Thursday, 25 July 2013

WHEN IS A BREAK NOT A BREAK? .............

When running Desert Detours and Andalusia Detours I suppose.

Firstly I should make it clear that I am absolutely not complaining......... more a flippant comment of the moment as I return back to the office from yet another fact/location recce....... I am very aware of the hard financial times many are enduring and the constraints regular travellers now find themselves experiencing.

But there is good news ........... The only remaining 2014 combination Andalusia/Morocco tour qualifies for a 20% discount.  The all-new "Amazigh Safari" tour [Eastern Morocco] will remain at the 2013 cost for the time being.  With one of our two 2014 "Discovery Tours: already full the few remaining places can be booked at the 2013 cost.

In fact contact Debbie via phone or email and twist her arm ....... hard enough ...... and she may respond with a great tour offer or two .......


Vehicles come and go at Desert Detours and we have a couple of new arrivals imminent ..... but more on that in the future.

I said I would never sell my personal "baby" ...... the not so baby Unimog Camper.  But a reasonable offer, out of the blue, now has me thinking.  So, take a look at the many photos on the internet of this high-spec example of the ultimate on-off road camper and if interested email me for a full specification.  The vehicle is of course in Southern Spain but can be delivered anywhere ...... or pick-up flights arranged.

Anyway, if you are still with me read on ........... as always topics and features more to do with Morocco in general than ourselves.

Regards Ray.


The splendor of love in the desert has long been challenged by the voices of females who would speak of their dearest far from the eyes and the ears of the males of the authority of tribes. Notwithstanding they succeeded in creating their own form of female poetry that would give life to the love they felt inside their hearts. These women, the legendary daughters of Eve, are without doubt the real poets of the Sahara who through their stealthy poems live, breathe, define and emotionally endure.

In the wastes of southern Moroccan and beyond women of the Sahara are not just rulers of the tents, they are the monarchs of librettos as well. Though their society does not permit them to write or to speak poetry in public, these “princesses and queens” of the desert have escaped into the shadows and have created a realm of forbidden poetry that is as individual as it is unique.

In the vastness of desert humans are born poets by nature. They use Hassani tongue to depict those exceptional and eternal moments they experience with their relatives, tribes, animals and with other elements of culture and nature. Poetry and the Sahara are twins that go hand in hand and side by side.

The Sahara is poetic because of its throbbing agony but also because of the exquisite beauty towering dunes, drifting herds, fearsome sunsets, moons and stars…… flowing, elegiac, whimsical….yet vicious.  Desert poets are as unconstrained with their emotions, thoughts and feelings as is the desert with its indifferent and bitter façade.

When a child is born, Sahara women celebrate the birth in poetry and when a person marries, travels, shine, dies, their life is then written in spoken verses and poems. Poetry is the book of creation as well as the book of history in the middle of the infinite Sahara. It is the only means that nomads had and still have to depict their mental, emotional and spiritual moods.

Tribes poetically write their victories and defeats, their stories and knowledge, their proverbs and games, and their puzzles and spaces. At night, when the moon is shedding its light upon the open deserts, near the rivers or the oasis, mothers will gather their offspring and teach them the language of the ancestors and the culture of grandparents in poetry.

Definitely, a woman that learns poetry and teaches it to her sons and daughters must be a poet too. Yes, in the Sahara every girl is a project of a poet, but this conservative society that considers women queens of the tents and golden turbines on the heads of the noble men, paradoxically does not permit women to recite poetry in public.

In the Sahara, women are obliged to listen and enjoy their “loftier” male’s poetry and prose while denied the right to express their own innermost feelings and emotions. To talk about their stories of tenderness or to put their feelings of love into verses and words would be considered a source of family shame and defame. Only the males can say and sing in the language of poetry.

But females could not let males of the tribes cut their tongues and deprive them of their existential cultural and literary right to compose verses and poems about the people they love. They revolted against the tribal norms and escaped to their own secret world far from the presence of men and males. They fled to their both the imaginative tents of the mind and the factual, where they built a beautiful poetic universe: haunted only by females, for females, between females and about males.

According to many scholars from the south of Morocco and Mauritania, ‘Tabraa’ is a special poetic female gender in the Sahara where women flirt to their beloved boyfriends, and husbands. It is their very own personal and private refuge where they can declare freely and frankly in front of other females about their beloved ones. Within this gender, ‘Tabraa’, women get rid of their repressed emotions, desires, love, pain and sufferings, and they compete with each other to see who can say the best verses about their males.

