Sunday, 29 December 2013

WHERE DID THE YEAR GO? ...............

How many times are we going to hear that over the next few weeks? But genuinely, from my part I am at a loss, where indeed did it go.

Desert Detours ran 10 Moroccan tours during 2013 that included the all new “Amazigh Eastern Morocco Tour”, plus a combination Andalusia-Moroccan tour and two separate Andalusia Tours [Andalusia Detours]. Perhaps then no surprise that the year swept by…………

As I write the second of the two December tours rolls over into the New Year, having spent an inspiring Christmas day on the dunes of Erg Chebbie and New Year in Marrakech. I almost wish I was on that tour!

I am struggling and juggling time but expect to update 2014 schedules on our website  but in the meantime for detailed information/tour schedule just contact us direct………. Noting:  Four “Classic” dates are already FULL. One of the Two December tours are already FULL. The announced “Amazigh Eastern Morocco Tour” is now FULL but we have added a second tour date [also in September].

I am genuinely not gloating or in any way delighted sitting here in our warm Spanish office with the sun streaming in through open windows. Yet again I just can’t believe the appalling UK weather. Whilst it has predictably prompted a burst in enquiries more to the point it has also caused postponements and delays for clients attempting to journey down for the imminent January “Classic” tour. If you are already “On The Road”, struggling down to meet us, or whatever…….do NOT worry, we are and can be flexible with no financial loss to clients and/or “Roll-Over” options. Just take care!

Finally, from all here in Spain at Desert Detours and from our Moroccan Staff we wish you a healthy, happy and safe 2014, wherever your travels may take you.


As Moroccan Muslims wound down from Ramadan 2013, Jews across the country celebrated another momentous holiday, the start of their New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of year 5773 in the Jewish calendar. Fassi [Fez] Jews marked the occasion with a distinct air of solemnity and discreetness.

The ancient city of Fez is known as the home of the first Mellah [Jewish neighbourhood] in the Arab world. During World War II, when King Mohammed V refused to implement the anti-Semitic practices of the Vichy French government, approximately 300,000 Jews lived in Morocco. Today, after decades of emigration, only about 3,000 remain; in fact the last Jewish person left the Mellah in Fez this year.

Fez, Mellah then.

Jews in Fez now live in a newer neighbourhood and attend the Synagogue Ben Saadoun, built in 1920. Invisible to the community, the synagogue is unmarked, with no sign or doorbell for visitors. But the innocuous exterior hides a breathtaking house of worship with intricate Moroccan carvings and hundreds of Jewish holy books.

Fez, Mellah, Now.

The Jewish New Year started at sundown. Just before it began, about 10 men gathered, enough for the Minyan [quorum] required for communal prayer. A solitary woman and a child sat behind a curtain in the women's section, from where they generally watch and follow along in the services, but do not participate.

"Normally there are about twice as many of us, but many choose to go on holiday during Ramadan," said Robert Serero, whose family has been in Morocco for more than 500 years, since Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. "It's sad how much the community here is shrinking, with everyone leaving," he said. "But this is my home, and I will never leave. They say we have problems here, but there are problems everywhere, and why trade one for another?"

The men settled into a service, which alternated between personal prayer in Hebrew from the siddur [traditional prayer book] and group prayer led by Rabbi Albert Seddag. "We're offering blessings attesting to God's sovereignty, and giving thanks for the creation of the world," Sebbag said. Services early the next morning followed the same format.

As the prayers began, the men realised that they had non-Jewish Moroccans in the synagogue. In hushed tones, some called for the visitors to leave, while some said that they should be allowed to stay. Near the end of the hour-long services, the discussion became heated and voices were raised.

Outside the synagogue, one of the visitors, a student we will call “Mohammed”, said he was shaken by the experience. “Mohammed” said he often visits different religious communities in a personal search for truth. He said he is sometimes harassed by fellow Muslims, who call him a traitor, and for that reason did not want his real or last name published……..or any personal details.

It’s perhaps worth noting that earlier in 2009, King Mohammed VI marked a major moment in Muslim-Jewish relations when he became the first leader of a Muslim nation to stand against those who deny the existence of the Holocaust, such as the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a speech read in Paris in March, the king called the genocide "one of the most tragic chapters of modern history".

Sadly this decade has been marked by increased tension between Muslims and Jews in Morocco, most notably in the wake of the 2003 Casablanca bombings that targeted Jewish sites. But Mustapha Al Khalfi, a member of the council for the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, said that the strong Moroccan history of inter-religious understanding still prevails………. let’s hope so.

