Wednesday, 6 March 2013



Feb Tour Group Heading to Erg Chebbi Dunes.

It has been, as is the norm, a very busy time here at both the Desert Detours office and “on the road”………. Hence the delayed blog entry.
The March Moroccan bound group has just departed our 3rd tour of the year already. I have a few matters to take care of back at base but will then, with any luck, catch-up with them later [after a wide divert/sweep on another recce for our all new Eastern Morocco tour route].
The first Eastern tour is scheduled for this September with just one vehicle place available. Interestingly most clients on the immediately preceding “Andalusia Tour” have linked both tours. This was unexpected but has prompted us to resurrect a tour from some years ago “Footsteps of The Moors”. If the idea of a visually stunning and enlightening  30 day Andalusia-Morocco combination tour appeals perhaps register your interest now, we anticipate a strong interest…….. Proposed date for this fabulous tour is September 2014.

 Alice doing her job - watching the road ahead.
This year? April tour is FULL but there is just one place available for the May “Discovery” tour. As mentioned September Eastern Tour has ONE place available.  Then it’s just TWO places left on each of the October, November and December tours………and that’s it for our 12 scheduled 2013 dates.
Our tours aside we have seen a marked increase in the number of Motorhomes visiting Morocco, mostly French, Dutch and German but also more Brits. Most still hang onto the coastal areas with just a few venturing any real distance inland, but nevertheless its great news. Of course these have resulted in an increase in “one tour experts” and “Informed Blogs”. No problem at all but if you are thinking of a solo or small group independent visit do double check on the info……. I sometimes cringe at some of the facts and points published on forums and blogs etc., whilst they may well have been correct at time of publishing Morocco and the formalities is a rapidly changing environment. Just read between the lines……

 Escort Vehicles Feb Tour - Sahara.
For the solo/independent traveller adequate breakdown and illness cover, or at least an understanding of the procedures, while in Morocco is essential. I read [too late to help] of a member of a small independent group breaking down after just a few days and spending nearly a month waiting on a campsite [rest of the group had moved-on] for a part to arrive at huge cost, from the UK……we know that the part was available less than a few hours’ drive away!! At this very moment you will spot a motorhome parked outside an Erfoud hotel, while the owner recovers sufficiently from a broken leg [slipped and fell out of the motorhome] before being able to drive. Desert Detours continues to receive and has seen a marked increase in “distress” calls from solo/independent travellers………the call invariably starts with “you will probably think this is cheeky but…….etc. etc” and then goes on to ask for the availability of parts, breakdown assistance, medical advice or whatever……..we have even had requests to join our tour from individuals already in Morocco.
We have a mechanic on our tours as well as our own workshop facilities in Morocco, we have access to immediate and widespread medical assistance and will of course help if we can……… BUT, we will never compromise our own client’s safety by leaving them without cover while assisting others………
In short, I urge the solo/independent traveller to read the small print [If they have bothered to buy] of insurance cover and to be clear on what they have and the procedures. A vehicle recovery from Southern Morocco can cost over 5000 euro. Most insurance companies require you to pay and get reimbursed later …….. Can you access that amount of cash at short notice?  What about illness or injury leaving you incapacitated? 

 Feb Tour - Part of the group BBQ.......
Morocco is a wonderful, safe and welcoming destination BUT does need a bit more than perhaps casual preparation ………. A dream holiday can soon turn into a nightmare!
Anyway, enough of all that. The purpose of this blog is not about promoting Desert Detours, rather we hope to introduce you to the culture, environment and people of this incredible country, plus some latest news items…… read-on.

Al Halqa in the storytellers circle.

Few Desert Detours trips fail to take-in at least a few days break in Marrakech. Personally I love the city…..even after over 40 years and many hundreds of visits there is always something new, intriguing or surprising to discover. You just need to take a really close look. Pass and explore beyond the teaming souks, pay little heed to the hustle and bustle, pause often…… ………sorry, I digress…….Like I say, I love the city…….
 When you walk through Jemaa el-Fna on a regular basis you become accustomed to all the performers that give the square such a lively and special feeling; the snake charmers, gnawa musicians, the water carriers, jugglers, acrobats and the girly-boy dancers who flash their eyes at you from behind tasselled scarves. At one time you could have included storytellers in that list, but, almost unacknowledged, they are dying out, in fact it seems that there is now only one traditional storyteller left in la Place, and sadly he doesn’t even perform on a regular basis.

