Berber Life and the High Atlas Mountains: tea, sheep, scary roads and fossil sellers

Berber life is an escape from the modern, a contrast to the cities, the luxury of some of natures finest scenery and a life of resourcefulness.

Berber people  live simple lives and make the most of the resources they have”.

In the big cities like Casablanca and Marrakech however, “people are always running, rushing around, they have everything the need but they’re never happy, they’re always wanting more” namely money, said one of our guides.

Berber Life in the Atlas Mountains

Donkeys are a key method of transportation for Berber people.

As we were leaving, someone was taking the flock of sheep out for a walk, and lots of local Berber children came out to watch ‘us tourists’ leave – and of course they were very happy to receive sweets or money!!

It’s nice to receive a treat now and then so why not give a treat now and then!

The elder children tend to look out for the younger one’s – like a second parent.

Apparently, Berber girls are usually married by age 17/18 years old.

I also learned that at a Berber muslim funeral you will never see women in attendance, only men attend.

Berber people like to live a simple life, making the most of the natural resources they have because life is complicated enough.

High Atlas Mountains

The majestic High Atlas Mountains are visible across Marrakech, they always seem to be on the horizon, and driving into them was quite something, it’s difficult to describe, and photographs don’t really convey just how ‘awesome’ it feels being up there.

From the ground I would never have guessed there were seemingly endless roads weaving through the Atlas, they seem completely hidden until you’re actually driving on them.

I mentioned before that they’re working to widen the mountain roads, and they’re creating a lot of rocky debris and dust in the process.

Another interesting thing is the different landscapes of the Atlas Mountains, they vary in colour, textures.
Amazing formations

The Atlas Mountain surfaces are a kaleidoscope of colours and textures.

Every so often I spot a woman with baskets of grass on her head, or a shepherd with a flock, a clay mud building or a hooded figure walking alone.

Sights of Berber people are so well camouflaged into the scenery that if you blink you miss them.

Neighbours to the home we visited…just a short walk when you run out of sugar!
The path taking us to our Berber home
This school was about a three minute walk from the home we visited….we were told the school was closed that day due Moroccan teachers being on strike.  Whilst in Moroccoteachers had been protesting in Rabat (the capital), demanding higher pay, it was all over the news. Water sprays had been used to try and control the crowds. The government’s response at the time had been an instruction to teachers to return to work or face the sack.

The little villages and towns in the Atlas Mountains might as well have been a million miles away from the craziness of Marrakech deep below.

All manner of fruit can be found growing in the Atlas Mountains including cherries and strawberries.

We drove through a local Berber town and learned that many Berber communities will get into a van together, drive down to a local market to do their shopping before all getting into the van again to get back to their communities higher up the mountains.

Others go down to the markets by donkey.

Tea Time

We arrive at a Moroccan Berber home, the man of the house (who also happened to build the house) was waiting to welcome us, one by one.

We were at liberty to wander around before sitting down for some delicious home made mint tea.

All Berber villages have electricity but they still use open fires for boiling water in those fabulous giant teapots.

The family had stunning views of the ice capped mountains behind them and the greener pastures in front of the house.

Apart from the bleating of sheep and the whizz of the odd scooter, it was blissfully peaceful up there.

Through the Keyhole

Entering a Berber family house
Beneath the house
Hot water boiling in preparation for tea
Classic Berber image on the door
Where we all had tea
Plenty of fresh mint
Artwork depicting Berber life: donkeys are a key mode of transport, especially when food shopping

Some Berber homes have straw roofs and walls made from straw and clay.

Religious Faiths

Our guide explained that all Berber people in Morocco are muslim but just over 1000 years ago they were of mixed religions/faiths, before Islam came along.

Berber people: Local children in the area as we left

High Atlas Landscapes 

A common sight in Morocco, flocks on the move
Our transport for the day to cope with some of those crazy mountain roads

Beautiful Contrasts

Who knew how pretty rocks could be……those mountain drives really brought home just how much beauty there is on this planet of ours.

At 2260 meters above sea level we found ourselves driving through some very light snow, while temperatures reached 30 Celsius+ back down below.

The Roads will give you a thrill!

It’s a different life, a different world, I feel very blessed to have gained a snapshot of it whilst making it back safely to ground level. You should see some of the road edges up there, and the sharp bends.

Where there were barriers they would probably have been useless, and we saw many barriers that looked like they had been driven into and were now crushed and hanging over the edge.

Whenever I saw a lorry coming towards us I said a quick prayer and held my breath –  honestly, ‘narrow’ is an understatement when it comes to describing those roads.

Some of the drops (that you will be inches away from) were like staring death in the face.

Bargaining in the Mountains: The Hustle Never Ceases

“Technical stops”, that’s what Moroccan tour guides call a photo or toilet stop – or some prefer to call it a “hydraulic stop” yep.

During one of our technical stops there was a shop selling all sorts of lovely things. I decided to have another bash at this whole bartering thing (with a lot less energy that I had at the beginning of the holiday).

I didn’t like his price and he didn’t like mine. He came over to me with a big smile and took the items out of my hand and put them back on the shelf!!!

What the….??? I’m thinking, this is a new one….. OK, I’ve met my match here, he’s not even trying to haggle with me – is this the Atlas Mountain way?

I waved goodbye with a smile, not knowing whether it was a joke or not, but he was still smiling (near laughing) and waving back!!!

I’m sure I heard him calling as I was getting back into our vehicle, but didn’t want the items badly enough and I was running low on haggle power.

Fossils and Crystals: Berber life Souvenirs 

Not exactly what I was expecting to buy on a High Atlas mountain road – I guess this was the equivalent of a city street corner  – you grab your customers wherever you can find them!

I had more success with this very humble mountain seller during another ‘technical stop’, he was selling crystals and fossils he’d found in the mountains and was much easier to bargain with then sellers in shops.

These look much more beautiful than the photo, I think they would make great paper weights
Fossils from the High Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Signature stalk

Was it all worth the perilous journey?

Ansolutley.

I’d highly recommend one of these trips while you’re in Morocco, remember – it’s not all rug sellers souks and riads.

Berber living and the beauty of the High Atlas Mountains offers a good dose of important Moroccan culture – something I’d recommend taking home with you.

The home owners who offer these visits through organised tour operators are generating a very valuable income stream for their families and wider community – another good reason to get involved.

A really impressive museum in Marrakech that also gives really good insight into Berber history and ways of life is Maison Tiskiwin: Mus̩e Bert Flint Museum Рremember to check this out too.

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12 thoughts on “Berber Life and the High Atlas Mountains: tea, sheep, scary roads and fossil sellers

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