I use the internet every day.
I use it to communicate, to work and to learn; so what happens when the internet and all other technology is removed from my life?
Being in Morocco for ten days was an eye-opening experience which has left me to process more fresh information about the differences between cultures and societies around the world and more incredible experiences than I had ever expected.
I have been blinded by the exotic colours of Marrakech souqs and likewise by the stupefying views from the summit of the highest mountain in northern Africa. Possibly more important though is that I have come to realise many things about technology and how we use it.
Seeing the people of Morocco, I have seen how technology is used on the most basic level and have realised how it is used when it is really needed rather than just available, or popular.
Day One - Friday
The moment I stepped foot in Morocco, at the bustling and fantastically beautiful Menara Airport in Marrakech, I was sent off with two others of our group to purchase some Moroccan SIM cards, a simple task made slightly more difficult by the language barrier.
This was my first experience on Moroccan soil but it wasn’t something which was unfamiliar to me - thankfully this didn’t stay the case for long.
Our next task, SIM cards and phones in hand, was to navigate the dark, twisting alleyways of Marrakech to find the secluded hostel which was housing us for the night.
This ordeal was stressful for many of the people in the group, being dropped straight into the unfriendly night in the city as if it were a chamber of freezing cold water - with an array of bloodstained spikes at the bottom.
The locals, in this first meeting, were as menacing as in the horror stories we had heard. We had no useful phones, none with GPS, and only a small printed map to guide us to our hostel. This was, for me, the first moment of understanding of the truly necessity-based use of technology.
We needed to get from A to B; we needed to know where A was; we needed to know where B was; and we needed to know what was between them. We knew each of these things to about a 40% degree of accuracy. If we had a phone at the time (my phone with cached maps and even the slightest GPS signal would have been suffice), things would have been much easier for everyone in the group and some panic could have been spared. We could have made it to the hostel with a much calmer psyche, and saved some time.
Once we had settled down in the hostel, I noticed there was one room with a computer and we were informed that Wi-Fi was available. Whilst this was tempting - the computer, not the Wi-Fi as we had nothing to make use of it - I decided against it; as much as because I was tired as because I was experimenting, dipping my toe in the pool of ‘life without technology’.
Many of the other residents of the hostel - it was a small, quaint building - had their computers; laptops and iPads mainly. They were spending their time on them, I assume communicating with friends back home, planning excursions and working remotely.
What was strange to me was that there were so many English-speaking people concentrated in the minute area (the hostel) and all of them were from so plainly developed, technology-rich countries. The blatant contrast to the scenes literally just outside the door was astounding; seeing the beggars in the street only a few meters outside struck me immediately.
While this may have been more extreme than the average difference in wealth between tourist and local, to see this so close to where I was staying, in one of the relatively developed areas of the country, Marrakesh, surprised me. The country was so culturally vibrant, yet it’s development was still in the very early stages - the pains of growth hit Morocco’s neighbours only last year in the Arab Spring with technology playing a vital part in the change that occurred in the region.
Day one was over and I was shocked - this was giving to be a long week and a half.
Day Two - Saturday
The following morning, after a sleep and what I consider a well deserved and needed rest after the previous day’s twenty hours to stressful travel, was the day we would meet our driver and be taken to Asni, a small village in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
We arrived in the village after a forty-minute drive just in time for pre-lunch (I discovered that Moroccans are fond of their strict five-meals-per-day eating schedule). After being filled to the brim with fresh bread, local honey and cheese, we immediately went to work, repairing a small dirt path damaged by heavy rain.
Once this was done, we had our first chance to play with the local children who seemed to cling to us, wide-eyed and interested in our every move.
After this it was time for lunch, then post-lunch with mint and honey tea. Finally, some overly energetic card games before dinner - this night, it was a beautiful soup and then chicken tagine - and then bed.
We slept on mats in a room of the village school which were surprisingly comfortable: or maybe it just seemed so because of the oven we had slept in the night before in Marrakech.
That day, I don’t think I saw a single piece of modern technology. Actually, I saw one mobile phone - an old Nokia.
Day Three - Sunday
The next day was much more exciting: up early for breakfast, then at 09:00 am the school we were staying in opened its doors to its pupils. They filed in and took seats in a small hall, sitting in a circle with my friends and I in one half, and the Asnians in the other. At first, we were unsure of what to do - we knew we were going to meet the children but only now was it dawning on us that we were expected to lead this meeting of our two cultures, our two languages.
After a short time, we began, introducing ourselves in each language, English, Berber and French, then playing a few language (and ball) games. We had fun and the Moroccans seemed to too.
One of the most interesting parts of that day was seeing the children react to the technology we had brought with use to their village.
It was nothing new to them - project workers from Europe, Australia and North America often visited Asni - yet it still made their eyes glint and their ears prick up. Our cameras were their main focus.
