Sunday, 31 March 2013


The lads have only been back from the March tour a few days but they will off again Monday [1st April] for the C&CC tour. When I say “they” that includes myself and of course Alice!

The tour had some rain last month but judging by the “thank you cards” it was another great trip……with no mishaps or breakdowns, largely due to Steve performing what can only be described as Keyhole Surgery on a client’s Fiat…… While down in the desert area Steve re-assembling a dislodged Clutch Thrust Bearing, via the small bell-housing inspection hole!!!! A nightmare and expensive had the client been travelling solo….all part of the job!

This time we are delivering a hub-assembly to a Motorhome owner [solo, not one of our clients] stranded south of Fes. Like I have said before, as long as it does not impact on our clients we will help whenever possible……..but at time it does seem that we are operating the only “Breakdown Service” in Morocco.

Anyone thinking of getting away from the awful UK weather there are still a few places on the Autumn listings……. Demand is such that there is now an additional December tour scheduled.  Call or email ASAP if you are interested.

Due to a client switching dates there is now just ONE vehicle place available on the all new 11th September EASTERN MOROCCO tour. Another first for Desert Detours, nobody else tours this region.

For 2014 we are re-introducing the successful “Footsteps of the Moors” tour…..a 30+ day Andalusia-Morocco combination.

Dates for Portugal are now firm for 2014, but more about that when the Portugal Detours web-site goes live.



........not take your vehicle!  OK, not strictly speaking a motorhome topic but perhaps one we should all be a bit aware of.

The pictures below were taken at a beach not a long way south of Sidi-Ifni, a favourite camping location for motor homer's ....... And yes, I have seen motorhomes on the sands.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.......................


A few of Desert Detours trips spend some time in Marrakech……A couple of tours stay for just one day/night, others for perhaps two or three nights. Whilst the vast majority of our visitors find it an exciting and interesting experience and love it very few, if we are honest, are not impressed.
Having visited the “Classics” and the “Must See” locations we always urge clients to take time and explore the alleys and byways, where with little effort they will stumble across some real gems. Perhaps they don’t heed my advice……..whatever, clearly they miss so much.

Kamal Boukentar spends his day’s hand-sewing footballs, sitting on a rush-seated chair outside his wardrobe-size workshop, La Clinique du Ballon, deep in the souks of Marrakech Medina. He painstakingly sews small panels of leather together with an exactness of stitch that makes you think it has been sewn by machine. Occasionally he stops to spray the seam he is working on with water, to soften the leather and make it easier to sew. He is the only handmade leather football-maker in Morocco, and, quite possibly, one of only a handful left in Africa and Europe.
When we first meet, Kamal is working on a model from the 1930s with 18 panels. On a shelf in the shop window is the ultimate in the fine art of football making, a ball of 72 pieces, probably one of only two in the world, one made by Kamal, the other laboriously sewn by his father 40 years earlier.
“Mohamed Boukentar, my father, started the shop in 1965, and was one of about 20 makers in the Medina at the time. During the 1970s my mother, Lalla Aicha, worked with him, and is the only woman ever to have hand-sewn leather footballs in Morocco. I began in 1984, when I was 12, and it took me a week to make my first football.” He points to the ball in the window. “I can make an 18-piece football in one day, but that one took me 10 days of solid work. It’s purely for display, to show just how intricate a ball can be, and there is no price in the world that would get me to part with it.”
Most people probably just assume that a football is made from a basic design, which is exactly what I, thought, which goes to show how most people, including me, am completely wrong. Most modern footballs are made up of 32 panels, but an original can be made up of 10 different numbers of pieces from four to 34, and each of those will have three or four different designs, around 30 different patterns in all.

As the ball comes together like a complicated inside-out puzzle, Kamal inserts the rubber bladder that inflates the finished ball. Fortunately, he doesn’t go as far as using a pig’s bladder as they would in the early days of the game. In its natural state, the leather is pale beige, but after three carefully rubbed-on coats of olive oil, it attains the rich brown colour and muted sheen of memories of games played by men with short haircuts and knee-length baggy shorts, who didn’t feel the need to kiss and cuddle each other whenever a goal was scored.
Despite being a sporting work of art, Kamal’s footballs are never likely to see a football pitch. “Most people buy them for decoration or as gifts. But I like it when an older man buys one because it reminds him of when he played football as a boy. I’ve got an original pair of 1930s boots on display and sometimes people tell me what it was like playing in them. Heavy and uncomfortable, by the sound of it!”

