Friday, 16 November 2012

News Letter No. 27 with Moroccan "BITS" to follow:

As the year draws nearer to a close everyone in the office and the Tour Teams find that the proverbial is "not touching the ground". With the tour team just returning from the warm and sunny regions of Morocco with the October C&CC Morocco tour we have just enough time to re-load and set off again for the November tour! Then there is just a 5 day break before the FIRST December tour, I say first as we have TWO tours running a week or so apart during December with the second actually staying in Morocco over the Christmas and New Year before continuing on with the January 2013 group. Phewwwwww!

Quickly looking back it would be fair to say that the September weather was a touch too hot this year with desert temperatures well into the 40´s, however October was just about perfect, hovering at the mid-30´s most of time. The good news was and is that we missed the very heavy rain between tours. When it rains in Morocco it really rains!!! But rarely lasts long, so looking forward to a fresh but dry return for November. 

As mentioned we added a second and earlier December tour to our Moroccan schedule. This has proved to be highly popular with clients realising that they can do the regular tour with the option of staying on (return tickets valid for 3 months)in say Marrakech to enjoy an active festive season, or return to the desert area for a more relaxed and perhaps moving Christmas/New Year experience. Perhaps it was the awful summer weather in the UK or the realisation that after a couple of seasons in the UK a foreign trip is overdue.......

Whatever the reason we are seeing a very real increase in bookings for 2013 with around half of our 11 tour dates already full! We have kept our Moroccan tour prices almost without change for a number of years but are now having to take a serious look for 2013 onwards. Ferry, fuel, camping, office, staff, in fact just about everything as you will be aware has taken in some cases stiff increases. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for future clients, at the moment I really do not have the time to sit and do the maths ....... until early in the New Year. So, IF you are thinking about joining one of our tours perhaps take advantage of the current tour costs. There WILL be an increase from early 2013. There will NOT of course be any increase for those already booked for 2013 tours.

GOING EAST......I have explored and done a dummy-run way over to the EAST of Morocco, running right up to the Algerian border, then down across the Plateau du Rekkham plains, then south passing near Bouafa before visiting Figuig, then west towards Boudnib etc etc. IF there is interest we could be running an "informal" trip next year ..... I say informal because it will NOT be advertised and will run on a NO fixed time schedule, other than being around 14 days in duration (as will be normal you will be able to stay on in Morocco after the trip ends). The style will be mostly widerness-informal camping and be a small group only.

This will be very much an "adventure" and NOT for those who find the unexpected, bizarre and unusual and/or impossible to accept!

Contact ASAP if you are interested.

Inevitably our continued success has drawn interest from other "Tour Operators", no problem .... you now have a choice. Of course they would have to go some to catch-up on our 30 plus years of experience rather than try to just imitate and copy our routes and itineraries, even their brochure wording looks remarkably familiar!!! But choice is good and imitation is flattering. MOROCCO NEWS LETTER BITS ........ Will follow ....... catch you soon ......

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


When you receive this News Letter spare a thought for our poor lads, Tour Leader Steve, and Tour Assistants John and Hammid, who together with Ray will likely be somewhere in the Cedar Forests, High Atlas or the Sahara.........Ramadan has past so they and the latest group of clients may well be feasting over a freshly prepared Tagine. When I contacted them a few days ago they had just finished a meal of lean but succulent lamb cutlets, cooked over an open fire. Ahhhhhh, what a shame!

This year the summer months in Morocco have been exceptionally HOT, but now it has moved into the cooler and much easier autumn period with, the lads report, quite warm days but with a very slight and chilly breeze during the evenings and night.............And NO rain. Yes, no rain!

During a couple of brief return visits to the UK over the summer I experienced rain like I have never seen before......It just did not stop, days and days of deluge. Of course there will forever be a “soft-spot” for the UK but I am always pleased and eager to return home to our home-base here in Southern Spain, this time I positively rushed back.......but I know not everyone was able to escape the horrible weather.

The bad weather causing spoilt or cancelled holidays is probably the reason for the higher than normal interest we are experiencing for our late 2012 and early 2013 tours.......In fact we are thinking of running an additional December tour. But no sales pitch, you know where to find us if you are interested!

The slightly more relaxed months that we normally enjoy between the Moroccan touring seasons simply vanished this year with Steve and Ray exploring the high Sierras and hidden byways of our very own stunning preparation for the official launch of the “Soul of Andalusia” tours early 2013. Already some dates are FULL with others heading that way.

The Moroccan scheduling will NOT be effected at all and will still be running 10 dates during 2013..........Andalusia Detours will be running 8 dates starting in January 2013. Remember,
combine a Moroccan-Andalusia tour and get a huge discount.

