Sunday, 30 December 2012



Well that’s it 2012 is now just a recent memory.

But firstly all at Desert Detours… particular Debbie and myself…… wish all our past and future clients, blog followers and Moroccan bound travellers an inspired and safe 2013.

Ours was yet another outstanding year with 11 Moroccan tours [or was that 12 tours?], whatever, it was busy. We also found time to finalise our Andalusia tours dates for 2013.

Already around half of our 2013 dates are FULL with a couple of tour dates down to just a one or two vehicle places left……the rest are at about 50% booked.

We are currently working on our Eastern Morocco Tour. This will be a one-off tour run more on the style of a fully supported exploration…….the region does not lend itself to hard and firm course or plans. A little shorter in duration, the route will loop east-south then south-west to arrive at a more familiar region, probably around the Boudnib/Meski area. From there clients will have the opportunity to continue at their leisure as an informal group or solo.

We say “arrive at a more familiar region” as the tour will in the first instance be open to past clients.  In the unlikely event that we do not achieve the minimum required vehicle numbers [10] we will then open the tour to others.

Tour date will likely be mid/October 2013.

We already have a probable participant list but please confirm you continued interest. Ex-client or otherwise.
Perhaps unsurprisingly both our early December and the current Christmas/New Year tours were oversubscribed. To avoid disappointment for the 2013 season contact us NOW!!!

So that's it another year passes me by……… the good thing is that I now get to use the thick wad of 2013 pages that have been patiently waiting in my personal Filofax……..the worrying thing is that I am getting ever more mindful of passing time and getting older; as I typed this Debbie took a phone call and informed me that not only did 2012 see me make a great, great Grandfather but now I am soon to be a great great uncle…… I am that pleased!!!!!!

NEW YEAR?............ WHAT NEW YEAR WOULD THAT BE?............

Muslims do not traditionally celebrate the beginning of a New Year, but they do acknowledge the passing of time, and take time to reflect on their own mortality.

Unless I have miss calculated the next Isamic New Year will start on the evening of the 3rd November 2013 when it will then actually be the year 1435 H.

Muslims measure the passage of time using the Islamic [Hijrah] calendar.  This calendar has twelve lunar months, the beginnings and endings of which are determined by the sighting of the crescent moon.  Years are counted since the Hijrah, which is when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah [approximately July 622 A.D.].

The Islamic calendar was first introduced by the close companion of the Prophet, Umar Ibn Al-Kattab.  During his leadership of the Muslim community, in approximately 638 A.D., he consulted with his advisors in order to come to a decision regarding the various dating systems used at that time.  It was agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah, since it was an important turning point for the Muslim community.  After the emigration to Madinah [formerly known as Yathrib], the Muslims were able to organize and establish the first real Muslim community to mature and strengthen, and the people developed an entire society based on Islamic principles.

The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in many Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia.  Other Muslim countiries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.  

As I mentioned earlier the Islamic year has twelve months that are based on a lunar cycle.  Allah says in the Qur'an

The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve [in a year] - so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth..... [9.36].

It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light of beauty, and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count of time.  Allah did not create this except in truth and righteousness.  And He explains His signs in detail, for those who understand. [10.5].

In his final sermon before his death, the Prophet Muhammad said, among other things, "With Allah the months are twelve, four of them are holy, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumaada and Sha'ban.

Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted.  The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons and are not fixed to the Gregorian calendar.  The months of the Islamic year are...........

1. Muharran [Forbidden - it is one of the four months during which it is forbidden to wage war or fight]

2. Safar [Empty or Yellow]

3. Rabia Awal [First Spring]

4. Rabia Thani [Second Spring]

5. Jumaada Awal [First freeze]

6. Jumaada Thani [Second freeze]

7. Rajab [To respect - this is another holy month when fighting is prohibited]

8. Sha'ban [To spread and distribute]

9. Ramadan [Parched thirst - this is the month of day time fasting]

10. Shawwal [To be light and vigorous]

11. Dhul-Qi'dah [The month of rest - another month when no warfare or fighting is allowed]

12. Dhul-Hijjah [The month of Hajj - this is the month of the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, again when no warfare or fighting is allowed].

MMmmmmmmmmmmmmmm  Just thought I would mention it. 