Like I say……..wonder around and explore…… will find something to marvel at and to be amazed.

TIME TO ADD A BIT OF SPICE?........................

OK Marrakech again…….but you will find these Spice Souks in every town in Morocco. Don’t just hurry by, looking the other way while taking a little peek. Stop, smell and step inside……  Seeing ghosts has never been a major preoccupation for me, but if ever I find myself frightened of phantoms I know exactly where to the Spice Souk in Marrakech, where Ahmed will create a secret blend of dried chameleon, iguana foot, sea urchin, hedgehog and fish bones.  He'll mix and grind them together for you........ Later throw them in fire and breathe in the cleansing fumes, make a paste and apply to the requisite spot, digest in raw form or as a bedtime beverage. Dried chameleon and hedgehog may be some of the more obscure ingredients on offer at the Berber Pharmacies, but as I said for whatever ails you have they will have something to swallow, breathe, rub on or wash in.  Too much stress and not sleeping?  Try an infusion of nutmeg flower.  Having trouble with migraine or sinus?  Then a few tiny black nejillia seeds wrapped in a cloth and inhaled after a quick rub on your palm will blow your head off, make your eyes water and instantly clear your head.  It's also great for snoring we are told.

Ahmed spots a shaving cut on my face and gives me a piece of alawn stone to rub on to aid quick healing.  With a side-long glance he tells me that is also "creates new virgins", a topic I prefer not to pursue.  Continuing with the theme he suggests that should I ever need help in the "men's department" he'll mix me a concoction of Moroccan ginseng tea with just a smidgen of Spanish fly, a tiny insect so toxic that they are sold in the most miniscule quantities imaginable, but even so, Ahmed assures me, "all the night gymnastic, by morning's man's dead". 

A visit to a Berber pharmacy is as much ceremony as shopping.  With a grin they will offer you a glass of  "Berber Whisky" - mint tea - while they discuss what ails you, let you sample a little of this, smell a soupcon of that, before mixing your potion, over charging you and then try to sell you something else.  But it's all part of the game.

When I first visited Ahmed almost ten years ago I brought three small blocks of concentrated ambergris, jasmine flower and musk, which still perfume my home and never seem to fade or reduce in size.  But after setting fire to a piece of gourd and inhaling the smoke to try and cure a headache, the stench was so bad that I decided that perhaps modern-day pharmacy does have something to offer - and swallowed a paracetemol instead.

A visit to a genuine Berber Pharmacy is pure entertainment ...... with a bonus!


The Joujouka Festival began in 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of the visit by Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and has been held annually since. Jones recorded the group during his stay and the resulting Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Joujouka is widely regarded as one of the first world music albums. 

Blimey……that means I first visited Joujouka around 47 years ago…before Brian Johns. Feels like yesterday……….That would be in the mind, not the body!

Other visitors to the village over the years include writers and artists Brion Gysin, William S Burroughs and Timothy Leary, who all wrote of their experiences after being entranced by the sacred music. There are plenty of reasons why the Joujouka festival is unlike any other you’ll experience but one is that it’s a festival in reverse: a small number of people watch the same band for three days. Up close.

So, when you come to Joujouka for the festival, you’re not just following in the footsteps of Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, Brian Jones and some of the world’s most challenging artists. You’re experiencing the unique healing power of the music of the Masters in its purest possible form. The next Master Musicians of Joujouka Festival takes place from 14-16 June 2013. For the last six years Moroccan Sufi trance group the Master Musicians of Joujouka have held an annual festival for an international crowd of music lovers to experience their music in an intimate setting.
The festival is held in the Musicians' village, based in the picturesque rolling hills of the Ahl Serif mountains in northern Morocco, near Ksar El Kebir, offering guests a unique opportunity to witness the music of the “4,000 year old rock n roll band” over three days and nights……..
The music played in the village is said to date back to the 15th century, when the Sufi saint Sidi Ahmed Schiech arrived and taught the Masters' ancestors music which could heal. Today's group of Master Musicians are blessed with the Baraka or spirit of their saint, who is buried in the village. In 2011 the group travelled to England to perform on the main Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. For the annual festival in Joujouka visitors spend three days with the Musicians in their homes.
An incredible experience …………….. Prepare to be shaken, stunned and……….
Pan, Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, dances through the moonlight nights in his village, Joujouka, to the wailing of his hundred Master Musicians. Down in the town, far away by the seaside, you can hear the wild whimper of his oboe-like raitas; a faint breath of panic borne on the wind. Below the rough palisade of giant blue cactus surrounding the village on its hilltop, the music flows in streams to nourish and fructify the terraced fields below.