At a recent book reading of The Last Story Tellers by Richard Hamilton it was sad to learn that without realising it Marrakech has all but lost a tradition going back almost a thousand years, perhaps longer. Unfortunately, in these days of TV, DVD and pirate videos, once it’s gone we’ll never get it back.
The stories from Marrakech are particularly valuable because they are influenced by traditional Arabic stories from the Middle East, then there’s the Berber civilisation that has filtered down to these stories, while many have influences from sub-Saharan Africa, all this is what makes them so rich.

These tales would once have had a huge educational, religious and moral impact on their audiences, and they can often be understood on varying levels, but as much as anything they gave the listener a short break from the realities of life. Invariably t
hese were really morality tales in which the underdog, the poor, the down-trodden beggar, succeeds against the evil, rich, scheming sultan, vizier or corrupt judge, and that was very important for the original audiences of these stories because they would be poor themselves, and in their own lives they wouldn’t have had any success or power or status. So it was their form of escapism, a bit like modern-day cinema where people go to dream, and this is what people gathered around a storyteller for.
The loss, on many levels, is tragic. Marrakech is the heart and lifeblood of Morocco’s storytelling tradition, where captivated audiences have gathered for centuries…… I myself have sat, understanding very little of what was verbally being said, but watched children recoil or squeal……. Women gasp and wail…… I have seen grown men weep! 
Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, we’re never going to be able hear the stories Richard Hamilton gathered from the storyteller’s mouth, but you can enjoy a wonderful selection of Moroccan fables in The Last Storytellers and Richard has kindly given his permission to re-print one of his tales.

The Birth of the Sahara as told by Ahmed Temiicha

A long time ago, when the earth was very young, it was one huge garden covered in tall palm trees and perfumed jasmine, and the songs of nightingales flooded the landscape with their gently melodies. At this time, all men were loyal, trustworthy and honest. In fact, the word ‘lie’ did not even exist.

But one day, someone told a lie. It was a very small lie and of no importance, but it was the end of man’s childhood and the age of innocence.

So God summoned all the men on earth together and said to them, ‘Each time one of you lies, I shall throw a grain of sand onto the earth.’

The men looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said to themselves, ‘A grain of sand? What difference will that make? You can hardly see a grain of sand.’

And so lie after lie, little by little, the Sahara gradually came into existence, as God threw grains of sand onto the earth from the heavens above. But here and there the odd oasis can still be seen. These are the traces of the original garden, because not all men lie.


A typical Moroccan Family get together.

There’s a very good chance that at some stage on a visit to Morocco you are going to be invited into somebody’s home…in fact it is a certainty if you are on one of our tours! What do you do? What do you say? And what is the correct procedure and behaviour? The simple answer is of course to be gracious, courteous and grateful…but not gushing. Just be yourself and be NICE!
Traditional Moroccan table etiquette has its roots set deep in Islam and these traditions and customs are still adhered to today, even among the youth. If you receive an invitation to a Moroccan home there are a few key behaviors and traditions that should be followed to ensure the proper respect and gratitude is shown to your host.
When invited for dinner at a Moroccan household it is seen as a sign of respect and gratitude to your host to present a small gift of nuts, dates or flowers. Dressing well and taking off your shoes at the door is also a sign of respect and should be followed.

