The storyteller of Morocco: Seasoned guide Ismail Ingrioui on sharing new narratives in Africa

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As a Pack Leader in Morocco, what I really love about Flashpackers is that everyone is ready for adventure. They’re all in for the full cultural experience from day one. 

As experienced travelers of a similar age – all in their 30s and 40s – people bond quickly. They want to forget work, make friends and enjoy every moment Morocco has to offer. 

On a typical tourist trip, you’re always moving from one big hotel to the next, so it can feel quite generic. But with Flash Pack, there’s always something different or special to enrich the experience and make it unique.

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I try to show Morocco’s much-loved traditions

For example, in the city of Fez, we stay in the middle of the Medina in a riad that dates back to the seventh century. You walk through a maze of ancient alleyways to get to the hotel and the views from the rooftop are magnificent. 

Or, if we happen to gather for mint tea – a symbol of hospitality in Morocco – we give life to the tea pot by showing Flashpackers how it is made and teaching them the much-loved traditions behind it. It’s not just about the tea, but the ability to stop rushing about and take time to really be with people. Just as the locals do.

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My role is to connect travelers with locals

Morocco is a country that is all about storytelling. But I don’t just tell those stories myself. I encourage travelers to interact with the people we happen to meet – which varies according to each new trip. 

The way I see it, my role is to create a connection between Flashpackers and Morocco’s shepherds, artisans, restaurant owners and families that we encounter on our journey. When travelers ask their own questions, I translate. That way, it feels more authentic and immersive.

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I’m always looking for new ways to enhance the experience

Sometimes, we’ll take fresh vegetables from a roadside stall to a farming family I know in the Tundra Gorges. We’ll walk for a couple of hours to go see the grandma, grandpa and children who live in a cave in the mountains there, along with their sheep and goats. 

Life is hard for these people, but we still manage to share food and laughter with them. On a recent adventure, for example, some Flashpackers were asking the old gentleman about how he traded his goats. He joked that, “You can’t sell an old goat like me.” That made everyone chuckle and it was really touching to see. 

As a Morocco insider, travelers put their trust in me. It’s a big responsibility that needs to be earned. I’m always dreaming up new ways to expand or add to an experience. 

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In the Sahara, we meet local gnawa musicians

In the Sahara Desert, for example, I arrange for Flashpackers to have a private session with one of the masters of gnawa, a traditional type of Moroccan music. He explains the history and words of the songs, and gets people playing rhythms on a drum or castanets. Then, we’ll move into a showroom where a bigger group of musicians wait for everyone to play and dance together. 

The expedition also involves a sunset camel ride, and after dinner, we’ll have live music by the fire. Then I’ll take everyone out and away from our glamping site, to find the best spots for stargazing by night. I also give the group little sand jars as a gift – so they can take a piece of the desert back home with them and remember it on cold winter days back home. 

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In the High Atlas, artists create works for us

Similarly, when we visit the Unesco site of Aït Benhaddou in the High Atlas foothills, we see artists at work creating paintings from green tea and saffron. 

This ancient technique was originally used to share secret messages along this former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech, as you can only see the text or imagery when it’s passed over a flame. 

I’ll arrange for travelers to have their paintings personalized with copies of their names in Arabic and Berber. It’s a gift people always cherish. 

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With food, I can pinpoint the spots that only locals know

My local knowledge is also important when it comes to Moroccan food. Anyone can go online and find the best-rated place in town, but I’ll be able to point to the family-run spot that only the locals know. 

I try to point out what kind of cuisine is specific to different regions of Morocco. So, when we’re by the coast in Casablanca, we might try fresh seafood pasties, which are a twist on the go-to Moroccan chicken pies. 

Or when we’re in the desert, we’ll get a taste for Berber pizza, which is a type of flatbread stuffed with beef, lamb and various spices, cooked over an open fire pit. Trying these regional specialities expands people’s palates beyond tagines, skewers and couscous.

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As a guide, I’m always learning from Flashpackers

I also aim to create comfort and warmth around the group in terms of dynamics. I don’t want travelers to worry about anything during their time in Morocco. They can talk to me to sort any issue that might come up. 

I’ll arrange for luggage to be delivered and collected from the hotel rooms, so Flashpackers have time to settle in with a tea. Or I’ll call ahead to a restaurant and ask about their most popular dishes, then share them on our WhatsApp group and pre-order for everyone. It creates a smoother experience, so we’re not waiting around. 

Equally, when Flashpackers find great restaurants or stalls of their own, I’ll ask them to share the details with me – as I might incorporate it into my next trip. I’m always learning.

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It’s the local stories that always stick in people’s minds

At the end of the trip, I ask my groups for feedback. I find that it’s the people and the stories of Morocco that really stick in travelers’ minds. It’s all about the communities, families and individuals they meet along the road. 

Morocco is a beautiful place and there are no words that can describe how unique it is. You have to experience it for yourself. 

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We all stay in touch after the trips

Of course, it’s always emotional to say goodbye when the trip comes to an end. Some people just can’t do it. But it’s amazing how well we stay in touch on WhatsApp or Instagram to keep the connection going. It may be the end of our adventure, but I always know it’s the beginning of a friendship together.

Ismail Ingrioui is Pack Leader and guide for Flash Pack in Morocco

This year, Flash Pack’s “Don’t be a Tourist. Be a Flashpacker” campaign aims to encourage travelers in their 30s and 40s to stray away from the expected path – seeking out the road less traveled.

Images for this story were shot on location in Morocco by Flash Pack photographer Connor McCracken.

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