They knew exactly what they were and how to use them - UX, blah, blah, blah - which made an interesting sight to see. It seemed they didn’t just want our fancy, new-fangled toys for the sake of having them, but actually had a purpose for them. Because they didn’t normally have access to the technology, they had observed them in use and had come to practical conclusions regarding their purpose.
Their desire to possess this technology was different to that of mine or yours: they understood the feeling of wanting technology due to necessity, not just because it existed and the means to acquire it were available.
I did quickly adapt to living without constant communication and access to technology though.
Day Four - Monday
After a night of energetic, traditional dancing, singing and gift-giving, and a good sleep, our group parted from the school and the children there which seemed unwilling to let us go, and hauled ourselves onto another minibus. This time we were taken higher in the Atlas Mountains, to Around, a village where our guides, who met us as we stepped off the bus, had a small hostel of their own.
We walked for an hour or so uphill through a forest, then along a winding mountain track, before finally reaching the village which was situated in a green area at the foot of several mountains towering over it.
As soon as we got there, we relaxed - this would be vital for the strenuous day of walking that would follow. We had tea, then realised, as we didn’t have any computers to waste our time with, we would need to find something to do.
During the expedition thus far we had played several card games; Twenty-One, Bullshit and Uno were the most common. We continued this newfound ‘technologyless’ tradition and dealt out cards. No Facebook, No Farmville (two things I’m not so keen on anyway); this seemed to affect a few of the group at first, but everyone adapted to this new way of spending spare time - “spare time: cards time”.
For entertainment, we didn’t need technology; but I suspect this is because we were all together. I can think of nothing better than spending all of my time with my friends, and not needing technology to bridge the gap in distance which is usually present.
It is this gap which usually makes face-to-face communication impossible and it is this which calls for technology to be available. Technology breaks down barriers, shortens distances between people and provides a method of better communication, interaction and learning. But technology isn’t needed when the people you want to talk to are sitting right next to you - all the time.
It was simple: turn around, tap them on the shoulder and talk; no need for flashing LEDs, no beeps, chirps or pings, just “hey”.
For me this was the best thing about not having access to technology: it meant I could focus on my time with the people I was actually with - and that made for great fun!
Day Five - Tuesday
After our stay in Around, we began our first long walk of the trip, a six-hour trek to the Netlar Hut, a base camp even higher in the Atlas Mountains though still far from the top, right at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in the north of Africa.
The sun was shining and the waterfalls of the perfectly clean rivers next to the path were glistening. It was a long walk, but the scenery stole our eyes and tongues; and thankfully distracted our minds from our aching legs. We had a few stops along the way, collecting juice (cooled by the icy water flowing on the rocks just metres away) to soothe our throats, and get some more energy than the water in our CamelBaks was giving us.
Photos were taken.
Rocks were sat on.
Paths were stumbled along.
During this walk, there was no time for technology, not for a focus on it at least.
The environment dwarfed everything around us making any phone or app that would normally have our attention jealous. There was no need for music, or for a podcast or two, nor was there a need to do anything other than appreciate what was around us.
In the way of cameras, no, they didn’t really have our attention; they simply facilitated our viewing, and reviewing, of our surroundings. It was amazing, and being able to look back at the photos now is invaluable.
Once we reached the base camp, we had tea (it’s impossible to go more than a few hours in Morocco without a friendly stranger pouring tea down your throat, from a height) then pitched our tents just outside the refuge. Then, we talked about the scenery, shared photos and - UNO! After some time, we went back to our tents and went to sleep, ready for the next day’s trek, an acclimatisation day.
Day Six - Wednesday
We were up early and walking just after sunrise, taking in even more of the scenery. This walk only took two hours each way, so by about 10:00 am we had reached the peak of the trip, a beautiful spot looking down on a clean, green lake, D’ifni.
At the top, the wind was strong enough to push everyone worryingly close to the edge of the path, and the start of a sudden drop. After snacks and a short photo session, we began our descent, reaching the base camp just before midday. At this time, the camp was under a bright sun and in the middle of a nice breeze, far less violent than the beaming heat of Marrakech.
The trek planned for the next day was the toughest we would attempt: a climb to the summit of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in the area, looming above everything else in sight. We, again, played cards and ate and slept, ready for our 02:30 start. This day was short - we tried to cram in as much sleep as possible - so we had little chance to use, or to want to use, technology.
I saw another old Nokia being used this day by one of the guides, but there was no chance of them needing GPS to get around; in fact, they seemed to know every inch of the area like a pre-cached map on flash storage, on the back of their hand.
Day Seven - Thursday
We woke to a uselessly quiet alarm (one of the few pieces of technology I had chosen to depend on was my digital watch), dressed quickly, had a small breakfast, then began to walk. It was dark, so we had to use our head torches (another piece of technology we did have with us) to help navigate the thin paths, boulders and streams of the mountain.
