Sunday, 23 February 2014


After a couple of hugely successful trial-run tours last December and this February we are for 2015 [and selected 2014 dates] introducing the all new “PREMIUM” Moroccan Tours.

Essentially the “PREMIUM” tours will be small group excursions [around 5 vehicles only] and will be led by myself together with Tour Assistant A’hammed.

These new “PREMIUM” tours will offer a number of unique features and locations not readily available on our regular tours and will take advantage of the many personal and exclusive contacts I have made over the past 30+ years of visiting the region.

Whenever possible we will also try and incorporate some great festivals, moussem’s and events i.e. Imishil Moussem [Marriage Festival] and Sidi Ali festival [see below], Essaouira Gnaoua,  Musiques Sacrees [Fes] etc. whenever dates coincide.
Offering just 4/5 dates per year and given the small target client numbers we expect these exceptional “PREMIUM” tours to fill rapidly [some are already FULL], so don’t wait if you are interested……or wish to switch from an already booked tour date………

For details and availability email your landline phone number for a non-sales chat………..

NOTE……..Our Classic, Discovery and Amazigh tours will of course continue as published i.e. every month bar July/August and will in future be led by our long-serving Tour Leaders and Support Staff.


As mentioned the February tour followed the “PREMIUM” format and was hugely successful.

Unfortunately a client vehicle breakdown on route to departure point and another client experiencing personal issues back in the UK [both re-booked] meant that the tour went ahead with just 4 vehicles.………We NEVER cancel a tour…….. As during December our regular “Classic” 11 vehicle tour group followed some days behind so as not to clash.

Having left behind a deluged UK and battled through some pretty awful conditions in mainland Europe the expected weather in Morocco was high on the agenda at the pre-tour briefing. Heavy snow had been reported on all the High Atlas Passes and persistent rain shrouded the north and southern plains…..anxious times indeed for both A’Hammed and me! As it turned out the weather throughout the trip was all but perfect with a couple of chilly nights and just one short overnight rainfall [on the first night].

Just before our Meski departure for the Dunes the wind picked-up, carrying with it clouds of dust and sand and cutting visibility to just yards.

As quick as it arrived it dropped but from years of experience we knew where it would be lying in wait. As expected our “piste” section to Erg Chebbie was unusually exciting…………but a great experience!

The only casualty was the planned camp-meal that was put-off until the next day [we will probably do that anyway in future] and the usual horizon to horizon clear blue skies returned after an hour or so…..In fact most clients took advantage of the magnificent clear night sky and mild temperature and ventured off into the deeper dunes for the organised overnight “Bivi Camp”.

A’Hammed joined our team some 12 years ago, taking over the role as one of Tour Assistants following the retirement of his farther, Hammed, who in turn had been with us for around 22 years.  An exceptional individual with a rare understanding of “European” client needs and expectations A’Hammed has excelled and is frankly indispensable ………

More than valued we at Desert Detours consider A’Hammed  family. Indeed, we have seen him though early childhood, youth, young man, marriage to Radia and birth of his own son Yazzime. 

Hang on; did I say his own son?  Not another employee on the way!!!!!


Desert Detours did have two Renault Traffic People Carriers. We now have just one and a load of spares.  Like they say “s**t happens”………... never mind, I didn’t like the colour anyway!


The historic Essaouira synagogue in Morocco will be refurbished in a joint project with the German Foreign Ministry. This will be the second that has been restored under the scheme.

Tuesday’s announcement came as the Moroccan ambassador in Berlin, Omar Zniber, launched an exhibit at the embassy’s cultural center of photographs of Moroccan Jews from the 1960's as well as new photos of synagogues in the country, both pre-and post-renovation.
At the time of the photos, there were still tens of thousands of Jews in Morocco. Today the population is estimated at about 2,500.

In addition, a conference on Moroccan Jewish cultural patrimony was hosted at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum this week.

A spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry said that the restoration of the 19th century Simon Attias Synagogue in Essaouira is to be completed in 2015. It is a joint effort with the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage.

“With this project, the Federal Foreign Office supports the preservation of Jewish heritage in Morocco, thereby helping to strengthen the national identity of the country,” he said.

The programme already completed the restoration of the 17th century Slat al Fassiyin synagogue in Fez, which had been used as a carpet factory and then a boxing ring. It was rededicated in ceremonies last year.

