Monday, 27 October 2014

JUST 50 OR SO DAYS TO 2015 .......


As is the norm I will start with a brief update on the available places for our 2015 tour dates. [December 2014, that runs into early 2015 is now FULL].

Both the January and February 2015 tours have just ONE vehicle place available on each date.  As I write March and April have between them just FOUR places left.  The scheduled May tour is now full but should we receive positive enquiries we shall run an additional tour during that Month. 

September has THREE available places and November has TWO.  We  can take just FOUR more on the December 2015 tour.

October 2015 is already full .... But due to demand we will probably run a second tour during that month.

Just to clarify the occasional "two tours per month" situation .... Given the level of permanent full time staff and the numerous escort vehicles we have available this means that we are able to run additional tours without any effect on scheduled tour dates ... The additional tours run several days apart to avoid conflict.

Phewwwww ..... Hope that all makes sense!

As 2014 touring year draws to a close I am slightly [not a lot!] confused, what happened to all the Brits this year?  During our March, April and May tours this year we did not see one single other Brit Motorhome on route.  In fact that has almost been the case during the entire year. I say almost as we did come across a UK registered motorhome at a town called Tinerhir during May.  Clearly broken down and jacked-up while awaiting clutch parts we tried but could not locate the owners as we could have assisted .... Ah well .....

Whilst both Blue Camel and GB Privilege eventually cancelled their 2014 dates we were full and over subscribed on most of our 12 tours .... Gloating and pleased?  Not at all ... We are well passed that stage [37+ years in Morocco], rather .... our main interest is as always to promote Morocco as a premier and outstanding Motorhome destination.  Only wondering.......

Whilst we do maintain a 24/7 office attendance during our motorhome and other specialist tour dates we are NOT an office based organisation i.e. contracting in Tour Leaders or other Organisations to run our tours.  ALL our staff are permanent and full time.

Whilst NONE of the inaccuracies are "life-threatening" or likely to result in too much stress the article in the Summer addition [whatever that means] of MMM ..... A Magical Tour of Morocco .... is quite good.

I seem to be always saying "just back and off again in a few days" and once again that's the case.  By the time you receive/read this I will be again in Morocco for the November tour. Then it's a two month break for me while the staff take the December and January tours .... unless I get bored!

Finally I have made a sad decision.   To make way for a new heavy-vehicle project in our now crowded workshop facility I have reluctantly decided to sell the much loved and utterly reliable UNIMOG.  Available too a caring, considerate and appreciating home only I will consider sensible offers.  The full specification is far too lengthy and boring to list here so I will in due course prepare a separate posting.  The vehicle may find its way onto the specialist sales sites in due course so in the meantime [before I change my mind] contact the office if interested.


Every year during October a spectacular event is held in the small northern Moroccan town of Tissa.  Celebrated in remembrance of Sidi Muhammed Ben Lachen, a fifteenth century patron saint, the Tissa Horse Festival attracts hundreds of horse breeders and horse owners.  They come to show off their beautifully groomed thoroughbreds, which are put through their paces in displays of remarkable horsemanship, echoing skills used in inter-tribal wars of previous centuries.

The horses that are brought here are of the finest breeding and include Arab-Berbers, Arab stallions and Barbary mares.  Riders get the opportunity to display their horse's capabilities in different events, exhibiting qualities such as grace, speed, maneuverability and endurance.

Perhaps the most spectacular event is the "Fantasia" when teams from all over Morocco compete against each other in a both dazzling and breath-taking affair.

On lookers at the edge of the vast arena watch as lines of riders charge towards a fence at full gallop, before standing high in the stirrup they pull up as close to the fence as possible and discharging their muskets.  Unanimity of the ride and discharge is the key with the closest team to perfection being declared victorious.

Oh dear .... I feel a story coming on ..... A rather strange "Horse" one.

Many years ago with yet another tour behind me I return from Morocco, as is often the case, amazed.  The group I was leading this time had a particular interest in horses so I took them to the aforementioned Tizza Festival, the huge gathering and celebration of the Horse.  With my clients engrossed in the spectacle of the "Fantasia" .... a simulation of a charging mounted battle ... I wondered off to the market area.  At first glance the square seemed deserted, uncannily quite.  But it was not so, as I became drawn towards a huge gathered crowd, making little more than a low murmur.

As I jostled, on tip-toe, to see what all the fuss was about an old man gripped my arm and pulled me to one side, then uninvited and for some unknown reason whispered in my ear ..... 