‘Tabraa’ are short poems composed by women, but where they are not allowed to mention the names of their male lovers. They use only symbols and signs and they describe some physical traits of the men they love. They talk about places where they used to meet in pastures, near wells, the rivers or the oasis. They also voice their painful and passion and longing to be beside the men who dwell and own the tents of their hearts.

They talk boldly, plainly, and frankly about their lovers or ex-boyfriends in case they are married to other men. They put the forbidden love in words and depict the unacceptable voices in verses. They break the cages and the shackles of taboos and they bravely express their love and physical and sexual desires. Their poems are sweet small dishes of words cooked on the fire of tree’s leaves, boughs and coal.

These silent burning fires of love and the verses of silent voices are said and heard only inside women’s meetings and the women community. They are not said in public and only women keep saying them as they memorize them by heart and keep passing them from one generation to another, without mentioning the name of the poet or the name of the men they are said about.

Inside these verses that challenge any faithful translation, Sahraouian women wish to be the camel their lovers ride, the clothes they wear, the teeth inside their mouths, the watch in their hands, the camel they milk, the milk they drink or the dish from which they eat or drink, the tree under which they sleep or the turbine they put on their necks and heads……… Beautiful images taken from the diction of the Sahara that only men and women of the Sahara can feel and understand as they are taken from their natural and cultural contexts.

In brief, the Sahara is full of unwritten poems said by unknown female poets who have died and left behind their words, written and unwritten. It is the duty of “free” writers and scholars to seek collect and save these verses from being forever lost.

Of course there is another side to the desert words of female love……betrayal.  Here Irgayya, a female Bedouin poet, expresses her anger at her husband leaving …..

But as he rejects me, so I'll leave him too,
Like a deer that bolts from a hunter's shell.
Please listen, O Lord, who first brought him to me,
as you bring pregnant mares to lush pastures to dwell,
Redeem me with one at whose tents travellers stop,
who’ll serve guests fresh coffee and their morning's first bite . . .

What a beautiful journey inside the kingdom of female poetry of the princesses and queens of the tents awaits!


I am not fat……..If I was a bit over 6ft tall I would be of perfect weight ……… problem is that I am 5ft 6!

Being beautiful differs from one tribe to another and from one society to another. So, this fact obvious as there are no specific agreed upon traits by which to judge what is beautiful or ugly between all people. Thus, what is beautiful in one region and culture might be seen as ugly in another region, culture or religion and vice versa.

In the Sahara, despite the development of society and the movement from the life in the open desert and tents to the life in owns, cities and houses, we find men, generally, still hold the same characteristics and definitions of what is a beautiful female. Families are still attached to these traditions and have inherited collective images and paradigms of being beautiful.

All over the Sahara, including Morocco, men and women of the region agree upon the importance of obesity and being portly in defining a beautiful or an ugly woman. For them, the stouter a woman is, the more beautiful she is. On the contrary, fit girls and women are seen as ugly, undesirable and unwanted [Although widely used in numerous and recent media reports I have resisted and deliberately not used the words fat or skinny!]

Starting from the age of thirteen, families, particularly in the Sahara regions, start the process of preparing their daughters for marital life. They prepare them not just psychologically and also physically in order to get them married and to show that they are beautiful so as to attract good husbands from rich families and powerful tribes.

In fact, families are proud of their overweight daughters as, in their collective consciousness and sub-consciousness, being large means that the girls themselves belong to wealthy, rich and noble families. That’s why mothers do their best to force their girls to eat more so as to be fat to be a source of pride for their families.

This means of course that on the other hand many families feel ashamed if their daughters are thin. These societies may well likely see the fit girl as a source of bad luck, misery and troubles as well as a source of shame and embarrassment for her family and tribe.

Yes, the two adjectives go side by side in the culture of the inhabitants of the Sahara. A large lady is loved by men who compete to get her love and to pay whatever dowry that would cost them to get her as a wife.
A possible suitor is always proud of marrying a large lady and winning her love. Young men feel proud if they succeed to marry the biggest lady in the tribe. They feel pride in front of other men and in front of the tribe and others who talk about her weight, her size and the enormity of her body.

