Saturday, 27 December 2014


Firstly from all of us at Desert Detours we wish all our clients and “Blog Readers”….. past, present and future, a joyful Christmas and a great New Year, wherever you may be.
Of course particular good wishes to our December-New Year group who will be celebrating Christmas Day at the Erg Chebbie Dunes and then cross to welcome the New Year at Marrakech.

The plan was that I for once would take a much needed couple of months break over Dec/Jan and catch-up on the vehicle, office and scheduling ….as they say “best plans etc. etc.”…. hence for example this re-Christmas blog entry seeing the light late!
We always receive quite a few enquires and confirmations at this time and this year was no exception, so office work and logistics continued over the holiday period.

With the two new 40+ day Moroccan tours FOOTSTEPS OF MOORS and THE GRAND TRANS-MOROCCO now firmly scheduled [One is already FULLY BOOKED] and with all our regular [Classic, Discovery and Amazigh Tours] 2015 dates published on the web-site we are clearly heading for yet another busy year …… Not to mention our ANDALUSIA TOURS …… if you can’t wait or are already planning for 2015 you know where to find us.

Its decision time yet again regarding extra staff…… we, don’t we or is it about time we recruited a “Partner”……perhaps more of that in the next Blog issue.

Once again, have a great Christmas and New Year and wherever you may be heading safe travels...........

SADLY ………..

If you have followed any Moroccan news over the last few weeks you couldn’t have failed to be shocked at the effects of the horrendous weather in the south. A national disaster followed the worst rain in living memory with major roads washed away, bridges destroyed and whole areas cut-off…….Of course there was a tragic loss of life, over 45 souls at the time of writing and they are still counting.

It would be churlish, given the aforementioned, to say that our tour group, other than experiencing various levels of rain at tour end was unaffected …….. However, we had until then experienced excellent weather during the tour and I can honestly say that this was the only weather of consequence we had experienced during the entire year……but when it turns in Morocco it does so with a vengeance!

As our group crossed the Tizzi n Tichka Pass dark and ominous clouds were forming, leaving it behind the rain started. The rain was then so heavy that the following floods and damage closed the pass for six days.
One of the attractions of  Morocco is the almost guaranteed fine weather, even during the winter months, but it is a big country with widely different climatic regions. Don’t be put-off the winter months, just be aware of your surroundings, or ask if in doubt…..forward planning, local knowledge and knowing route diversions is an advantage ……. and I have to say one of the advantages of touring with a group. Whatever, take care in the “Off Season” months.  


Readers of this blog may recall that I wrote a piece about “Zouhri Children” some time ago [11th Oct ’13 in fact headed “If it wasn’t so tragic”] but thought it was a re-mention as I am coming across ever increasing tales. The latest being………….
Hakima Elmterfi lives in a tiny village called Sbaâ Rouadi near Fes, and recalls the dangers she says her nephew Mohammed encountered. When he was 11 years old, Elmterfi says strangers tried to kidnap the boy by forcing him into a car. She says his father intervened. “Only at that time did we find out that Mohammed had been chased by strangers because he was Zouhri,” said Ettefahi.
Zouhri is the name some Moroccans use for children whom they believe can find buried treasures. A Zouhri child has distinctive physical characteristics. According to Mostafa Aarab’s book “Magical Beliefs and Rituals in Morocco,” the belief is that a Zouhri child is a hybrid of Jinn and humans, adding that the child has a solid line across the palm of his hand and his tongue may also look as if it is divided into two parts.