As the sun rose over the mountain tops - beautiful! - we turned our torches off and returned to a state of independence from technology - by which I of course mean modern, electronic technologies.
Seeing the mountains changing colour as the sun’s light diffracted to meet them was incredible; I can only compare it to a Google Earth simulation of the same event, which I now realise is much more accurate than I had previously expected.
As we reached 3850m, just 300 from the very top of Toubkal, the snow began to thicken and the wind picked up - now it was even stronger than the previous day, blowing us back and forth and almost off the mountain!
At this point, the worst part of the trip jumped into action, as if it was trying to crush any enjoyment we were experiencing. The group slowed, then stopped, then a shout came from the front. Acute Mountain Sickness had hit one of the (most capable) members of the group. They couldn’t breathe and, after suffering in silence for some time, couldn’t go on.
The guide rushed to her side and after some consideration made the decision that she should descend 300 metres to lessen the effects. Her best friend and another member of the group, who was struggling with the cold, and her - after a disagreement, argument and much upset - went down with the guide. The rest of the climb was, for me at least, fuelled by an urge to reach the top for them.
We struggled through the wind and across the icy ground, then eventually saw a glinting triangle at the top of a peak in the distance. We walked on and with a final rush of energy powered up the last ridge.
As we walked around the small stone circles at the peak, we took photos and devoured the food we had brought with us. The sense of accomplishment at the top was immense as if we had done what we had come to do. It seemed an easier task than I had expected, too.
Walking down was as difficult as walking up; everyone slipped and fell on the way, with a few spectacular tumbles thrown in for good measure. We retraced our steps and arrived back at the camp just seven and a half hours after we had left. As soon as we were back in the warmth of the refuge, we relaxed, snuggling up in the warm room, whilst playing cards once more.
Before dinner, we packed away our tents and looked forward to a warm night after two in our tents. For that night, all twenty of us were in one room in the refuge as a precaution due to expected heavy snowfall that night (a correct prediction) which I’m sure you can imagine was roasting; but still, we slept.
Day Eight - Friday
The next day was our last in the mountains and thankfully it was less taxing than each of the previous days; a simple walk down to our accommodation for the night, back in Around at the guides’ hostel.
Somehow, it seemed longer than the journey upwards. I found myself looking at my feet much more than the scenery this time around, perhaps because it wasn’t new or maybe just because I was tired. Illness had hit many of the group members and the strain of the dreary walk was clearly having an effect too, especially after the hard day before.
On the trip, medicine is one thing I was thankful for; not for me - I was actually surprised at how well I coped - but for those in the the group who were affected by the heat, the food, the walking or the altitude. I guess you could call medicine a technology, and a much needed one, especially in the poorer parts of Africa.
It is an example of a technology oft taken for granted, especially in wealthier nations, but when there is no robust health service in place to fall back on and it is hard to acquire drugs, one truly understands how important they are.
When we reached Around, things were suddenly much better; we could all sit down, and shower (a joy we could only now appreciate). We had a quick meeting and decided it would be worthwhile searching through the various guidebooks - not the internet, these weird paper thing people used to use! - we had with us to find things to do in Marrakech the next day.
We found a few places - the Medina, the Djemma el Fna, etc. - that we could visit to see the market culture of the city, and had a look at several sites of historical significance - such as the Saadian Tombs - but decided against the latter in the end due to time restrictions. In between this we, of course, played cards and had dinner (sorry, “Dinner”), and even more tea.
This night, I made the wise decision to use my sleeping bag rather than freeze without it.
I slept well.
Day Nine - Saturday
When I woke up, I knew this day would be a good one.
At 06:35 am, I wished Kirstyn a happy birthday, then went for a shower (a second one in no more than twelve hours) and got ready to go. I was ready early and, being in a good mood, tried to sort things out for everyone who was in a rush.
We left, late, and walked back to a smaller village nearer to sea level. There we had a few minutes to look around the small shops and buy gifts before visiting Marrakech. Once we were finished, we jumped on another set of minibuses to return back to the country’s fourth largest city, Marrakech. A few rounds of Trivial Pursuit, and one sick-stop later, we arrived. We knew exactly where we were going this time, and we were in daylight. We made it to the hotel quickly and settled in, after tea - more tea! The hotel owner, Ali (a very nice man), had been kind enough to arrange a cake for Kirstyn - it was lovely!
After sorting rooms and then the groups we were going to walk about in, we set off for lunch at the same restaurant we visited for dinner on our first night in the city. After this we parted, in our groups, venturing into the heart of the city, weaving in and out of the souqs, dodging speeding mopeds, mules and trucks whilst trying not to step on the various scarves and miniature tagines that lay on the ground.
