Travelling with the nomadic Ait Atta in Morocco

I think you can trace the point the human race started to go off the rails, to the moment when someone decided that life as a nomadic pastoralist life could be improved upon and that acquiring more stuff should take precedence over any other endeavour.

Having spent a week in the company of a family from the nomadic Ait Atta clan in Southern Morocco, gently migrating some 80 miles on foot between the Jebel Saghro and the High Atlas, the pace of the journey dictated by the location of water and grazing for the flocks (they feed almost exclusively on a aromatic wild thyme here), I can tell you that there is no better way to recalibrate your value system and in particular to remind yourself of the value of time.

As a cultural experience it felt entirely uncontrived; it was a pilgrimage more than anything else and we joined a Chaucer-esque cast; a family of 5, their 200 odd sheep and (disarmingly engaging and intelligent) goats, 3 dogs and 5 camels.  I was accompanied by travel writer Richard Grant (who will be writing about this in the Telegraph soon) and we also had a crew of 4 muleteers and their mules and a single saint of a donkey, for whom nothing seemed too much trouble as it tottered along mountain tracks under gargantuan loads.

In short I returned having had one of the most rewarding safaris I've done in many years.  Beginning in the Dades Valley in the Jebel Saghro, we walked at a gentle civilized pace over 6 days up over the snow line at 11,000 ft and into the summer pastures in the High Atlas.

To actively luxuriate in the passing of time, walking along soaring mountain passes, or over a glass of mint tea, or high up on a rock overlooking hundreds of miles of unpeopled wilderness, brought a deep sense of contentedness that built over the course of the week. A life divorced from anything with a screen and that revolves entirely around livestock rather than a craving for material wealth, does seem to be one that brings an unassailable independence – history is littered with governments frustrated by their inability to control people who don’t want any more than they’ve got.  No wonder nomads the world over believe resolutely that their way of life is the best – it’s not just dewy eyed western romantics it seems.

Posted by: Alex

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