Friday, 7 December 2012


I have known Hassan for well over 30 years, indeed many who may be reading this will also have met and know him. The fact is that Hassan has worked for us in Morocco during both the Trailmasters era and then Desert Detours for most of those 30 years and is considered more “family” than employee.  We have supported him through junior school, high school and college, watched him pass through childhood, youth and young man, witnessed all the dramas of growing up then courtship and marriage to see his family grow and various homes flourish.

Some of the client group enjoying the wedding feast.

So I was not just surprised when the marriage of his eldest daughter, Layla, was announced but also hugely disappointed. The very short notice and unusually rapid marriage arrangements had all to do with her future husband’s on-going military deployment; he is part of the Royal Protection Team around King Mohamed V1. The frustration was that I would be many miles away on tour with a group at the time and Debbie would be in the UK. The disappointment was bitter.

May I have this next dance? DD staff member Yousef and client.

Then at the very last moment it all started to fall into place. The wedding dates…..I say dates as it was to be a week-long event…..were shifted due again to the Kings movements.  With just a couple of minor adjustments to our itinerary I was able to make Meski, together with our client group, for the most important final two days of the wedding……

The rapid marriage arrangements meant that it was not, as it would have otherwise been, an event on a huge scale…Did I say NOT huge?.........500 plus guests being entertained and fed in a number of sittings over two days !!!!....and there was no skimping on the 5 course meal. A team of specialist cooks turned 2 cows, 3 sheep, 300 chicken heaps of veg, nuts, cakes, oils and fruit into a real feast, two huge marquees, live music etc etc etc........

Just one of the many courses!

But it was of course much more than about feeding the masses… was to be both a spectacular and moving occasion. Perhaps to the unaccustomed European eye it may at times have seemed chaotic and unorganised, but it was not, an exact schedule comes second to strict tradition and formality, with most of the “ceremonies” starting very late evening or during the night, and the couples preparation and profound emotions……Time had to be given to the endless stream of local chiefs, dignitaries, imam who would arrive at times best suited to themselves. The couple looked absolutely terrified much of the time!!  

During our two days in Meski our clients were treated as honoured guests being made welcome, invited freely into homes, ceremonies and banquets gaining a rare and unique insight. Some even managed to stay well into the night.

Locals join in the celebrations.

Having known Layla from birth it was for me a very moving and special occasion with so many highlights, but I will never forget the couple walking slowly around the pool at Source Bleu, in the early hours, bathed by the light of the moon and over a 1000 flickering candles. Simply stunning!

Honestly, they were much happier than they look!


Ray of course ordered the wrong type of Chip!

Neither of the two Nissan Navarra pick-up trucks we run here at Desert Detours and Andalusia Detours could in anyway be described as sluggish, in fact far from it. But recently I got dragged into a debate regarding the pros and cons of “chipping” engines.

After much confusion a phone call resulted to a very helpful and efficient company back in the UK, ChipExpress. The call ended in a not very cheap credit card payment. Just 4 days later, as promised, the parcel arrived in Spain. For a change I did read the excellent instructions and found that just 10 minutes and no tools were needed to install the magic box of tricks.

It should be said that I have little faith in the claims and benefits of hi-tech gadgets and had very low expectations. So it was with fingers crossed and an open eye for a puff of expensive smoke that we fired-up the beast and headed for the Alhaurin El Grande bypass. So far so good, the engine if anything felt smoother and more flexible……or was that just wishful imagination, justifying the cost? A slow run along the bypass confirmed that the Guardia patrol were, as is the norm, having their siesta and were nowhere to be seen.

Whooooosh ……… The transformation was staggering, well exceeding the companies’ claims. The huge boost in power corresponds to faster acceleration, higher top-end, smoother power band and, what we were really after, a mass more torque. It is claimed that fuel consumption will improve, time will tell, but that’s not a huge must for us given the cost of diesel in both Morocco and Spain being what it is.

The Real Chip. should you be interested.