Once invited inside, the host will show you to the dinner table, most likely a knee-high table surrounded by pillows or the traditional Moroccan sofas that line the walls of the room. As the honoured guest, you will be sat directly next to your host.
Looking at the table you will notice that there is no silverware, don’t panic! Silverware is not used at Moroccan dinner tables because it is the same material that is used in currencies and is a non-Islamic practice. Instead, Moroccans eat with their right (not left) hands using only their thumb and first two fingers. They also use the famous Moroccan bread as a means to scoop up food and sop up any sauce. As hands are used and cleanliness is very important to Moroccans, a bowl is presented to each guest to wash his/her hands. The host, or member of the household, will pour water over your hands for you; don’t pour the water yourself!
After all hands have been washed the food will be presented. Saffron and orange scented couscous a bubbling tajine full of succulent lamb and roasted vegetables, a large loaf of fresh crusty Moroccan
bread – don’t let your stomach get the best of you! It is extremely important to wait until the host has blessed the food and started eating before you dig in!
All of the food is presented in communal bowls and each member of the table takes a portion and places it on their plate. Make sure you take food from the part of the bowl nearest to you; don’t reach all the way over the food for that really yummy looking piece of lamb. As the guest of the meal all of the best cuts of meat will be presented to you anyway, so you won’t have to reach far to get a good piece.
It is important to accept and try everything that is offered to you by your host. Even if you just take a nibble. Insisting food upon a guest is a sign of hospitality so don’t feel overwhelmed if they keep telling you to eat more. If you feel you have eaten your weight in food and simply can’t eat another bite take a very small amount from the bowl and take very small bites chewing slowly. It will tell the host that you appreciate their hospitality and respect their food.
After the main course a desert of fruit or sweets will be presented (same table manners apply!), traditional Moroccan tea, and a new washing bowl will be brought out, signaling the end of the meal.
Guests may also be offered souak, or swak, to wash and clean their teeth after the meal. Souak - black walnut dried bark that is whittled into a stick and due to its whitening its antiseptic qualities are used as a natural toothpaste after Moroccan meals.

After all is said and done you can leave your hosts house knowing that you showed the upmost respect and gratitude for the wonderful company and delicious meal.
Anyway…….here’s just a few tips that may save you embarrassing your host or yourself……..     

1.         Do bring something. Some soda, juice or fruit are acceptable. In more old fashioned households, bring milk or cones of sugar. If there are kids in the house, bring some yogurts. Most city and large town markets will have stalls selling sweets and small cakes wrapped and well presented…….perfect!
2.         Don’t bring a hot dish or salad. Moroccan hospitality is not “pot luck style”.
3.         Don’t walk all over the carpet with your shoes on. Not much else you can say about that.
4.         Don’t say wow! Don’t gush effusively about everything and everyone in your host’s home, as in “this house is the most amazing house I’ve ever seen!”, or “wow, that’s such a cute baby!”. Chances are you are being honest and/or polite. But you are making your Moroccan hosts squirm and sweat. Moroccans do not like to receive direct praise.
5.         Do say Tbarkellah! When Moroccans like something, they praise the Creator, and not the creation. Tbarkellah means “Blessed is God”. It can be used interspersed with the compliments you want to give, e.g. “You’re a good cook, tbarkellah”. {I will do a longer post on the concept of “Tbarkellah” at a later date, inshallah].
6.         Do learn everyone’s name. And remember it. Ask about everyone’s parents, health, children, etc. What you are saying is “I care about you and yours”. Next time you see your new friend, ask about all the people you met.
7.         Don’t let the conversation get one-sided. Chances are your host will be very gracious and ask you lots of questions. Show them that you value them as much as they value you, by asking similar questions.
8.         Do say bismillah. This is the blessing that Muslims say when starting anything, be it eating or any other activity. It means “in God’s name”, and it’s a way of saying that one is doing the thing “for God, by God’s will, and, hopefully, with God’s blessing”. And when you’re done eating, say “alhamdulillah”. That means “all praise is God’s”, and that marks the end of whatever it is you’re doing.
9.         Don’t wander. You will be eating from one plate, however, stick to your territory, don’t go exploring.
10.       Don’t hog the meat. Your host will honor you by serving you as much meat as she can afford to. This can range from a few bites to a whole sheep, depending on her budget. Look around and see how many people are at the table, then check out the meat, and do the maths. Start slowly for the first few bites just dip little bits of bread in the sauce. If there are veggies, move on to those. After a good 5 minutes, then you can make your move on the meat. Your host will make sure you do. If you refuse the meat, then you are saying “I think you’re so poor that I don’t want to eat your family’s meat” and that’s insulting. However, you don’t want to consume meat so fast that your host feels obliged to keep pushing more and more over to your side of the dish. Did I mention you are all eating out of the same dish?
11.       Do pace yourself. You might stuff yourself with the traditional first course, Chicken Tajine with lemon. You finally stop eating, and your host removes the dish only to bring in the traditional second course, Beef with Prunes. Uh-oh. You’ve pulled an American, and now you’ll have to just keep eating which is not such a bad thing. But try to ask the person who you’re most familiar with early on in the meal if this is all there is. They won’t mind.
12.       Do stop when you’re full. Of course your host will keep saying “kool, kool”, eat eat. That is just what good hosts do. Believe me you are not offending anyone if you stop eating when you’re full. If your host says “kool” and you hesitate for just one second, then she will think that you are just stopping to be polite. Once you make the call, make it final. I usually say “I’m not being shy I swear I’m full, alhamdulillah”. And that works for me.
13.       Don’t be lazy when the meal’s over, at least offer to help clear the table. Of course they won’t let you, but don’t let them train you to be lazy. Learn from what they do, not what they say. When I am invited, my Moroccan hosts are usually so competent that I just watch in amazement how they pull the whole thing off. Usually, it’s because there is a strong team of people working together. It’s rarely just one person doing all the work.
14.       Before you leave make sure you say “Thank You” [I know you would have anyway] and if possible ask to see the lady of the house, who has more than likely been beavering away, unseen, in the kitchen on your behalf.
15.       Perhaps the most important thing……Avoid talking politics and religion, even if pressed.

