Last week I travelled to Morocco to photograph a luxury yoga retreat in the Atlas Mountains. Africa is one of my favourite continents in the world. It was my fourth visit to this continent. My first ever time abroad was to The Gambia and quite a culture shock, naively I didn’t even know where it was, but it was a life changing trip that would change my entire perspective for life. The last time I was in Morocco was around 16 years ago (before I had my children) and a good amount of time was spent travelling down from Tangier to Marrakesh on the over night train (buying a huge rug as you do and backpacked the weighty thing for the rest of the trip) followed by a brief visit to Casablanca and a day or two in Essaouira; one of which was on horseback and quite possibly the most intense ‘pony trekking’ ever. I took along my film camera and captured the Tanneries in the city of Fez. Everything about Morocco is immersive. From the call to prayer which you will hear five times a day wherever there is a mosque in the country to the scents of flowers growing by the roadsides and bubbling Tagines cooking away over open coals. The country is more developed than my last visit but the streets are as well kept and clean as they were before. Incredibly the roads feature less pot holes than the ones back home which was amusing to see. Visiting the Atlas Mountains was high on my list as it was somewhere I didn’t get time to see on my last visit to Morocco and I was keen to see how people lived.

landscape of atlas mountains by travel photographer Victoria La Bouchardiere
The foothills of the Atlas Mountains

The Berber people are the indigenous people of Morocco and make up at least 80% of the population. Traditionally nomadic, most are now settled in communities in the Atlas Mountains. The Berber people are tough and resourceful but a mixture of climate change and deforestation has taken its’ toll. With a lack of rainfall and trees there is little for their camels and goats to eat. Food has to be bought to sustain them. We were surprised not to have been asked to be resourceful with the water in our luxury villa but we are mindful enough to be aware. When we asked, one of our guides told us that tourists are not asked because they are paying and supporting the economy but with the development of high end golf courses popping up we couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness for locals and the Berber people who are having to find a different way of living while large greens were being doused with water in a rain lacking country.

Berber woman in black and red dress pouring green tea
Traditional tea making
small traditional glass of mint tea made by Berber in Atlas Mountains
Green Tea
Berber female in traditional dress holding tea pot
Taken with kind permission
Moroccon man putting bread into brick lined oven

What stood out most from this trip was how hospitable everyone was. The souks can seem intense and you might think you will be harassed but when you slow down a little and give a polite ‘Non, Merci’ or smile and be a bit cheeky with the market sellers you will discover a whole different side to it. A bread maker invited us in to see the 250 portions baking in the brick lined oven and didn’t want a dirham or to sell us anything. After walking quite a number of miles we found ourselves a bit lost and checked the maps on our phone only to be given wonderfully simple directions from some leather makers in the souks that made far more sense and was a lot quicker!

Moroccon spices pile high
donkey eating carrot tops in souk market Marrakesh
cat and kittens sleeping in baskets in souk Marrakesh photographed by travel photographer Victoria La Bouchardiere

As a photographer of weddings and portraits, I am always very aware of what pointing a camera at someone can feel like. Different cultures have a different view of being photographed and it is always wise to check this before you travel anywhere. I witnessed a lady photographing from her phone as men lined up to pray. A local lady walked by shaking her head and gave me a nod to acknowledge that I, with the Nikon DSLR by my side, had respected their privacy. Females also are not keen to be photographed and you will see them holding their hands in front of their faces and will often shout out to to make sure they are heard. Even as a photographer, I will only ever capture what is respectfully available to me. There were many moments that would have made a great photograph but I will tuck those into my memory and know that I have been considerate to others along the way.

red blue and yellow wool hanging to dry after bring dyed in Marrakesh Souk
Tagine cooking pots piled in a corner in The Atlas Mountains Morocco
Berber man walking in Souk in Marrakesh taken by photographer Victoria La Bouchardiere
Moroccon man walking up steps holding walking stick
Restaurants line the river all the way to the mountains
soft drinks in home made outdoor fridge using sprinklers
Outdoor fridge using sprinkler system
Barbary macaque a baby monkey found in the Atlas Mountains
Barbary macaque
homes built at the foot of the Atlas Mountains
Homes in the Atlas Mountains

With the construction of the largest mall in Africa taking place and a luxury living environment to go with it, it will no doubt change and bring economic support to people. I’m not certain I want to see the final construction that will be a capital gain for the economy but in turn will be a movement further away from the traditional culture and be another consumer impact we inflict on this world that will affect our climate. Morocco is an incredible country with beautiful warm and welcoming people and I can’t wait to return one day. However, the desert and traditional Berber lifestyle is calling this time.