The port was exceptionally busy as we lined-up to catch the early morning ferry to Ceuta for the start of our December tour.  Room on the loading deck was at a premium with a real danger that a couple of client vehicles may have been left behind to await a later sailing. But you have to hand it to the loading crew ….. Where there´s a will there´s a way and they squeezed the last one on!!!!



Honestly, I have tried. More than once I have ventured into the mayhem and mass of Casablanca but can find nothing, other than the Grand Mosque, worth the effort and hassle.  However, recently a business matter forced me to endure an encounter with what for me is…for me ….. the worst city in Morocco……but this time I was taken by my hosts to visit an unexpected gem and enjoyed a very special night and occasion.

For many people the first time they heard of Morocco was when seeing the classic film Casablanca. The fact that the movie was not shot in Casablanca or indeed anywhere in Morocco, does not take away from the huge impact the film has had on popular conceptions of Morocco. It has also had a very real and lasting impact on tourism. Now there is a new cause for celebration. On November 26th Rick's celebrated the 70th anniversary of the debut of the movie.

When Kathy Kriger made the decision to open a Rick's Cafe in Casablanca the sceptics thought it would be a flash in the pan and probably a tacky Hollywood imitation. How wrong they were. Even if there had never been a film called Casablanca, Kriger's Rick's Cafe would still be worth visiting.  Not only did I find the food exceptionally good but the decor, architecture and general ambiance made it an outstanding visit.

For more than 60 years, tourists visiting Casablanca tried to visit Rick’s Café American only to discover that Warner Brothers had built the entire set on a studio back lot on the other side of the Atlantic. There are and have been a few “frauds” with owners who will swear that they are the one and only “Real Deal”.
In her recently published book, RICK'S CAFE, Kathy takes us through souk back alleys, the Marché Central's overflowing food stalls, and the shadowy Moroccan business world, all while producing, directing, casting, and playing lead actress in her own story. Instead of letters of transit, she begged for letters of credit; the governor of Casablanca watched her back instead of Captain Renault; and at the piano, playing “As Time Goes By,” sits not Sam but Issam. She encountered paper pushers, absent architects, dedicated craftsmen, mad chefs, and surprising allies. It took over two manic years, but Rick’s Café opened in 2004 to rave reviews. Kathy has brought to life the screen legend that has captured the imagination of generations.

Kathy Kriger.

As Captain Renault said to Major Strasser, “Everybody comes to Rick’s” no longer will I rush pass Casablanca with nothing more than a glance from the motorway network. An outstanding experience and one that I will be repeating again.

You can find Rick's at 248 Boulevard Sour Jdid in Casablanca's Medina. Phone 0522 27 42 07/08


By coincidence I just spotted this news item…….

The piano used for the song 'As Times Goes By' in the classic 1942 film 'Casablanca' is getting another turn at fame. The instrument is going up for sale at Sotheby's in New York on December 14, and the auction house estimates it'll fetch up to $1.2million.  It's being offered by a Japanese collector on the film's 70th anniversary. The unidentified collector purchased the movie prop at a Sotheby's auction in 1988 for $154,000.

The piano up for auction is one of the two famous sets of ivories featured in the film: one served a key role in Rick and Ilsa's first meeting in Paris during the war. The second, different instrument is featured in the bar that Rick goes on to run in Casablanca. The two instruments may get confused for good reason, as they are both played by Sam, the musician played by actor Dooley Wilson, and on each he bangs out a rendition of the iconic song 'As Time Goes By'. The piano that is headed for auction is the former, as it is seen in the romantic flashback scene where Rick and Ilsa lean on the piano at a Paris bistro and as they toast, Rick says 'Here's looking at you, kid'.

According to the fictional chronology of the film, that is the first time that Rick says the catchphrase to Ilsa.It is then repeated three other times throughout the film.

Interestingly, one of the film's other famous lines was not actually featured. Ilsa never asks the musician to 'Play it again, Sam' as is commonly assumed, but instead she just simply tells him to 'Play it, Sam.' The misquotation may come from confusion over what was actually featured in the classic and what was made popular by Woody Allen's 1972 film that was called 'Play It Again, Sam' where the New York icon believes Humphrey Bogart is is alter ego.