 A Gnawa Bizef.
Malem Aziz wuld Ba Blan is the sole remaining Gnawi in Fez who exclusively performs the old local style of Gnawa music. The Gnawa use their music to repair relationships between people and saints or spirits. They move through a series of musical segments, each praising and welcoming a group of these spirits into the ritual space, inciting trance in adepts. The nature of these spirits is the subject of much headed debate, as practitioners and detractors locate them in local Islamic history or sub-Saharan devil worship, respectively. The possessing spirits, grouped and labelled by colour, have preferences for specific incenses, songs, and even foods, making the event a sensory, and spiritual, journey through an evening.

While most Gnawa Laylas [nights] extend from the late night into early morning some can be an afternoon/evening [Ashiya] affair. This shorter ritual, usually from 2:00pm to somewhere around 10:00pm, is a condensed form of a ritual that used to last three days, even up to a week. Typically it begins with the dakhla, an entrance that uses large drums [tbal] slung over the shoulders of the musicians. With candles and blessed foods, the group processes into the home, dancing and singing praise to the prophet Mohamed and other saints. Dance and entertainment prepares the ritual space and invites the spirits while recounting the Gnawa's history in slavery. We then enter the Shourfa', the segment dedicated to the descendants of the prophet, holy men of God who wear white when they re-animate their trancing adepts. At this point, the ritual has begun and we watch the group work with the various other spirits. Sidi Musa dances with a bowl of water balanced on his head, the forest spirits bless the foods of the woods and play with fire, Abraham may dance with prayer beads while reciting the Quran. The women, including Lalla Aisha, conclude the ceremony under the dark of night.

Two generations ago, this music began to change. Malems, Gnawa musicians who lead the ritual, from the medina, Fez Jdid, and near the palace in the Moulay Abd Allah neighbourhood played this heavier style of Gnawa music until some youth began to notice new sounds coming from the Casablanca region. Aita, Moroccan popular music from that area, was taking hold across the country. High singing and faster rhythms were changing people's tastes, and the Gnawa were loath to be left behind. Before long, and thanks to a few specific malems of that era, this pop music influence percolated through the allegedly unchanging Gnawa ritual. Malems began to tune their instruments a little bit higher, tightening the strings and stressing the upper ranges of their voices. Rhythms crept into quicker tempo and dances became more acrobatic. Requests for popular songs gave malems reason to learn a wider variety of Moroccan music, finding unique ways in which to import diverse melodic ideas into the aural sensibility of their ritual.

The heavy, older Fessi style all but disappeared. While this happened only within the past few decades, the transformation has been nearly complete. A few individuals still remember a handful of the old versions of these songs, but the market for them has diminished. Malem Aziz finds work now as a specialist, catering to those who still desire the Gnawa ritual of the past. He rarely steps onto stages and, like malems of past generations, has other full time work. His family line is one of the respected chains in local Fessi Gnawa history.