Look out for the separate “Andalusia News Letter” ........

But this is all about MOROCCO so read as I pass you over to Ray for his in-depth look at real Morocco and his, at times, tongue-in-cheek comments........

Best Regards




Ait Youl kasbah

As stunning as it is Ait Youl is nothing special.....everywhere around here is so beautiful. Surrounded by mountains, it is in truth a hot, dry place with a riverbed containing very little water at the best of times. The journey up to Ait Ouham takes days and involves a climb from 1600m to around 3000m. For visitors this is a one-off trip. The Elyyakoubi family make the journey twice a year.

Travelling with around 200 goats, 30 sheep, 11 camels, three donkeys and a mule makes for a slow journey, but it leaves plenty of time for contemplation of an endangered lifestyle.......That of Moroccan Berbers on their 4,000-year-old annual migration: a tradition that is now under real and serious threat.

At a picturesque stopping point on the Tizi-n-Toudat, in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, the two hundred goats, 11 camels, 30 sheep and three donkeys graze along the steep slopes. In the nearby camp, tents are being erected for cooking and dining. Wood is being gathered. Mint tea is being brewed. And quietly, beyond the stream, one of the sheep is meeting its end to provide tonight’s dinner.

This is a scene from the bi-annual migration of Morocco’s nomadic Berber people, and the Elyakoubi family, whose livestock pepper the landscape, is following a route trodden by their ancestors for 4,000 years.

The reason for their migration is simple: the Berbers take their animals to the best grazing areas year-round. In winter, they traditionally roam on the mountains’ lower slopes where temperatures are warmer, and during the summer, they head up to the cooler plateaux, fleeing the heat in the aim of finding fresh pasture.

There is nothing arbitrary about the migration........the routes, stopping points and best places for grazing have been passed on down the generations. But this year, the Elyakoubi family trudge the route with heavy hearts, troubled by the thought that they will be some of the last to do so.

A crescent moon rises above the mountains in the late dusk as Izza Elyakoubi, 25, and her cousin Said, 15, bring the goats and sheep down from the slopes for the night. They herd them into a circular stone corral, where they will also sleep, at a height of 8,720ft above sea level.

Bringing them in late, Said says, means there’s more chance of getting some rest at night......hungry sheep wander off, but those with full stomachs stay put. As they get little more than an hour’s sleep per night during the migration, the family do everything they can to ensure those few extra minutes of rest.

Said has been shepherding for three years and has never been to school. He will be the first generation of his family to live a life outside nomadic lifestyle. “I would like to do something else,” he says, over a glass of mint tea. “I’d like to be a farmer and grow barley and almonds, figs and vegetables.

“It’s getting difficult to live like this. It’s getting tougher every year. We need to buy in straw and barley for our animals, which we never had to do in the past. It’s the third year we’ve had to do that, because there’s not been enough rainfall. I’d feel bad about settling in a village, but I’d get over it. I’m more scared of working in this life until I’m old.”

A mix of climate change and deforestation means that there is now less water and grazing for the herders. They have stopped here at Tizi-n-Toudat not because it’s a pleasure to soak their tired feet in the mountain stream, but because it’s one of only three places to water the animals on the six-day, 60 km journey.

Just 30 years ago, things were very different. Much of the lower slopes were forested, largely with juniper trees. Barbary sheep (a goat-antelope creature with considerable horns) roamed the woodlands, as did wolves. “It was beautiful,” recalls Baichou Elouardi, a former nomad who now cooks for tourists on the migration.

“In the past there were trees, there was rain and if there was nothing to eat on the ground, the camels and goats could eat the juniper leaves. So they could keep going,” he says. “Now when you have a bad year of weather you have to buy feed. This is the end of life for us.”

The group walks for five days before seeing a lone juniper tree on the mountainside. The rest, we are told, have been cut down for fuel and building.

The Berber people are exceptionally tough and resourceful, but this mix of climate change and deforestation has taken its toll. In 1988, some 410 families made the bi-annual migration. Today, there are just 15 families, including the Elyakoubis.

Only tourism works towards maintaining this vanishing way of life, according to Mohamed, 32, the head of the Elyakoubi family (pictured below). This year’s cold, wet winter killed half his new-born goats, so he has taken the decision to bring tourists on the migration to help feed his family. “If there are good years [for rainfall] and there are lots of tourists, we can keep going,” he says. “But with no grass, tourism is not enough.”

Tonight Said, Izza and Baichou dine on kebabs cooked over an open fire, lamb tagine, rice, salad and finally, slices of melon, washed down with verbena tea from tiny glasses. But they would not have such a meal without tourists. Though surrounded by sheep and goats, meat is seldom on the menu, and their usual diet consists mainly of tea, bread, oil and couscous.

