Thinking about what’s important…

Exodus' new Product Manager for Morocco, Simon Clifford, hadn't been to Morocco for five years. When he returned, his visit was totally different. The question is, what had really changed ...?

Coming from a career in luxury travel, I was certainly wondering what to expect from my journey into the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  I’d visited this beautiful African Kingdom once before, staying in a boutique riad in Marrakech and Richard Branson’s famous Kasbah Tamadot. This time I’d be staying in a basic gite high in the mountains - how were they going to compare?

Tijhza Village, Simon's home for the next eight days Tijhza Village, Simon's home for the next eight days

The two hour journey from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains  hadn't changed. The scenery was just as stunning as I remembered, crossing high mountain passes, seeing less and less signs of civilisation as we went.

Arriving in the Tijhza Valley, we had our first hike to the village itself through a lush valley of farmland, growing everything from rice to courgettes to almonds. I was amazed that so much could grow in such a dry climate. However, I soon learnt from our guide this was all helped by irrigation channels, which Exodus helped to build a few years ago, carrying vital water from the hills above.

IMG_3386_Resized Irrigation channels making agriculture possible

We were met at our gite by the owner and his young son. They barely spoke a word of English between them, but their huge smiles made me feel instantly relaxed - the sweet Moroccan tea in the salon helped too! The rooms were simple, with straw mats and mattress on the floor, but there were flushing toilets, and warm showers. This was no Kasbah Tamadot, yet I already felt more relaxed here! Something was telling me I was in a pretty special place.

Moroccan mint tea Moroccan mint tea

As night fell and a dusty haze hung over the valley, we were called for dinner on the terrace. Huge dishes of couscous, slow cooked lamb, plums, aubergines and fresh bread were presented. We sat in mesmerized silence under the stars enjoying our small banquet, I was in heaven! Who needed gourmet right now – not me!

Each day we took a different route out of the village and each day the landscape was so different. Lush, almost wooded one day, dry and barren on another. The treks were quite long but our guide managed to keep the perfect pace, I never felt tired.  Helped by yet more wonderful food freshly cooked by our ‘man on his mule’ every lunchtime.

36225 One of many walks

At the end of our longest trek, a 31km round trip to the remote Lake Tamda, we had a real treat in store. Firstly we visited the local hammam, a traditional Moroccan bathhouse, built with the help of Exodus and its clients. Unlike many luxury hotels, we were given a far more authentic experience – being scrubbed almost to death on the warm tiled floor! Afterwards the manager told me that because of this job, because of Exodus, he could now afford to send his daughter to school. This was one of the proudest moments of my career in travel. We were really making a difference to this small community.  He then invited us to his home, where we enjoyed homemade biscuits and tea, and had the chance to meet his beautiful children. I was in another world and I loved it.

Tea with the locals Tea with the locals

Leaving Tijhza and returning on the same mountain road gave me time to think. Think about what’s important in life. Is it luxury ‘things’, swimming pools, silver service, cocktail menus on ipads, or is peace and tranquillity, friendly locals, being in their homes, traditional experiences and beautiful remote walking? Make up your own mind, but I know my thoughts about what’s important has changed forever.

Inspired by Simon's account? Follow in his footsteps on the same holiday, Atlas Panorama, or check out all our Morocco holidays.




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