Get To Know Trekking Guide Rachid Ait Elmahjoub

Morocco trekking guide Rachid Ait Elmahjoub has been guiding for eight years and set up his own company in 2013. This year, Rachid says he and a colleague became the first people ever to walk from the roof of North Africa, Mount Toubkal, to its floor, the Atlantic Ocean, relying on the hospitality of the Berber people along the way.
How did you get into your field?

I grew up in a little tiny Berber village in the heart of the Atlas Mountains in a valley called Imlil. My father is a farmer, but he also worked as a muleteer with several tour companies. From the time I was 10, I would join him on some of his tours and had a chance to meet people from several foreign countries, and learn a little bit about their cultures and their language. I really liked it and that’s how I got to know all the trekking paths through the Atlas Mountains and the desert. Afterwards, I realized that I was starting to love this kind of a job, so this became my future dream.

After college, I went directly to an area called Oukaimeden, a ski resort, where I got the chance to get into the tourism field as a mountain guide, as a participant of a training club called FRMSM. I finished my training, which involved a lot of mountain activities, and received my license, which was a big push forward. I started to work with several tour companies; I led tours through the Sahara desert, the Atlas Mountains and also through the imperial cities. I worked for a while until I set up my own company that aims to promote eco-friendly and socially responsible tourism.

What does a typical guiding day look like for you?

I usually spend my whole time, two or three weeks or even more, in the mountains, where there is no cellphone service which I like, exploring Berber villages, meeting the locals and exploring the Sahara desert with its kasbahs and imperial cities and their history.

What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?

The most bizarre experience I have had was when I was walking along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, during a trekking expedition through the Atlas Mountains I did with a Scottish customer. We had been walking for 10 days and we had been walking for more than 15 hours that day, and there were no villages or people. We only saw a car once every hour and we had no water, we were very thirsty.

We decided to have a rest, tired and hopeless, and suddenly I looked up at a mountain and I saw a person, standing right up the top – he was a sherpa. After a little while, the person started to walk down the mountain. He was an old man with traditional Berber dress and he jumped right into the road and gave me a bottle of water. The man even invited us to his house but it was too far and we had to reach our destination. The man left the bottle for us and he stayed with no water, we asked why, and he said that he would manage until he got home. The person I was with looked at me and said, “Rachid, humanity still exists and people who have bad thoughts about Morocco should come and see this.”

Your company aims to promote eco-friendly and socially responsible tourism – how does it do this?

As organizers of community-friendly trekking, we create job opportunities for the locals as well as raise money for community projects. For each service clients buy from us, 10% goes directly to provide a monthly payment of a teacher in a preliminary school in Imi Oughlad village and to help support a female cooperative.

Your profile mentions that you wanted to be the first person ever to walk from the roof of North Africa, Mount Toubkal, to the Atlantic Ocean – did you succeed? How was it? 

It’s not just that I wanted to be the first person ever, I actually did it and I was with another person from Scotland. We were entirely self-supported during the trek, carrying all our own equipment and supplies. It was August which made it quite difficult as it was really hot – over 40°C. It was an unforgettable expedition as we chose a route which wasn’t touristy. There were no shops on the way due to the great distance from civilization. We had to take water from houses where we stayed and from springs or rivers. We spent all our nights with local Berber families. The other mountain guides said they did not think we could do it, but we kept going and then finally, we reached the sea. Everywhere we went, the Amazigh people (the Berber people of Morocco) shared their food and water and hospitality with us. This is how life works in the Atlas mountains.

As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?

The benefits of hiring a guide are that the clients will feel safer than when they are by themselves. They will get to know the place where they and learn about the country’s traditions, culture and habits. With a guide they will meet the locals and get in touch with them, be an insider instead of just a tourist, visit families, share food and moments with them, join them on their daily activities, join them on their calibrations and much more.

In your view, what makes a good tour guide?

What can make you a good tour guide is to be kind, a human being, knowledgeable about what you are doing, be well behaved, respectful and experienced, show your love to people and of course, keep smiling, be more than proud to tell clients about your life, traditions and culture.

If you enjoyed this, you might also like Explore Morocco and Explore Marrakech.

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