At that ceremony, Moroccan King Mohammed IV called for the restoration of all synagogues in the country “so that they may serve not only as places of worship, but also as forums for cultural dialogue and for the promotion of our cultural values.”


It is the season of the women in white and the mat man is dead. Up on the roof a man is calling out to Lalla Malika. He has been calling for weeks, hour after hour. It is the season of the women in white.

Their men are gone, taken by the cold, or heartbreak or poverty. For forty days they wear no colour, no makeup no perfume. Their hands have no trace of henna. Their men are gone, just like the mat man. He was the last.

Hidden away behind his door of rough-hewn planks the mat man dried the grasses he had harvested in summer. Patiently he wove the mats for the mosques until the Chinese stole the market, bringing in their container loads of plastic mats. The effect was toxic. The mat man fell to making place mats for tourists. He is gone. He was the last.

Up on the roof the mat man still calls to Lalla Malika; the female djinn [spirit] who seduces married men. There is only one thing sadder than a man possessed by a djinn and that is one abandoned by her. Malika, he calls, Malika, come now. There is no response. A rooster crows on a nearby terrace. The cats fight and overhead the falcons soar on the thermals. It is the season of the women in white.

Downward now into the streets in the alleyways the wafting smells of hammam smoke, hot bread from a firane, kefta cooking, tagine magic and spices, charcoal braziers and incense. Luban jawi - the black Javanese incense for the djinn who is not Malika. She, they say, not mentioning her name, she, who lives in water. She who comes at night and claims the men Malika has not caught.

“Malika, come now”. The call is fainter here, down on the cobbled street, darker too, here where the sun has averted its eye as if to shade the fact that Malika is not coming.

The cry of Malika fades away, replaced by the shuttle clicking of a loom behind a windowless wall. Children’s fingers hard at work in dark spaces, gloom and cold surround the bucket maker amidst his cedar shavings and chips. And to the other side a man, face locked in a perpetual squint, embroidering sequins on a wedding dress for a woman whose destiny, like all her sisters, is to cast the garment aside and dress in white and walk the street alone.

Outside his door the mat man no longer works here, squatting over his ancient wooden loom. He is gone, like Malika, and somewhere, walking in the alleyways amidst the noise and smoke and heady odours, is another woman dressed in white.


The Cervantes Theatre in Tangier is considered to be a masterpiece of Spanish architecture - sadly, a hundred years after it was built it is in danger of crumbling into nothing. The cost of restoration and the question of who should pay for it have left the building in limbo. Nearby the port of Tangier is getting a face lift and a new marina, but the historical building seems forgotten.

Yet, there are those who value its history. The city was very different back in 1919, when the population was around 40,000, with roughly 7,000 Spaniards, 5000 Jews and 26,000 Muslims.

The history of the building dates back to 1911, when a rich Spanish merchant, Manuel Pena, decided to erect the theatre and dedicate it to his wife Esperanza Orellana, who was a passionate theatre lover.

The theatre opened in December 1913 and its history is closely linked to the Spanish presence in Tangier.  During the Second World War, Franco's troops who occupied the city considered the building to be too modernist and wanted to convert the theatre in the neoclassical style fascist. The building was saved that fate………fortunately, the fascists did not have the money.

In December 2013, Lopez Garcia staged a major exhibition devoted to the centenary of the theatre. A celebration was subdued because as observers commented, a monument, reduced to a wreck, is painful to see. Outside the yellow and blue ceramic decorating its facade is fading. And the inside, that once saw magnificent performances, is a wreck beneath a dilapidated ceiling - the remaining seats are covered with dust.

The theatre was the venue for the famous tenor Antonio Caruso, singer Patti Adeline and many Flamenco performances early last century. The Al Hilal troupe, composed of Moroccans from Tangier, gave a noted performance of Othello in the theatre in 1929.

Closed since 1974, the Cervantes Theatre has long been praised as symbolic of Morocco, while remaining the property of Spain. The two countries still do not reach an agreement for its restoration.

The Spanish government would like nothing better than to restore it, but with the current crisis it is impossible to approach the subject. Besides the cost, estimated at €4-5 million, the location in a run-down neighbourhood is a weak point…………sad really.