Some family members of Zouhri children say they prevent the children from playing outside or going to school alone out of fear that they will be kidnapped. In the case of Mohammed, once his family realized that their son was considered a Zouhri, his grandfather decided to escort him to and from school, while his mother rarely let him play outside the house. “All this atmosphere of prudence and heavy guard kept him in fear until he got married at the age of twenty. By then, he had decided to move to Fes for work. He is a grown man now and he is able to protect himself” says his 19 year old brother, Ahmed Almterfi.
Moroccans commonly buried their valuables since there were no banks and it was unsafe to leave their money and gold lying around. They also buried their cash and gold to avoid paying taxes. Since these treasures are buried under the ground, it’s deeply rooted in the Moroccan people’s unconscious that this fortune belongs to demons. This explains why some “Rural” Moroccans believe that if they are offer the blood of a Zouhri child in sacrifice, the demons will release the buried treasure.
Of course we have to take into account the “Bogey Man” factor…..  Sometimes when a child disobeys his mother she would scare him with terrible stories of children who were kidnapped and whose families also disappeared. Are these stories true or false…who knows? But the fact is that among some Moroccans these frightening tales and the beliefs involving Zouhri children have persisted through the ages.


French newspaper Les Echo has chosen Oukaimden, Marrakech among the best skiing destinations in the world.

Oukaimden was ranked in the fourth position behind Chili Portillo, Chile in first place, followed by Gstaad, Switzerland in second place and La Thuile, Italy in third place.

The French newspaper described Oukaimden as a ski resort in fashion and a hiding confidential ski area, which exhibits a great view of the foothills of the High Atlas and the Haouz plain.


If you have already been on one of our tours this short video will no doubt bring back memories, it may even bring you back and If you haven’t already been to Morocco it may well tempt you………
We will be posting these short clips of different locations we visit over the following months……Where better to start than with TODRA GORGE……..


It’s been about 300 years since Sultan Moulay Ismaïl de Marrakech came up with a way to deal with the growing influence of the seven saints of Regraga from the Essaouira region. Seven Saints were chosen, with only one thing in common: they’re all buried in the Red City. So who, where and why them?  Not relevant now?........visitors exploring Marrakech would unlikely fail to spot the towers pictured here, no they are not part of a re-structure….. in 2005, at Bab Doukkala, these seven towers were built to honour these seven men, who are still part of the history and culture of the City of Marrakech.

Locals often call Morocco’s Marrakesh the city of Sabatou Rijal, which literally means “seven men”, but is usually translated in English as the “seven saints”. As such, a trip to Marrakech could be referred to as a visit to the city of seven saints. Their immortalized stories have lasted for hundreds of years, and have become a part of Marrakesh’s history and Morocco’s history as a whole. So who are they?
The seven men of Marrakesh are Awlya [plural of Wali]. Awlya is an Arabic word that refers to people who Allah has blessed with a special rank among the Muslims.  It’s been said that these seven saints were the seven men who shone in their times as lights of guidance because of the blessings that Allah showered upon them.

Marrakesh is home to the graves of over 200 Awlya, the late Alaouite ruler Moulay Ismail allegedly established the pilgrimage to the tombs of the seven saints in the 17th century in order to give Marrakesh extra religious significance. Since the 17th century, Moroccans from all walks of life have constantly visited the graves of the seven saints in Marrakesh to pray to Allah. They are drawn to the idea that visiting these graves could heal their diseases, help them fulfil their wishes, and allow them to achieve tranquillity of their souls.
The practice is no longer as popular as it once was, but many Moroccans still say “I am going to the city of the Seven Men”, meaning they are going to Marrakesh……..Those seven saints are…….

1 – Sidi Youssef Ben Ali……..His full name was Abou Yaacoub Ben Ali Assenhaji. He was born in Marrakesh and never left it all his life. He was nicknamed “Moul L Ghar”, or the “Cave Man”. When he was still young, he was afflicted with leprosy and would lose parts of his body, causing people to flee from him in fear of contracting the disease. His family, on the other hand, expelled him out of fear of the virus. Afterwards, he went to live in a cave in a deserted place near Marrakesh.
Locals expected him to die any moment, but Sidi Youssef Ben Ali surprised them all and survived for a long time. People started talking about his power to resist hunger and disease, and they began visiting him in the cave to receive guidance and help them solve their problems.

Sidi Youssef Ben Ali died in 1196 and is buried in Bab Aghmat, near the cave.
2 – Qadi Ayyad………Qadi Iyad ibn Musa was born in 1083 in Ceuta, then belonging to the Almoravid Empire. He was the great imam of that city and, later, a high judge in Granada. As a scion of a notable scholarly family, Iyad was able to learn from the best teachers Ceuta had to offer.
Qadi Iyad benefited from the high number of scholars in al-Andalus, the Maghrib, and the eastern Islamic world. He became a prestigious scholar in his own right, and won the support of the highest levels of society.
He died in 1149 and buried in Marrakesh.
3 – Sidi Bel Abbas…………….Born in Ceuta in 1129, Belabbas Ahmed Sebti is the most important of the Seven Saints, and is sometimes referred to as the Patron Saint of Marrakech.
It’s been said that his father died when he was still a teenager, and then his mother sent him to work. However, his obsession with his studies prompted him to occasionally escape his work in order to attend the classes of Sheikh Abi Abdellah Mohamed Lfakhar in the mosque.
His mother, on the other hand, kept punishing him and sending him back to work, until the Sheikh intervened and suggested giving his mother money in order to let her child study.
Sidi Bel Abbas was a great patron of the poor and particularly the blind in the twelfth century. Even today, food for the poor is distributed regularly at his tomb.
He died in 1204 and is buried in Marrakesh.
4 – Sidi Suleiman Al Jazuli……..Abdullah Muhammad al Jazuli was born in a village called Jazoula in Sous Massa Daraa in the 15th century. Nobody knows the exact year of his birth. Historians say he descended from Ali Ibno Abi Talib.
Imam al-Jazouli is better remembered as a character of legend rather than a real human being. “Imam al-Jazuli”, was a Moroccan Sufi leader of the Berber tribe of the Jazulah. He is best known for compiling the Dala’il al-Khayrat, an extremely popular Muslim prayer book. The book is divided into 7 sections for each day of the week.
In June 1465, he collapsed and died while performing his Subh prayer. Because of the suddenness of his death, it was rumored that he was poisoned. His body was buried near Essaouira. Seventy-seven years after his death, his body was exhumed to be transferred to Marrakech.
5 – Sidi Abdel Aziz………..Sidi Abd El Aziz was a fifteenth century theologian. His mausoleum is very near to Rue Baroudiyine, a short walk from Marrakesh Riad Cinnamon.
He was born in Marrakesh, and was illiterate during his youth. However, he later made a name for himself in Fez at the Medersat el Attarine, where he was the spiritual successor of Imam el Jazouli.
He died in 1508 and was buried in Marrakesh. It is a local tradition for women to visit his grave, drawn to the idea that he can heal their fertility and facilitate childbirth.
6 – Sidi Abdullah Ghazouani………….Sidi Abdullah Ghazouani was born and grew up in Fez. He was a follower of Sidi Abdel Aziz. He died in 1528 in Marrakesh and was buried there.
7 – Imam Souhaili………….Imam Abderahim Souhaili was born blind in 1114 in Malaga. He grew up in a poor, but religious and well-educated family. His father taught him Arabic and helped him memorize the Quran. Afterwards, he was taught other sciences by the famous scholars of that time, in Malaga and other cities in Andalusia (the southern region of Spain).

He died in 1185 in Marrakesh, and was buried in Bab er Robb, a southern gate of the city of Marrakesh, near Bab Agnaou.