Seven decades after the premiere of the classic 'Casablanca,' the Moroccan port city remains firmly associated in many people's minds with the movie, even though Rick's Cafe Americain, where much of the story took place, was a pure creation of Hollywood.

'Casablanca,' a story of love and intrigue during World War II, premiered November 26, 1942. Today, the city is a vibrant, noisy metropolis of 4 million people and Morocco's commercial capital, nothing like the wartime colonial outpost depicted in the iconic movie, which starred Humphrey Bogart as Rick. But a trip through the city's swanky lounges and dive bars can still evoke the spirit of the cafe from the movie.

There's even a real-life Rick's Cafe, founded by an American expat…..see previous arirtica
In the film, Rick's Cafe American, an expansive space spanned by low arches, had it all: a casino, singers, full brass band and round tables where guests hunched conspiratorially, drinking and talking about resisting the Nazis or getting exit visas to flee to America.

'During the 1940s, Casablanca was a laboratory for European architects,' said Adel Saadani, who works to raise awareness of the city's neglected heritage.
'There was space and there was money and there was a carte Blanche for architects to experiment with designs they couldn't do in Europe.'

DID I SAY THAT?..........

I am told this is a true story……

A devout Muslim entered a black cab in London. He curtly asked the cabbie to turn off the radio because as decreed by his religious teaching, he must not listen to music because in the
Time’s of the prophet there was no music, especially Western music which is the deemed the music of the infidel.

The cab driver politely switched off the radio, stopped the cab and opened the door.

The Muslim asked him, "What are you doing?"

The cabbie answered, "In the time of the prophet there were no taxis, so p#ss off and wait for a camel!"


I know that they come with all the required tests completed, any number of EU certificates, list of satisfied customer’s and presumably good reason why so many vehicles come without spare wheels…..I mean it´s nothing to do with cost or weight is it?  BUT, and it is only my own experience and opinion, form filled or puncture repair systems in a can are rubbish!!!

Given the combined thousands of miles we and clients cover each year we inevitably suffer a number of punctures…and it is nothing to do with conditions in Morocco. The fact is that I have NEVER seen an effective repair completed using one of these systems.

Many punctures, particularly on the rear, result in the vehicle running flat before the driver is even aware resulting in a destroyed tyre. No amount of foam will pug a gash or damage from serious blow-out. Result is a huge delay, plus cost, when you try and source a replacement.

A good example …… Returning north after the November tour one of our escort vehicles suffered a total tyre failure, on the motorway just past Rabat. If the location was not bad enough the tyre failure could not have been worse. Whilst the tyre did not actually deflate a huge section of tread stripped back…..damaging the wheel arch…..right down to the wire bond. The only real issue was getting the spare out of the fully loaded rear but after a quick change and clearing the motorway of our debris we were soon on our way.


What Foam?

Point of the story?  No amount of foam would have helped…….see picture……and finding a replacement would have taken an age, cost a bomb and would have had security issues if we had needed to leave the vehicle etc. etc…… 

Whilst we do not insist on a full replacement wheel-tyre for vehicles on our tours we do insist on at least a spare tyre.


The Taghazout Festival is set to take place from the 17th to 29th of December in the stunning beach village of the same name. This village is situated 18 km north of Agadir, in  the Souss-Massa-Draa region. An association called Izorane (“roots” in Tamazight) was created in 2007 to contribute to the development of this village by organising several activities such as surf competitions, concerts, beach cleaning, and heritage celebrations.

Taghazout is known to be one of the destinations of the most skillful surfers in the world. It also receives a good number of tourists every year.

Surfing the Berber Way!

The festival program will include: A surf competition with DJ, music concert on the beach, beach cleaning, and press conference. Through this event, university professors specialising in the environmental field aim to raise awareness about the effect of pollution on their region.

Beach cleaning in the village will take place on the 28th of December starting from 10 a.m. Villagers, tourists, surfers and association activists will take part in this event.

The surf competition will take place on the 29th of December.  During the day a musical concert will entertain the audience with the participation of the famous singer Amazigh Amouri Mbraek, DJ Face, Rass Derb, Abdellah Khoutia, MC Jamal, and Eava from Morocco. The winners in the various competitions will be awarded prizes.