Sorcery, plate-smashing and animal sacrifices are not often associated with Sufi festivals, but they all feature at a popular annual pilgrimage to a Moroccan shrine linked to the “queen of the genies”.
In the town’s main square, to a chorus of trilling pipes and banging drums, spectators press around a cluster of believers, who sway to the hypnotic rhythms in a trance-like state, sometimes leaping up and down in ecstasy, sometimes cutting themselves on the scalp with sharp tools.
One of the men runs into the middle of the circle, holds up a large terracotta plate and throws it high into the air. It shatters as it lands on his head, prompting a loud cheer from the crowd.  The festival of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch brings Moroccans from far and wide to venerate a 17th century Muslim saint and his servant Lalla Aicha, a mythical Muslim princess from the desert who dwells in the spirit world and is a powerful unseen force for her followers.
Traditionally, worshippers have come to Mghrassyine for spiritual guidance and divine blessing, sometimes seeking higher states of consciousness through music and dance, as a form of communion with God.
But for a growing number of people, the week-long religious festival, or “moussem”, is a journey into the supernatural world of genies, incantations and “shawafa” — women who claim to be able, for a fee, to help people find love and feel better, to maybe cast or break a spell.
Morocco……..Land of Superstition…………  Madame Khayat, from the city of Fez, says she comes every year, despite the disapproval of many Moroccans, including her husband, who view the rituals as un-Islamic. She comes to be purified of the evil spirits, of the ‘jinn,’ she says with a smile.  “It’s a kind of pilgrimage if you like. People go to Mecca to be purified of their sins. People come here to be purified of evil spirits.”

“There are many people who think it’s savagery, who don’t believe in this. Even my husband doesn’t like me to come here. So when he wasn’t looking, I just got in the car and came with my two maids,” she adds with a laugh. Good and bad genies (“jnun” in Arabic) are frequently mentioned in the Koran, although orthodox Islamic tradition holds that Muslims should rely on God alone to protect them from malevolent spirits.
But the spirits hold a special place in Moroccan folklore and popular culture, and not just among the poor and uneducated.
A study published in 2012 by the Pew Research Centre, a US think tank, showed that an estimated 86 percent of Moroccans believe in these supernatural beings, more than any of the other countries surveyed.
Aziz Hlaoua, a Moroccan sociologist, says that under King Mohamed VI there has been a clear revival of Sufism, the beliefs and practices of mystical Muslim sects, which in Morocco are commonly linked to the world of magic and healing. In 2002, the king appointed Ahmed Toufiq, known for his Sufi sympathies, as minister of religious affairs, to pioneer this revival and reverse the marginalisation of Sufi fraternities under his father, the late king Hassan II.
The political role of this new policy of favouring Sufism as a moderate, open, tolerant form of Islam is a means of confronting extremism and the moussem is seen a continuous comeback since Ahmed Toufiq’s appointment as minister.”
Music and meditation………..On the last day of the Sidi Ali festival, thousands gather to accompany a procession of flag bearers and drummers as they lead a sacrificial bull donated by the king down the hill to the shrine of Sidi Ali.
Other creatures, notably black chickens and goats, the colour supposedly favoured by Lalla Aicha, are on sale around the town, to be slaughtered as part of an Islamic tradition that has assumed occult overtones in Mghrassyine.
When they sacrifice the animal, they believe the genies drink its blood. It’s a way of pacifying the spirits.  An alleyway winding down to the valley below the shrine is lined with evidence of sorcery…. “shawafa” salons and stalls selling festival accessories, from goat horns to dried chameleons, which are placed in boiling water to produce healing vapors.
At the bottom of the path, women light prayer candles and burn incense in the cave of Lalla Aicha, calling on the so-called queen of the genies to intercede on their behalf, or they purify themselves with a ritual bath in the adjacent natural spring.
Two sheep lie dead on the ground nearby, their throats slit. A more cerebral atmosphere prevails in the room, not far from the shrine, where members of the Sidi Ali fraternity congregate for an evening of spiritual music and meditation, or “lilla.”
After hours of chanting and swaying that lasts late into the night, a man in the audience starts throwing his head about violently, apparently entering a state of trance, before collapsing on the ground.
Morocco…….Indeed, Land of Superstition.