Please note that the above is for information and interested purposes only and in no way implies personal belief or whatever.................


A recent analysis of the DNA from a large sample of Scottish people revealed that
the Scottish population carries genes from…… no, not overwhelming traces of lRM-BRU, BUT from North-African, West-African and Asian origins.

Alistair Moffat a Scottish researcher, recently published a large-scale study that bears on the analysis of the DNA of a large number of people in Scotland. He said that this study would "rewrite the history of the Scottish nation."

Presented at Edinburgh International Book Festival, according to the British media 'The Guardian', the study revealed that 1% of Scottish carry Moroccan-Amazigh [Berber] genes. According to Moffat, this is due to the influences of Moroccan-Andalusian empires which, in the middle-ages, had foothold in Europe (Spain), and probably spread their seeds to neighboring European populations including the British Isles.

West-African and Caribbean origins have also been discovered in the Scottish population, which is explained by the influence of the black slave trade in the country….but that’s another story.

Tim Cullis, well versed on all matters Moroccan wrote ……. “Berber red hair: Celtic blood from coastal raids on Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland by the Barbary pirates. They were operational for over 100 years and it's estimated over 1,000,000 Europeans went into slavery in North Africa. Despite extremely strong Christian beliefs (compared to nowadays), some men converted to Islam and were allowed more freedom including the chance to marry. And I guess the captured women suffered the fate of conquered women everywhere. :(


We mention this because we visited the site on a recent tour………

Two male skeletons were discovered in the cave of Kehf El Hallouf, near the town of
El Ksir about 6km southwest of the city of Ain Taoujdate (province of El Hajeb).
"The National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage (INSAP) and the Regional Department of the Ministry of Culture of Meknes-Tafilalet announced that a joint team of Moroccan scientists have successfully discovered two buried human skeletons of male sex separated from each other by a sediment layer of 0.5m.

The first skeleton is between 6000 and 8000 years old, the man is buried in a narrow pit in a sitting position with sharply contracted legs while the heels of the feet
are touching the pelvis and his knees are at the thorax level. "The bones of the arms lay along the thorax while those of the forearm and hand resting directly on the ground. The skull, slightly lowered forward, is directed toward the north. The whole body lays on the left side leaned on a large block surmounted by a layout of piled stones. A stone tool, a scraper, seems to be intentionally deposited at the feet of the deceased" described the INSAP researchers.

The second skeleton belongs to an adult male whose age is between 8000 and 14000 years. "It was grounded in a small oval pit whose walls were delimited by blocks of medium size. The body was placed in a folded position on the right side. The bones of the right arm were placed along the body with the hand reaching the pelvis while those of the left arm were folded and rested near the skull. The latter, facing south-east and toppling over slightly to the back, was specially covered by a small slab of limestone" noted the Moroccan archaeologists.

Based on the analysis of the stratigraphy and archaeological samples, the first scientific findings lead to the conclusion that these graves would date from the Neolithic for the most recent or from Epipaleolithic for the most ancient. However, the age of the two skeletons will be determined more accurately using the 'radiometric dating' technique.


A true story I wrote for a local magazine a few years ago… I just came across it.

Even for me the last five months, much of it in the Western Sahara was a long time to be away from home. I got back to find more stray dogs had moved in, I now owned a new car, the stalled building work was completed and the land had been tended. But for a while the Sawwah [Wanderer] was now back in Alhaurin el Grande having gathered a few more stories, got into even more scrapes and has a few memories to re-live……Stop me if you are bored!

Hundreds of feet below an angry Atlantic took its rage out on black unyealing rocks. The roar and hiss was deafening making the brief intermittent silences more shattering in contrast. Above the crumbling cliff turned away, exposing an endless sky full of rushing clouds.

I pressed my back against its jagged, slimy, cold surface while my frozen fingers searched for grip. The ledge I was standing on was less than a meter wide, my legs ignored instruction, my stomach wrenched, my head spun……and frankly I think I was in need of a change of underwear!

