber to English, our groups from two such separate and different worlds were able to connect so deeply. We can’t wait to go back to Tizian, and feel extremely lucky to have been welcomed with open arms into such a special community.
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