The described performance will be a complete ritual and is being hosted by The View from Fez……. Unfortunately unless you are actually in Fez over the next few days you will miss the event [Friday 29th Feb Riad Zany, Laayoun [enter via Rcif… Starting: 2pm ending 10pm]. It’s an open event if you can make it you are welcome, but come prepared to stay for the entire event. The length [7 or 8 hours] is part of the sensory experience, just as important as the colours, sights, smells, and tastes. The courtyard will be chilly, especially in the later evening hours, so bring a good coat or blanket to wrap up in. Even if you have seen Gnawa music previously, this open ritual will emphasize the spiritual and musical heaviness of the experience, as lived here, in Fez.

FES……………. The organisers of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music have just announced that Patti Smith will be performing in Bab Al Makina for the closing concert on Sunday 15 June.

 Patti Smith - Fes Festival.
Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith [born December 30, 1946] is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses. Called the "Godmother of Punk", her work was a fusion of rock and poetry. Smith's most widely known song is "Because the Night", which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On November 17, 2010, she won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. She is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.

Morocco's spiritual capital will celebrate the famous festival with the theme "Fez "Andalusian", organizers said. This cultural event will this year celebrate the Andalusian culture that, for more than eight centuries has combined Amazigh [Berber], Arab, Iberian, Roman and Visigoth together in a crucible of cultures of East and West, said the president of the Spirit of Fes Foundation, Mohamed Kabbaj. This festival is the the highlight of the work of the Spirit of Fes Foundation, which works to promote the cultural heritage and to promote the image of Fez, nationally and internationally, as a center of peace, dialogue and creativity. This year will also mark the millennium of the creation of the Kingdom of Granada, said Director General of the Foundation, Faouzi Skali, highlighting again that this festival is a tribute to the Andalusian culture.

The 19th edition of the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music will be held from 7 to 15 June is timely as, according to a number of accommodation owners in Fez, bookings are coming in already and finding a place to stay will become increasingly difficult.

RABAT……….. The Morocco Culture Association has announced that singer Rihanna will perform at the 12th annual Mawazine Festival, Rhythms of the World.

Rihanna will perform on the stage of the OLM Souissi in Rabat on Friday, May 24, 2013 as the headline opening act. The performance by the R & B and pop superstar, before an estimated crowd of more than 70,000, will be part of her Diamonds World Tour. Rihanna won her 7th Grammy award at the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, for Best Short Form Music Video, with “We Found Love.”

Each spring in May, the Mawazine Festival has rocked Rabat to the sounds of music from the four corners of the Earth, including exceptional artists such as Elton John, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Shakira, Mika, Sugababes, Stevie Wonder, Kylie Minogue, LMFAO, Pitbull, and Alicia Keys.

The Mawazine ["Rhythms"] Festival is a festival of pop music featuring Arab and international music icons. It has been running since 2001 and takes place annually in Rabat. Mawazine is one of several events which are intended to promote an image of Morocco as a tolerant nation, with a post on the event's website declaring that the festival intends to promote and "support Rabat, as a city open to the world"

The Festival line up this year looks stunning and with no acts likely to upset the politicians. The inclusion of a wide range of artists including the legendary Deep Purple and famed Gnawa musician Hamid el Kasri, would suggest that the festival, in its 12th edition, is set to be a great success.

I STAND CORRECTED……….. But only a little bit!!
Those who join any of our Moroccan Motorhome Tours will know that Casablanca is not featured…… We of course offer on-going assistance to those who wish to visit the city after tour-end but I am personally underwhelmed and not too enthusiastic by the place.  But……Casablanca has long been Morocco's economic capital and is now emerging as a major tourist destination.

A report released this week by a network of tourism professionals in South Africa claims Casablanca as the third top African destination after the top two, Cape Town and Durban in 2012.
I will have to take another and closer look……….


