Before starting, a small warning: what is this post?
This is an account of our experiences and is 100% subjective. If what you are looking for is practical and useful information for traveling in Morocco, with statistics and specific data, you can find all that and much more in this post Morocco: practical guide for travelers (by clicking here). Having made this clarification, we are going to what concerns us…
The precedents of Tagounite, chapter 1: Chefchaouen
With great motivation after our first experience doing volunteer work in Spain (which can be read by clicking here), we had all our trip of three months to Morocco quite organized and it was planned so that approximately two and a half months would be spent doing volunteer work of different types and in different places.
After the first two days in Tetuán, it was time to start the first volunteer work we had arranged: two weeks in a hostel in Chefchaouen.
We arrived to the hostel in the evening and it took me five minutes to realize that it was not going to work. The owner, a German expatriate who liked to live in Africa because everything was “more relaxed”, did not recognize us when he opened the door, despite that earlier the same day we had agreed on our arrival time.
After a presentation and a disappointing first impression he took us to the terrace, where he had built a kind of labyrinth of “rooms” with walls and roofs made of bamboo canes. We were supposed to accommodate there even though it was raining and the mattresses were completely wet from the water that, of course, came through the bamboo. Rain is quite rare in the area, but now it was going to rain a lot in the days to come. To all this, it had already got dark and the temperature was about 12 degrees, too cold to sleep almost in the open and in the rain, right? Even within this disaster of a place, we did not have our own place assigned, our own bed with a wet mattress, as if the owner had not even thought about it before we arrived. So we shared a flooding room and some laughs with two other couples that were guests. We had to activate our survival instincts while dressing up with all possible clothes, That was far from being enough.
As a solution to the situation we were offered to move into a room inside the house, with a conventional ceiling and walls at 1 am, because some guests (miraculously) checked out at that time and that space was left free. Until that moment, we waited in the bamboo room on the terrace, while the drops kept on dripping.
The next day we talked to other volunteers who had been there for a long time and they confirmed what we supposed, that the organizing of the place was a disaster: work schedules were not respected at all, no days off in the work week, everything was a total mess. We had many personal projects to do in Chefchaouen and we needed to have clear and respected schedules with free time, as we had had while doing voluntary work in Spain.
Definitely that was not for us, so that same day we left. This changed the economy of our trip a lot. We went from having two weeks with home and free food to being on our own and having to pay for all that, when the original plan was to get it in exchange for our work.
The precedents of Tagounite, chapter 2: The place that never appeared on the map
Our second voluntary work arrangement was… nothingness itself. It never happened, it vanished in the air. It was a strange thing, a kind of mix between house-sitting and volunteer work. The owners were a Moroccoan Finnish couple who were now in Finland, their house in Morocco was empty and they simply said they wanted to accommodate travelers whenever they could to thank for all the generosity they had received when they themselves were on the route.
Too good to be true? It is possible, but we still decided to trust, we needed to trust. We agreed that we would go there for two weeks, we made plans for those days and we were very happy to imagine it. The owner seemed very excited about the idea of us going there, he told us that we were going to have a great time, that no one was going to bother us, not even the gardener and that we were going to be totally free to do whatever we wanted with our time in the house. It sounded so perfect that it seemed like we had won the lottery. He also asked us for our cellphone number and he also asked us to download Telegram, because we wanted to use that channel to send us information about how to get there and other practical information.