"Many, many years ago in the far off desert of Southern Morocco there was a warrior, Ahmed, who owned a very special Arabian mare.  A mare he rode into many battles and to whom he entrusted his life and soul.  Theirs was a very special relationship, some would say unnatural, much more than just a bond of trust, love and mutual respect.  Indeed it was agreed that either would have given their own life for the other.

In fact, their bond of trust was so strong that it was said the mare could "read her master's thoughts", doing exactly what he needed at exactly the right time.  This uncanny awareness became acknowledged as to the reason they had survived and won in so many battles.  As one they were the envy of all, friend and foe alike.

But, of course, when you live the life it is inevitably that it will follow a destined course. 

One day during a particularly fierce and terrible battle the warrior was severely wounded and fell from his horse.  The war-mare, herself now terribly injured, stood her ground over her master.  Finally the warrior remounted, falling across the neck and shoulder of his beloved mare.  Although her master was now unconscious and she knew little of where she was the mare carefully balanced him across her shoulder, left the field of battle and headed toward home.

Dazed and at times lost she wondered for many days, going without food or water to return her precious charge to his tribe and family.  When the courageous mare finally arrived back at the encampment, she was exhausted, weak and close to death herself .... But alas, her great care had been in vain, for her master was dead.

As the family carefully removed the master's body it was seen that the mares shoulder was heavily stained with his blood, leaving a distinct red mark on her shoulder that could, no matter the effort, be removed.

Although they had lost their leader, the family and tribe were eternally grateful to the mare for delivering his body from battle. They knew that the long journey had been very difficult for the courageous mare and they were very concerned for her, because incredibly they could see that she was heavily in foal.

But, although they could see a great sadness and sorrow in her eyes they need not have worried, for when the little one arrived it was well and in good health, growing vigorous, strong and of exceptional quality. It was also noticed that it amazingly bore the identical "Bloody Shoulder" that its mother had from her master's blood.

It was then that they realized that Allah had rewarded the mare for her courage and loyalty and the tribe for their faith. The young ones “Bloody Shoulder” was to be a reminder of his favor.

Since that time, many hundreds of years have passed, but every now and then, all be it extremely rare, a mare of exceptional courage, beauty and quality produces a very special foal. One graced by God with the “Bloody Shoulder of Courage, Loyalty and Faith. To this day the warrior tribes of southern Morocco have continued to believe this is a sign of Allah's favor”…….Indeed the arrival of a “Bloody Shouldered Foal” is seen a precursor of great change or event.

At that point the old man touched his eye in a “come and see” gesture, turned and pulled me toward the gathered mass. As we moved into the now hundreds of silent onlookers they parted, closed ranks behind and pressed us forward. Eager for me to see……..

A horseman I am not, but even to my untrained eye she was simply stunning. Proud, alert, and totally without fear she held center stage to the gathered.

“Touch” the old man said, taking my hand and placing it on the fouls shoulder……….The shoulder that bore the mark……………..


For those who have been fortunate enough to visit Morocco, tour inland in particular, it will come as no surprise that Morocco has been officially ranked third in the World as the most welcoming country for foreign tourists. No, not by one of those self-granulating and in-house organisations….. The data comes from the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report [WEF].
The prestigious Geneva-based organisation assesses 140 economies worldwide based on the policies implemented by countries to develop their travel and tourism sector. Under the theme “Reducing Barriers to Economic Growth and Job Creation,” the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report shows that the Kingdom has achieved a “very good reception.”

The kingdom comes on the third position with a score of 6.7, after Iceland and New Zealand, which ranked first and second respectively. For countries less welcoming to foreign tourists, Bolivia was rated as the world’s most unfriendly country, scoring 4.1 followed by Venezuela and Russia, with a score of 4.5 and 5.0, respectively.

According to the WEF, the classification adopted in the indicator tends to measure the ability of countries to interact with the tastes and cultural diversity of tourists, “which is a big challenge in the era of globalization.” 
With 55.7 million international tourists’ arrivals to Africa in the past year, Morocco comes in the first rank among the top five African countries that received most of tourists, according to the ranking announced recently by the World Tourism Organisation. With about 10 million tourist arrivals in 2013 -an increase of 6% compared to 2012- Morocco, is determined to achieve the “Vision 2020 strategy, which aims to double the number of tourists.

Thanks to its numerous assets, mainly political stability, friendly people and proximity to Europe, Morocco is “resolved to be among the world’s top 20 tourism destinations by 2020,” according to Lahcen Hadad, minister of tourism. big challenge in the era of globalization.”