"We should be careful about any intolerance or attacks that undermine this relationship, and fight anything that might lead to the reproduction of the Holocaust."


Still on the Moroccan New Year theme…..This photo was taken way back on 31 December 2007 near Tafraout, with the writings aseggas ameggaz ["good year"] in Tifinagh and bonne année 2959 ["good year 2959"] in French. Note the 1-year mistake, as 2959 corresponds to the Gregorian year 2009………… But never mind, it was and is and interesting find ………

The Tifinagh alphabet ["Lybico-Berber"] has been used by Berber speaking people in North Africa and the Canary Islands at least from the third century B.C. up to the third century A.D. The only dated inscription is from 139 B.C. Its use disappeared, or had already disappeared, when the Arabs came. Among the Tuaregs, especially the Tuareg women, the use continued up to our time, but there are many regional variations. The name Tifinagh is said to mean "Phoenician".

After much pressure [a long story] a standardized version, sometimes called neo-tifinagh,  has been used in primary schools in Morocco since Sept 2003.

“Examine what is said, not who speaks”.


Did everyone have a nice Christmas holiday? There's still one big celebration underway as I write [That’s if I get this blog out on time!], and the question is how will you ring in the New Year? Will it be a glamorous bash streaming with glitter and bubbly champagne? Or will it be a quiet evening made special by the company of good food and friends?

For me it will be probably be the latter with this year’s menu being a simple but special duck confit, black eyed peas, collard greens and Moroccan-styled meatballs for appetizers. These meatballs are a combination of sweet warm cinnamon with domineering cumin spice, caramelized onions and mint and parsley herbs. Fresh, bold flavours that round each other out and together stand up well against the strong taste of lamb. 

Try them for yourself…….Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Hors d'Oeuvre, by Brigit L. Binns

·         2 Tablespoons olive oil
·         1 red onion, very finely chopped
·         1 lb ground lamb
·         3 large garlic cloves, crushed through a press
·         2 eggs, lightly beaten
·         1 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves finely chopped
·         1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, plus sprigs for garnish
·         2 Tablespoons fine dried bread crumbs
·         1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
·         1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
·         1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste
·         Lemon wedges for squeezing and garnish
·         About 42 cocktail picks (optional)
1.    Lightly oil a shallow-rimmed baking sheet.
2.   In a fry pan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool.
3.   Add the lamb, garlic, eggs, parsley, chopped mint, bread crumbs, cumin, cinnamon, the 1 tsp. salt and the 1/2 tsp. pepper to the bowl with the onion. Combine the ingredients thoroughly with your hands (the only way to evenly distribute the ingredients). Fry a small pinch of the mixture, taste, and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut, rolling them very lightly in the palms of your hands. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
4.   Preheat a broiler. Place the meatballs about 4 inches from the heat source and broil, turning once with tongs, until brown and crispy on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove the baking sheet from the broiler and transfer the meatballs to a platter.
5.   Squeeze some lemon juice over the meatballs and arrange the remaining lemon wedges and mint sprigs on the platter. Using a cocktail pick, skewer each meatball. Serve immediately. Makes about 42 warm bites.

Note: The meatballs can be refrigerated for up to 4 hours before cooking. Remove them from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking. If desired, cook and cool the meatballs, refrigerate them for up to 4 hours, and then reheat in a 350°F oven until heated through, 10 to 20 minutes. These meatballs are delicious alone or could be served with a cool cucumber-dill yogurt sauce. This recipe also works well to create mini hamburgers on brioche mini buns.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


From all the staff at Desert Detours ...............

The Full Time Tour Team ....... Steve Cooper [Tour Leader/Mechanic], John Hubbard [Tour Leader/Mechanic], A'Hammed [Tour Assistant], Hassan [Tour Assistant], Hammed [Tour Assistant], Pillar [Office Spain], Jane [Office Spain], Wayne Dawes [Admin/Link UK] and the valuable part timers ............. Benny ["Entertainment" and "Stuff" at Meski], Yoseff [Assistant at Meski], Mustaffa and Bros [Guardian/Shepherds at Volubillis], Amarwi [Mechanic at Tinerhir], and the many, many more who assist us on tour.

AND of course Debbie, Bex and Myself...........

Wherever you may be [not forgetting the early small December tour group and the current Christmas/New Year Tour Group] enjoy and be safe.

We wish you ALL a very Happy Christmas Holiday.