Besides, the more obese she is the more love she gets and space in the heart of the husband. This weighting of love in the heart of the husband and its relation with the weight and size of the wife is depicted in many poems and proverbs. For example, there is a Sahraouian proverb that can be translated as follows: ‘The size of her place in the heart of the husband is measured by the size of her place in the bed’, meaning, the fatter and the bigger she is, the more space she gets in the heart of her husband.

Moreover, the community respects the opinion and the speech of obese women. Their words have authority in the tribe. Being obese gives them a special social status as the tribe respects what she says, what she thinks and what she suggests. For instance, there is another proverb that says that ‘the word of the fat is strong and authoritative’; a stark contrast to slim women who have no social position and who are disliked, undesired and unheard.

In brief, if the western societies see fat women as obese, ugly and sick, in the Sahara, this is totally the opposite. Men love fat ladies and they are ready to lose their wealth and their lives to marry them. Thus families work hard to prepare their daughters for marriage by making them fat. Thus, in the Sahara every fat girl has her motto: ‘I am fat, therefore I am beautiful’. [I needed to use the “fat” word here as emphasis i.e. to add “weight” to the point………….anyway, why am I apologizing?] 

Just a simple idea worth mentioning, today, thanks to education, mass media and women in the workplace, the new generation of women in the Sahara has started to change their view of beauty. The young generations today prefer to be educated, fit and healthy as obesity has been demonstrated to be a source of many health problems. For the new generation, it is the opposite: ‘I am fit. Therefore, I am beautiful’.


I thought it might be interesting to post a few items on natural herbs and stuff………I will start with just a couple [3] and if I remember or if there is interest more to follow during the later blog issues……

I have to make a confession here…… I was a total skeptic about traditional/natural medicine before I started to visit Morocco……over 35 years ago. During those early years and until quite recently I was, in my own eyes at least, supper-human, indestructible and without physical flaw. Mmmmm…….Whilst I still consider myself without flaw [joke]  the aches, pains, niggles and twinges now take on and communicate a more forewarning note……at least to me in my advanced and hypochondriac years.

I did say that I was a skeptic, but that’s another story………..

Moroccan food is full of different spices and traditional medicine stalls and shops can be found everywhere. Here’s a little rundown and history of some of the most common spices used in Morocco [note the Darija - Moroccan Arabic - word in brackets] and their medicinal uses.

Cumin [Kamoon]………..Cumin has been used as a flavoring and medicinal herb since ancient times.  Seeds have been found at archaeological digs dating to the 2nd millennium BC!  Ancient Greeks, like Moroccans of today kept cumin on their table much as other cultures do with salt and pepper.  The plants are grown and harvested during the hot summer months in Morocco. The seeds can be used whole or ground to powder to use.  This spice is heavily used in Moroccan cuisine.   It is supposed to increase lactation and reduce nausea in pregnancy. It also has been shown to be effective in treating carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as diarrhea, indigestion, and morning sickness. Cumin tea is also brewed.  A teaspoon of cumin seeds steeped in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes releases the healing properties. For indigestion problems a teaspoon of cumin powder swallowed directly aids in the reduction of symptoms.  While not always a pleasant taste in such high quantities, it does work.

Cinnamon [Dar al Cini………..Cinnamon is another ancient spice. It is grown in Eastern Asia, primarily Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies but also in Egypt. Its use in Moroccan food is most likely attributed to Arab traders who brought it back from journeys to this region of the world. Medicinally cinnamon has a lot of good qualities.  It has been shown to help with the treatment of diabetes, and has properties that help with blood clotting and reducing cholesterol rates.  Perhaps the most important use in Moroccan cooking is that cinnamon helps with digestion.

 Fenugreek [L’halba]………This spice has three different culinary uses; as an herb [the leaves are dried or fresh], as a spice in seed form and as a vegetable [the fresh leaves, sprouts and micro-greens]. Traditionally fenugreek is found on the Indian subcontinent but is common in Persian, Ethiopian and Eritraean cuisine. Fenugreek is used in Morocco as a spice and brewed into tea.  The most common use is as an aid to lactation for new moms. Fenugreek is also used to treat heartburn and stomach problems. The most famous use in Moroccan cooking is Rfisa, a common dish served to new mothers.