The date of our arrival, which he knew from the first moment, was approaching and the message never arrived. We did not have his telephone number so we were limited to sending him one, two, several messages via Workaway, the platform through which we had contacted him, of which none had a reply. Several days after the date we should have had arrived there and after we had been forced to improvise other plans, we received an answer that basically said nothing, only that “in a few days he would be online and write again.” What? In a few days? Why not in that same message? Why not several days ago when it should have happened as agreed? Why did he in the first place offer us his house if he did not want to give us directions how to get there? Questions impossible to answer, that left us with another bad taste in the mouth, again the sudden change of plans…
Tagounite, the third is the charm
And as they say, “third time lucky”, but our third try was the worst of all. More like a scam. This voluntary work place was the first one to be confirmed in Morocco, two month before the trip. They in fact confirmed us just five minutes after sending the request. It was in Tagounite, the last town before the Sahara desert. The idea was to help a berber family with the construction of their house / guest-house in the traditional way of southern Morocco, building with mud. We were supposed to work for fifteen hours a week, in exchange for the accomodation and all the meals. Before our arrival we spoke several times with the family father, Ibrahim, the owner, by chat and by phone calls. All perfect. They were waiting for us.
As we got closer to that area the heat became more and more intense and we knew that the worst was still ahead. For this reason we came to think about changing the plans and taking another voluntary job in a small surfer village on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, which from the climatic point of view sounded much more enjoyable, but we did not want to break our word and commitment to this berber family. We were going to go and respect the agreement, whatever the weather. In our trip through Morocco we did a good part of the way hitchhiking, but this last section of 230 km and four hours of travel we decided to do it by bus, we just could not stand the heat anymore.
We arrived in the evening to Tagounite and to the family’s farm when the sun had already gone down but the heat was still something we had never felt before. They gave us harira (typical Moroccan soup), mint tea and a warm welcome, both from Ibrahim’s family and from the other volunteers who immediately adopted us as part of the team. Among other things, they told us about their experiences in the nearby desert and played some really nice music. All felt new and exotic, like the beginning of a wonderful adventure.
We spent that first night sleeping in the garden with thin mattresses, under the stars. That is how the family and the rest of the volunteers slept too, assuring us that thay was the best option with these temperatures. The other option did not make much difference though, it was with the same mattresses on the same ground floor but surrounded by mud walls, in what would be a primitive room, like the typical mudhuts you see in comics and National Geographic documentaries. Leaving aside the fear I had of being bitten by bugs or walked over by a cockroach, it was a nice night and I slept very well.
The next morning we woke up very early with the sun and a climate that at 6 am was already too hot and as the hours passed it became more and more unbearable, as if a dragon was breathing in your face all the time, or as if a giant hair dryer was blowing at maximum on your whole body. The air was so dry that in a few hours my skin, hair and everything around me was dry. Any kind of moisture had disappeared in that part of the earth.
After some breakfast we were waiting for instructions to start working when Ibrahim told Omar that because of the heat and Ramadan there was not much work to be done at the moment and since there was not so much work, we should pay five Euros a day each, as a contribution for the offered meals and the accomodation. When I heard this, I felt betrayed and very frustrated. It was not a question if five Euros per day per person was too much or too little, the problem for us was that it was cheating from the ethical point of view. What Ibrahim was asking for was exactly the opposite of what was already agreed and he was changing the rules when we were already there and it was too late to decide if this new deal suited us or not. If we had known the new conditions before going, we never would have gone there! The deal was to have room and board in exchange for our work and now we had to pay? How could it be so? I was invaded by a tormenting rage and regretted that we had arrived there mostly to not to break our commitment to a man who was now cheating us. I felt like a fool. Once again, doing voluntary work in Morocco had not worked out, once again we were disappointed.
So, after spending the hottest day of our lives and with an astronomically bad mood, we joined forces to walk to the center of the town, which was about a kilometer and a half away, with two other volunteers from Holand and Portugal, in search of wifi and and the schedules some bus that will take us out of there. We needed them to make new plans quickly.
With incredible luck and the minutes counted we got tickets for a night bus that took us out of that hell that same night and took us to the beach where, after eleven hours of travel, the temperature had dropped twenty degrees and the sea was welcoming us. And there began a new chapter…
PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!
If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!
PostScript 2: how do we continue?
If you want to read the next chapter of this adventure and what happened after Ouarzazate, you can click on the photo below to read the next post…