Through tears…

Last Saturday morning I was woken by the ping of my phone as a message came though. It was from my friend Jane, so I rubbed my eyes and opened it, wondering if she was heading into the village and wanted to meet for coffee. I would have slept a little longer if I could have imagined the shock and anguish it contained. I should brace myself, she wrote, if I hadn’t yet heard the news. Jane has travelled on a Vistas Sketching Holiday to Morocco; she understood I’d want to know, and like many kind souls in the days which followed, immediately thought of me and my extended Moroccan ‘family’.

At first it didn’t appear to be so bad, as natural disasters go. Not great for those in the thick of it, of course, but only a handful of casualties had been reported in Marrakech and the epicentre of the earthquake was in the mountains, far from dense populations, so losses would be light. Wouldn’t they? But I had not stopped to consider the terrain, the poverty and the simple construction style of the High Atlas villages, nor the difficulties involved in reaching them with help.

Now, a week later, the death toll already stands at around 3000, with many more injured and more yet homeless and destitute, with colder weather on the way. Even at lower altitudes, Moroccan nights can be freezing. A primary school teacher in one of the villages has lost all 32 of her pupils. She was not in the neighbourhood at the time, but although she has escaped with her life, it will never be the same again. The whole school building has been destroyed. A harrowing picture in the newspaper shows a row of miniature backpacks lined up against the wall; meagre possessions that will never be reclaimed.

The extent of the tragedy has not fully sunk in, away from those who are living it, but as someone who travels to Morocco regularly and has such close ties with the country, I felt compelled to voice my thoughts. Thankfully our drivers are safe, along with their families, which was my immediate concern. And most of the destinations we visit on Vistas trips are little affected, with one or two notable exceptions:

Marrakech medina – the old part of town within the famous red walls, housing the souks and the riads – has suffered a lot of structural damage and I am not sure, yet, if any of our regular accommodation has been affected. A mosque in the Djemaa el Fna square has collapsed and even the iconic Koutoubia has cracks, although for now, it is standing.

The much-photographed (and painted) hilltop kasbah of Ait Benhaddou has suffered damage, though our friend there, Said, is okay, and plays down the destruction. Buildings can be patched up and restored, in a way that living beings can’t.

The already crumbling Glaoui kasbah at Telouet, our first painting stop on the ‘Discover Morocco’ journey, has disintegrated further, and it remains to be seen whether it will be possible to visit in the near future. Second, of course, to the human and animal tragedy, this is heartbreaking to say the least.

Moroccans, though, are determined, resourceful and optimistic by nature and, eventually, they will rebuild. Caring and community-spirited, reports coming out of the worst-hit areas indicate hundreds, if not thousands of ordinary Moroccan citizens flocking to help those in need, filling their cars with supplies, braving semi-blocked mountain roads in constant danger of rockfalls as well as possible further tremors from aftershocks. These could, apparently, occur for several weeks, although hopefully with much less intensity.

Peter Beaumont (2023) wrote in The Guardian:

‘It was genuinely impressive to see ordinary Moroccans do this. It’s how humanity should be – not politics but the community helping the community. In a couple of years’ time, I think, when people ask me what I remember about the Morocco earthquake, it is not just going to be the sadness and devastation, it will be how ordinary people responded.’

There are various agencies on the ground, accepting donations and I have posted links below. One, Erham Cats, is in the worst-affected area offering a lifeline to the terrified, and now starving, animals. As an animal (and particularly cat) lover, I find the very thought of this extremely distressing and am somewhat comforted by the difficult and kind work these people are doing.

You may by now be thinking, should we be visiting Morocco at all after an event such as this? Shouldn’t we be polite and respectful, and stay away? In some instances, I would agree. But although it may not appear so, the earthquake-affected area is a small proportion of this large country, and the numbers of people harmed or displaced a tiny minority of the population as a whole, who still need to earn a living and are relying on tourism to provide that opportunity. So, while we can’t visit places that are cut off or demolished, and nor should we want to, Vistas trips to Morocco are scheduled to run as planned, perhaps with minor itinerary adjustments.

In Holly Tuppen’s article (2023), she writes that the message from tour guides, NGOs and travel businesses is increasingly clear: continuing to travel responsibly is an important part of support.

‘“Our message is strong,” said Gail Leonard from the local operator Plan-it Morocco. “Your tourism dollar is critical to the ongoing relief effort here in Morocco.”
Jarrod Kyte, the product and sustainability director at Steppes Travel, who was in the mountains during the earthquake, agrees. Steppes’ partner at Hotel Dar Ahlam in Skoura told me: “Beyond the aid that is being provided, tourist arrivals constitute a message of hope and support that is just as necessary and vital for Morocco.”’

My thoughts are with those who have lost their lives, homes and livelihoods; their families and communities, pets and livestock; and all those who continue to suffer. May they rebuild their lives more resilient than ever and if mere wishes could be dollars or helping hands, they would have some semblance of normality all the sooner.

Here are some places to donate, should you so desire (and feel free to share with others): (ignore the strike-through)

Erham cats:


Neate, R. with Beaumont, P. (2023) In The Guardian Analysis: Libya and Morocco: Two very different responses to catastrophe. Available at:

Tuppen, H. (2023) In The Guardian Travel: After Morocco’s devastating earthquake, the tourism industry rallies round. Available at: