Sunday, 2 February 2014

2014 ON THE MOVE..................

Other than to confirm that apart from surviving the long, very long, Christmas/New Year/Three Kings break there is nothing much to add to this month’s entry.
I dropped a bit of a boob in scheduling myself off the just finished January Moroccan tour only to cop the unusually dull and chilly weather back here in Spain. Then due to two venues being under water in the UK I was advised to cancel a planned brief visit. 

Then a new detour's touring project rather unexpectedly hit the ground running and had me lodged in the office and glued to the computers from dawn ‘till beyond dusk ……They [the computers] then took advantage of the situation and crashed big time. I took advantage and got myself a new one!!!
Alice, my canine tour partner, has recovered nicely [but at some considerable veterinary expense] from her Christmas overdose that followed on from emptying a tin of Quality Street that was left unattended, together with a packet of peanuts and another of popcorn.
Historically January is one of our quietest months in the office regarding enquiries. We generally take advantage of the lull and spend the time up-dating the web-site, info packs and working on various other important but mundane matters. But this year we had a welcome bonus …….  The all too predictable internet forum posts by our very own mischievous “Stalker” again had its unintended result by prompting an increase in site hits, enquiries and a few late bookings.  Result? ….. The February tour became FULL with me taking a small second “overflow” group…….plus a few more bookings for further into the year…….. Muchas Gracias.
Did I say not much had happened? ………

Heavy snow in the Moroccan mountain areas and on the open plains seemed to be quite widespread during mid-late Jan.  Then along came rain with higher temperatures, then more snow, then slightly warmer. In a word, unpredictable!  Real-time on the ground info is best so call us if you need latest info and we will help if we can……we always have someone over there.
The weather is of course a factor as to what “Escort Vehicle” we use on any given tour. The larger main tours [we have two Feb Tours running for example] will take the Unimog and probably one of the 4x4 Navara’s.  I would prefer to use one of the “People Carriers” for the smaller group that I am leading……..but will likely use the other Navara. Decisions, decisions, decisions……
Anyway, by the time you read this I will already be on my way…………

Now let me say that I am not one of those closet McDonalds eaters. Neither do I knock them but hang around outside snatching a bit of free Wi-Fi. I have no problem at all with them. In fact at some point on tour you will find the whole team in both the Fez and Marrakech outlets…….and now and then in the Marrakech Kentucky Fried. The fact is that there is only so much Tagine a body can take…….So there!!!
So with absolutely no distress at all I can pen that a few weeks ago [early in January] McDonald’s opened another new restaurant in the city of Khouribga, about 100 km south of Casablanca.
If nothing else around 50 much needed jobs have been created in the new restaurant, which will be located in the center of the Phosphates city. This now increases the franchise presence in the kingdom to 33 in 14 Moroccan cities…….with the fast food company intending to increase the number of its restaurants to 45 by 2015.

Popular?  You only have to visit one of the restaurants to see how popular they are, and not just with the young. It is nice to see a whole 3 generation family out together.  Having said all that despite the enthusiasm that most young Moroccans show towards foreign fast-food chains, the local food served in the streets of all Moroccan cities and towns remain the most popular, attracting natives as well as tourists.

By the time you read this you would have missed it anyway…..not only that, it was in Fes. But it was as promised a fascinating talk by Maria Antonia Garcés, Professor of Hispanic Studies at the Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University in the United States, about Cervantes, one of Spain's most significant authors. His most famous work is the classic - Don Quijote. Professor Garcés is a Cervantes specialist and passed on some interesting facts ……….. I have never managed to get past the first few pages of the aforementioned book and in fact also have a much different version, Tilted Windmills, on the go, so I was pleased that I made the venue just in time and have re-kindled my interest.

Returning to Spain after fighting in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) against the Turks, Miguel de Cervantes was captured by Barbary corsairs and taken captive to Algiers, where he remained as a slave until 1580. The five years spent in the Algerian bagnios (1575-1580) made an indelible impression on his work. Professor Garcés’ talk described the sophisticated multi-ethnic culture of early modern Algiers, Cervantes’s four escape attempts, and his opportune ransom.

