Friday, 11 October 2013


Firstly just a note from myself ....... Who in future shall be known as Ray "MARMITE" Monteith-Smith. [Thanks Chris, I love it!!!!]

We have had a huge amount of interest in recent weeks regarding the "AMAZIGH EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR".  [For a few pictures and short notes see the previous, 29 September, blog entry].

This tour is unlike either the "Classic" or the "Discovery" tours in so many respects so can I just take a moment and get those interested to read the following, taken from our "on-line Brochure" that is of course available on request.......

During September 2013 DESERT DETOURS added an exciting, unique and ALL NEW TOUR to our already busy schedule ..... The "AMAZIGH - EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR".

However, there will be just ONE tour date only for the AMAZIGH EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR during 2014 ....... YES, JUST ONE TOUR DATE.

This is a tour that needs some consideration.  It would be fair to say that this tour is more for the "Traveller" and not the "Tourist".  The majority of overnight locations, whilst being stunning, will be remote and without facilities, such as shown in the following photographs...... It is not without good reason that it is the Moroccans themselves who refer to the region as "Forgotten Morocco".

Whilst I would stress that the region, like the rest of Morocco, is totally safe and extremely welcoming to their new visitors it is lacking in the trappings and facilities the more "Euro Tourist" may well have come to expect ......... A point essentially wasted on a couple of earlier Desert Detours clients, who in no way could be described as "Visitors and Travellers".

Before joining the AMAZIGH - EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR careful consideration should be given to the ability of both yourself and vehicle being able to manage extended periods without "Hook-ups", Chemical Deposits, and Taps etc".  Simple personal management will ensure that the aforementioned presents little or no problems, whilst modern motorhomes are more than capable.  The few formal campsites used during this tour are more than adequate, perhaps even more so than the more usual "Moroccan Style" sites.

If beach camping in an isolated cove or at a parking area overlooking a small working fishing harbour appeals, if overnight in an isolated national protected forest, or camping overlooking a rare valley on a stunning hill top attracts, if visiting awesome natural locations like North Africa's largest cave complex appeal, if staying as welcome guests on the simplest of Berber farm tempts, if the stark reality of a closed [Algerian] border contrasts with the infinite horizon of a desert road beckons, if the alleyways and byways of a remote but still living Kasbah stimulate the senses ............. Then perhaps the AMAZIGH EASTERN MOROCCO TOUR may be for you.

Although NOT a condition of joining the tour an earlier visit to Morocco, either on our "Classic" or "Discovery" trip may be advisable........... However, if you have any doubts or wish for clarification, please call in the first instance for details.


"We have now travelled with Desert Detours on 5 tours.  This one, the Amazigh, was by far the best.  VAL and DAVE - September 2013.


Probably a concept way beyond the comprehension of many Moroccans [or indeed is Europeans] is the latest pride of Moroccan creativity and ingenuity, the Laraki Epitome. This $2 million head-turning, mind-blowing supercar with a futuristic design is the creation of Moroccan yacht builder Abdesslam Laraki.

Lovers of exotic cars can totally relate to the Laraki Epitome. The car, which costs a mere $2million is even more expensive than the Bugatti Veyron. Imagine how many donkeys, camels or old Renault's, the more common mode of transport in rural Morocco, $2million would buy.

It is a true beast with a C6 Corvette V8 engine plus twin turbochargers which can produce up to 1,200 horsepower when fueled by 91-octane gasoline.
The Epitome has not only one gas tank but actually two tanks. When fueled with the 110-octane it is capable of generating 1750 horsepower.

Crafted entirely with a carbon fiber body with bold curves and aggressive body panels, the car is both elegant and aerodynamic with reference to Abdesslam Laraki’s nautical designs. Weighing barely 2,800 lbs with an out-of–this-world capabilities and performance, Laraki Epitome is a true masterpiece.

The company is planning to make of the Epitome a real success in the near future by building only nine examples of the super-car.

When will it be on Top Gear I wonder?


Since my earlier visit, last May, there have been notable changes along the Moroccan border with Algeria.  Sadly these changes are not on the political [opening the border] front, but wholly local domestic affecting in nature.