Just a few hours earlier I had been sitting in the bright,hot sunlight with our local guide, Soliman, consulting my ancient Western Sahara map. I had recently read a manuscript that was later to inspire the book Skeletons of the Sahara, a story with which I have a close personal connection… (but that’s another story for another time….perhaps)! Anyway, I had been intrigued by a brief description of a caravan trader’s coastal shortcut vividly described in the pages. I felt the need to take a look…………

The story goes that way, way back when the Sahara Caravans plied their trade in salt, gold and slaves this shortcut along the coast gave a massive time and distance advantage to those brave enough to use it. The route saved many days desert travel, the only problem being that it involved passing along a very narrow cliff-face path, of some considerable length. There was of course a set rule involved. Before committing to the path you sent along one of your party, to make sure nobody was coming the other way, for there were no passing places or turning back points along its perilous route.

From opposite directions the small band of Moors and another of Jews approached each other, with their heavily laden mules and donkey’s…..They had ignored the rule; it was late at night and they had thought that they must surely be the only travellers on the cliff. They met near the middle.

It is said the shouting and arguing lasted only a few brief moments, as the inevitable showdown was obvious. The first Moor leapt, screaming, over his mules head, murder in his eyes, sabre drawn and ready. The Jew had little choice and defended his ground with a long starfe. This, the first of a deadly sequence of hand-to-hand combat was brief, when both merchants and a mule tumbled into the abyss. In the narrow and confined space, one by one, the two groups engaged in the predictable skirmish, there could surely be no winners. One by one they fell, were pushed or jumped into the awaiting cauldron below. Who, if anyone, eventually won is irrelevant and diffusers depending on who is telling the tale. Soliman, a diplomatic Arab, told me that the last two grappled and plugged over the side together………the last mule, in panic, followed.

So what the @#!# was I now doing perched on “Jews Leap” ………. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Just a few feet away Soliman, clinging like a limpet to the crumpling rock surface, was asking Allah something in gibberish. Swooping and screeching gulls gathered, circling like vultures, sending well aimed deposits in our direction. The last traces of my natural cool persona had long vanished, together with any feeling in my jellified legs.

The earlier light breeze had now turned a squall and my fingers could no longer feel the rock to which I clung. That was it. Embraced and heightened by an additional rush of adrenalin I scrambled, clambered and jostled [Soliman was proving a little slow and was in real danger of being honourably sacrificed] like a line-dancing crab back along the ledge and into the awaiting arms of a highly amused and hysterical Hassan.

“Right, let’s leave” I demanded. “What’s that on the arse of your trousers” asked Hassan.


The Moroccan government announced plans to preserve and renovate buildings that once served as Jewish schools.

Jewish and Arab Pupils in School.

The Muslim nation’s education minister, Mohamed El Ouafa, presented the plan at a meeting in Rabat with Marc Eisenberg, president of the Alliance Jewish education network.

The first phase of the plan is to place plaques in front of each of the buildings, according to the French-language Moroccan newspaper Le Matin. The minister said the plan would “allow present and future generations to learn about the shared history the Jewish and Muslim communities of Morocco and the cohesion between those two communities.”

Spurred on by a succession of programs, including in Oujada and Jerada, some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left the North African country between 1948 and 1967. Many settled in Israel, although Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined a “serious crime.”

Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and has maintained ties with Israel since then.

“The minister underlined the links of co-existence and understanding that always prevailed between the Jewish and Muslim communities of Morocco,” the paper reported.

Today, only some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, according to the European Jewish Congress. The children attend a handful of Jewish schools, which are also attended by some Muslim pupils, according to Le Matin.

For those interested Marrakesh has a lot to offer the traveller looking to delve into the city’s rich Jewish history. From the former Jewish quarter, which can be found in the back alleys of the City, to the high mountains where the last remaining Berber Jew lives, there is never a dull moment. Although eating kosher will prove tricky this is not impossible and the famed Marrakesh square is brimming with Eastern delights.

The Mellah, east of the Medina (old city) is the former Jewish quarter of Marrakesh. In the 16th century, sultan Abdullah Al-Ghalib moved the Jews here for protection. The quarter was once a town in itself with synagogues, shops and markets. Today, the remnants of the quarter’s Jewish past remain while most of the inhabitants are now Muslim.

The Lazama Synagogue [shown above and is no longer used as such] is soon to be restored and will contain a Jewish museum and Kosher restaurant. 

