He’s been to Australia and Bali. The UK and Western Europe. And he still dreams of touring India, Vietnam and Cambodia (incidentally we visit them all). When we caught up with Mustapha he’d just returned from his latest globetrot – North America. Enjoy this morsel of our newfound Berber delight. Learn what spices his tagine below.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in the Southeast of Morocco – Roses Valley. There’s no university there so I moved to Agadir when I was eighteen. I studied English for four years, then in 2009 joined the School of Mountain Guiding. To be a tour guide you have to study for eight months. In 2010 I started working for tourism companies, and now I live in Marrakesh.
What path led you to becoming a tour guide?
It was my dream job. When I was little, in Roses Valley, we’d see tourists from different countries and follow them. At my school there was a panoramic view, so we’d ask tourists for pens and money. Then I’d watch guides interact with Western people. If you spoke a bit of English or French they’d encourage you, say “Wow, you’re amazing!” Whereas Moroccans would criticize you if your English wasn’t perfect. Guiding seemed like a place to express your freedom, so I chose to learn English and French and become a tour guide.
What is one of your favourite things about Morocco?
Because I’m Berber, I love to show off my Berber culture. We are the majority – 80% of people – but people from different countries think we’re an Arabic Islamic country because that’s what’s officially written. As you know history is written by winners, so I like to tell our truth. Everybody likes to learn about Nomads. We have big values. Big respect. Even the situation for women is different in Berber society than what Arabs have.
On the other hand, what frustrates you?
I don’t enjoy the system of education, generally speaking. Healthcare is public but they don’t pay a lot of attention to it. These are two things that are important and we need to fight for.
What is Morocco’s claim to fame?
Everybody gets excited about Casablanca (the country’s largest city and setting of the famous film). And the Sahara Desert —everybody wants to ride the camels and see the dunes. It’s the most peaceful place in the country.
How would you sum up our itinerary to potential visitors?
Morocco is a country of diversity – and a land of civilizations. Forget what you’ve read. Open your hearts and your minds. Morocco may be an Islamic country, but it is a liberal country. It’s small but you can see snow, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara, oceans, beaches and big cities in ten days. History from the seventh century. French and Spanish history. It’s a country of colours and handicrafts. Don’t compare it to the Middle East: we have roots in Africa and branches in Europe. Antiquity and modernity. It all makes Moroccans open-minded: you can find a synagogue, a church, and a mosque in the same area. People are more tolerant, and tourists feel welcomed.
What is your favorite excursion/highlight of the tour?
We just added the Blue City (Chefchaouen – pictured) and it will definitely be the highlight. Out Adventures visits twice a year – in April and September. Our upcoming April departure will be the first time Out Adventures’ travellers will experience it.
Are there any iconic, traditional foods or drinks that people will get to try on this tour?
Moroccan tea is famous. And tagine – it’s a national dish. People prepare it in different ways, like in the country where they prepare it in charcoal.
What is a perfect souvenir to bring back from Morocco?
Argan oil is a cosmetic used by both men and women for skin, hair, and massage. But you could also dip bread in it – it’s delicious! For cooks, though, saffron is great. And djellaba – those pointy slippers made of leather – are easy to take as gifts.
This is a gay tour, whereas homosexuality is illegal in Morocco. Can you tell potential visitors what they can expect?
Morocco is conversative in many ways – and liberal in many ways. When it comes to homosexuality many are still closed-minded, but people that work in tourism understand. The local guides, drivers and hotel workers that work with us know so you won’t have any issues. And hey, in Morocco we have gay men as well. Some gay men are more educated, or have more power, and they’re not afraid to show it. With education comes understanding and empathy. Ironically two men holding hands in Morocco is common and just means you’re good friends.
What was your earliest exposure to gay culture, and how did you come to embrace the community?
In every tour (well before Out Adventures) I seemed to have gay people. They’d mention their (same-sex) boyfriend or girlfriend back home. Or you ask a man about his wife and he explains he doesn’t like women. So people in tourism quickly understand that it’s about personal freedom. It’s not a shock.
Rob (our owner) has said it’s one-on-one conversations that really change people.
Exactly! People say they met a gay person and had bad ideas, but they talk to them and realize they’re human. And that’s all it takes to change their mind. Arabs think Berbers aren’t good, but one meeting with a real person and they change their mind.
Lino DiNallo has been Out Adventures’ head writer for five years now. He’s now been on six trips with the company, and seen more of the world than he ever dreamed possible. Follow Lino on Instagram – @superfancystoryteller.
*This interview has been edited for clarity.
Photo credits top-down: Mustapha X 5, Unsplash X 6, Wikipedia Commons X 2, Mike S.
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