Largely gone were the dozens of "roadside fuel stations", with only a few remaining.  [Take a look at the picture a few blog entrees back, while on the Amazigh recce].  "Since the Algerians shut the border my car hasn't budged", one Moroccan resident told us.

The unofficial cross-border movement of people and goods has long been a feature of daily life in this region, with members of the same families living either side of the divide and much money to be made from contraband.

Until three months ago, petrol smuggling literally drove Morocco's neglected eastern region, where the subsidized liquid smuggled in from Algeria fuelled the local economy.  But in June, Algiers took drastic measures to curtail the illegal trade, clamping down on traffic across its border with Morocco, which has officially been closed since 1994.

Algiers beefed up its border controls in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of cheap Algerian fuel, through which the state was losing 1.3 billion dollars a year, according to energy ministry figures.  Before the clampdown, some 600,00 cars were estimated to be running on Algerian fuel smuggled into neighbouring countries, notably Morocco.

It remains unclear what prompted the move by Algiers, although it coincided with an out burst of particularly hostile rhetoric from senior officials in both countries.  In energy-rich Algeria, petrol and diesel cost as little as 23 dinars [0.23 euros] and 13.4 dinars [0.13 euros] a litre respectively.  By contrast, its western neighbour and regional arch-rival imports virtually all its energy needs, with motorists paying more than one euro for a litre of petrol. So the Algiers move had serious implications for the Oriental region of Morocco, as it is known, with its population of more than two million.

"My car carried up to one tonne of diesel two or three times a week.  Today it's good for nothing", the same resident complained, sipping tea near the Zouj-Bghal border post.

Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has sought to promote development in the remote region, launching projects from factories to infrastructure, including a motorway connecting Oujda to the capital Rabat, 520 kilometers [320 miles] away.  But decades of neglect and its remote location, far from Morocco's commercial centers on the Atlantic coast, have made the region heavily dependent on covert trade - - and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.

The first painful consequence of Algeria's new policy was a jump in contraband fuel prices, 30 litre cans of diesel nearly tripling in price and fares charged by the ubiquitous white Mercedes taxis rising with it, by 20 percent.

Because of the reinforced border controls, and ditches that smugglers say have been dug by the Algerian authorities since June, the only viable way to haul goods across the border now is by donkey.  Loaded with jerrycans, the pack animals travel after dusk in their hundreds, through olive groves and along steep winding paths that they follow instinctively, transporting their precious cargo.  But it can be a dangerous journey.  The Algerian army recently fired at some donkeys, killing them.  Fortunately they were unaccompanied.

In towns along the closed border between Morocco and Algeria, the smuggling of fuel, goods and people is often a family business. Yet despite its implications for both countries' security, illegal trade is proving a tough problem to fix. It was claimed that around a quarter of Algerian fuel ended up in smugglers hands for sale across the border. The proceeds helped fund networks of drug traffickers and terrorists.

The clampdown has proved near catastrophic for the kingdom's border zone. Transportation prices have skyrocketed, while Moroccan villages that relied on cheap Algerian fuel to run their generators and water pumps found themselves in the dark.

"The interruption of fuel trafficking from Algeria to Morocco led to serious discontent, stress and social tension," our chatty chap said "Everyone here used smuggled fuel, with the exception of some government departments” he added.

Petrol is not the only thing travelling across the border. Also in high demand are prepared food products and medicine from Algeria, and fresh fruit, vegetables, clothing and shoes from Morocco. Buyers and sellers from both sides of the border were not about to let an impassable route slow them down.

During our visit in the area during the September tour the absence of illicit fuel was very evident, with just 5 and 1 litre containers for sale by the roadside, with 25ltrs costing around 200dhm, hardly worth the effort is you were so inclined to fill-up.


A farmer named Hammed was overseeing his herd in a remote hill-pasture in High Atlas when suddenly a brand-new Motorhome advanced toward him from along the track.

The driver [lets call him Flash-Chris], a newly retired type  in a Brioni® tracksuit, Gucci® shoes, RayBan® sunglasses and YSL® scarf, leaned out the window and asked the farmer, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?" Hammed looks at the man, who obviously is a trying to impress his clammed-up wife, then glanced at his peacefully grazing animals and calmly answers, "Sure, why not?"

Flash-Chris parks his motorhome, whips out his iPad® computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3® cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. Flash then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop® and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany ...

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot® that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL® database through an ODBC connected Excel® spread-sheet with email on his Blackberry® and, after a few minutes, receives a response.

Finally, he prints out a full-colour, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet® printer, turns to the Farmer and says, "You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"That's right. I guess you can take one of my calves," says Hammed.

Hammed looks on amused as Flash-Chris selects one of the best animals and stuffs it into the spacious garage facility of his new motorhome. 

Then Hammed says to Flash-Chris, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business was before you retired, will you give me back my calf?"

Flash thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?" 
“You’re an ex-corporate/commodity banker” says Hammed. 

"Wow! That's correct," says the Flash-Chris, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered Hammed. "You showed up here even though nobody called you;  you are arrogant and rude, you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of pounds worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about real life, how working people like me make a living, or anything about cows, for that matter…….. This is a herd of sheep”.

“Now give me back my dog”.

UP FOR A DATE…….NO, NOT THAT SORT!............

The oases of the great river valleys in Southern Morocco, the Draa, Dades and Ziz, stretch for miles and are the main livelihood of the local inhabitants.  The succulent Medjool Date  (Medjhoul in Moroccan Arabic) originated in Morocco and is also now widely cultivated in California and the Jordan Valley and is our main source of this delectable fruit.

Dates are native to the Middle East and were spread by the Arabs to North Africa and Spain. They are mentioned in the Bible and constituted one of the seven species so important to human survival and ritual, alongside wheat, barley, the olive, pomegranate, fig and grape. “For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and [grape] vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive-trees and (date) honey” [Deuteronomy 8:7-8]

In 2005 seeds of the Judean Date, a cultivar extinct for almost 2000 years, were found by Israeli archaeologists on the site of Herod’s palace on the fortress of Masada. Scientists at the Arava Institute in the Negev managed to germinate one of the seeds and the resulting plant, named Methusaleh after the oldest man mentioned in the Bible, is now about two meters tall. Remarkable or what!

Following an ancient Arab Tradition, La Maison Bleu in Fes offers arriving guests  dates  filled with roasted almonds together with a bowl of orange blossom scented milk.  This sets the scene for the peaceful, fragrant stay in this haven of luxury in the ancient Medina of Fes [but there lies another story].

Dates are the first food consumed to break the fast each evening during the month of Ramadan and are the traditional accompaniment to Harira soup, served at the traditional Ramadan Ftour or breakfast.

In the heart of the Moroccan oasis and palm grove of Skoura [we pass through on the Classic Tour], west of Marrakesh, yellow bunches hang from tall palms ..... Look careful and you can see a man amongst the high branches.

The man, holding a tamskart, a hooked knife anchored to a short wooden handle used for trimming these heavily laden branches, had just shimmied down from one of a dozen palm trees.  He was paid 20 dirham, or just over 1 pound sterling per tree by the family that owns them.  It's a dangerous and labor-intensive job.

Whole sprays of yellow dates, as well as mounds of riper, sticky brown ones that had shaken loose from the trees were splayed across blue tarps.  They were Bouskri, a favorite variety around here that is dried and best when the brittle skin shutters as you bite into it.  Eaten fresh, they tend to be a touch woody in taste and texture.

Last year I had gone to Skoura in early October to catch the beginning of the date harvest. Wandering around the palm grove, everyone told me the same thing:  This harvest would be better than average and much better than the previous year .... We hoped so.

It took two months to bring in Skoura's dates.  Now that the harvest is over, how did it turn out?  Those I met in Skoura were right.  According to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation report, the country's harvest was expected to be 10 percent above the average of the past five years.

That's good news for the family farmers in Skoura, who keep the dates they'll use throughout the year and sell the excess from the harvest in the town's Monday souk.