Whilst walking around the stalls and shops, we saw many things - spices, wooden carvings, silk materials and pottery, mainly - but it all seemed to be aimed at tourists. Every scarf seller had the same patterns, every ‘magic box’ seller had the same designs and every hat seller had exactly the same hats.
Despite the whole area seeming to be nothing more than a tourist trap, the bartering was fun. Some shop owners were more relaxed than others, but all in all I think I got a few good deals; or at least I had spending money left over and I got everything I needed (‘need’ being used loosely).
On the way back we had a strict deadline to stick to: but we were lost.
We had managed to walk so far through the Medina that we had come out the other end, exiting somewhere in the middle of a back alley where two men were fighting.
It was a lovely neighbourhood.
We followed the wall of the Medina around until we found some friendly army officers standing by a very large door - I have no idea what was behind it; maybe a very large house - who pointed on our map which direction we should go to reach the mosque that guarded the entrance to the Djemma el Fna which we were looking for.
We found it, passing a shady looking ‘official’ Apple Store - it had an Apple sticker in the window - along the way. I was surprised at how well things had gone. All we had used to get back on track was a small tourist map of the immediate area. Again, we had no GPS, no phones, just the basics, but that was all we needed, with the help of some local gun wielders. We had survived without technology once more.
At 18:30, we met up again and went out for tea, somewhere else this time. The view from the terrace on which we were seated was spectacular. We were looking out on the food stalls in the main square. Lights shone brightly and the smell of spices and meat drifted through the air. The atmosphere was brilliant, as was the food - grilled chicken for me. It was a really good meal, followed by a short walk back to the hotel and then time to plan the next day. Then, yet another card game before bed, concluding the perfect day.
Day Ten - Sunday
Sunday started much like the previous day, up early followed by breakfast, then bag packing before leaving to explore the souqs another time. This time, we visited a shop with a nice owner; he spoke very little English though, and I wasn’t keen on trying my French.
To show the price of each of the things in the stall, he used his phone. He typed in the digits, “10”, on the keypad and we understood. This was technology being used at its best, in a way it wasn’t specifically programmed to be used, but in a way which assisted communication. This was a perfect example of a basic, needed use of technology.
Once the morning of buying extortionately priced gifts was over, another group and mine met up for lunch.
Who’d have thought the pizza in Morocco would be so nice?
It was a welcome change from the meat and rice dishes we had been eating for the past week; a peek back into the normal world from a very different one.
As soon as we had finished, we had to rush back to the hotel to meet this day’s deadline. We collected our bags and left for the airport.
The airport was like any other airport; as if sets of the most expensive shops and the most random, non-essential shops of a city had been reduced in size and squeezed into a single building, with a few overly eager security personnel on site for good measure.
We arrived early, so sat down for a game of cards; even then we weren’t bored by the idea. Once the game was over - or maybe we gave up after someone picked up too many cards - we found our check-in desk and proceeded to get our boarding passes and pass through security. Out the other side, ever so slightly more violated than we had entered, we reached a small café where we bought sandwiches, drinks and ice cream (my ice cream remained in my pocket for a few hours after this time, and it wasn’t so much cream by the end of it, more sludge). We lined up at the gate and boarded the plane, our final steps on Moroccan ground.
On the plane, similarly to the situation on the way to Morocco, we were all separated. I was sitting next to a rather posh, but perfectly nice, lady near the front of the plane - where I was glad to hear I would almost certainly die if the plane was to crash (thank you friends, and UK documentary). The lady and I talked about our time in the country, ignoring the other lady sitting in the seat next to her who made up the final piece of our tripartite section of the plane. She seemed much more interested in hearing about my expedition than she was about telling me of her exciting stay in a hotel for a week, but I played along. I showed her the photos I had taken on the trip and told her about Toubkal.
She was amazed that we had done so much in such a short space of time and asked if the trip had inspired me to travel more - it had. I soon reached the end of my photos, and my will to talk, so promptly went to sleep. After waking up a little later and being too foolish to remember where my own was, I asked to borrow a pen from the lady. She obliged, and that is the pen I am writing with just now.
Around me, there are people playing with their various gizmos and gadgets. Never before have I seen so many iPads in such a small area - except for, perhaps, the Dicksons in Heathrow which I had passed ten days ago.
A man sitting in front of me is playing Scrabble on his tablet to pass the time; he’s not great at it, but still he’s beating the CPU. A man next to me, across the aisle, is reading magazines - some physical, some on his iPad. The man next to him is working on his iPad, grimacing at spreadsheets.
What fun all this technology is bringing?
I do think it’s needed here though. There are no mountains to distract us.
This is the curse of modern technology: we seek excitement from it when there is none around, but miss the wonders around us as time goes on. If I have learned anything from this trip, it is this.
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