OK, in relation to this blog it’s not a specific Moroccan topic but it is one that comes up in conversation time and again on every tour……and why not!
The universality of Islam invalidates the claim that veiling of any kind is mandatory for all Muslim women, and, for that matter, negates the notion of particular clothing requirements for all Muslims. The Quran states “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another” (49:13). The Quran recognizes and accepts cultural differences. It is hardly a controversial statement that clothing is among the most salient manifestations of culture. (Had God intended uniformity of dress upon embracing Islam, the Quran would have indicated so, but it most definitely does not.)
The majorities of Muslims, if not all, firmly believe that the Quran was sent as guidance for all of humanity and view Islam as a universal and timeless religion. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is likewise considered the final messenger of God for all people, rather than the Prophet of 7th century Arabia or a Prophet sent to the Arab tribes only. The Quran states: “We have not sent thee (Muhammad) but as a mercy to all the nations” (21:107).
Similarly, the equality of all human beings, except in good character and piety, is an undisputed principle of Islam. Prophet Muhammad stated in his last sermon that “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab…” The language is clear and without room for debate: Islamically, no culture is superior to another.
It is another uncontested fact that women in pre-Islamic Arabia used to veil themselves when going outside their homes; women in several other parts of the world have never observed a similar custom. The Quran was revealed within a specific geographical and historical context and, therefore, its particulars, or its illustrations of principles, refer to the practices common to that society. However, with the spread of Islam, “each new Islamic society must understand the principles intended by the particulars. Those principles are eternal and can be applied in various social contexts.”(1)
In Arabia, before the advent of Islam, the women belonging to rich and powerful tribes “were veiled and secluded as an indication of protection.” It is important to emphasize that the veil was not an Islamic innovation; it was in use for generations before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).The Quran, instructing modesty as a principle, illustrated it with the practices that were common at the time. However, the Quran’s mandate is the general principle of modesty, rather than veiling and seclusion, which are cultural manifestations that pertain to a specific context.
Otherwise, how could it be true that Islam is universal and timeless, all humans and cultures equal under it, none superior to another, yet simultaneously true that all women, irrespective of the time and place they exist in, who accept Islam as their faith, should proceed to adopt the dress mores of 7th century Arabia? This is entirely absurd and not Islamic but rather cultural. The particular display of modesty of 7th century Arabia is not the only “right” one or the one superior to all others.
The way modesty was expressed before and during the lifetime of the Prophet is quite different from how it is manifested in other societies. Because Islam is a religion for all times, it logically does not follow that despite the religion’s universality and timelessness, Muslim women all over the world must continue to show their modesty and piety in 1400 year old Arab standards. Moreover, “Allah intends for [us] ease and does not intend for [us] hardship” (2:185).
The notion of a veiling requirement for women is based on a fundamental error of interpretation: that of confusing the general principles of Islam with their particular illustrations and it is very damaging to the religion and to the overall progress of Muslims. This style of interpretation turns Islam into a “rigid canonical religion geared towards…external matters” and makes Muslims appear to be “confusing content and form, aim and method, spirituality and ritual.”(2)
This stubborn fixation on women’s “proper Islamic attire” strips Islam of its true nature of depth and empowering wisdom.
There is no dispute about the importance of modesty or about the fact that modesty is required and central to Islam for both men and women. But claiming that modesty demands, for instance, that a Muslim woman living in New York City in 2014, wear garb that originated, was useful in, and symbolized modesty and dignity in the desert of Arabia 1400 years ago is completely ridiculous. No person, male of female, living in a modern society, let’s say, contemporary America, Europe or Asia (and even many parts of North Africa and the Middle East), would consider a woman showing her hair to be immodest. Neither are men these days particularly provoked by the sight of a woman’s hair.
Among today’s morally questionable fashions and cultural practices, a woman’s uncovered hair is hardly a temptation or a show of moral laxity. But, let’s imagine that it were in fact a ‘temptation’. Let’s pretend present-day men were somehow so weak as to be provoked by glancing a woman’s hair, still, the solution is within themselves. Modesty is also required of, and was first mandated to, men: they are ordered to lower their gaze, purify their thoughts and dress modestly too. The answer is not for women to make it their central preoccupation to ensure by all means that they do not cause men any impure thoughts. This is, again, absurd: Islam teaches that in the eyes of God, each person is responsible for his or her own actions.