Dates hold pride of place on the Moroccan table.  Hosts traditionally offer the fruits to guests with a glass of milk, especially during the year's important holidays.  The fruits are eaten out of hand, used in desserts and for topping sweet couscous, but also find their way into the country's famed lamb and poultry tagine stews.  The average Moroccan eats about 6 1/2 pounds of dates each year, though in date-producing areas, that figure reaches some 33 pounds. 

As mentioned they are also the first item eaten with the breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan, and controversies have erupted over where the dates were imported from to meet holiday demands.  About half of all dates in Morocco are eaten during this holiday.  Anyway, after decades of decline from disease, Bayoud Disease is a fungus widespread in Morocco, that quickly kills the tree, things seem to be improving. 

"It is the will of Allah," the man cutting trees with a tamskart told me.

With that, he looked up at the heavy clusters of dates awaiting his knife and began to nimbly scale the trunk of another palm tree.

You could use some date in the very simple dish…………..
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 500g diced boneless lean lamb, preferably from the leg
  • 300g sweet potatoes, cut into small chunks
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 50g pitted dates
  • 2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and lamb, then quickly fry until the lamb is lightly browned.

Add the sweet potatoes and spices, then mix well. Pour in 425ml boiling water and the tomato purée, then bring to the boil.

Cover and simmer for 15 mins until sweet potatoes and lamb are tender, adding the dates for the final 10 mins. Sprinkle with coriander and serve with couscous.

Follow with some REAL Moroccan coffee thus…………….


Morocco has a coffee culture reminiscent to that of the Europe. Friends [mostly male] sit outside for hours sipping their Arabic coffee as they exchange stories and engage in a friendly batter over games of charades or tric-trac [backgammon]. 

Similar to tea
, Arabic coffee is often made with the purpose of conducting a business deal, bargaining or welcoming someone into their home. Since Moroccan mint tea is consumed so regularly, coffee is a nice switch.

With the exception of Moroccan mint tea, Arabic coffee is the national drink of Morocco. Alike mint tea, there is a certain process that one must follow to obtain the perfect cup of coffee. 

Arabic coffee is similar to espresso in strength and has a unique flavor as the spices used to make it vary. Adding anywhere from ten to twenty-six spices is the norm. Traditionally, Arabic coffee beans are roasted on a charcoal fire and ground in a mortar. One of the secrets of making Arabic coffee is to roast the coffee and within minutes, brew it. Doing so will enhance the flavor of the coffee.

 Making Arabic coffee is a timely yet leisurely activity. While some Moroccans enjoy making it as their Aunts did just a decade ago, most modern Moroccan homes have replaced the mortar for an electric coffee grinder to reduce brewing time and many even instead use Nescafe. 

By roasting and then grinding the beans yourself the result will be a more aromatic cup of coffee that guarantees intensity of flavor  The purest coffee drinkers never add milk or sugar to their coffee. This is especially true because sugar is mixed into the coffee as it is being brewed. Sometimes a few seeds of cardamom are also added.

 Adding sugar to the coffee is a little more complicated than one might expect. Out of courtesy, the coffee maker must always ask his guests, in advance, how much sugar they prefer. Choices include no sugar (murrah), medium (mazboutah), sweet (hilweh). However, certain events dictate set amounts of sugar. After dinner, coffee is usually only slightly sweetened. At weddings, betrothals, christenings or birthdays, sweet coffee is always prepared. At the time of death or other sorrow, it is always bitter.

 For one teaspoon of ground coffee used, one teaspoon of sugar and one cup of water is boiled together until the sugar dissolves. When the water is clear, the ground Arabic coffee is added to the water and stirred. When foam rises to the top of the pot, the pot is removed from the fire and set aside until the foaming stops. While many people might stop here, experienced Arabic coffee makers know to return the coffee back to the fire and allow it to boil at least two more times. After the final time, a few drops of cold water are added to the coffee to settle it.

 The ritual of serving the coffee is also another pertinent part of making Arabic coffee. Some people find it comparable to the disciplined, yet highly hospitable tea ceremony. If a guest is chosen to serve the coffee, this is an indication that the person has been welcomed into the house.