The need to get to good grazing areas dictates the migration’s route. Another family, also camped at Tizi-n- Toudat, is hosting a small group of German tourists. The British tourists with the Elyakoubis are instructed to rise at 6am the following morning to ‘beat the Germans’.

Initially they laugh, thinking this is a joke about their countries’ old historic rivalry. But the command is not to entertain the tourists. If the Elyakoubi family are not the first to arrive at their next stop, they won’t get the pick of the grazing or camping positions.

The terrain the nomads cover is tough. At best they follow narrow sheep paths. At worst they climb over boulders for five-and-a-half hours, in a literal uphill struggle. “I spend all day throwing stones at the sheep to guide them,” says Said and Mohamed’s mother Aisha, 46. “My arm aches. [The tourists] may like this way of life, but for us, it’s difficult.” Said, Izza, Aisha and Mohamed arrive at the Oulmzi Plateau, their home for the summer. The trek downhill to the village of Oulmzi Plateau is a vision of what the mountains were like three decades ago. Juniper trees line the route and in the village itself, irrigation channels water cherry, plum, walnut and apple orchards.

Mint, turnips, potatoes and spring onions grow amid vividly green terraces of barley, wheat and oats. Thyme, euphorbia and poppies grow by the pathway. “At that time it was not a difficult life,” says Aisha Ouaziz, a 69 year-old former nomad who now lives in the village. ‘There was grass, milk and butter and lots of goats and sheep”

Oulmzi Plateau

“The mountains gave us enough to eat,” she says. “We worked hard and ate well. Now, we don’t want to be nomadic. It’s not a good life anymore.”


Dear Ray

I hope you remember me. I was on one of your tours last year with my wife Gertrude.

You will remember that Gertrude was not the easiest of people to get on with and as expected she fell-out at one time or another with everyone on the tour. Since returning home her drinking has got much worse and the constant nagging has all but driven me deaf. I am no longer allowed into the motor home that is now been taken away and is parked in her sister’s driveway. Soaps and old films are the only TV we watch. If I want to eat I have to shop and cook for myself. I have to go to a friend’s [we now have very few left] to use the internet and my mobile phone has vanished. In fact if I think about it has always been much like this..........

However since we returned I have been in very bad health.........In fact very very bad........ and now I have found all sorts of deadly mixtures and opened packets of rat poison hidden in the kitchen cupboard. I am now convinced that I am being poisoned.

What should I do?

A Very Desperate Jim

Hi Jim

Yes, I remember Gertrude very well................... Take the poison!



Gertrude on a “good day”

OH YES HE DID................OH NO HE DIDN’T........

Back in December’ish, 2010 [I think] I ran a story that sort of exploded the Jimi Hendrix industry in Essaouira. Sadly, it takes a lot more exposure than that to kill off a myth that has become so well grounded in modern folklore........ I know I should be promoting the fact that Jimi Hendrix DID at least go the Essaouira, in fact we use the hotel he did stay in for our “Final Meal” when on tour.....Anyway...................

A few kilometres south of the busy, breezy port town of Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast is the dusty village of Diabat, famous for one thing. In mid-1969, Jimi Hendrix didn’t go there. Not that the owner of the local cafe would admit to that. Quite the opposite. The cafe, which played an endless loop tape of Bob Marley while we had coffee and cake on a warm morning, is daubed with extremely poor likenesses of Hendrix's distinctive features and slogans about his visit to the area.

Inside, the walls of two tiny rooms are covered with equally bad Jimi images and slightly water-damaged photos of Hendrix.

Just across the mostly deserted road, where donkeys amble listlessly, and beyond the dunes and low shrubbery, are the remains of an old fort known as Bordj El Berod. Despite what many people believe, Hendrix didn't write his song, Castles Made of Sand, about it. Hendrix had recorded it some 18 months earlier.

Yes, there's a lot of enjoyable Hendrix myth and misinformation in the dry air at Diabat. But Diabat is a nice little place and well worth a visit........We went along the beach on the Desert Detours quad [Phew...and that’s another story!]. There is a local quad hire firm who will do the same, as a group and a lot slower!! Or a 30 dirham taxi ride from Essaouira will get you there. On the day we visited - local kids kicked a football on the empty road and a few workmen, perhaps from the site of the golf course and Sofitel being built near the Jimi Hendrix Hotel, dropped by to sit in the cool of the cafe. A couple of senior Germans, curious like us, amused themselves by taking photos of the run-down, if colourful, cafe between sips of sweet mint tea.