Finding The Mellah, known as the Hay Essalam, is not particularly easy. Situated east of the Medina and with street names being almost non-existent, the many paths can get confusing. The best way to enter is through the Place des Ferblantiers or Place de Mellah. To find the center of the quarters, look for a fountain and the tin workers on the outside of the square market. At this point you will have likely caught the attention of some young locals who will undoubtedly try to get you to hire them as tour guides.

As you enter The Mellah and walk through the narrow quarter you’ll notice that many of the houses are built below street level and have mezuzahs on them. Inside the Mellah is the Lazama synagogue, which was built in the 15th century by the Jews that fled Spain after the inquisition. It’s located down a long uninviting alley and the entrance is an unmarked door. Don’t let this put you off. As you enter you will find yourself in a world of striking blue and white walls that surround a well-cared for courtyard.

On the bottom floor is the synagogue where you will need to make a small donation to go inside. On the floor above there is a soup kitchen, a community centre and a Talmud Torah School. The building was built with the purpose of preserving the Spanish methods of Jewish observation. However, over the years, the different communities have integrated and such distinctions have been blurred.

Leaving the synagogue and heading straight through the alley you are only a few minutes away from the still active Miara Jewish cemetery. This is Morocco’s largest Jewish cemetery that dates back to the 16th century. The actual graveyard is separated into three sections, one for men, one for women and one for children. The cemetery is quite vast with bright white graves and you will be expected to make a donation to enter it. To get there you may want to pay the young locals a few Dirham considering it’s a bit tricky to find.

The kosher choices for lunch are pretty limited with the restaurant at Hotel Riad Primavera being the only real option. You can find the restaurant outside the old city, just off of Allal Fassi Avenue, near the Marjane department store. For non-kosher options, go to the famed square, Djemaa el-Fna. This is only a ten-minute walk from The Mellah and there are a number of outdoor places to get lunch. A popular choice is Les Jardins de la Medina on 21 Rue DerbChtouka. It serves traditional and French cuisine on a terrace. Prices range from 180 dirham to 360. Getting there takes just a few minutes from the main square by going via the Kasbah quarter close to the Royal Palace.

If your interest in matters Jewish extends you can visit one of the most pristine valleys in Morocco, Ourika Valley. Tucked away in the Atlas Mountains, it’s only 30km from Marrakesh and takes around 1-2 hours to get there by bus.

Jewish Cemetery in Marrakech.

Located in the Ourika Valley is the ancient town of Aghbalou. Here you will find the 500-year-old tomb of a former Chief Rabbi of Marrakesh, Solomon Bel-Hench, which rests on the edge of a mountain above a river. One particular trait of Moroccan Judaism is the honor of holy men, and Rabbi Shlomo is one of the most revered Jewish saints in Morocco. Hananiyah Alfassi, one of the few remaining Berber Jews of the Valley, has faithfully guarded his tomb for over 30 years. Whilst here you can visit him and the tomb as well as take in the general scenery. You can also walk around the many herb gardens and have some traditional mint tea Berber style before heading back to Marrakesh.

Once back in Marrakesh and you wish to cap your Jewish experience you can take a kosher dinner in the Riad Primavera…. Ask a taxi driver.


An old Moroccan gentleman lived in a house with a large garden close to Bradford for more than 40 years. He would have loved to plant potatoes in his garden, but he is alone, old and weak. His son is in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an
e-mail. He explains the problem:

"Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can't plant potatoes in my garden. I am
sure, if only you were here, you would help and dig up the garden for me.
I love you.
Your Father"

The following day, the old man receives a response e-mail from his son:

"Beloved Father,
Please don't touch the garden. It's there that I have hidden 'the THING'.
I love you, too,

At 4pm an Army Bomb Disposal Team, The SAS, the Special Branch, MI5 and Royal Engineers visit the house of the old man and started to rip the whole garden apart, searching every inch, but can't find anything. Disappointed they leave.

A day later, the old man receives another e-mail from his son.

"Beloved Father,
I hope the garden is dug up by now


Jewish Pig Farmer Jean Yoel Chriquia.

Shunned by most Muslim countries where pork consumption is a religious taboo, pig farming is booming in Morocco thanks to a growing tourist industry and pragmatic breeders.

