The art of disconnecting: Learnings from a Moroccan mountain Expedition

written by Ryan Bolton February 24, 2018
Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbers

As I look down at my phone right now, I have four emails. There’s three new messages via Facebook Messenger. There’s 45 Instagram notifications. Three for Twitter. One missed call and a voicemail. There are 16 unread text messages. 

When I was in the middle of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains in October, my phone’s notifications were zilch.



No red circles with numbers making it appear like my phone has a bad batch of chicken pox.


Let me tell you: IT. WAS. BLISS.

Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbers

With my Intrepid group

I’ve had the luxury of traveling around the world. I’ve been to Africa more than a handful of times, all throughout South America, Southeast Asia, and so on. On each of these adventures, though, wifi was always a quick jaunt either to a cafe or local hotel. Even when I was in the middle of the Maasai Mara in Kenya I had a few solid bars.

When Intrepid Travel sent me to Morocco this past October, they said it would be different than other trips I’ve done with them. Not only would there be no wifi in the Atlas Mountains, there would be no electricity at all. There wouldn’t be any “real” washrooms aside from the occasional large boulder. We’d be sleeping in tents, and, on some nights, in Berber caves. The most difficult part—as I was photographing the experience—would be to ensure my camera batteries lasted. I brought five spare batteries. (Thankfully, they lasted me the week).

Obviously, it was an experience I couldn’t pass up.

Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbers

We camped under the stars

This new Moroccan Expedition, in fact, is pretty new for Intrepid. The trip itself only happens as the seasons change in the spring and fall, which is when the Berber families make the 4,000-year-old traditional migration along ancient routes. When travelers say “off the beaten path,” this is, well, way off the path.

As a photographer, I’m on my smartphone a lot. More than I’d care to admit. There’s the social media channels to keep up, the emails to respond to, the news about Trump’s latest gaffe to catch up on. We all know the cycle. It’s a constant onslaught of information right to our phones. I’d be surprised if a direct message hasn’t caught your attention by this line. Or you’re onto the next article. Or meme. Or Insta post. I don’t blame you. I get it.

If you’re like me, though, and you’ve looked at your phone, oh, 768 times so far today—I do have a solution for you.

Say it with me: I’m going to go travel. Good. Again.

I’m going to go travel.

Yep. That’s right.

Now here’s where my solution comes in. Because, yes, travel is part of the solution but doing so without the Internet. Without your smartphone. Without any technology. (Aside from a camera, in this case). Totally untapped. Totally untapped with a local nomadic Berber family that you will learn from and share stories with for a week. One week with zero technological interruptions.


Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbersTo make it even more immersive, you won’t see another soul otherwise than your group of a dozen world travelers and your nomadic family.

As we hiked through the rolling Atlas Mountain range with our herd of goats, sheep, mules and trusty camels, a couple things started happening. First, we connected with our surroundings. As the landscape constantly shifted from massive jutting rocks, to rolling hills, to vast plateaus to small mountain ranges, we were all awe-struck. It was all we could talk about. It was all-consuming. For many of us, it was otherworldly compared to the cityscapes we lived in.


The second, is that we connected with one another. I think about it often, sitting on a crowded streetcar in Toronto, with my smartphone in my hands. As I look around, 95 per cent of everyone else on the streetcar has their smartphones cradled in their hands, earbuds plugged in. In Morocco, we didn’t have this. We had each other. And with my fellow travellers from Australia, America, New Zealand and Britain, we learned from each other. Our ways of life. Our unique perspectives on the trip.

Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbersThis type of expedition will change your perspective. It will, quite fundamentally, change how you live. It will force you to look inward, instead of down at your phone. It will alter how you see and relate to the world—for the first time in a long time.

It’s a true digital detox.

Our phones distract us. Constantly. They do so by taking us out of the moment. Out of what’s currently going on around us. This makes us more insular and burdens our immediate perspective. And that can’t be a good thing, right?

Because when you’re sitting in a cave—yeah, like a literal cave burrowed into the side of a mountain—having a “cave rave” by candlelight and playing cards with new friends, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is the real deal.

Morocco Atlas Mountains hiking berbersSay it with me one more time:

I’m going to go travel.

Happy (unplugged) adventures.

Want to embark on your very own Moroccan Expedition in the Atlas Mountains? Check out this 8-day adventure.

(All images c/o the very talented Ryan Bolton.)

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