Stories about Hendrix in Essaouira and Diabat abound and it seems there were once enough gullible hippies who romantically traipsed down here following his imagined footsteps in search of.......... whatever it was hippies were in search of. ......... The facts about Hendrix in Morocco are more prosaic. As mentioned earlier, he did briefly stay in nearby Essaouira and according to the most reliable sources stayed at “our” hotel (not in the hotel which claims he did), but he neither made music there, nor fathered children there, as legend would have it. Rather he seemed to have had a pretty quiet time, something Essaouira had even more of back then, then flew back to the States and got a band together for the Woodstock festival in August.
But to this day the people of Morocco have never recovered from Jimi's visit and the endless tales are remarkable. Like George Washington, he slept in everyone's house around the Moroccan countryside!"

Hendrix never went to tiny Diabat, which must have been even smaller and more remote 45 years ago, let alone had coffee in the cafe or wrote a song about the ruin. No matter, the Hendrix cafe is there and from its tiny kitchen, with an oven not much longer than a guitar case, on which the owner prepares meals and excellent coffee. He's used to cameras being pulled out too. Quite likes the attention.

Yes, No Helmet, No Boots, No Nothin’ ..... And No Sense. 

What do you do on your days off? Later, because after coffee and photos there's nothing else to do, we fired up the beast and blasted back to the beach, past donkeys and goats crossed a shallow river and abandoned buildings. It was hot by the time we reached the broad, white sand strip and dunes so we sat and watched kite surfers and men with camels exhorting the few tourists to take rides.

It had in fact been a lovely and rather different few hours out in coastal Morocco and over coffee we had made a list of others who, like Jimi Hendrix, had not been to arid little Diabat. No Beatles nor Rolling Stones, no Borgias, not Nero, a Pope or a US president, not Hitler, Stalin, Bob Dylan...........Leonard Cohen............ not even my ex-wife, Mmmmm, now there’s a thought!!!


At 127 years...yes.....they say they have paperwork that seems to confirm that Taki el Mehdi is indeed 127 years old. And what’s more he is in fact exceptionally healthy. He watches what he eats and mainly consumes natural products. "I eat healthy and natural food, including soup made of barley and wheat," he said. A lot of soup in fact, most because of the teeth that “Passed” some years ago! .....

This elderly farmer lives with his family in a small house in a humble neighbourhood of Ouarzazate, close to the desert, it’s a place where the thermometer often reads 40 degrees in the shade.......and it did on the day we met!

Despite his advanced years, the thin-faced man still walks with only a cane and says he has never set foot in a hospital. The most impressive thing is that his memory is still intact. El Mehdi Taki is able, without hesitation, to recite his family tree, saying that one of his ancestors was Moulay Ali Cherif, the founder of the Alawite dynasty of Morocco. He also remembers, "The Second World War very well and the worst famine, which hit Morocco seriously in 1941," while the country was under the French protectorate.

Quiz him all you like this fantastic gentleman has the answers, and they didn’t come from books. He’s as sharp as they come.

Let’s hope that we can share many more cups of mint tea and bowls of soup together................


No, not what you think...........

You may have seen it on the news when Spain battled a stubborn 10-day-old wildfire that has scorched nearly 10 per cent of the land on the Canary Island of La Gomera, including internationally renowned ancient woodlands.

Morocco sent two water-bombing planes to help in the emergency..........

The wildfires are the latest blazes in a summer forest fire season that has been one of the worst in recent memory for Spain and Portugal.

Drought-like conditions and high temperatures have made it extremely difficult for authorities to extinguish the fires. But Canary Island regional government spokeswoman Candelaria Ceballos said the extra planes and a drop in temperatures were raising hopes that fire-fighters might finally control the blazes that have burned 30
square kilometres inside and outside the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. Much needed and gratefully welcomed the Moroccan Water Bombers and crews were continuously airborne throughout the emergency and then remained on standby until all clear was given.

TIME FOR A PUFF..................

Muslims around the World have recently been celebrating the month of Ramadan, spending their days abstaining from eating and drinking and focusing on nurturing their spiritual connection to God. So, given the spirit of this time, it's not surprising to find this story describing a recent police operation in Casablanca to shut down hookah bars in Morocco's largest city Police in Casablanca, as part of a growing campaign against hookah bars during Ramadan, finally carried out raids on a number of cafes that provide sheesha to their customers, leading to the arrest of their clients, many of them female, for questioning.


OK, It Does Look A Bit “Shifty” 

The cafes' owners deny setting up their establishments up as hookah bars and places for customers to behave immorally, as some claim.

