Sunday, 30 December 2012



Well that’s it 2012 is now just a recent memory.

But firstly all at Desert Detours… particular Debbie and myself…… wish all our past and future clients, blog followers and Moroccan bound travellers an inspired and safe 2013.

Ours was yet another outstanding year with 11 Moroccan tours [or was that 12 tours?], whatever, it was busy. We also found time to finalise our Andalusia tours dates for 2013.

Already around half of our 2013 dates are FULL with a couple of tour dates down to just a one or two vehicle places left……the rest are at about 50% booked.

We are currently working on our Eastern Morocco Tour. This will be a one-off tour run more on the style of a fully supported exploration…….the region does not lend itself to hard and firm course or plans. A little shorter in duration, the route will loop east-south then south-west to arrive at a more familiar region, probably around the Boudnib/Meski area. From there clients will have the opportunity to continue at their leisure as an informal group or solo.

We say “arrive at a more familiar region” as the tour will in the first instance be open to past clients.  In the unlikely event that we do not achieve the minimum required vehicle numbers [10] we will then open the tour to others.

Tour date will likely be mid/October 2013.

We already have a probable participant list but please confirm you continued interest. Ex-client or otherwise.
Perhaps unsurprisingly both our early December and the current Christmas/New Year tours were oversubscribed. To avoid disappointment for the 2013 season contact us NOW!!!

So that's it another year passes me by……… the good thing is that I now get to use the thick wad of 2013 pages that have been patiently waiting in my personal Filofax……..the worrying thing is that I am getting ever more mindful of passing time and getting older; as I typed this Debbie took a phone call and informed me that not only did 2012 see me make a great, great Grandfather but now I am soon to be a great great uncle…… I am that pleased!!!!!!

NEW YEAR?............ WHAT NEW YEAR WOULD THAT BE?............

Muslims do not traditionally celebrate the beginning of a New Year, but they do acknowledge the passing of time, and take time to reflect on their own mortality.

Unless I have miss calculated the next Isamic New Year will start on the evening of the 3rd November 2013 when it will then actually be the year 1435 H.

Muslims measure the passage of time using the Islamic [Hijrah] calendar.  This calendar has twelve lunar months, the beginnings and endings of which are determined by the sighting of the crescent moon.  Years are counted since the Hijrah, which is when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah [approximately July 622 A.D.].

The Islamic calendar was first introduced by the close companion of the Prophet, Umar Ibn Al-Kattab.  During his leadership of the Muslim community, in approximately 638 A.D., he consulted with his advisors in order to come to a decision regarding the various dating systems used at that time.  It was agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah, since it was an important turning point for the Muslim community.  After the emigration to Madinah [formerly known as Yathrib], the Muslims were able to organize and establish the first real Muslim community to mature and strengthen, and the people developed an entire society based on Islamic principles.

The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in many Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia.  Other Muslim countiries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.  

As I mentioned earlier the Islamic year has twelve months that are based on a lunar cycle.  Allah says in the Qur'an

The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve [in a year] - so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth..... [9.36].

It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light of beauty, and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count of time.  Allah did not create this except in truth and righteousness.  And He explains His signs in detail, for those who understand. [10.5].

In his final sermon before his death, the Prophet Muhammad said, among other things, "With Allah the months are twelve, four of them are holy, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumaada and Sha'ban.

Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted.  The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons and are not fixed to the Gregorian calendar.  The months of the Islamic year are...........

1. Muharran [Forbidden - it is one of the four months during which it is forbidden to wage war or fight]

2. Safar [Empty or Yellow]

3. Rabia Awal [First Spring]

4. Rabia Thani [Second Spring]

5. Jumaada Awal [First freeze]

6. Jumaada Thani [Second freeze]

7. Rajab [To respect - this is another holy month when fighting is prohibited]

8. Sha'ban [To spread and distribute]

9. Ramadan [Parched thirst - this is the month of day time fasting]

10. Shawwal [To be light and vigorous]

11. Dhul-Qi'dah [The month of rest - another month when no warfare or fighting is allowed]

12. Dhul-Hijjah [The month of Hajj - this is the month of the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, again when no warfare or fighting is allowed].

MMmmmmmmmmmmmmmm  Just thought I would mention it. 

Please note that the above is for information and interested purposes only and in no way implies personal belief or whatever.................


A recent analysis of the DNA from a large sample of Scottish people revealed that
the Scottish population carries genes from…… no, not overwhelming traces of lRM-BRU, BUT from North-African, West-African and Asian origins.

Alistair Moffat a Scottish researcher, recently published a large-scale study that bears on the analysis of the DNA of a large number of people in Scotland. He said that this study would "rewrite the history of the Scottish nation."

Presented at Edinburgh International Book Festival, according to the British media 'The Guardian', the study revealed that 1% of Scottish carry Moroccan-Amazigh [Berber] genes. According to Moffat, this is due to the influences of Moroccan-Andalusian empires which, in the middle-ages, had foothold in Europe (Spain), and probably spread their seeds to neighboring European populations including the British Isles.

West-African and Caribbean origins have also been discovered in the Scottish population, which is explained by the influence of the black slave trade in the country….but that’s another story.

Tim Cullis, well versed on all matters Moroccan wrote ……. “Berber red hair: Celtic blood from coastal raids on Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland by the Barbary pirates. They were operational for over 100 years and it's estimated over 1,000,000 Europeans went into slavery in North Africa. Despite extremely strong Christian beliefs (compared to nowadays), some men converted to Islam and were allowed more freedom including the chance to marry. And I guess the captured women suffered the fate of conquered women everywhere. :(


We mention this because we visited the site on a recent tour………

Two male skeletons were discovered in the cave of Kehf El Hallouf, near the town of
El Ksir about 6km southwest of the city of Ain Taoujdate (province of El Hajeb).
"The National Institute of Archaeological Sciences and Heritage (INSAP) and the Regional Department of the Ministry of Culture of Meknes-Tafilalet announced that a joint team of Moroccan scientists have successfully discovered two buried human skeletons of male sex separated from each other by a sediment layer of 0.5m.

The first skeleton is between 6000 and 8000 years old, the man is buried in a narrow pit in a sitting position with sharply contracted legs while the heels of the feet
are touching the pelvis and his knees are at the thorax level. "The bones of the arms lay along the thorax while those of the forearm and hand resting directly on the ground. The skull, slightly lowered forward, is directed toward the north. The whole body lays on the left side leaned on a large block surmounted by a layout of piled stones. A stone tool, a scraper, seems to be intentionally deposited at the feet of the deceased" described the INSAP researchers.

The second skeleton belongs to an adult male whose age is between 8000 and 14000 years. "It was grounded in a small oval pit whose walls were delimited by blocks of medium size. The body was placed in a folded position on the right side. The bones of the right arm were placed along the body with the hand reaching the pelvis while those of the left arm were folded and rested near the skull. The latter, facing south-east and toppling over slightly to the back, was specially covered by a small slab of limestone" noted the Moroccan archaeologists.

Based on the analysis of the stratigraphy and archaeological samples, the first scientific findings lead to the conclusion that these graves would date from the Neolithic for the most recent or from Epipaleolithic for the most ancient. However, the age of the two skeletons will be determined more accurately using the 'radiometric dating' technique.


A true story I wrote for a local magazine a few years ago… I just came across it.

Even for me the last five months, much of it in the Western Sahara was a long time to be away from home. I got back to find more stray dogs had moved in, I now owned a new car, the stalled building work was completed and the land had been tended. But for a while the Sawwah [Wanderer] was now back in Alhaurin el Grande having gathered a few more stories, got into even more scrapes and has a few memories to re-live……Stop me if you are bored!

Hundreds of feet below an angry Atlantic took its rage out on black unyealing rocks. The roar and hiss was deafening making the brief intermittent silences more shattering in contrast. Above the crumbling cliff turned away, exposing an endless sky full of rushing clouds.

I pressed my back against its jagged, slimy, cold surface while my frozen fingers searched for grip. The ledge I was standing on was less than a meter wide, my legs ignored instruction, my stomach wrenched, my head spun……and frankly I think I was in need of a change of underwear!

Just a few hours earlier I had been sitting in the bright,hot sunlight with our local guide, Soliman, consulting my ancient Western Sahara map. I had recently read a manuscript that was later to inspire the book Skeletons of the Sahara, a story with which I have a close personal connection… (but that’s another story for another time….perhaps)! Anyway, I had been intrigued by a brief description of a caravan trader’s coastal shortcut vividly described in the pages. I felt the need to take a look…………

The story goes that way, way back when the Sahara Caravans plied their trade in salt, gold and slaves this shortcut along the coast gave a massive time and distance advantage to those brave enough to use it. The route saved many days desert travel, the only problem being that it involved passing along a very narrow cliff-face path, of some considerable length. There was of course a set rule involved. Before committing to the path you sent along one of your party, to make sure nobody was coming the other way, for there were no passing places or turning back points along its perilous route.

From opposite directions the small band of Moors and another of Jews approached each other, with their heavily laden mules and donkey’s…..They had ignored the rule; it was late at night and they had thought that they must surely be the only travellers on the cliff. They met near the middle.

It is said the shouting and arguing lasted only a few brief moments, as the inevitable showdown was obvious. The first Moor leapt, screaming, over his mules head, murder in his eyes, sabre drawn and ready. The Jew had little choice and defended his ground with a long starfe. This, the first of a deadly sequence of hand-to-hand combat was brief, when both merchants and a mule tumbled into the abyss. In the narrow and confined space, one by one, the two groups engaged in the predictable skirmish, there could surely be no winners. One by one they fell, were pushed or jumped into the awaiting cauldron below. Who, if anyone, eventually won is irrelevant and diffusers depending on who is telling the tale. Soliman, a diplomatic Arab, told me that the last two grappled and plugged over the side together………the last mule, in panic, followed.

So what the @#!# was I now doing perched on “Jews Leap” ………. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Just a few feet away Soliman, clinging like a limpet to the crumpling rock surface, was asking Allah something in gibberish. Swooping and screeching gulls gathered, circling like vultures, sending well aimed deposits in our direction. The last traces of my natural cool persona had long vanished, together with any feeling in my jellified legs.

The earlier light breeze had now turned a squall and my fingers could no longer feel the rock to which I clung. That was it. Embraced and heightened by an additional rush of adrenalin I scrambled, clambered and jostled [Soliman was proving a little slow and was in real danger of being honourably sacrificed] like a line-dancing crab back along the ledge and into the awaiting arms of a highly amused and hysterical Hassan.

“Right, let’s leave” I demanded. “What’s that on the arse of your trousers” asked Hassan.


The Moroccan government announced plans to preserve and renovate buildings that once served as Jewish schools.

Jewish and Arab Pupils in School.

The Muslim nation’s education minister, Mohamed El Ouafa, presented the plan at a meeting in Rabat with Marc Eisenberg, president of the Alliance Jewish education network.

The first phase of the plan is to place plaques in front of each of the buildings, according to the French-language Moroccan newspaper Le Matin. The minister said the plan would “allow present and future generations to learn about the shared history the Jewish and Muslim communities of Morocco and the cohesion between those two communities.”

Spurred on by a succession of programs, including in Oujada and Jerada, some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left the North African country between 1948 and 1967. Many settled in Israel, although Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined a “serious crime.”

Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and has maintained ties with Israel since then.

“The minister underlined the links of co-existence and understanding that always prevailed between the Jewish and Muslim communities of Morocco,” the paper reported.

Today, only some 3,000 Jews live in Morocco, according to the European Jewish Congress. The children attend a handful of Jewish schools, which are also attended by some Muslim pupils, according to Le Matin.

For those interested Marrakesh has a lot to offer the traveller looking to delve into the city’s rich Jewish history. From the former Jewish quarter, which can be found in the back alleys of the City, to the high mountains where the last remaining Berber Jew lives, there is never a dull moment. Although eating kosher will prove tricky this is not impossible and the famed Marrakesh square is brimming with Eastern delights.

The Mellah, east of the Medina (old city) is the former Jewish quarter of Marrakesh. In the 16th century, sultan Abdullah Al-Ghalib moved the Jews here for protection. The quarter was once a town in itself with synagogues, shops and markets. Today, the remnants of the quarter’s Jewish past remain while most of the inhabitants are now Muslim.

The Lazama Synagogue [shown above and is no longer used as such] is soon to be restored and will contain a Jewish museum and Kosher restaurant. 

Finding The Mellah, known as the Hay Essalam, is not particularly easy. Situated east of the Medina and with street names being almost non-existent, the many paths can get confusing. The best way to enter is through the Place des Ferblantiers or Place de Mellah. To find the center of the quarters, look for a fountain and the tin workers on the outside of the square market. At this point you will have likely caught the attention of some young locals who will undoubtedly try to get you to hire them as tour guides.

As you enter The Mellah and walk through the narrow quarter you’ll notice that many of the houses are built below street level and have mezuzahs on them. Inside the Mellah is the Lazama synagogue, which was built in the 15th century by the Jews that fled Spain after the inquisition. It’s located down a long uninviting alley and the entrance is an unmarked door. Don’t let this put you off. As you enter you will find yourself in a world of striking blue and white walls that surround a well-cared for courtyard.

On the bottom floor is the synagogue where you will need to make a small donation to go inside. On the floor above there is a soup kitchen, a community centre and a Talmud Torah School. The building was built with the purpose of preserving the Spanish methods of Jewish observation. However, over the years, the different communities have integrated and such distinctions have been blurred.

Leaving the synagogue and heading straight through the alley you are only a few minutes away from the still active Miara Jewish cemetery. This is Morocco’s largest Jewish cemetery that dates back to the 16th century. The actual graveyard is separated into three sections, one for men, one for women and one for children. The cemetery is quite vast with bright white graves and you will be expected to make a donation to enter it. To get there you may want to pay the young locals a few Dirham considering it’s a bit tricky to find.

The kosher choices for lunch are pretty limited with the restaurant at Hotel Riad Primavera being the only real option. You can find the restaurant outside the old city, just off of Allal Fassi Avenue, near the Marjane department store. For non-kosher options, go to the famed square, Djemaa el-Fna. This is only a ten-minute walk from The Mellah and there are a number of outdoor places to get lunch. A popular choice is Les Jardins de la Medina on 21 Rue DerbChtouka. It serves traditional and French cuisine on a terrace. Prices range from 180 dirham to 360. Getting there takes just a few minutes from the main square by going via the Kasbah quarter close to the Royal Palace.

If your interest in matters Jewish extends you can visit one of the most pristine valleys in Morocco, Ourika Valley. Tucked away in the Atlas Mountains, it’s only 30km from Marrakesh and takes around 1-2 hours to get there by bus.

Jewish Cemetery in Marrakech.

Located in the Ourika Valley is the ancient town of Aghbalou. Here you will find the 500-year-old tomb of a former Chief Rabbi of Marrakesh, Solomon Bel-Hench, which rests on the edge of a mountain above a river. One particular trait of Moroccan Judaism is the honor of holy men, and Rabbi Shlomo is one of the most revered Jewish saints in Morocco. Hananiyah Alfassi, one of the few remaining Berber Jews of the Valley, has faithfully guarded his tomb for over 30 years. Whilst here you can visit him and the tomb as well as take in the general scenery. You can also walk around the many herb gardens and have some traditional mint tea Berber style before heading back to Marrakesh.

Once back in Marrakesh and you wish to cap your Jewish experience you can take a kosher dinner in the Riad Primavera…. Ask a taxi driver.


An old Moroccan gentleman lived in a house with a large garden close to Bradford for more than 40 years. He would have loved to plant potatoes in his garden, but he is alone, old and weak. His son is in college in Paris, so the old man sent him an
e-mail. He explains the problem:

"Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can't plant potatoes in my garden. I am
sure, if only you were here, you would help and dig up the garden for me.
I love you.
Your Father"

The following day, the old man receives a response e-mail from his son:

"Beloved Father,
Please don't touch the garden. It's there that I have hidden 'the THING'.
I love you, too,

At 4pm an Army Bomb Disposal Team, The SAS, the Special Branch, MI5 and Royal Engineers visit the house of the old man and started to rip the whole garden apart, searching every inch, but can't find anything. Disappointed they leave.

A day later, the old man receives another e-mail from his son.

"Beloved Father,
I hope the garden is dug up by now


Jewish Pig Farmer Jean Yoel Chriquia.

Shunned by most Muslim countries where pork consumption is a religious taboo, pig farming is booming in Morocco thanks to a growing tourist industry and pragmatic breeders.

"If there's tourism, it would be better to have pigs," said Samouk, 39, who raises 250 porkers at his farm just 28kms from the seaside town of Agadir. After being battered by a wave of bird flu, he launched a pig operation 20 years ago in partnership with an elderly Frenchman. Today, Samouk spins dreams of doubling his production within three years to help meet the demands of some 15 million tourists expected to visit Morocco in 2013, up from the 7.5 million who flocked to the north African country in 2007.

"I'm a practicing Muslim. I don't eat pork and I don't drink alcohol but it's just a breeding operation like any other and no Imam has ever reprimanded me for it," he said of raising pigs, whose consumption is prohibited in both Islam and Judaism.

Outlawed in Algeria, Mauritania and Libya, pig farming is nonetheless authorised in Tunisia as in Morocco, to cater to the flocks of European and other non-Muslim tourists who head to North Africa's spectacular beaches and deserts. "Our clientele is 98 percent European. They want bacon for breakfast, ham for lunch and pork chops for dinner. Signs are posted on buffet tables to avoid any confusion about the meat's origin" said Ahmad Bartoul, a buyer for a large Agadir hotel.

Morocco's swine industry comprises some 5,000 pigs raised on seven farms located near Agadir, Casablanca and the north-central city of Taza. The breeders include a Christian, two Jews and four Muslims. The breeders include Jean Yves Yoel Chriquia, a 32-year-old Jew who owns the country's main pork processing factory along with a farm of 1,000 pigs.

Annual production is currently estimated at 270 tonnes of meat, bringing in some 12 million dirhams (1.6 million dollars) in revenue.


A little [well a whole-lot actually] out of my brain power but I think that clients on either of our December
tours during 2013 may well be in for something truly spectacular! No not my infamous Dune-Turkey-Curry but something even rarer and more breath-taking.

The Comet ISON has been generating major hype on the internet recently and where better to witness what promises to be a spectacular event than on a Sahara Dune at Christmas…

This sun skirting comet is still very far away, near planet Jupiter and an unimpressive mag +16. However every day it is creeping closer and closer to both the Earth and the Sun. During November 2013 it will whip around the sun at 77km per second and could be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye in broad daylight. During the post-perihelion period during December ISON should emerge from solar glare as a brilliant 'great comet' sporting a very bright dust tail while getting closer to the Earth.

Comet Ison has taken millions of years to reach us travelling from the so-called Oort cloud, a reservoir of trillions and trillions of chunks of rock and ice, leftovers from the birth of the planets. It reaches out more than a light-year, a quarter of the way to the nearest star. In the Oort cloud the Sun is just a distant point of light whose feeble gravity is just enough to hold onto the cloud. Every once in a while a tiny tug of gravity, perhaps from a nearby star or wandering object, disturbs the cloud sending some of its comets out into interstellar space to be lost forever and a few are scattered sunward. Comet Ison is making its first, and perhaps only visit to us. Its life has been cold, frozen hard and unchanging, but it is moving closer to the Sun, and getting warmer.

Ison's surface is very dark, pock marked and dusty with ice beneath the surface. It's a small body, a few tens of miles across, with a tiny pull of gravity. If you stood upon it you could leap 20 miles into space taking over a week to come down again, watching as the comet rotated beneath you. You could walk to the equator, kneel down and gather up handfuls of comet material to make snowballs, throw them in a direction against the comet's spin and watch them hang motionless in front of you. But it will not remain quiet on Comet Ison for the Sun's heat will bring it to life.

By the end of summer it will become visible in small telescopes and binoculars. By October it will pass close to Mars and things will begin to stir. The surface will shift as the ice responds to the thermal shock, cracks will appear in the crust, tiny puffs of gas will rise from it as it is warmed. The comet's tail is forming.

Slowly at first but with increasing vigour, as it passes the orbit of Earth, the gas and dust geysers will gather force. The space around the comet becomes brilliant as the ice below the surface turns into gas and erupts, reflecting the light of the Sun.

Now Ison is surrounded by a cloud of gas called the coma, hundreds of thousands of miles from side to side. The comet's rotation curves these jets into space as they trail into spirals behind it. As they move out the gas trails are stopped and blown backwards by the Solar Wind.

The comet potentially could be the brightest comet of the century if predictions verify, in either case we should have a beautiful naked eye comet during the Christmas and New Year period next year.

It’s of course early days and we await more recent news… But whatever it will be awesome with expressed views about the jaw-dropping magnitude ranging from an incredible -16 to -10 and more recently a more believable but remarkable -6.

Truth be told that no one can say with any accuracy from this far out without refined magnitude estimates and astrometry to make the orbit more accurate. Any of the above peak magnitudes are possible so this comet still remains a very exciting object for many reasons and by December 2013 we could be in for the comet of our life-time.

Researching this has given me a headache, like I said, all a bit beyond my cells ……. However, in more recent years I have not personally joined the December/Christmas tours, but now I can't wait!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Friday, 7 December 2012


I have known Hassan for well over 30 years, indeed many who may be reading this will also have met and know him. The fact is that Hassan has worked for us in Morocco during both the Trailmasters era and then Desert Detours for most of those 30 years and is considered more “family” than employee.  We have supported him through junior school, high school and college, watched him pass through childhood, youth and young man, witnessed all the dramas of growing up then courtship and marriage to see his family grow and various homes flourish.

Some of the client group enjoying the wedding feast.

So I was not just surprised when the marriage of his eldest daughter, Layla, was announced but also hugely disappointed. The very short notice and unusually rapid marriage arrangements had all to do with her future husband’s on-going military deployment; he is part of the Royal Protection Team around King Mohamed V1. The frustration was that I would be many miles away on tour with a group at the time and Debbie would be in the UK. The disappointment was bitter.

May I have this next dance? DD staff member Yousef and client.

Then at the very last moment it all started to fall into place. The wedding dates…..I say dates as it was to be a week-long event…..were shifted due again to the Kings movements.  With just a couple of minor adjustments to our itinerary I was able to make Meski, together with our client group, for the most important final two days of the wedding……

The rapid marriage arrangements meant that it was not, as it would have otherwise been, an event on a huge scale…Did I say NOT huge?.........500 plus guests being entertained and fed in a number of sittings over two days !!!!....and there was no skimping on the 5 course meal. A team of specialist cooks turned 2 cows, 3 sheep, 300 chicken heaps of veg, nuts, cakes, oils and fruit into a real feast, two huge marquees, live music etc etc etc........

Just one of the many courses!

But it was of course much more than about feeding the masses… was to be both a spectacular and moving occasion. Perhaps to the unaccustomed European eye it may at times have seemed chaotic and unorganised, but it was not, an exact schedule comes second to strict tradition and formality, with most of the “ceremonies” starting very late evening or during the night, and the couples preparation and profound emotions……Time had to be given to the endless stream of local chiefs, dignitaries, imam who would arrive at times best suited to themselves. The couple looked absolutely terrified much of the time!!  

During our two days in Meski our clients were treated as honoured guests being made welcome, invited freely into homes, ceremonies and banquets gaining a rare and unique insight. Some even managed to stay well into the night.

Locals join in the celebrations.

Having known Layla from birth it was for me a very moving and special occasion with so many highlights, but I will never forget the couple walking slowly around the pool at Source Bleu, in the early hours, bathed by the light of the moon and over a 1000 flickering candles. Simply stunning!

Honestly, they were much happier than they look!


Ray of course ordered the wrong type of Chip!

Neither of the two Nissan Navarra pick-up trucks we run here at Desert Detours and Andalusia Detours could in anyway be described as sluggish, in fact far from it. But recently I got dragged into a debate regarding the pros and cons of “chipping” engines.

After much confusion a phone call resulted to a very helpful and efficient company back in the UK, ChipExpress. The call ended in a not very cheap credit card payment. Just 4 days later, as promised, the parcel arrived in Spain. For a change I did read the excellent instructions and found that just 10 minutes and no tools were needed to install the magic box of tricks.

It should be said that I have little faith in the claims and benefits of hi-tech gadgets and had very low expectations. So it was with fingers crossed and an open eye for a puff of expensive smoke that we fired-up the beast and headed for the Alhaurin El Grande bypass. So far so good, the engine if anything felt smoother and more flexible……or was that just wishful imagination, justifying the cost? A slow run along the bypass confirmed that the Guardia patrol were, as is the norm, having their siesta and were nowhere to be seen.

Whooooosh ……… The transformation was staggering, well exceeding the companies’ claims. The huge boost in power corresponds to faster acceleration, higher top-end, smoother power band and, what we were really after, a mass more torque. It is claimed that fuel consumption will improve, time will tell, but that’s not a huge must for us given the cost of diesel in both Morocco and Spain being what it is.

The Real Chip. should you be interested.


The port was exceptionally busy as we lined-up to catch the early morning ferry to Ceuta for the start of our December tour.  Room on the loading deck was at a premium with a real danger that a couple of client vehicles may have been left behind to await a later sailing. But you have to hand it to the loading crew ….. Where there´s a will there´s a way and they squeezed the last one on!!!!



Honestly, I have tried. More than once I have ventured into the mayhem and mass of Casablanca but can find nothing, other than the Grand Mosque, worth the effort and hassle.  However, recently a business matter forced me to endure an encounter with what for me is…for me ….. the worst city in Morocco……but this time I was taken by my hosts to visit an unexpected gem and enjoyed a very special night and occasion.

For many people the first time they heard of Morocco was when seeing the classic film Casablanca. The fact that the movie was not shot in Casablanca or indeed anywhere in Morocco, does not take away from the huge impact the film has had on popular conceptions of Morocco. It has also had a very real and lasting impact on tourism. Now there is a new cause for celebration. On November 26th Rick's celebrated the 70th anniversary of the debut of the movie.

When Kathy Kriger made the decision to open a Rick's Cafe in Casablanca the sceptics thought it would be a flash in the pan and probably a tacky Hollywood imitation. How wrong they were. Even if there had never been a film called Casablanca, Kriger's Rick's Cafe would still be worth visiting.  Not only did I find the food exceptionally good but the decor, architecture and general ambiance made it an outstanding visit.

For more than 60 years, tourists visiting Casablanca tried to visit Rick’s Café American only to discover that Warner Brothers had built the entire set on a studio back lot on the other side of the Atlantic. There are and have been a few “frauds” with owners who will swear that they are the one and only “Real Deal”.
In her recently published book, RICK'S CAFE, Kathy takes us through souk back alleys, the Marché Central's overflowing food stalls, and the shadowy Moroccan business world, all while producing, directing, casting, and playing lead actress in her own story. Instead of letters of transit, she begged for letters of credit; the governor of Casablanca watched her back instead of Captain Renault; and at the piano, playing “As Time Goes By,” sits not Sam but Issam. She encountered paper pushers, absent architects, dedicated craftsmen, mad chefs, and surprising allies. It took over two manic years, but Rick’s Café opened in 2004 to rave reviews. Kathy has brought to life the screen legend that has captured the imagination of generations.

Kathy Kriger.

As Captain Renault said to Major Strasser, “Everybody comes to Rick’s” no longer will I rush pass Casablanca with nothing more than a glance from the motorway network. An outstanding experience and one that I will be repeating again.

You can find Rick's at 248 Boulevard Sour Jdid in Casablanca's Medina. Phone 0522 27 42 07/08


By coincidence I just spotted this news item…….

The piano used for the song 'As Times Goes By' in the classic 1942 film 'Casablanca' is getting another turn at fame. The instrument is going up for sale at Sotheby's in New York on December 14, and the auction house estimates it'll fetch up to $1.2million.  It's being offered by a Japanese collector on the film's 70th anniversary. The unidentified collector purchased the movie prop at a Sotheby's auction in 1988 for $154,000.

The piano up for auction is one of the two famous sets of ivories featured in the film: one served a key role in Rick and Ilsa's first meeting in Paris during the war. The second, different instrument is featured in the bar that Rick goes on to run in Casablanca. The two instruments may get confused for good reason, as they are both played by Sam, the musician played by actor Dooley Wilson, and on each he bangs out a rendition of the iconic song 'As Time Goes By'. The piano that is headed for auction is the former, as it is seen in the romantic flashback scene where Rick and Ilsa lean on the piano at a Paris bistro and as they toast, Rick says 'Here's looking at you, kid'.

According to the fictional chronology of the film, that is the first time that Rick says the catchphrase to Ilsa.It is then repeated three other times throughout the film.

Interestingly, one of the film's other famous lines was not actually featured. Ilsa never asks the musician to 'Play it again, Sam' as is commonly assumed, but instead she just simply tells him to 'Play it, Sam.' The misquotation may come from confusion over what was actually featured in the classic and what was made popular by Woody Allen's 1972 film that was called 'Play It Again, Sam' where the New York icon believes Humphrey Bogart is is alter ego.

Seven decades after the premiere of the classic 'Casablanca,' the Moroccan port city remains firmly associated in many people's minds with the movie, even though Rick's Cafe Americain, where much of the story took place, was a pure creation of Hollywood.

'Casablanca,' a story of love and intrigue during World War II, premiered November 26, 1942. Today, the city is a vibrant, noisy metropolis of 4 million people and Morocco's commercial capital, nothing like the wartime colonial outpost depicted in the iconic movie, which starred Humphrey Bogart as Rick. But a trip through the city's swanky lounges and dive bars can still evoke the spirit of the cafe from the movie.

There's even a real-life Rick's Cafe, founded by an American expat…..see previous arirtica
In the film, Rick's Cafe American, an expansive space spanned by low arches, had it all: a casino, singers, full brass band and round tables where guests hunched conspiratorially, drinking and talking about resisting the Nazis or getting exit visas to flee to America.

'During the 1940s, Casablanca was a laboratory for European architects,' said Adel Saadani, who works to raise awareness of the city's neglected heritage.
'There was space and there was money and there was a carte Blanche for architects to experiment with designs they couldn't do in Europe.'

DID I SAY THAT?..........

I am told this is a true story……

A devout Muslim entered a black cab in London. He curtly asked the cabbie to turn off the radio because as decreed by his religious teaching, he must not listen to music because in the
Time’s of the prophet there was no music, especially Western music which is the deemed the music of the infidel.

The cab driver politely switched off the radio, stopped the cab and opened the door.

The Muslim asked him, "What are you doing?"

The cabbie answered, "In the time of the prophet there were no taxis, so p#ss off and wait for a camel!"


I know that they come with all the required tests completed, any number of EU certificates, list of satisfied customer’s and presumably good reason why so many vehicles come without spare wheels…..I mean it´s nothing to do with cost or weight is it?  BUT, and it is only my own experience and opinion, form filled or puncture repair systems in a can are rubbish!!!

Given the combined thousands of miles we and clients cover each year we inevitably suffer a number of punctures…and it is nothing to do with conditions in Morocco. The fact is that I have NEVER seen an effective repair completed using one of these systems.

Many punctures, particularly on the rear, result in the vehicle running flat before the driver is even aware resulting in a destroyed tyre. No amount of foam will pug a gash or damage from serious blow-out. Result is a huge delay, plus cost, when you try and source a replacement.

A good example …… Returning north after the November tour one of our escort vehicles suffered a total tyre failure, on the motorway just past Rabat. If the location was not bad enough the tyre failure could not have been worse. Whilst the tyre did not actually deflate a huge section of tread stripped back…..damaging the wheel arch…..right down to the wire bond. The only real issue was getting the spare out of the fully loaded rear but after a quick change and clearing the motorway of our debris we were soon on our way.


What Foam?

Point of the story?  No amount of foam would have helped…….see picture……and finding a replacement would have taken an age, cost a bomb and would have had security issues if we had needed to leave the vehicle etc. etc…… 

Whilst we do not insist on a full replacement wheel-tyre for vehicles on our tours we do insist on at least a spare tyre.


The Taghazout Festival is set to take place from the 17th to 29th of December in the stunning beach village of the same name. This village is situated 18 km north of Agadir, in  the Souss-Massa-Draa region. An association called Izorane (“roots” in Tamazight) was created in 2007 to contribute to the development of this village by organising several activities such as surf competitions, concerts, beach cleaning, and heritage celebrations.

Taghazout is known to be one of the destinations of the most skillful surfers in the world. It also receives a good number of tourists every year.

Surfing the Berber Way!

The festival program will include: A surf competition with DJ, music concert on the beach, beach cleaning, and press conference. Through this event, university professors specialising in the environmental field aim to raise awareness about the effect of pollution on their region.

Beach cleaning in the village will take place on the 28th of December starting from 10 a.m. Villagers, tourists, surfers and association activists will take part in this event.

The surf competition will take place on the 29th of December.  During the day a musical concert will entertain the audience with the participation of the famous singer Amazigh Amouri Mbraek, DJ Face, Rass Derb, Abdellah Khoutia, MC Jamal, and Eava from Morocco. The winners in the various competitions will be awarded prizes.

Taghazout and the surrounding beaches near Agadir are known for being one of the most frequented destinations for surfing in the world. For instance, Imourane, a beach located near Taghazout, is known for hosting national and international surf competitions.

While the villagers continue to rely on fishing as one of their sources of living, sport tourism has become an important economic activity of many young people in the region who operate surf camps, shops that rent surf materials, furnished apartments, who also interact with tourists coming from all over the world. This festival comes to contribute to the development of the region and it is an opportunity for people to network, have fun, educate each other and learn to surf.


The Muslim world celebrated the Day of Ashura, held on November 25, that’s the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic calendar. Originally a Jewish celebration, this ceremony marks the Jewish tradition of fasting on the tenth day of Muharram to commemorate the rescue of Moses from Pharaoh. In Sunni Islam the celebration also is tied to Moses: Where the Prophet Mohammad advised his fellow Muslims to fast the ninth and tenth day or the tenth and eleventh day of Muharram also to honour the deliverance of Moses and to be distinguished from the Jews. For the Shia Muslims, Ashura is a day of sorrow and mourning remembering the grandson of the prophet Mohammad, Hussein Ibn Abi Talib, whom was martyred in the Battle of Karbala around thirteen centuries ago.

In some Sunni countries like Morocco the commemoration has grown beyond its religious roots into a festive and enjoyable day. Moroccans prepare delicious meals made specifically to celebrate Ashura. One of the traditions is to keep the tail of the sheep of the recent ‘Eid Al Adha’ until Ashura, and use it along with sun dried meat called “kurdas” in Morocco’s famous dish of couscous. Kurdas contains liver, fat and lots of spices, wrapped around the stomach and tied tightly with the small intestines then stored in an open sunny place to dry. Trust me, its tastes better than it sounds!!

In the Moroccan city of Goulmima…. a stop-off on some of our tours….. there is a large street festival where people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks. In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and hand claps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

Children Celebrating Udayen n Ashur.

Another Ashura tradition is throwing water at one another. This is another very common tradition in Morocco, especially if Ashura comes at the end of a hot spring or summer day. Moroccans are showered from head to toe whenever they’re caught outside. The Arabic speaking regions call this tradition “Zamzam.” The Berbers have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam: The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back.

On Ashura, children move from house to house, singing rhyming songs and collecting money and sweets. The songs are often prayers or offers of praise for kind and generous people. As a child, I always looked forward with overwhelming happiness to Ashura. The day before, my friends and I would prepare Ashura clothes and long necklaces from shells of the dead snails. When travelling from house to house, one of us used to lay down in a neighbours’ door and pretend to be dead while the rest sang sorrowful mourning songs personalised for each house, for example: ‘Oh! Mr. Lmakki, our friend has tragically passed away, if only you could bring him back to life, we would give you almonds and henna for your kids.” Nearly all the houses would offer us eggs, dates, almonds, and sometimes even money.


The King of a Middle Eastern fiefdom advertised for a new chief swordsman. But after a year, only three applied for the job: a Japanese samurai, a Chinese martial arts expert and Sidi Driss from Morocco.

"Demonstrate your skills!" commanded the King.

The Japanese samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny gold box and released a fly. He drew his sword and …… Swish!.......  the fly fell to the floor, neatly divided in two!

"What a feat!" said the King. "Number Two Swordsman, show me what you can do."

The Chinese martial arts expert smiled confidently, stepped forward and opened a tiny silver box, releasing a fly. He drew his sword and ….. Swish! …..Swish! …… The fly fell to the floor neatly quartered.

"That is skill!" nodded the King. "How are you going to top that, Number three swordsman?"

Sidi Driss stepped forward, opened a rough little wooden box releasing one fly, drew his scimitar and ……. Swoooooosh! …… flourishing his sword so mightily that a gust of wind blew through the room. But the fly was still buzzing around!

In disappointment, the King said, "What kind of skill is that? The fly isn't even dead."

"Dead" replied Sidi Driss. "Dead is easy. Circumcision...  THAT takes skill!"


Friday, 16 November 2012

News Letter No. 27 with Moroccan "BITS" to follow:

As the year draws nearer to a close everyone in the office and the Tour Teams find that the proverbial is "not touching the ground". With the tour team just returning from the warm and sunny regions of Morocco with the October C&CC Morocco tour we have just enough time to re-load and set off again for the November tour! Then there is just a 5 day break before the FIRST December tour, I say first as we have TWO tours running a week or so apart during December with the second actually staying in Morocco over the Christmas and New Year before continuing on with the January 2013 group. Phewwwwww!

Quickly looking back it would be fair to say that the September weather was a touch too hot this year with desert temperatures well into the 40´s, however October was just about perfect, hovering at the mid-30´s most of time. The good news was and is that we missed the very heavy rain between tours. When it rains in Morocco it really rains!!! But rarely lasts long, so looking forward to a fresh but dry return for November. 

As mentioned we added a second and earlier December tour to our Moroccan schedule. This has proved to be highly popular with clients realising that they can do the regular tour with the option of staying on (return tickets valid for 3 months)in say Marrakech to enjoy an active festive season, or return to the desert area for a more relaxed and perhaps moving Christmas/New Year experience. Perhaps it was the awful summer weather in the UK or the realisation that after a couple of seasons in the UK a foreign trip is overdue.......

Whatever the reason we are seeing a very real increase in bookings for 2013 with around half of our 11 tour dates already full! We have kept our Moroccan tour prices almost without change for a number of years but are now having to take a serious look for 2013 onwards. Ferry, fuel, camping, office, staff, in fact just about everything as you will be aware has taken in some cases stiff increases. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for future clients, at the moment I really do not have the time to sit and do the maths ....... until early in the New Year. So, IF you are thinking about joining one of our tours perhaps take advantage of the current tour costs. There WILL be an increase from early 2013. There will NOT of course be any increase for those already booked for 2013 tours.

GOING EAST......I have explored and done a dummy-run way over to the EAST of Morocco, running right up to the Algerian border, then down across the Plateau du Rekkham plains, then south passing near Bouafa before visiting Figuig, then west towards Boudnib etc etc. IF there is interest we could be running an "informal" trip next year ..... I say informal because it will NOT be advertised and will run on a NO fixed time schedule, other than being around 14 days in duration (as will be normal you will be able to stay on in Morocco after the trip ends). The style will be mostly widerness-informal camping and be a small group only.

This will be very much an "adventure" and NOT for those who find the unexpected, bizarre and unusual and/or impossible to accept!

Contact ASAP if you are interested.

Inevitably our continued success has drawn interest from other "Tour Operators", no problem .... you now have a choice. Of course they would have to go some to catch-up on our 30 plus years of experience rather than try to just imitate and copy our routes and itineraries, even their brochure wording looks remarkably familiar!!! But choice is good and imitation is flattering. MOROCCO NEWS LETTER BITS ........ Will follow ....... catch you soon ......

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


When you receive this News Letter spare a thought for our poor lads, Tour Leader Steve, and Tour Assistants John and Hammid, who together with Ray will likely be somewhere in the Cedar Forests, High Atlas or the Sahara.........Ramadan has past so they and the latest group of clients may well be feasting over a freshly prepared Tagine. When I contacted them a few days ago they had just finished a meal of lean but succulent lamb cutlets, cooked over an open fire. Ahhhhhh, what a shame!

This year the summer months in Morocco have been exceptionally HOT, but now it has moved into the cooler and much easier autumn period with, the lads report, quite warm days but with a very slight and chilly breeze during the evenings and night.............And NO rain. Yes, no rain!

During a couple of brief return visits to the UK over the summer I experienced rain like I have never seen before......It just did not stop, days and days of deluge. Of course there will forever be a “soft-spot” for the UK but I am always pleased and eager to return home to our home-base here in Southern Spain, this time I positively rushed back.......but I know not everyone was able to escape the horrible weather.

The bad weather causing spoilt or cancelled holidays is probably the reason for the higher than normal interest we are experiencing for our late 2012 and early 2013 tours.......In fact we are thinking of running an additional December tour. But no sales pitch, you know where to find us if you are interested!

The slightly more relaxed months that we normally enjoy between the Moroccan touring seasons simply vanished this year with Steve and Ray exploring the high Sierras and hidden byways of our very own stunning preparation for the official launch of the “Soul of Andalusia” tours early 2013. Already some dates are FULL with others heading that way.

The Moroccan scheduling will NOT be effected at all and will still be running 10 dates during 2013..........Andalusia Detours will be running 8 dates starting in January 2013. Remember,
combine a Moroccan-Andalusia tour and get a huge discount.

Look out for the separate “Andalusia News Letter” ........

But this is all about MOROCCO so read as I pass you over to Ray for his in-depth look at real Morocco and his, at times, tongue-in-cheek comments........

Best Regards




Ait Youl kasbah

As stunning as it is Ait Youl is nothing special.....everywhere around here is so beautiful. Surrounded by mountains, it is in truth a hot, dry place with a riverbed containing very little water at the best of times. The journey up to Ait Ouham takes days and involves a climb from 1600m to around 3000m. For visitors this is a one-off trip. The Elyyakoubi family make the journey twice a year.

Travelling with around 200 goats, 30 sheep, 11 camels, three donkeys and a mule makes for a slow journey, but it leaves plenty of time for contemplation of an endangered lifestyle.......That of Moroccan Berbers on their 4,000-year-old annual migration: a tradition that is now under real and serious threat.

At a picturesque stopping point on the Tizi-n-Toudat, in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, the two hundred goats, 11 camels, 30 sheep and three donkeys graze along the steep slopes. In the nearby camp, tents are being erected for cooking and dining. Wood is being gathered. Mint tea is being brewed. And quietly, beyond the stream, one of the sheep is meeting its end to provide tonight’s dinner.

This is a scene from the bi-annual migration of Morocco’s nomadic Berber people, and the Elyakoubi family, whose livestock pepper the landscape, is following a route trodden by their ancestors for 4,000 years.

The reason for their migration is simple: the Berbers take their animals to the best grazing areas year-round. In winter, they traditionally roam on the mountains’ lower slopes where temperatures are warmer, and during the summer, they head up to the cooler plateaux, fleeing the heat in the aim of finding fresh pasture.

There is nothing arbitrary about the migration........the routes, stopping points and best places for grazing have been passed on down the generations. But this year, the Elyakoubi family trudge the route with heavy hearts, troubled by the thought that they will be some of the last to do so.

A crescent moon rises above the mountains in the late dusk as Izza Elyakoubi, 25, and her cousin Said, 15, bring the goats and sheep down from the slopes for the night. They herd them into a circular stone corral, where they will also sleep, at a height of 8,720ft above sea level.

Bringing them in late, Said says, means there’s more chance of getting some rest at night......hungry sheep wander off, but those with full stomachs stay put. As they get little more than an hour’s sleep per night during the migration, the family do everything they can to ensure those few extra minutes of rest.

Said has been shepherding for three years and has never been to school. He will be the first generation of his family to live a life outside nomadic lifestyle. “I would like to do something else,” he says, over a glass of mint tea. “I’d like to be a farmer and grow barley and almonds, figs and vegetables.

“It’s getting difficult to live like this. It’s getting tougher every year. We need to buy in straw and barley for our animals, which we never had to do in the past. It’s the third year we’ve had to do that, because there’s not been enough rainfall. I’d feel bad about settling in a village, but I’d get over it. I’m more scared of working in this life until I’m old.”

A mix of climate change and deforestation means that there is now less water and grazing for the herders. They have stopped here at Tizi-n-Toudat not because it’s a pleasure to soak their tired feet in the mountain stream, but because it’s one of only three places to water the animals on the six-day, 60 km journey.

Just 30 years ago, things were very different. Much of the lower slopes were forested, largely with juniper trees. Barbary sheep (a goat-antelope creature with considerable horns) roamed the woodlands, as did wolves. “It was beautiful,” recalls Baichou Elouardi, a former nomad who now cooks for tourists on the migration.

“In the past there were trees, there was rain and if there was nothing to eat on the ground, the camels and goats could eat the juniper leaves. So they could keep going,” he says. “Now when you have a bad year of weather you have to buy feed. This is the end of life for us.”

The group walks for five days before seeing a lone juniper tree on the mountainside. The rest, we are told, have been cut down for fuel and building.

The Berber people are exceptionally tough and resourceful, but this mix of climate change and deforestation has taken its toll. In 1988, some 410 families made the bi-annual migration. Today, there are just 15 families, including the Elyakoubis.

Only tourism works towards maintaining this vanishing way of life, according to Mohamed, 32, the head of the Elyakoubi family (pictured below). This year’s cold, wet winter killed half his new-born goats, so he has taken the decision to bring tourists on the migration to help feed his family. “If there are good years [for rainfall] and there are lots of tourists, we can keep going,” he says. “But with no grass, tourism is not enough.”

Tonight Said, Izza and Baichou dine on kebabs cooked over an open fire, lamb tagine, rice, salad and finally, slices of melon, washed down with verbena tea from tiny glasses. But they would not have such a meal without tourists. Though surrounded by sheep and goats, meat is seldom on the menu, and their usual diet consists mainly of tea, bread, oil and couscous.

The need to get to good grazing areas dictates the migration’s route. Another family, also camped at Tizi-n- Toudat, is hosting a small group of German tourists. The British tourists with the Elyakoubis are instructed to rise at 6am the following morning to ‘beat the Germans’.

Initially they laugh, thinking this is a joke about their countries’ old historic rivalry. But the command is not to entertain the tourists. If the Elyakoubi family are not the first to arrive at their next stop, they won’t get the pick of the grazing or camping positions.

The terrain the nomads cover is tough. At best they follow narrow sheep paths. At worst they climb over boulders for five-and-a-half hours, in a literal uphill struggle. “I spend all day throwing stones at the sheep to guide them,” says Said and Mohamed’s mother Aisha, 46. “My arm aches. [The tourists] may like this way of life, but for us, it’s difficult.” Said, Izza, Aisha and Mohamed arrive at the Oulmzi Plateau, their home for the summer. The trek downhill to the village of Oulmzi Plateau is a vision of what the mountains were like three decades ago. Juniper trees line the route and in the village itself, irrigation channels water cherry, plum, walnut and apple orchards.

Mint, turnips, potatoes and spring onions grow amid vividly green terraces of barley, wheat and oats. Thyme, euphorbia and poppies grow by the pathway. “At that time it was not a difficult life,” says Aisha Ouaziz, a 69 year-old former nomad who now lives in the village. ‘There was grass, milk and butter and lots of goats and sheep”

Oulmzi Plateau

“The mountains gave us enough to eat,” she says. “We worked hard and ate well. Now, we don’t want to be nomadic. It’s not a good life anymore.”


Dear Ray

I hope you remember me. I was on one of your tours last year with my wife Gertrude.

You will remember that Gertrude was not the easiest of people to get on with and as expected she fell-out at one time or another with everyone on the tour. Since returning home her drinking has got much worse and the constant nagging has all but driven me deaf. I am no longer allowed into the motor home that is now been taken away and is parked in her sister’s driveway. Soaps and old films are the only TV we watch. If I want to eat I have to shop and cook for myself. I have to go to a friend’s [we now have very few left] to use the internet and my mobile phone has vanished. In fact if I think about it has always been much like this..........

However since we returned I have been in very bad health.........In fact very very bad........ and now I have found all sorts of deadly mixtures and opened packets of rat poison hidden in the kitchen cupboard. I am now convinced that I am being poisoned.

What should I do?

A Very Desperate Jim

Hi Jim

Yes, I remember Gertrude very well................... Take the poison!



Gertrude on a “good day”

OH YES HE DID................OH NO HE DIDN’T........

Back in December’ish, 2010 [I think] I ran a story that sort of exploded the Jimi Hendrix industry in Essaouira. Sadly, it takes a lot more exposure than that to kill off a myth that has become so well grounded in modern folklore........ I know I should be promoting the fact that Jimi Hendrix DID at least go the Essaouira, in fact we use the hotel he did stay in for our “Final Meal” when on tour.....Anyway...................

A few kilometres south of the busy, breezy port town of Essaouira on Morocco's Atlantic coast is the dusty village of Diabat, famous for one thing. In mid-1969, Jimi Hendrix didn’t go there. Not that the owner of the local cafe would admit to that. Quite the opposite. The cafe, which played an endless loop tape of Bob Marley while we had coffee and cake on a warm morning, is daubed with extremely poor likenesses of Hendrix's distinctive features and slogans about his visit to the area.

Inside, the walls of two tiny rooms are covered with equally bad Jimi images and slightly water-damaged photos of Hendrix.

Just across the mostly deserted road, where donkeys amble listlessly, and beyond the dunes and low shrubbery, are the remains of an old fort known as Bordj El Berod. Despite what many people believe, Hendrix didn't write his song, Castles Made of Sand, about it. Hendrix had recorded it some 18 months earlier.

Yes, there's a lot of enjoyable Hendrix myth and misinformation in the dry air at Diabat. But Diabat is a nice little place and well worth a visit........We went along the beach on the Desert Detours quad [Phew...and that’s another story!]. There is a local quad hire firm who will do the same, as a group and a lot slower!! Or a 30 dirham taxi ride from Essaouira will get you there. On the day we visited - local kids kicked a football on the empty road and a few workmen, perhaps from the site of the golf course and Sofitel being built near the Jimi Hendrix Hotel, dropped by to sit in the cool of the cafe. A couple of senior Germans, curious like us, amused themselves by taking photos of the run-down, if colourful, cafe between sips of sweet mint tea.

Stories about Hendrix in Essaouira and Diabat abound and it seems there were once enough gullible hippies who romantically traipsed down here following his imagined footsteps in search of.......... whatever it was hippies were in search of. ......... The facts about Hendrix in Morocco are more prosaic. As mentioned earlier, he did briefly stay in nearby Essaouira and according to the most reliable sources stayed at “our” hotel (not in the hotel which claims he did), but he neither made music there, nor fathered children there, as legend would have it. Rather he seemed to have had a pretty quiet time, something Essaouira had even more of back then, then flew back to the States and got a band together for the Woodstock festival in August.
But to this day the people of Morocco have never recovered from Jimi's visit and the endless tales are remarkable. Like George Washington, he slept in everyone's house around the Moroccan countryside!"

Hendrix never went to tiny Diabat, which must have been even smaller and more remote 45 years ago, let alone had coffee in the cafe or wrote a song about the ruin. No matter, the Hendrix cafe is there and from its tiny kitchen, with an oven not much longer than a guitar case, on which the owner prepares meals and excellent coffee. He's used to cameras being pulled out too. Quite likes the attention.

Yes, No Helmet, No Boots, No Nothin’ ..... And No Sense. 

What do you do on your days off? Later, because after coffee and photos there's nothing else to do, we fired up the beast and blasted back to the beach, past donkeys and goats crossed a shallow river and abandoned buildings. It was hot by the time we reached the broad, white sand strip and dunes so we sat and watched kite surfers and men with camels exhorting the few tourists to take rides.

It had in fact been a lovely and rather different few hours out in coastal Morocco and over coffee we had made a list of others who, like Jimi Hendrix, had not been to arid little Diabat. No Beatles nor Rolling Stones, no Borgias, not Nero, a Pope or a US president, not Hitler, Stalin, Bob Dylan...........Leonard Cohen............ not even my ex-wife, Mmmmm, now there’s a thought!!!


At 127 years...yes.....they say they have paperwork that seems to confirm that Taki el Mehdi is indeed 127 years old. And what’s more he is in fact exceptionally healthy. He watches what he eats and mainly consumes natural products. "I eat healthy and natural food, including soup made of barley and wheat," he said. A lot of soup in fact, most because of the teeth that “Passed” some years ago! .....

This elderly farmer lives with his family in a small house in a humble neighbourhood of Ouarzazate, close to the desert, it’s a place where the thermometer often reads 40 degrees in the shade.......and it did on the day we met!

Despite his advanced years, the thin-faced man still walks with only a cane and says he has never set foot in a hospital. The most impressive thing is that his memory is still intact. El Mehdi Taki is able, without hesitation, to recite his family tree, saying that one of his ancestors was Moulay Ali Cherif, the founder of the Alawite dynasty of Morocco. He also remembers, "The Second World War very well and the worst famine, which hit Morocco seriously in 1941," while the country was under the French protectorate.

Quiz him all you like this fantastic gentleman has the answers, and they didn’t come from books. He’s as sharp as they come.

Let’s hope that we can share many more cups of mint tea and bowls of soup together................


No, not what you think...........

You may have seen it on the news when Spain battled a stubborn 10-day-old wildfire that has scorched nearly 10 per cent of the land on the Canary Island of La Gomera, including internationally renowned ancient woodlands.

Morocco sent two water-bombing planes to help in the emergency..........

The wildfires are the latest blazes in a summer forest fire season that has been one of the worst in recent memory for Spain and Portugal.

Drought-like conditions and high temperatures have made it extremely difficult for authorities to extinguish the fires. But Canary Island regional government spokeswoman Candelaria Ceballos said the extra planes and a drop in temperatures were raising hopes that fire-fighters might finally control the blazes that have burned 30
square kilometres inside and outside the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. Much needed and gratefully welcomed the Moroccan Water Bombers and crews were continuously airborne throughout the emergency and then remained on standby until all clear was given.

TIME FOR A PUFF..................

Muslims around the World have recently been celebrating the month of Ramadan, spending their days abstaining from eating and drinking and focusing on nurturing their spiritual connection to God. So, given the spirit of this time, it's not surprising to find this story describing a recent police operation in Casablanca to shut down hookah bars in Morocco's largest city Police in Casablanca, as part of a growing campaign against hookah bars during Ramadan, finally carried out raids on a number of cafes that provide sheesha to their customers, leading to the arrest of their clients, many of them female, for questioning.


OK, It Does Look A Bit “Shifty” 

The cafes' owners deny setting up their establishments up as hookah bars and places for customers to behave immorally, as some claim.

The crackdown saw the arrests of a few sheesha smokers and the seizure of dozens of water pipes and other sheesha related paraphernalia.

The truth behind the crackdown could be that the recent operations focused on sources providing water pipes, which are produced outside of Morocco. If a cafe's owner was unable to produce the paperwork indicating that his water pipes were imported legally, it meant that his materials were smuggled, which is subject to punishment under Moroccan laws pertaining to contraband goods.

Hamouda, a cafe manager in Sale, said in statements that many cafes provide sheesha, among their regular fare, to customers who want it. He continued, saying that anyone who denies sheesha's prevalence is lying to himself, before adding that at times police turn a blind eye to sheesha, while at others they organize crackdowns. Hamouda continued, saying that cafe owners who serve sheesha do not put the water pipes in the front of their shops so as to not 'disturb' police. Rather they serve smokers discreetly, in private areas far from the public gaze and with respect to the public conscious and social customs. In describing the relationship between cafe owners and the police he said that it resembles the cartoon "Tom and Jerry".

Whatever the stated reasons behind the crackdown, an operation like this has only one real purpose: to place a favorable light and publicity for the ruling Justice and Development Party. A government spokesperson, Al-Haya, emphasized that the problem is not limited with sheesha in itself, but rather that these cafes in their nature lead underage girls - legal minors - to smoke, which increases the probability of physical and sexual assaults against them or their solicitation to participate in other illegal activities.........................MMmmmmmm!

The speaker went on to say that the health risks posed by smoking sheesha also factored into these operations' rationale. He pointed to Casablanca's Moulay Rashid district which witnessed a notable rise in the numbers of tuberculosis cases, given the disease's potential to affect sheesha smokers who share water pipes without taking the necessary precautions..................That more like it......!!

The Tourists Love It..............[Spot the Coke?]

What struck me most about this is the 'concern' for the well-being of these cafe's female patrons. While it's probably true that some shady dealings take place in hookah bars, such 'immorality' is not limited to cafes like these. Crackdowns like these do little in changing the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation that characterize Morocco's cafes, bars, and streets.

And while it's 'endearing' (and more than a little patronizing) to hear the government so concerned about these girls' well-being, a braver, more effective stance would be to target predominate male attitudes that condone the sexual exploitation of Moroccan women.

A PRIVATE MUSIC FESTIVAL...............................

When I look back the time that we spent together I continue to dwell on the few memorable hours between the end of the first concert and the extraordinarily late Ramadan bedtime. After we ate the "dinner" that followed the concert, the entire posse retired to the shared flat around the corner. In both large rooms, musicians took up residence on the long couches that wound around the space.

In the main meeting room, where we ended up sleeping hours later, two players began to sing old songs from Eastern Morocco and Algeria. These masters made each other tear up as they made their way through the long stories that comprise the lyrics of these tunes from their youth. Reclining onlookers joined in for choruses and verses that they remembered while the “youngsters” watched intently, hoping to learn.

The ensemble was made up of a number of respected elders, but they were offset by promising young talents, including two women. More women are taking up music in Morocco, but they, just like other players of the coming generation, are attempting to balance their musical skills against the demands of their studies in vastly unrelated fields.

The evening saw a number of mini-lessons as the elder generation taught short improvisations and melodic fragments to the younger players, and within the concerts themselves, they conceded space for these growing instrumentalists to lead sections and take solos.

A Spaniard, American, A Brit, A Moroccan and an Algerian.......Mmmm, sort of says something!

For me the most endearing part of the evening was after about half of the group had gone to sleep in the main room. As people were lying down, they struggled to sleep due to the raucous energy coming from the next room.

I wandered over to listen to all the singing. Faiçel, a phenomenal oud player, was leading the performance of of Egyptian popular music, adragging the tiring vocalists deep into the night. The instrumentalists in the room, mostly violinists and suissen players (a smaller instrument plucked with a pic like a guitar) were jumping in with the chorus parts.........all in all the noise meant that, somewhere around 3:00am we had to close the window in case someone, somewhere was actually trying to sleep. The front door however stayed open, just in case a new face wanted to join the party!

When the songs lulled, a new leader would emerge, often from the younger players. Majdouline, a 22 year old oud player, began to belt a lesser-known song, which prompted everyone to quietly listen as she performed for her new peers.

Appreciative applause grew into yet another 20-minute composition and so on until Fajr, the call to pray signalled the beginning of the next day's Ramadan fasting.

By now I needed to try and sleep, but the music continued even as I drifted off in the next room. Around midmorning even the most resilient called it a day...............roll on tonight!

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AND DID YOU KNOW............

The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.