Holding a stack of cups in his right hand and the coffee pot in his left, the host pours a small amount of coffee to taste himself, to ensure [and show his guests] that it is suitable. After determining so, he pours coffee for the primary guest then serves the other guests. After each guest is served, he pours a cup for himself and joins them.

As mentioned the hostess holds a stack of cups in the right hand and the Delah (an aluminum, brass, or enamelware pot) in their left. It is necessary for the host to pour themselves a glass to determine if it is suitable to serve. Upon doing so, the host [sometimes assisted by someone holding a tray] directly hands each person a small cup, or a tiny sized Finjal. Due to its high concentrated nature the coffee is served in small amounts until it is two-thirds full. Only in the case that men are present will the male act as a hostess and serve his company. Culture, age, rank, or sometimes sex takes preference with regards to who is first served.  On a table next to the guests should be a small pitcher of orange blossom water. Guests may choose to add a few drops to enhance the flavor  Milk is usually not offered. Also, dates or something sweet will be present.

 A few things to keep in mind are, as a guest, milk and more sugar are generally not asked for. Also, the cup should be held in your right hand and allow a moment for the grains to settle to the bottom of your cup. Only the thinner liquid on top is drunk and the coffee is never stirred. Upon finishing a cup of coffee, you can show appreciation to your host by saying, "fi sehtuk" (“to your health", said to a male, or "fi sehtik" to a female); "Fil afrahh", meaning "to your happiness,” is also used. Keep in mind that if you hold up your cup, your host will immediately re-fill it. This pattern continues until you shake the cup before returning it to the pourer. This is the only way to break the cycle.

So, lets make some Moroccan coffee……….It’s so easy.

If you are in Fes on one of our tours Bouhlal’s small shop is located in the R’Cif souk in the Fes Medina is the place to start for your fresh coffee beans. If you can’t make it all the way to Fes, you can experiment with your own blend at home. Bouhlal does not measure by instruments, but by intuition. Here is what I saw him add: just experiment .……….. Sesame seeds, Black Pepper, Whole nutmeg, Cinnamon, Anise Seed, Ginger.

Combine these spices with quality coffee beans and grind. Brew in espresso maker or percolator of your choice. Cream and sugar transform this spicy delight into a dessert. 

Prepare to be addicted.

Prepare to get addicted…………….


The Souk Aamor Agdoud N’Oulmghenni, or the renowned Imilchil Moussem; the “Fête des Fiancés” or “Marriage Market”, is perhaps the most impressive of all the Berber mountain souks. Held at the end of summer, over three days late in September, it represents the annual meeting of the great family tribes. the Aït Haddidou,  Aït Morghad,  Aït Izdeg and  Aït Yahia. It a gathering of the Berber people of remote villages of the Middle and High Atlas mountain valleys and nomadic herders of the southern slopes leading to the fringes of the Sahara desert. John Horniblow reports……

Crossing from Middle Atlas into the High Atlas and up to Imilchil the Atlas Mountains presents formidable natural barrier that has maintained the autonomy of the Berber tribes of the mountains and the desert directly at their southern slopes for millennia. Wild sweeping vistas of stark mountain peaks and deep ravines are traversed by thin ribbons of bitumen that wind in narrow neck turns over the passes to reach the high plateau. 

In this week in September you jostle for space on the thin roads with steady stream of ancient red Bedford trucks (Berber taxis) either laden with goods, livestock and people heading to the moussem or brimming with wooden crates carrying the apple harvest out of the mountain valleys.

While named after Imilchil the moussem actually takes place in a small valley between Bouzmouz and Agoudal on the high plateau. From what might appear at first to be an informal souk and camp around the tomb of Sidi Ahmed Oulmghenni, a small temporary town of tents and stalls swells across two small hillsides with alleys of eateries, clothes markets, shoes stalls, grain markets, carpet traders and village weavers, Berber jewelers and desert traders. 

On one hillside of a lively trade of animals occurs on the first day. From the other side overlooked by nomadic families camped under the rock ledges high on the hill, the souk bustles with people keen to trade handicrafts, tools, buy and sell provisions, or simply amble watching and catching up with distant friends and family members. Then at night they celebrate with lively music, singing and dancing before the onset of winter snowfalls cuts them off from the rest of the world.