The crackdown saw the arrests of a few sheesha smokers and the seizure of dozens of water pipes and other sheesha related paraphernalia.

The truth behind the crackdown could be that the recent operations focused on sources providing water pipes, which are produced outside of Morocco. If a cafe's owner was unable to produce the paperwork indicating that his water pipes were imported legally, it meant that his materials were smuggled, which is subject to punishment under Moroccan laws pertaining to contraband goods.

Hamouda, a cafe manager in Sale, said in statements that many cafes provide sheesha, among their regular fare, to customers who want it. He continued, saying that anyone who denies sheesha's prevalence is lying to himself, before adding that at times police turn a blind eye to sheesha, while at others they organize crackdowns. Hamouda continued, saying that cafe owners who serve sheesha do not put the water pipes in the front of their shops so as to not 'disturb' police. Rather they serve smokers discreetly, in private areas far from the public gaze and with respect to the public conscious and social customs. In describing the relationship between cafe owners and the police he said that it resembles the cartoon "Tom and Jerry".

Whatever the stated reasons behind the crackdown, an operation like this has only one real purpose: to place a favorable light and publicity for the ruling Justice and Development Party. A government spokesperson, Al-Haya, emphasized that the problem is not limited with sheesha in itself, but rather that these cafes in their nature lead underage girls - legal minors - to smoke, which increases the probability of physical and sexual assaults against them or their solicitation to participate in other illegal activities.........................MMmmmmmm!

The speaker went on to say that the health risks posed by smoking sheesha also factored into these operations' rationale. He pointed to Casablanca's Moulay Rashid district which witnessed a notable rise in the numbers of tuberculosis cases, given the disease's potential to affect sheesha smokers who share water pipes without taking the necessary precautions..................That more like it......!!

The Tourists Love It..............[Spot the Coke?]

What struck me most about this is the 'concern' for the well-being of these cafe's female patrons. While it's probably true that some shady dealings take place in hookah bars, such 'immorality' is not limited to cafes like these. Crackdowns like these do little in changing the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation that characterize Morocco's cafes, bars, and streets.

And while it's 'endearing' (and more than a little patronizing) to hear the government so concerned about these girls' well-being, a braver, more effective stance would be to target predominate male attitudes that condone the sexual exploitation of Moroccan women.

A PRIVATE MUSIC FESTIVAL...............................

When I look back the time that we spent together I continue to dwell on the few memorable hours between the end of the first concert and the extraordinarily late Ramadan bedtime. After we ate the "dinner" that followed the concert, the entire posse retired to the shared flat around the corner. In both large rooms, musicians took up residence on the long couches that wound around the space.

In the main meeting room, where we ended up sleeping hours later, two players began to sing old songs from Eastern Morocco and Algeria. These masters made each other tear up as they made their way through the long stories that comprise the lyrics of these tunes from their youth. Reclining onlookers joined in for choruses and verses that they remembered while the “youngsters” watched intently, hoping to learn.

The ensemble was made up of a number of respected elders, but they were offset by promising young talents, including two women. More women are taking up music in Morocco, but they, just like other players of the coming generation, are attempting to balance their musical skills against the demands of their studies in vastly unrelated fields.

The evening saw a number of mini-lessons as the elder generation taught short improvisations and melodic fragments to the younger players, and within the concerts themselves, they conceded space for these growing instrumentalists to lead sections and take solos.

A Spaniard, American, A Brit, A Moroccan and an Algerian.......Mmmm, sort of says something!

For me the most endearing part of the evening was after about half of the group had gone to sleep in the main room. As people were lying down, they struggled to sleep due to the raucous energy coming from the next room.

I wandered over to listen to all the singing. Faiçel, a phenomenal oud player, was leading the performance of of Egyptian popular music, adragging the tiring vocalists deep into the night. The instrumentalists in the room, mostly violinists and suissen players (a smaller instrument plucked with a pic like a guitar) were jumping in with the chorus parts.........all in all the noise meant that, somewhere around 3:00am we had to close the window in case someone, somewhere was actually trying to sleep. The front door however stayed open, just in case a new face wanted to join the party!

When the songs lulled, a new leader would emerge, often from the younger players. Majdouline, a 22 year old oud player, began to belt a lesser-known song, which prompted everyone to quietly listen as she performed for her new peers.

Appreciative applause grew into yet another 20-minute composition and so on until Fajr, the call to pray signalled the beginning of the next day's Ramadan fasting.

By now I needed to try and sleep, but the music continued even as I drifted off in the next room. Around midmorning even the most resilient called it a day...............roll on tonight!

No Comment Needed

AND DID YOU KNOW............

The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.