It is one of the most exciting new airline developments this year. A brand new company, Your Flight, is to launch direct flights from Gibraltar to Morocco this spring. The airline, set up by four local businessmen from the Rock, is offering the route up to twice a week from April 17 to Marrakech.
Costing just £99 one way, the flights, operated by Royal Air Maroc, will leave the Rock on Thursdays and Sundays. Best of all, there will be ‘no hidden extras’ with passengers able to take up to 23 kilos of luggage.
Your Flight also hopes to offer other destinations, including Fez, Agadir and Casablanca, in the future. A service to Tangier is planned for late 2014.


A festival recently took place in the city of Salvador in Bahia state and is a celebration of peace through dance and music……..a fitting venue for the Aissawa.
The Aissawa (also Aïssâwa, Issâwa, Aïssaoua, Issaoua) is a religious and mystical brotherhood founded in Meknès, Morocco, by Muhammad Ben Aïssâ (1465–1526), best known as the Shaykh Al-Kâmil, or "Perfect Sufi Master". The terms Aïssâwiyya (`Isâwiyya) and Aïssâwa (`Isâwa), derives from the name of the founder, and respectively designate the brotherhood (tariqa, literally: "way") and its disciples (fuqarâ, sing. to fakir, literally: "poor"). They are known for their spiritual music, which generally comprises songs of religious psalms, characterized by the use of the oboe ghaita (similar to themizmar or zurna) accompanied by percussion using polyrhythm.
Some details regarding Ben Aïssâ remain unknown. He has a controversial genealogy and a hagiography that projects the image of a Sufi master and legendary ascetic of considerable spiritual influence. Ben Aïssâ built his own mausoleum in the monastery or Zaouia in the city of Meknès. This is now a destination for his modern followers to visit and pray while participating in individual or collective acts of piety. Ben Aïssâ was initiated into Sufism by three masters of the tariqa Shadhiliyya/Jazûliyya: `Abbâs Ahmad Al-Hâritî (Meknès), Muhammad `Abd Al `Azîz At-Tabbâ (Marrakech) and Muhammad as-Saghîr as-Sahlî (Fès).

The Zaouia or monastery in Meknès is the main spiritual centre of the Aissawa brotherhood founded by Muhammad Ben Aïssâ at the end of the 15th century, construction resumed three centuries later under sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah. Often renovated by the Ministry for Habous and Islamic Affairs and maintained by the municipal services, this is the center of the brotherhood's international network. The site is open to the public all year round and is the location of the tombs of founder Chaykh Al-Kâmil, his disciple Abû-ar-Rawâyil, and the alleged son of the founder, Aïssâ Al-Mehdi.
Aïssâwa's international growth began in the 18th century. From Morocco, it has spawned organizations in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Outside of these countries, Aïssâwi practice without immediate access to Aïssâwa institutions, as in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the USA and Canada. There is a building movement in the United States, focused primarily in Chicago, where an Aïssâwa music group known as Chicago Aissawa has been established by Quentin Shaw who has traveled regularly to Meknes to study the music. 


Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) is scheduled to star in Blood Mountain, a thriller from director Sergei Bodrov about a military contractor whose team is ambushed, leaving him solely responsible for bringing a terrorist to safe grounds. The Morocco shoot is planned to begin in April. Cumberbatch’s Alan Turning biopic The Imitation Game is currently in post-production, and he’s also attached to star in the adaptation of The Lost City of Z.


Bad news for the already hard pressed Moroccan car owner and for those heading for that destination its worth keeping in mind…………..The price of diesel was adjusted/fixed at MAD 8.88 per liter for the period from 16 February to 15 March 2014, an increase of  MAD 0.34 .
In a communiqué issued by the Ministry of General Affairs and Governance said that the price of diesel will stand at MAD 8.88 per liter, an increase of MAD 0.34, for that period. If fact I paid 9.22 on my last fill-up when leaving Morocco on the 17th March after the tour.
That increase on the 17th is probably due to the fact that the prices of diesel and gasoline are revised on the 1st and 16th of each month, in accordance with the pricing structure published by the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment.
Last September, the government decided to implement the indexation measure, which links gas prices in Morocco with any increase or decrease in the international market.
Still cheaper that Europe …………..1 Euro = 11.19 Dirhams, 1 pound = 13.60 Dirhams.
“To belittle, you have to be little.”
Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet  

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