No surprise then that Desert Detours has no trouble in continuing to be the most prolific of Motorhome themed tour providers [10-12 tours per year] in the region.


A mule had a lucky escape when it fell down a manhole in Fez. The cover had been removed, and the animal backed into it without seeing the hole.

Fortunately, rescuers from the American Fondouk, aided by onlookers, were quickly on hand to extract the poor creature. Firstly it was given a tranquilizer, before a man was lowered head-first down into the hole, to the side of the animal, to pass two ropes around its hind quarters. A carpet was put as protective padding between the flanks of the mule and the rope.It took the considerable strength of eight people, for the 400 kg animal to be extracted.

Despite a few leg injuries, the mule is recovering well at the American Fondouk [Animal Clinic].

SKINS .....

Wedged among the ancient buildings and serpentine passageways of Fez's Old Medina is a grid of stone wells, each filled with thick, coloured liquid.  This is Chouara, an 11th century tannery that still operates as it did a thousand years ago.

Cow, sheep, goat and camel hides are brought here to be preserved, dyed, and turned into handbags, jackets, and wallets sold in the surrounding souks.

The process begins with the raw skins being soaked in a mixture of cow urine, pigeon faeces, quicklime, salt and water .... the liquid in the white wells, this loosens the hair from the hides and makes them softer.  After a few days of steeping in this concoction, the skins are hauled out and hung from rails on the balconies to dry.

Then comes the dying process.  Tannery workers plunge the skins into the coloured wells, leaving them there for a few more days to absorb each hue.  The dyes all come from natural substances, such as indigo, henna, saffron, poppies and pomegranates.

The Chouara is a must visit location if you are ever in Fez and is one of many we call on during our "Classic" tours.  Visitors are welcome to observe the tannery in action, and are even given a gift upon arrival: a small sprig of mint to hold under the nose when the smell becomes too much.

Named for its proximity to the Atlas Mountains, a range that stretches across northern Africa, Atlas Film Studios is the largest film studio in the world. Covering more than 322,000 square feet of desert, Atlas Film is located just five miles outside of Ouarzazate on the road to Marrakech and is a popular tourist destination, in part because the grounds are littered with old movie sets that are decaying in the harsh environment.

Atlas Film Studios wasn't built until 1983, when Moroccan entrepreneur Mohamed Belghmi recognized the need for a permanent studio in the area. But Ouarzazate was first used as a movie location by acclaimed British director David Lean for his 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. Familiar with the area, Lean knew that the site could provide an authentic setting for any ancient, desert-based story.

Over the years, Ouarzazate has served as a shooting location for Alexander the Great, Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, The Mummy (1999), Star Wars (1977), The Living Daylights (1987), Martin Scorsese's Kundun (1997), and many others, including Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and Body of Lies (2008) also starring Russell Crowe along with Leonardo DiCaprio.

The first thing visitors to Atlas encounter is a massive prop jet plane that was used in 1985's Jewel of the Nile. Out in the desert, one of the most popular attractions is the Colosseum where Crowe fought in Gladiator. Inside one of the first buildings there is a replica "kasbah" with winding passageways and alleys. In another area of the studio there is an Egyptian tomb with 12ft statues guarding the entrance and exit.

All in all a great tour with a great guide and well worth the money, but don't be surprised by the state of disrepair that seems to have swept the site.

Continuing not so far along the road towards Marrakesh you will see a sign for Aït Benhaddou……A stunning location in its own right but also known as the backdrop to many scenes from the aforementioned film Gladiator.

As this fortified city full of towering kasbahs and crumbling walls took continued beatings from the brutal rains, its citizens defected into more modern digs on the other side of the Ounila River, that is except for a stubborn few….six or seven families in all…… that still remain in the formerly majestic ksar. 

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Aït Benhaddou was once a major stop along the caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara. The striking visage of southern Moroccan architecture is thought to be 17th century, and contains a mosque, two cemeteries (Jewish and Muslim), a public square, and areas for threshing grain outside of the ramparts. 

Despite not being completely abandoned, the earthen architecture is vulnerable to weather and lack of care. While the site has maintained its authenticity, lack of maintenance and its sparsity of inhabitants led to serious deterioration. Assigned a 5-year plan by officials, the ksar received some care and restoration between 2007 and 2012, using as much wood and earthen techniques as possible to keep the site as historically preserved.

Well worth a visit and a location we will soon be adding to one of our tour itineraries……. 

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