The people of El Jabeh in North East Morocco have no access to dental health care and only one doctor for 50,000 people………but now they will be able to have urgent dental care thanks to the generosity of a group of Yorkshire dentists……. Around 100 dentists and their practice staff attended a ball in Leeds to raise money to send a dental team to Morocco to help children suffering dental problems. But they have done a lot more than just raise money...
Dental Mavericks, is a charity, set up to help children in need of dentistry around the world. Since 2010 the charity has sent a team of dentists to Morocco. Chris Branfield from Leeds, who is a founding member, said the experience had been life changing. "I've been a dentist for 20 years now and it is good to give back in life. To get these kids out of daily pain and to work with such a great team of people has been the most rewarding thing that I have done in my career. "

In 2010, after a visit to a remote fishing village in El Jebah, North East Morocco... Tony and Cally Gedge from Marketing Pirates of Dentistry had a vision to help Moroccan children gain access to pain free dentistry.

Seven founding trustees set up a new adventurous charity. Michael Oliver, Chris Branfield, Teresa and Mike Day, Jas Sandhu, Cally and Tony Gedge, took part in an eight day charity expedition 24th September- 1 October 2010.

In 2011 the Dental Mavericks donated five dental chairs which made things more comfortable for both dentists and the children. Before that they had been using school chairs. Expanding significantly in 2012, the Mavericks numbered a team of 15, including 8 clinicians and their support staff of dental nurses and admin staff.

Due to the success of the Dental Mavericks Annual Ball in January, the charity raised enough money to find and fund a dental nurse for one of its 2013 projects in Morocco (including flights)… now is your chance for you to join a dental charity on a mission to Morocco……… If you’re a dental nurse and would like to use your skills to help bring pain-free dentistry to 600 children in a village called El Jebah in north east Morocco, why not enter this competition…
In no more than 500 words just answer these three questions:
1. How will entering this competition develop your career?
2. Why is it important to give back?
3. What qualities can you add to this dynamic team of givers?
The winner will join the Dental Mavericks on a project this year and will write a daily blog of the trip to be published in Dentistry magazine! Just email your answers to Cally at
Driss was making a breakfast of fried eggs for his wife, Fatima, when she suddenly burst into the kitchen………..

"Careful," Fatima cried, "CAREFUL! Put in some more butter! Oh my goodness! You're cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them! TURN THEM NOW! We need more butter. Oh my word! WHERE are we going to get MORE BUTTER? They're going to STICK! Careful ... CAREFUL! I said be CAREFUL! You NEVER listen to me when you're cooking! Never! Turn them! Hurry up! Are you CRAZY? Have you LOST your mind? Don't forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the salt. USE THE SALT! THE SALT!"

Driss stared at his wife in amazement, "What in the world is wrong with you? You think I don't know how to fry a couple of eggs?"

Fatima smiled sweetly and calmly replied……..
"I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I'm driving."

A COLD COUNTRY WITH A HOT SUN………… A Moroccan proverb.

Morocco is not all sun and dessert. The Atlas and High Atlas mountains have a great reputation for trekking and climbing, but also, for skiing. Ifrane, Morocco’s ‘Little Switzerland', recently held its first ever “snow festival”.
Built by the French in a European style, Ifrane was once a summer resort for colonial families and has long been a popular winter destination for ski-lovers. But this year, the local authorities decided to hold the town’s first ever snow festival in a bid to widen the resort’s appeal and attract larger numbers of tourists.

“This festival has many objectives for the local population in the fields of tourism, culture and development. This is the first year we have done this initiative and we will see what further steps we may take for next year,” said chairman of the provincial council, Abdallah Ouhadda.

The event, which took place on Saturday (February 2), attracted thousands of visitors, both from Morocco and abroad. Alongside a colourful parade, one of the main highlights of the day was the ‘snow princess’ contest, which saw ten girls aged between 8 and 13 compete for the coveted title. Local girl Zineb Azira, who won the prize, received her crown from Ifrane’s provincial governor. “I am very happy because by winning this title, I brought pride to Ifrane. I am very happy to win the title of snow princess,” she said.

The idea of organizing a snow festival in Ifrane was first mooted two years ago, to boost tourism and promote the region’s rich Amazigh culture. One of the organizations behind the competition said the aim was educational. The chairman of the Toutrit - or ‘garden’ in Amazigh - Association, said organizers wanted the younger generation to be proud of their local heritage and more aware of environmental issues.