So, where do the veiling notions come from? There are three Quranic verses that deal with the issue of hijab which are commonly known as “Ayat al Hijab”:
The first of these verses deals exclusively with the household of the Prophet and is not to be extrapolated to other people. In this particular context the Quran orders that “whenever you ask them (the Prophet’s wives) for anything, ask them from behind a curtain (hijab)” (33:53). The reason for this revelation is simple:
“In Madinah, the need had arisen to protect the household of the Prophet, who had now become head of State, from easy informal access by each and every one. This was done separating the official and the private quarters which has since become routine in official residence. This division was achieved with the aid of a screen (hijab).”
It is a major tragedy that this verse has been misinterpreted to the point of requiring women in certain countries to never leave their screened-off quarters even while out in the street. During the time of the Prophet, women were free to move around in society, encouraged to learn, invited and welcome to Islamic gatherings where they sat among men and used to pray in the mosque side by side with men. The practices of secluding women are actually un-Islamic.
The other two verses that discuss women’s dress code have a general application:
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters as well as all believing women that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments (min jalabibihinna); this will help to assure that they are recognized (as decent women) and not be annoyed” (33:59).
It is of utmost importance to note that this rule does not require women to wear a specific type of clothing, such as a large headscarf, and then pull it over the breast. “The Quran assumes that women wear an article of clothing that allows the covering of their breasts, and that this is done. In ancient times, this article would have naturally been worn over the head in hot, windy, dusty countries. However, a Quranic requirement for this cannot be derived from 33:59.” (3)
The final clothing regulation that appears in the Quran discusses the protective purpose of these rules: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their charms beyond what may decently be apparent thereof. So let them draw their head coverings (which were commonly worn at the time, not implemented) over their bosoms” (24:31).
The first two injunctions of not staring at the opposite sex in a provocative manner and hiding one’s primary sexual parts are also imposed on men with the same wording (Quran 24:30). The third rule, displaying those charms that are normally visible (ma zahara minha), “is a very sensible regulation: It takes into account that from period to period and from culture to culture there are great differences in the view of what, aside from her genitals and breasts, is erotic about a woman.”
Murad Hoffman, in his book, Islam: The alternative, cites a rector of the Great Mosque in Paris, Sheikh Tedjini Haddam, as explaining that what Islam actually recommends is that “a woman be decently dressed.” And the application of this recommendation varies depending on the social environment.

Dr. Sultan Abdulhameed perfectly explains this idea in The Quran and the Life of Excellence:
“In order to benefit from spiritual teachings, it is important to separate the essential from the peripheral. We should recognize the principle of progressive change in religious as well as in cultural and social life. Truth is eternal, but the way it is expressed changes with time, and it is experienced differently by different people.”
*It is important to note that I am not opposing or criticizing a woman’s decision to cover her hair or to dress in a particular way for a wide variety of reasons, such as announcing her moral values through her attire, expressing her disagreement with the increasing pressure (at least in the West) for women to be scantily dressed or perhaps, for identity reasons, including preserving one’s cultural identity or externally communicating one’s religion to society.

However, the idea that all Muslim women are required by Islam to veil themselves (in any form) is false and damaging to women, to Islam and to people who might otherwise consider accepting Islam as their faith......




Wednesday, 26 November 2014

TWO NEW TOURS FOR 2015......


Through concept, reconnaissance and then the Trial stages these TWO new 40+ Day tours are now firmly scheduled for 2015 and beyond. 

Starting early May the "Footsteps of Moors" Tour visits more than a few truly unique and exclusive locations whilst following ancient routes/tracks for a thought provoking and meandering passage across the High Atlas Mountains and beyond.  Then just a stone's throw from Africa continue in the Footsteps of the Moors and experience the mountain ranges, valleys and arable zones of Al-Andaluz - Andalusia.

This tour visits two very different and remarkable destinations ineradicable linked in history ... quite simply incredible!

During September and October our "Grand Trans Morocco" tour guides you through the rarely visited, mysterious eastern region known as the "Forgotten Morocco".  We travel via the awesome Mediterranean-Riff Mountain coastline and reach the actual Algerian-Moroccan border crossings before running south then returning west towards the Atlantic coast on a route that includes the Sahara, High Atlas, Forests and Imperial Cities ..... 