During his Algerian imprisonment, Cervantes communicated with Muslims, Christian slaves, and renegades. He also had various Moroccan connections, such as the future Sultan Abd al-Malik (1541-1579), renowned for his culture and sophistication. Abd al-Malik was exiled in Constantinople and Algiers during the reign of his bloodthirsty brother, who had a penchant for killing his siblings. Cervantes and Abd al-Malik may have even become friends while the Spaniard was a slave in Algiers and the future Sultan was a refugee in the city.
Abd al-Malik appears in Cervantes’s play, The Bagnios of Algiers, where he is portrayed with great admiration. Around 1574, Abd al-Malik married the daughter of the Ottoman official Hadjdji Murad―she was the historical beauty who inspired the character of Zoraida in The Captive’s Tale, inserted in Don Quixote, Part I. Their lavish wedding, which resembles current marriage ceremonies in Morocco, is sumptuously represented by Cervantes in the The Bagnios of Algiers.


In an unprecedented move for a Muslim country such as Morocco, the management of a hotel decided to close its doors in the face of veiled women.
According to daily Al Massae, Cesar hotel in Tangier decided to ban a veiled woman from accessing its premises. According to the same source, the hotel’s controversial decision, which has appalled many of its veiled female clients, was issued by its owner.
The four-star hotel has decided to put the decision into practice starting from Jan 1, 2014.
According to the same source, some witnesses allegedly saw some of Cesar Hotel’s guards asking some veiled women to take off their veils to be allowed in.
While such decision might be justified elsewhere, such as in France whose controversial legislation against conspicuous religious symbols in public is (at least) rationalized by the country’s constitutional requirement of secularity, Morocco is a Muslim country and such decision should prompt the government to open an investigation and take the necessary measures to prevent such arbitrary practices from being implemented in the country.
So it was expected that Cesar Hotel’s controversial decision, first of its kind in Morocco, would likely spark an outpouring of public outrage. Strangely the silence is deafening!

Thirty months after winning official recognition for their ancient Amazigh-language in a new constitution, Morocco’s Berbers pushed for January 13, Yennayer 2964, their New Year, to be made a public holiday for the region’s indigenous pre-Arab inhabitants.

Festivities were planned in several cities around the North African country, including the capital Rabat, while other gatherings took place mainly in parts of the country with concentrated Berber populations, such as Agadir and Tiznit in the southwest.

But more than just a celebration and a way of reaffirming their cultural identity, it was also a chance for the Amazigh community to demand that this day should be awarded its proper place in the national calendar.

In 2011, in response to Arab Spring protests sweeping Morocco, King Mohammad VI introduced a new constitution which acknowledged Amazigh as an official language of the state alongside Arabic, a major achievement for a tongue that was once banned in schools. But the Islamist-led government has yet to pass the required legislation to implement the initiative, which would see Amazigh integrated into teaching and other areas of public life.
A decade earlier, the king had signalled his support for Morocco’s indigenous Berber culture in a historic speech in the northern town of Ajdir.

Morocco hosts the largest numbers of Berbers, who live in scattered communities across North Africa, including in Algeria and Libya, but there are no official estimates of the size of the population. But a census taken in 2004 showed that 8.4 million Moroccans spoke an Amazigh dialect daily, or around a quarter of the country’s total population…..bit of a clue then!

Anthropologists say the possible historical roots of the Berber New Year, known as Yennayer, are difficult to establish with any precision.

Some historians link it to the enthronement as pharaoh of the Amazigh king Chachnaq after defeating Ramses III,” believed to have happened in 950BC. 

For others it corresponds to what is known in Morocco as the agricultural calendar, celebrated around January 13th, an ancient festival that marks the reaffirmation of some important aspects of agrarian society, a return to the land.


I think I have mentioned somewhere that we had an extraordinary 2013 [and 2012 for that matter] regarding the almost total lack rain while on our many tours during that period. It was of course perfect for our clients, but not so good for the locals.