Inside the village the thatched houses crouch low in their gardens to hide in the deep cactus-lined lanes.  You come through their maze to the broad village green where the pipers are piping; fifty raitas banked against a crumbling wall blow sheet lightning to shatter the sky.  Fifty wild flutes blow up a storm in front of them, while a platoon of small boys in long belted white robes and brown wool turbans drum like young thunder.  All the villagers dressed in best white, swirl in great circles and coil around one Wildman in skins.

Bou Jeloud leaps high in the air on the music, races after the women again and again, lashing at them fiercely with his flails -'forget not in your speed, Antonius, to touch Calpurnia' - He is wild.  He is mad.  Sowing panic.  Lashing at anyone; striking real terror into the crowd.  Woman scatter like white marabout birds all aflutter and settle on one little hillock for safety, all huddled in one quivering lump.  They throw back their heads to the moon and scream with throats open to the gullet, lolling their tongues around their heads like the clapper in a bell.  Every mouth is wide open, frozen into an O.  Head back and hot narrow eyes brimming with dangerous baby.

Bou Jeloud is after you.  Running, over-run, laughter..... someone is crying.  Wild dogs at your heels, swirling around in one ring-a-rosy, around and around and around.  Go! Forever! Stop! Never!  More and No More and No More! ........... Pipes crack in your head.  Ears popped away at barrier sound and you are deaf.  Or dead!  Swirling around in cold moonlight, surrounded by wildmen or ghosts.  Bou Jeloud is on you, butting you, beating you, taking you, and leaving you. Gone!  The great wind drops out of your head and you hear the heavenly music again.
You feel sorry and loving and tender to that poor animal whimpering, grizzling, laughing and sobbing there beside you like somebody out of ether. Who is that? That is you. Who is Bou Jeloud? Who is he? The shivering boy who was chosen to be stripped naked in a cave and sewn into the bloody warm skins and masked with an old straw hat tied over his face, HE is Bou Jeloud when he dances and runs. Not Ali, not Mohamed, and then he is Bou Jeloud. He will be somewhat taboo in his village the rest of his life.
When he dances alone, his musicians blow a sound like the earth sloughing off its skin. He is the Father of Fear. He is, too, the Father of Flocks. The Good Shepherd works for him. When the goats, gently grazing, brusquely frisk and skitter away, he is counting his flock. When you shiver like someone just walked on your grave-that’s him; that’s Pan, the Father of Skins. Have you jumped out of your skin lately? I’ve got you under my skin………Blue kiff smoke drops in veils from Jajouka at nightfall. The music picks up like a current turned on . . .
On the third night he meets Aisha Homolka who drifts around after dark, cool and casual, near springs and running water. She unveils her beautiful blue-glittering face and breasts and coos.
And he who stammers out an answer is lost. He is lost unless he touches the blade of his knife or, better still, plucks it out and plunges the blade of it into the ground between her goatish legs and forked hooves. Then Aisha Homolka, Aisha Kandisha, alias Asherat, Astarte, Diana in the Leaves Greene, Blest Virgin Miriam Bar Levy, The White Goddess, in short, will be his. She must be a heavy Stone Age Matriarch whose power he cuts off with his Iron Age knife- magic.
The music grooves into hysteria, fear and fornication. A ball of laughter and tears in the throat gristle. Tickle of panic between the legs. Gripe of slapstick cuts loose in the bowels. The Three Hadji. Man with Monkey. More characters coming on stage. The Hadji joggles around under their crowns like Three Wise Kings. Monkey Man comes on hugely pregnant with a live boy in his baggy pants. Monkey Man goes into birth pangs and the Hadji deliver him of a naked boy with an umbilical halter around his neck. Man leads Monkey around, beating him and screwing him for hours to the music. Monkey jumps on Man’s back and whirls him to the music for hours. Piper’s pipe higher into the air and panic screams off like the wind into the woods of silver olive and black oak, on into the Riff Mountains swimming up under the moonlight.

Pan leaps back on the gaggle of women with his flails.  The women scream and deliver one tiny boy, wriggling and stumbling as he dances out in white drag and veil.  Another blood curdling birth-yodel and they throw up another small boy.  Pan flails them as they push out another and another until there is ten or more little boys-girls out there with Pan, shaking that thing in the moonlight.

Bigger village drag-stars slither out on the village green and shake it up night after night.  Pan kings them all until dawn.  They are, all of them, Aisha Homolka .......... He is the God Pan.