Twenty kilometers away from Ifrane, the Michlifen ski resort is popular with urban dwellers who want to escape the cities and enjoy some outdoor exercise.

But as well as winter sports, Ifrane’s cool summer climate means the region continues to attract tourists all year round, as residents from cities such as Fes and Meknes seek to escape the scorching heat of the summer months.

BEST OF BRITS…….YET AGAIN! ...........
Grumpy Englishman sets fire to his hotel room in Agadir.

A fifty-seven year old Englishman set fire to his room at the Hotel Oasis in Agadir after management refused to let him enter with a prostitute. The hotel management initially believed it was a terrorist act, before it was realised that the unhappy tourist intentionally burned his room before leaving.

Incredibly stupid…….But fortunately the fire was brought under control before it spread to other rooms so thankfully there were no casualties.

According to the newspaper Assabah, the Englishman will be charged with "endangering the lives of others and destruction of private property"… could have been so much worse. He has been remanded in custody and will be referred on to the prosecutor in Agadir.

EAST AND UNDER………An exciting new location currently being explored and planned for inclusion on our all new “EASTERN MOROCCAN TOUR”.
Yes, you read it right…..EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR…..and once again a Desert Detours first. Of course we expect many to follow, but it is never the same as the original!!
 Friouato Cave - Taza.
The Friouato caves [Arabic: مغارة فريواطو‎], better known by their French name Gouffre de Friouato, are located about 30 km south of the city of Taza. The farthest explored known point is about 272 meters, but its real limits are still mysterious. However, some locals believe that it is about 3.5 kilometres in length.
The Friouato Caves were first explored in 1930 by French adventurer Norbet Casteret. In 1969, a cave diving expedition by Exeter University Speleological Society passed two static sumps to discover more large chambers and shafts. The system ends in a massive choke of boulders. These may well be the same boulders that can be seen at the end of the upstream passages of the nearby Grotte du Chiker; this choke was also discovered in 1969 by the same group of cavers. There are also signs of an underground river that is believed to flow near the Grottes of Chiker.
But of course you don’t need diving gear and nerves of steel, or be an idiot, to experience this stunning natural location….just a good guide and a degree of stamina to descend the steps…….

 Watch Your Step
The first chamber was lit through a hole at the top, through which trees and sky could be glimpsed. As we began our descent, we could only just make out people at the base of the climb. They looked to be the size of rabbits in a field. Initially there were hand rails, and then these petered out until it was a seemingly never-ending series of concrete steps, in reality there are more than 500…….remember, you come back this way!
The size of the cave is immense, and images from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies sprang to mind…….spooky!!! Our guide was helped by telling us that locals…… from the nearby village say that many explorers have visited the cave, some of whom never returned……….Mmmmm.

When we reached the bottom of the first chamber, we followed the guide through a narrow crevasse in the rock, down another series of steps, to the interior of the cave. The sound of running water could be heard, and the chamber opened out to a limestone pool, that was constantly replenished by a small waterfall. Clinging to the side wall was a couple of small bats, asleep I think and ignoring our torch beams.

We continued into another large chamber which had a series of stalactites and stalagmites, formed by the deposition of calcium carbonate and other minerals. “It takes 100 years for a centimetre of stalactite to form, and even more for a stalagmite,” said our guid. Next we came to a limestone “table” on which there was a constant stream of water. Alongside it, the guide tapped a limestone stalagmite, which sounded hollow. When he shone his torch at the top of it, the length of it took on an eerie glow.

The multitude of sculptural shapes gave a magical feel to the cave and the sheer size is breath-taking, you can understand how they first thought was of cathedrals”.
As we stood on the edge of a deep hole you could just see water at its base. The more adventurous types have abseiled into its depths……..but this is as far as I and our future clients will venture I think……….
As mentioned………All being well and subject to permission and qualified  guides this stunning location will be included on our all new “Eastern Moroccan Tours”, starting September 2013.