There are two main competing versions of stories that lay claim for the inception of the festival. They are both pragmatic and probably the real truth lies somewhere in between the romantic fact and fiction the two of them. As far as Berber legend goes two young people from different feuding tribes fell in love but, in a Moroccan triste akin to Romeo and Juliet, they were forbidden to see each other by their families. The grief of unrequited love led them to their deaths. One ending of legend tells that they cried themselves to death, creating the neighbouring deep alpine lakes of Isli (his) and Tislit (hers), near Imilchil. 

The second ending, equally dramatic, is that the lovers drowned themselves in the separate lakes. Accordingly the Imilchil Marriage Festival was founded as an anniversary to those lover’s death, and in a tribal tradition, as an opportunity for unmarried Berbers, particularly women trapped at altitude for most of the year, to survey and mingle with prospective spouses. For some it’s the opportunity to commit to the vow of marriage and commence the tying of the marital knot with their chosen love.

The second and more unromantic version of the story is that the marriage tradition purportedly derives from the French colonial times of the last century, when the foreign officials used to insist that the Berbers assembling for their yearly souk, registered their births, deaths and marriages. Most probably it is that act that instituted the official contract signing and noting of the exchange of vows we know them today. While its not apparent it is said that most marriage matches are arranged in advance and merely formalized at the moussem with the contract signing.

Needless to say, whatever version of the story you want to believe, the souk and moussem is a delightfully unique and colourful event. Small groups of young Berber women dressed in traditional finery and roughly, woven woollen robes distinctive to each family tribe, some with berber fibules (amulets), eyes rimmed with heavy black kohl, and intricately hennaed hands, amble through the commerce of the souk talking, flirting with or being approached by the potential bachelors trying to strike up meaningful conversation. The wary eyes of elder relatives, looking on, following them protectively at a furtive distance.

On the second day of this year’s moussem, under the white and black appliqué of the official Moroccan tent, 29 young couples apprehensively waited to make their vows at the public ceremony. A large crowd of onlookers sparsely sprinkled with few tourist eyes, Moroccan media and a few film documentary crews looked on from a short distance. 

For all the sense of frivolity surrounding the evident flirting, courtship and mingling in the souk the young nuptial couples sat in nervous congregation before approaching the officials together and solemnly signing their betrothal contract with the stamp of their inked thumbs. Then each couple, striding from the official’s tents, amidst the celebratory rhythmic tambourines  singing and shrill tongue warbles, successively broke through the parted circle of the crowd. Stepping over the threshold of tradition and through the open door of their married lives ahead of them.


If Morocco is a land of romance, then its heart is surely the remote Berber village of Imilchil, without doubt the most romantic place I have ever been…..really remote back in the days of Trailmasters, our earlier 4x4 expedition company.

Nestled in the Atlas, it lies beyond the Gorge of Ziz, in a wild and unforgiving frontier of narrow passes and sweeping mountain vistas. Once each year, in September, a festival is held in which the young are permitted to choose a spouse for themselves. In a realm usually confined by tribal tradition, the would-be brides and grooms are free to pick whoever they wish to marry. Dressed in roughly woven black robes, jangling silver amulets and amber beads heavy around their necks, the girls stream down from their villages. There's a sense of frivolity, but one tempered with solemn apprehension as they approach the doorway to a new life.

Reaching the village square, they catch first sight of the grooms. All of them are dressed in white woollen robes, their heads bound tight with woven red turbans, their eyes darkened with antimony.

The betrothal festival owes its existence to a legend, itself a blend of love and tragedy – a kind of Moroccan Romeo and Juliet. The story goes that, forbidden to marry, a couple who hailed from feuding tribes drowned themselves in a pair of crystal-clear lakes called Isli and Tislit. [One version of the tale says the lakes in which they drowned were made from their tears.] So horrified were the local people at the loss that they commenced the annual festival. No one is quite sure when the tradition began, but everyone will tell you that the marriages which follow betrothal there are blessed in an almost magical way.