There’s no a great deal you can do about it……..except perhaps ask for help!!!!!

At the request of King Mohammed VI, upon learning that Morocco may suffer a continued drought this year, prayers for rain were held over the weekend at synagogues throughout Morocco.

The prayers were recited after Muslims said similar prayers in mosques also at the request of the King.

Responding to the king’s plea, the Council of Israelite Communities in Morocco, or CCIM, published a statement in which it “invites worshipers to pray in all the synagogues of the kingdom” so that God may “spare our country and help His Highness the King.”

And it worked……. As our current group departs Morocco they confirm a down pouring of rain from Tangier to south of Agadir…….. Not sure how far inland ‘till I make a call. 

As a side note………Earlier in January 2, King Mohammed VI met in his royal palace in Marrakesh with Jack Lang, a French Jewish former minister who last year became the head of the Arab World Institute, a Paris-based intergovernmental body that France runs jointly with 22 Arab nations.

Under Mohammed VI, Morocco has undertaken massive renovations of Jewish heritage sites and participated in such projects abroad, including in Cape Verde off the coast of Senegal, which once had a population of Moroccan Jews.

Approximately 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, according to the European Jewish Congress.

UPDATE ………. It would seem that there prays have been answered.  Morocco has seen widespread and consistent rain across much of the country during January.


I returned from Morocco just before Christmas loaded with dates for both friends and us.

Unfortunately, or should that be fortunately, I over estimated how many I needed so when I said “Loaded” I was seriously loaded………boxes of the things everywhere.

However, a great many were consumed after I converted them thus……So, so simple. 

Try it. In a suitable container cover as many dates as you wish with warm [not hot] fresh, yes FRESH ground coffee [of course no milk or sugar]. Then add Amaretto, Brandy, Whisky, Rum or Debbie’s favourite Contreau. In fact use any spirit that takes your fancy and to whatever strength.  We did them all!

Then just leave to marinade, don’t heat or they will fall apart. In fact the longer you leave the better. One produced an outstanding thick coffee-brandy-date liqueur mix…………  

That’s it. I said it was simple………

After a few hours try and walk past the container without hooking one out!

TAP, TAP, and CRACK. TAP, TAP, and CRACK.................. 

The sound of argan nuts being split open between smooth river stones continues in a repetitive beat. Tap, tap, and crack. Three barefoot Berber women are propped up with cushions, sitting cross-legged, as they go through the motions.
Beside them are baskets brimming with argan pieces, the fruit casings, discarded shells and prized kernels, picked from the ‘Tree of Life’, a spiny evergreen, endemic to southwest Morocco.
On the stretch of road between Essaouira and Marrakech, prickly-leaved Argan trees span out into the horizon in every direction, thriving in the arid climate where few other plants could prosper. Herds of goats climb the gnarled trunks, staring out from the canopy between indulgent mouthfuls of plum-size nuts. The peel and pulpy flesh are a favorite treat for animals but the kernels are cherished for another reason:  their oil.  Argan oil is so versatile and valuable it’s likened to ‘liquid gold’. With a wide-platform of uses, both culinary and cosmetic, and long list of medicinal properties, the oil is an attractive commodity and the rest of the world is catching on to its healing benefits.

Argan (Argania spinosa) is an endangered species that plays a vital role in resisting the ever-creeping Sahara Desert. The trees are also found in Algeria and have been successfully introduced to Israel but Morocco is the only nation that hosts a meaningful scale. Morocco’s Argan forests cover about 800,000 hectares near the Souss Valley, an area framed by the Atlas Mountains, Atlantic Ocean and Sahara Desert, which hosts roughly 21 million trees and has been given UNESCO protection as a ‘biosphere reserve’.
Argan husks are reportedly 16 times tougher than a hazelnut shell. Stories, dating back to the 13th century, explain that goats would eat the Argan fruits, locals later collecting their droppings to retrieve the Argan nuts, which had been conveniently softened by the animals’ stomach juices. This method saved on labour by making the kernels easier to salvage, but the resulting oil had a distinct smell to it.