Ibn Battuta Sets Out....
Most of us have our “Hero’s”, or at least someone who’s exploits or actions we admire, look up to and if we are luck follow………I have two, the Englishman Wilfred Thesinger, writer/explorer  and the Moroccan Ibn Battuta, perhaps the greatest traveller/explorer/writer of all time. I have, over many years, been incredibly lucky in covering much of the routes taken by both…..all be it faster and much more comfortable [not on foot]….but that another story………

 Battuta Map.
At a time when there was no modern transportation, no communication facilities, no accurate maps of the geography of the world, scarce knowledge of other peoples and cultures, ample risks and hurdles, some people ventured and set out for the discovery of far off places leaving marvelous travel accounts that only attest to their exceptional spirits. One of those people is certainly Morocco’s famous medieval traveler Ibn Battuta.
Abu Abdallah Muhammad Ibn Abdallah Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim al-Lawait [an Amazigh group] Ibn Battuta al-Tanji [“of Tangier”] was born in Tangier on February 24, 1304. His well-to-do Amazigh family provided him with the means to have education in the religious sciences in general and the Maliki law in particular. In June 1325, at the age of 22, Ibn Battuta resolved to leave his birthplace for the pilgrimage Hajj, “part from those dearest to me, female and male, and take leave of my home just like birds fly from their nests.
Probably, on his way to Mecca to fulfill the fifth pillar of Islam, Ibn Battuta never thought that this journey will inspire him to be the first traveler in the medieval times; a traveler whose journey spanned over thirty years and covered three times the distance of his European contemporary traveler Marco Polo [1254-1324]. Much of Ibn Battuta’s life and travels are recorded in his famous book Rihla [journey] –a work greater in volume than that of Marco Polo – which he dictated to the author of works on poetry, Islamic law and theology, Muhammed Ibn Juzayy. The later was appointed as Ibn Battuta’s collaborator by the exalted command of the Sultan of Morocco Abou Inan Faris [1348-58].
A shrewd and careful observer, Ibn Battuta recounts his travels from West Africa to China and tells of the marvels of the places he set foot in. Sometimes, he received patronage from famous kings and Sultans, and occasionally he got employed by local rulers; he served as a qadi [judge] in Delhi and in the Maldives. During his travels, Ibn Battuta endured immense troubles; he was robbed many times, captured by bandits, attacked by pirates, shipwrecked, and often fell gravely ill, but eventually managed to establish his reputation as the world’s famous medieval traveler.
Miles and miles away from his home country, he always grew homesick, but his mission was stronger than the feeling inside him. He writes: “the memory of my homeland moved me, affection for my people and friends, and love for my country which for me is better than all others.” His strong allegiance to Morocco, Islam and the Maliki law are very legible in his accounts. In the Rihla he recounts a small incident when he met a man who looked familiar like a Moroccan in China. When he asked him, he discovered that the man was from Ceuta [a city very close to Tangier] at which points he greeted him anew and embraced him and wept together. This simple act reflects Ibn Batuta’sv sense of “home” and his powerful ties to Tangier and Morocco. In all the places he visited, Ibn Battuta identified himself as Maghribi and was often know by others as al-Maghribi [the Moroccan].
Certainly, Ibn Battuta’s life experiences and bulky book can by no means be summarized in these few short lines. He talked prodigiously about distant cultures and people; he described the wonders of the pyramids and the marvels of Alexandria, depicted his travels in Al-Andalus, talked about the wondrous lifestyle of the Sawakin [in Sudan], gave detailed accounts of the people and practices of the Maldives islands, extolled the benefits of the coconuts, reflected on the reign of the Indian Muslim Sultan Muhammed Ibn Tughluq etc. Ibn Battuta retired to Morocco in 1354 to stay for good and worked as a judge until his death in either 1368 or 1369, after attaining what no other person had attained as he writes:
“I have indeed, praise be to God, attained my desire in this world which was to travel through the earth, and have attained in this respect what no other person has attained to my knowledge. The world to come remains, but my hope is strong in the mercy and clemency of God, and the attainment of my desire to enter the Garden of Paradise.”
A great man indeed …….. Sadly his final resting place is unknown.
There are dozens of great books on Ibn Battuta and I doubt if there are any I have not read……A few of my favorites are:

The Travels of Ibn Battuta by Ibn Battuta and Tim Macintosh-Smith
Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Macintosh-Smith
Odyssey of Ibn Battuta by David Waines

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveller by Ross E Dunn

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