More than 1,000 runners from 45 countries will participate in Morocco's 28th Marathon des Sables, the ten-day, six-stage race which begins on April 5th. So it’s probably kicked-off by time I get this blog entry on-line. …….. Shame, like me I bet you wished you had entered the event!

The marathon is in reality a multi-day ‘ultra-marathon’ or ‘ultra’ run over six days following a course of between 150 and 156 (254km) miles, If that does not sound much then think about it, it’s the equivalent of running from London to Dover and back again, but in 120 degree heat and with a heavy survival backpack strapped on and with tormenting voices in your head screaming out for a cold beer!

The actual routes and formats change every year. The Race Director and his team spend a month meticulously planning routes that are held secret until the day before the event starts.

Competitors stay overnight in a bivouac village, comprised of tents that sleep about 8 competitors per tent. Once you get your  'bivvy' your bivvy team become your family, your support team, your nursing team and invariably they become long-term friends.

I will be there with C&CC group during April otherwise I may have given it a shot!!!


Where did I hear that before? Anyway, Morocco is famous throughout the world for its superb rose oil (known as rose otto from the Arabic itr, meaning perfume) and the Rose Festival in El Kelaa M'Gouna is a wonderfully perfumed event worth attending. But because the "valley of the roses" is some six hours drive from Marrakech and accommodation is limited, it is worthwhile making plans well in advance.

 The roses are not farmed in fields as you might see in the south of France around Grasse, but are simply hedgerow plants that bloom once a year. French essential oil producers descend on the area at harvest time and set up stills in the fields. Every year thousands of tons of petals of rosa damascena are distilled in the big copper pots. Rosewater is the main product, but it's the essential oil, in fact a by-product of the process, that is so valuable. That's taken back to France and sold to perfume and cosmetic houses; it's extremely expensive. The retail price of just 3ml, or half a teaspoon, costs over 150 Euros. The essential oil is extremely difficult to find in Morocco, and simply isn't available in El Kelaa M'Gouna at all. But you can find rosewater and lots of pink face and body creams.
In countryside homes, it's not unusual to see whole rooms knee-deep in rosebuds and petals that are left to dry. Moroccan women use rosewater on their faces (it's great for combatting wrinkles!), and the dried buds can be mixed with ghassoul (clay) in facial and hair products. It's also used in flower water shakers at celebrations, and spice merchants add dried buds to ras el-hanoot, used in cooking.

Rosewater from El Kelaa M'Gouna is available everywhere in the Fez Medina and is very cheap (around Dh10 for a 200ml bottle). Moroccans make their own rosewater at this time of year, when you can see shops selling nothing but rose petals, and small zinc stills are widely available.

Just how friendly are Moroccans?  A new report, put out earlier this month by the World Economic Forum, has ranked which countries roll out the welcome mat to travellers and which give the cold shoulder. The good news is that Morocco was in the top three, behind Iceland and New Zealand.
One of the most frequently asked questions in travel forums by those thinking of visiting Morocco is "Is it safe, are Moroccans welcoming of tourists?" While responses to such questions have always been positive, it is only now that we can report on a qualitative survey. And the answer is an overwhelming "yes"!

The "Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013" ranked 140 countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries. Among the extensive analyses, one of the most interesting rankings was how welcome tourists are in each country, under the category "Attitude of population toward foreign visitors."
The other good news was that the UK didn’t feature in the Worse-Top-Ten list that included Iran, Bolivia and Mongolia ……….. But does that mean it was well down and off the listing?
Maakouda is a delicious potato fritters prepared by nearly all Moroccan families. It is a crispy and spicy disc shape fritters made of mashed potatoes mixed with some herbs and spices, dipped in whipped eggs and then fried.
It can be served as a great snack or a side dish, but for some people, a plate of Maakouda with fresh soft bread and spicy sauce or salad is just a good meal. But I think it makes a great BBQ side dish.
4 potatoes.
1 egg.
2 cloves of minced garlic.
1tbsp cumin.
½ tsp salt.
1 tsp paprika.
¼ tsp black pepper.
2 tbsp chopped parsley and coriander.
For frying: 1 whipped egg. Some flour. Oil.
Clean potatoes, peel and cut then boil them.
Drain the boiled potatoes and let them cool.
Mash the potatoes with a fork, add egg, parsley, coriander and spices then mix well.
Make small balls from the paste and press them a little by the palm of hand.
Dip the patties in egg then in flour.
Fry the patties in hot oil in both sides until they are golden brown.
Serve hot!

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