"If there's tourism, it would be better to have pigs," said Samouk, 39, who raises 250 porkers at his farm just 28kms from the seaside town of Agadir. After being battered by a wave of bird flu, he launched a pig operation 20 years ago in partnership with an elderly Frenchman. Today, Samouk spins dreams of doubling his production within three years to help meet the demands of some 15 million tourists expected to visit Morocco in 2013, up from the 7.5 million who flocked to the north African country in 2007.

"I'm a practicing Muslim. I don't eat pork and I don't drink alcohol but it's just a breeding operation like any other and no Imam has ever reprimanded me for it," he said of raising pigs, whose consumption is prohibited in both Islam and Judaism.

Outlawed in Algeria, Mauritania and Libya, pig farming is nonetheless authorised in Tunisia as in Morocco, to cater to the flocks of European and other non-Muslim tourists who head to North Africa's spectacular beaches and deserts. "Our clientele is 98 percent European. They want bacon for breakfast, ham for lunch and pork chops for dinner. Signs are posted on buffet tables to avoid any confusion about the meat's origin" said Ahmad Bartoul, a buyer for a large Agadir hotel.

Morocco's swine industry comprises some 5,000 pigs raised on seven farms located near Agadir, Casablanca and the north-central city of Taza. The breeders include a Christian, two Jews and four Muslims. The breeders include Jean Yves Yoel Chriquia, a 32-year-old Jew who owns the country's main pork processing factory along with a farm of 1,000 pigs.

Annual production is currently estimated at 270 tonnes of meat, bringing in some 12 million dirhams (1.6 million dollars) in revenue.


A little [well a whole-lot actually] out of my brain power but I think that clients on either of our December
tours during 2013 may well be in for something truly spectacular! No not my infamous Dune-Turkey-Curry but something even rarer and more breath-taking.

The Comet ISON has been generating major hype on the internet recently and where better to witness what promises to be a spectacular event than on a Sahara Dune at Christmas…

This sun skirting comet is still very far away, near planet Jupiter and an unimpressive mag +16. However every day it is creeping closer and closer to both the Earth and the Sun. During November 2013 it will whip around the sun at 77km per second and could be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye in broad daylight. During the post-perihelion period during December ISON should emerge from solar glare as a brilliant 'great comet' sporting a very bright dust tail while getting closer to the Earth.

Comet Ison has taken millions of years to reach us travelling from the so-called Oort cloud, a reservoir of trillions and trillions of chunks of rock and ice, leftovers from the birth of the planets. It reaches out more than a light-year, a quarter of the way to the nearest star. In the Oort cloud the Sun is just a distant point of light whose feeble gravity is just enough to hold onto the cloud. Every once in a while a tiny tug of gravity, perhaps from a nearby star or wandering object, disturbs the cloud sending some of its comets out into interstellar space to be lost forever and a few are scattered sunward. Comet Ison is making its first, and perhaps only visit to us. Its life has been cold, frozen hard and unchanging, but it is moving closer to the Sun, and getting warmer.

Ison's surface is very dark, pock marked and dusty with ice beneath the surface. It's a small body, a few tens of miles across, with a tiny pull of gravity. If you stood upon it you could leap 20 miles into space taking over a week to come down again, watching as the comet rotated beneath you. You could walk to the equator, kneel down and gather up handfuls of comet material to make snowballs, throw them in a direction against the comet's spin and watch them hang motionless in front of you. But it will not remain quiet on Comet Ison for the Sun's heat will bring it to life.

By the end of summer it will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun.

Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

The comet potentially could be the brightest comet of the century if predictions verify, in either case we should have a beautiful naked eye comet during the Christmas and New Year period next year.

It’s of course early days and we await more recent news… But whatever it will be awesome with expressed views about the jaw-dropping magnitude ranging from an incredible -16 to -10 and more recently a more believable but remarkable -6.

Truth be told that no one can say with any accuracy from this far out without refined magnitude estimates and astrometry to make the orbit more accurate. Any of the above peak magnitudes are possible so this comet still remains a very exciting object for many reasons and by December 2013 we could be in for the comet of our life-time.

Researching this has given me a headache, like I said, all a bit beyond my cells ……. However, in more recent years I have not personally joined the December/Christmas tours, but now I can't wait!

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