Today, Argan oil production skips the goats’ intestines. The work is done with the hands of tireless women. Argan nuts must be cracked manually, attempts to mechanise the method have failed to keep the delicate kernels intact. It takes 30kg ­of Argan nuts, roughly the annual yield of one treeand between 15 and 20 hours of hand processing to make just 2 litres of cooking oil or 1 litre of cosmetic oil. Explaining why Argan oil is the most expensive edible oil in the world.
According to the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), argan trees support the livelihoods of 3 million Moroccans, about 10% of the country’s population, who use the husks as firewood, the fruit for animal fodder and the pips to make precious oil. Argan oil is an important economy for locals, particularly for women, who have grouped together to form more than 150 cooperatives.  Tourists are welcome to visit the centers, to learn about the process of making Argan oil and to purchase a pot of face cream, scented body oil or even some argan flower honey.
Stopping a short drive from Essaouira, at Assaisse Ouzeka, a certified organic cooperative that employs about 30 women, I’m greeted by Ms. Laila Kanzi, who walks me through the steps of making argan oil.
A favourite breakfast for locals is ‘Amlou’,  looking very much like ‘Moroccan peanut butter, made with a paste of argan oil, honey and crushed sweet almonds…..taken with freshly made bread .

Argan oil has a multitude of uses: it can be drizzled over salads, couscous and tagines to add a nutty taste, applied as a scar healing, skin rejuvenating, nail strengthening and hair vitality treatment and used medicinally as an anti-inflammatory and to aid with immunity and blood circulation. No wonder Berbers call Argan the ‘Tree of Life.’

Indeed it is. I make no political point, statement or whatever ……. just interest.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force is evaluating the recent purchase of three additional [note the word additional] Israel Aerospace Industries Heron 1/Harfang unmanned air systems via France. The deal, made with Israeli approval, includes the option for additional aircraft to follow.

A version of the medium-altitude, long-endurance Heron adapted for the French air force, the Harfang is used to perform strategic reconnaissance and tracking missions. Also previously referred to by France as the SIDM, it was manufactured by Airbus Defense & Space, in full co-operation with Israel Aerospace Industries.

It is not clear what payloads will be carried by the UAS Morocco has purchased, but these are likely to be Israeli-produced.
The ties between Morocco and Israel are good, despite the fact that diplomatic relations between the nations were cut in 2000.  


Jan 18, 2014…….. Reuters.

Morocco said on Friday it had ended subsidies of gasoline and fuel oil and had started to cut significantly diesel subsidies as part of its drive to repair public finances.

But the government, keen to avoid the kind of social unrest that toppled several other North African regimes during the Arab Spring, said it would continue to subsidise wheat, sugar and cooking gas used by poorer Moroccans.

The cash-strapped North African kingdom is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to cut spending and reform subsidies, taxation and its pension system. The demands are linked to a two-year, $6.2 billion precautionary credit line agreed by the IMF in 2012 for Morocco.

“Gasoline and fuel oil are no longer among the products subsidised by the government,” the general affairs ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency MAP.
Morocco is the most advanced among North African countries in its reform of public subsidies and already started last year to partially index energy prices to international market levels.

On Thursday, nearby Tunisia’s outgoing Islamist-led government announced it had suspended planned oil price hikes after a series of protests and strikes over high living costs.
Morocco said subsidies for diesel would decline from a level of 2.15 dirhams per litre this month to 0.80 dirham by October.

Morocco has budgeted for 30 billion dirhams worth of food and energy subsidies for 2014, down from 42 billion last year and more than 53 billion dirhams in 2012.
But the subsidy reductions could hurt the fragile economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism, agriculture and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.

Morocco’s main Islamist opposition movement, Justice and Spirituality, urged leftist groups last year to join protests against the subsidy cuts. But so far there has been little sign of widespread public discontent over the measures.

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