Taghazout and the surrounding beaches near Agadir are known for being one of the most frequented destinations for surfing in the world. For instance, Imourane, a beach located near Taghazout, is known for hosting national and international surf competitions.

While the villagers continue to rely on fishing as one of their sources of living, sport tourism has become an important economic activity of many young people in the region who operate surf camps, shops that rent surf materials, furnished apartments, who also interact with tourists coming from all over the world. This festival comes to contribute to the development of the region and it is an opportunity for people to network, have fun, educate each other and learn to surf.


The Muslim world celebrated the Day of Ashura, held on November 25, that’s the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar. Originally a Jewish celebration, this ceremony marks the Jewish tradition of fasting on the tenth day of Muharram to commemorate the rescue of Moses from Pharaoh. In Sunni Islam the celebration also is tied to Moses: Where the Prophet Mohammad advised his fellow Muslims to fast the ninth and tenth day or the tenth and eleventh day of Muharram also to honour the deliverance of Moses and to be distinguished from the Jews. For the Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of sorrow and mourning remembering the grandson of the prophet Mohammad, Hussein Ibn Abi Talib, whom was martyred in the Battle of Karbala around thirteen centuries ago.

In some Sunni countries like Morocco the commemoration has grown beyond its religious roots into a festive and enjoyable day. Moroccans prepare delicious meals made specifically to celebrate Ashura. One of the traditions is to keep the tail of the sheep of the recent ‘Eid Al Adha’ until Ashura, and use it along with sun dried meat called “kurdas” in Morocco’s famous dish of couscous. Kurdas contains liver, fat and lots of spices, wrapped around the stomach and tied tightly with the small intestines then stored in an open sunny place to dry. Trust me, its tastes better than it sounds!!

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima…. a stop-off on some of our tours….. there is a large street festival where people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks. In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and hand claps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

Children Celebrating Udayen n Ashur.

Another Ashura tradition is throwing water at one another. This is another very common tradition in Morocco, especially if Ashura comes at the end of a hot spring or summer day. Moroccans are showered from head to toe whenever they’re caught outside. The Arabic speaking regions call this tradition “Zamzam.” The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam: The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back.

On Ashura, children move from house to house, singing rhyming songs and collecting money and sweets. The songs are often prayers or offers of praise for kind and generous people. As a child, I always looked forward with overwhelming happiness to Ashura. The day before, my friends and I would prepare Ashura clothes and long necklaces from shells of the dead snails. When travelling from house to house, one of us used to lay down in a neighbours’ door and pretend to be dead while the rest sang sorrowful mourning songs personalised for each house, for example: ‘Oh! Mr. Lmakki, our friend has tragically passed away, if only you could bring him back to life, we would give you almonds and henna for your kids.” Nearly all the houses would offer us eggs, dates, almonds, and sometimes even money.


The King of a Middle Eastern fiefdom advertised for a new chief swordsman. But after a year, only three applied for the job: a Japanese samurai, a Chinese martial arts expert and Sidi Driss from Morocco.

"Demonstrate your skills!" commanded the King.

The Japanese samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny gold box and released a fly. He drew his sword and …… Swish!.......  the fly fell to the floor, neatly divided in two!

"What a feat!" said the King. "Number Two Swordsman, show me what you can do."

The Chinese martial arts expert smiled confidently, stepped forward and opened a tiny silver box, releasing a fly. He drew his sword and ….. Swish! …..Swish! …… The fly fell to the floor neatly quartered.

"That is skill!" nodded the King. "How are you going to top that, Number three swordsman?"

Sidi Driss stepped forward, opened a rough little wooden box releasing one fly, drew his scimitar and ……. Swoooooosh! …… flourishing his sword so mightily that a gust of wind blew through the room. But the fly was still buzzing around!

In disappointment, the King said, "What kind of skill is that? The fly isn't even dead."

"Dead" replied Sidi Driss. "Dead is easy. Circumcision...  THAT takes skill!"


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