SOUNDS FISHY TO ME.......................

Wander along the port at Essaouira at around noon on most days and you will see fishing boats unloading their shimmering catches as they've done for hundreds of years.  Boxes of fish are set up on stall or simply laid along the quayside, where locals buy their lunch and restaurants stock up for their fancy diners, the price depending on how good you are at haggling or what's left as the crushed ice they lie on melts.

The life of a small scale fisherman has already been a hard one; up at four a.m. to check if the weather will allow them to put to sea, paying our for petrol and boat rental, even if the nets come home empty, and splitting the proceeds of the sale of his catch with crew members.  But the five year U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation's Small scale Fisheries Project aims to improve the lives of fishermen throughout Morocco, typically some of the country's poorest residents by modernizing the means of catching, storing and marketing first, and hep fishermen get access to both local and export markets.  As much as anything, the project is helping the vendors who trundle through small villages selling the fish they buy on the quayside each day.

On most days, Essaid Sadik would arrive at a port shortly after the first fishing boats docked.  He would buy what he could and then drive to nearby villages and start selling, usually sardines and other small fish.  As temperatures rose during the day, the fish sometimes began to spoil, occasionally making him and his customers sick.

Now Sadik is one of about 600 mobile fish vendors to receive a new heavy-duty, three-wheeled motorcycle and training through the project. His motorbike is equipped with an insulated ice chest to help preserve the quality of the fish and its value, and can keep fish fresh for up to 48 hours.  He has received training which covered marketing, proper hygiene, product handling, quality preservation, small business management, access to financial services, and information of associations and co operatives.

Sadik is proud of the uniform his co operative provides, white coats, matching hats and wellington boots.  "It's not just nice - it's really, really nice", said Sadik, a father of two.  "We have a new found dignity because of the project".

It does not take much to turn a life around ....................


Exhausted, dripping with sweat, covered in grime and dust an old farmer sat on a track by the edge of his corn field, proudly admiring his crop.

Just then a traveler, who was on his way to Mecca, approached and paused, 

Seeing the beautiful golden field, the traveler sat down beside the farmer and admired the crops.

Eventually the traveler said, “Look at this beautiful thing that you and Allah have created.”

The old farmer laughed and with his eyes still fixed on his crop replied……..

“You should have seen it when it was just Allah’s".


As summer climbs towards its peak hot weather this aubergine/eggplant and tomato dish not only makes a natural partnership next to the inevitable charred chicken wings, burst and wrinkled sausages or desert dry burgers……Only joking, I am sure you BBQ efforts are nothing less than superb. This side dish is so easy to prepare and make why not give it a go and impress your quests.

Using the blender, the sauce takes little effort, and the eggplant almost cooks itself. Just assemble everything and pop it in the oven a few minutes, and you have a satisfying vegetarian main dish that needs only fresh bread and a leafy salad to make a complete meal.

Ingredients for the tomato sauce:

1 medium onion, chopped
3 large, juicy tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
100 grams – 3 tablespoons – tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh oregano herb or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Ingredients for aubergine/eggplant:
1 large aubergine/eggplant
1/2 cup flour seasoned with 1/4 teaspoon salt, for coating
Olive oil to drizzle
Slices of halumi or mozzarella cheese, 1 per slice of aubergine/eggplant.
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese

Prepare the sauce:

Blend the onions, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a blender or food processor until only slightly chunky.

Pour into a medium pan. Add the tomato paste, water, bay leaf and oregano. Stir well.
Cook, covered, over medium heat until the mixture simmers. Lower the heat and continue cooking, uncovered, until the sauce is thick and savory; about 1/2 hour.
Adjust salt and pepper if desired.

In the meantime, slice the eggplant thickly. Rinse the slices and drain.
Drag the eggplant slices through the seasoned flour and place them on a baking pan.
Drizzle a little olive oil over each eggplant slice.
Bake at 190 degrees C -  375 degrees F – for 15 minutes or until tender and getting crisp at the edges. Don’t turn the oven off yet.

Remove the bay leaf from the sauce.

Place a slice of cheese over each eggplant slice. Cover with a dollop of tomato sauce. Sprinkle grated Parmesan over all.
Bake the slices 5-10 minutes, or until the halumi or mozzarella is melting.

Serve immediately, and enjoy!


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