The first time I visited Imilchil, almost 30 years ago, I met a young couple, Hicham and Hasna. They had met, fallen in love and been betrothed all on the same morning. They were glowing, their cheeks flushed with expectation and new love. Many years later, when I visited Imilchil again on a one of Desert Detours “Discovery” Tours, I tracked down the pair.
They look much older. Hicham's hair had thinned and his face was lined from a life outdoors tending his goats; and Hasna looked fatigued. But then she has since given birth to six children, four of them boys. As we sat in the darkness of their home, a wooden shack clinging like a limpet to the mountainside, I asked them how the years had been.

Hicham looked across at Hasna, and smiled. "On that day all those years ago," he said, "I became the happiest man in all the world. And each day since has been conjured from sheer joy." He glanced at the floor. "Do you want to know our secret?" he asked me bashfully. I nodded. Hicham touched a hand to his heart. "To always remember the love of the first moment, the tingling feeling, the first time it touches you, and the first moment your hands touched."

A few weeks after leaving Hicham and Hasna at their home in Imilchil I reached my own home, now in a not too dissimilar location on a high Sierra in Spain. As I stepped in the door Debbie ran up and threw her arms around my neck and asked where and how it had been.
I told her about the winding mountain roads, the Berber villages, the Gorge of Ziz and who I had met.

"And what did you bring back?” she asked.
"I brought you a secret," I said.
"What is it?" she asked "
“Always to remember the first feeling of tingling love," I said.


They are called “Zouhri children,” victims of medieval beliefs that still unfortunately persist in the minds of some unenlightened Moroccans. They are thought to bring fortune and prosperity because of some physical characteristics that differentiate them from “ordinary” children.

In the world of Moroccan Witchcraft and Black Magic, a Zouhri child’s blood is gold, said to guarantee the success of some rituals that necessitates the sacrifice of a Zouhri child.
It starts with abduction and ends up with corpses of innocent children, whose only crime is being born with distinctive physical marks, thrown dead in nature.

One might recognize a Zouhri child by their array of physical marks that distinguish him or her from other children: blonde hair and dis symmetrical eyes, a continuous line that crosses their hand pal, and distinctive marks in the hair or on the iris. When a child matches some or all of these characteristics, he or she is likely to be the victim of Morocco’s darkest minds.
 Why are Zouhri children abducted, murdered or severely wounded?  Some believe it is to serve as a sacrifice to be offered to the “djinn” or invisible spirits believed to watch over ancient treasures. The idea is that only a Zouhri child’s blood would unveil the location of an immeasurable fortune and chase away the spirits guarding it.

Long ago, early families who lived on the Moroccan land used to bury their most invaluable possessions in cemeteries, pits, and forests. According to what some believe, after these families vanish, these possessions become the property of “djinns,” and only a Zouhri child’s blood can unveil these locations.

Those who call themselves “treasure hunters” in Morocco deploy all means to get their hands on the so-called immeasurable treasures. This might even go to committing most hideous crimes. No one has ever heard of a lucky treasure hunter getting his grip on a great treasure. Yet, those individuals persist on continuing their never-ending quest for wealth, whilst heartlessly taking the lives of those children to prove myths right.

In the stage that Morocco starts to make significant steps towards development one recognizes that the most encumbering social phenomena surges again. Recently, a child was allegedly abducted in Kenitra for sorcery purposes. The child, Houssam Riwi, was said to match the characteristics of Zouhri children, which is suspected to be the reason behind his probable abduction by treasure hunters.

“Our society is still conservative despite the profound mutation that Morocco is experiencing,” Moroccan sociologist Fouad Benmir was quoted as saying. “There are still traditions based on mystical beliefs that are a far cry from realism,” he added, referring to phenomena such as sorcery.

Benmir’s observation hits the point. Those medieval beliefs that still roam in some corners of the Kingdom are among the impediments to Morocco’s full development. The impingement's of such practices as the abduction and sacrifice of a child for witchcraft rituals are severe on a society that aspires for progress, development and betterment.

AN APOLOGY ……………..

I should apologies for this extraordinary long blog entry. Obviously I have too much spare time on my hand and I really need to get out more.

Out more!!!!!! Blimey I have only just arrived back home………….!