A genuine Trans-Morocco journey and adventure ....... Truly superb!

There are of course duration options available ..... If for any reason you are unable to undertake the full 40 PLUS DAY tours you can for example select just part of the full tour, or indeed you can extend your stay, with on-going assistance, beyond the 40 PLUS day schedules.

Both the Footsteps of Moors and the Grand Trans-Morocco tours are FULL EVENT tours and are NOT "padded-out" with endless Free Days ...... Both tours are of course fully supported.

Both the Footsteps of Moors and the Grand Trans-Morocco tours already have a number of firm bookings for 2015 and will in any case be offering very limited places on the tour.  Both tours are packed with our usual exclusive and unusual locations, including some camping in a number of "Wilderness and Remote" settings.

There are far too many highlights and features to list here, so for more information and details contact the office via email or phone either 0034 615276532 or 0034 658988841 without delay!

AND REMEMBER .... these two all NEW tours are in addition to our scheduled 2015 year dates during which we will be visiting Morocco EVERY MONTH [excluding June, July and August].


If you can find it in the village of Joujouka in the hills behind Ksar El Kbir ..... Its more than music, sight and sounds .... some say it is a life changing event!

The Master Musicians of Joujouka are Berber Sufi trance musicians most famous for their connections with the Beat Generation and the Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones.  These musicians hail from the village of Joujouka near Ksar El Kebir in the Ahl Srif mountain range of the southern Rif Mountains in northern Morocco.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Master Musicians' performances is the character of Boujloud-a-Pan like figure half goat half man.  Although the character of Boujloud is found all over Morocco, it takes on a different form in Joujouka.  According to local legends, the original Boujloud gave the gift of flute music and the power to bestow fertility on the village every spring when he danced.  The present Boujloud is an extraordinarily energetic elderly man with a wicked sense of humor.

After an afternoon of frenetic music led by a fiddle player who appears to have endless energy, the musicians re-group in a small hut and launch into more fiddle and drum music. The beat is infectious and soon the guests find themselves unable to sit and so join the dance.  After an hour of dancing there is another break for food in preparation of the long night ahead.  The supply of food, tea and coffee seems endless, but eventually the musicians head off to change into their traditional costumes.

In the Ahl Srif Mountain range in Northern Morocco the sun drops below the horizon and the temperature drops quickly.  But in Joujouka the lights come on and the temperature rises as a group of visiting scholars and musicologists await the performance by the Master Musicians of Joujouka.....

The night starts with a burst of sound from the ghaita players.  The instrument is somewhat like an oboe, but with a much harsher penetrating sound.  Then came the moment many of the visitors and locals had been waiting for - the lighting of the bonfire and the arrival of Boujloud.  The pan-like figure was threatening and demoniac as, with a swish of branches and leaves, he attacked anyone within striking distance. 

Visitors and locals alike were entranced by the spectacle.  Others simply closed their eyes and let the music carry them away.  However, by the end of the night the visitors danced until they could dance no longer.

The night was not only a wonderful musical event, but a display of the warmth and generous hospitality of the Joujouka villagers who guided us back to our houses where sleep and the prospect of a rural breakfast lay ahead.

This was just an "informal" visit ..... The 8th edition of The Master Musicians of Joujouka three day annual festival takes place 5th-7th June 2015 and is booking now


When driving towards the windswept town of Essaouira on the Atlantic coast keep an eye open for the short, spiky, gnarled trees that dot the yellow hills along each side of the highway.  No you are not imagining and your eyes have not deceived...... Yes they are goats climbing the straggly branches and nibbling on the nuts, the source of Morocco's liquid gold.  For Argan oil is to Morocco what olive oil is to Italy .... and the goats were once part of the production process, eating the fruit and leaving behind clean kernels in the dung!

Native to the deserts, Argan trees have deep roots to survive in harsh conditions, and are resistant to strong winds. UNESCO listed the Argan groves in the southern reaches of Morocco as a biosphere reserve in 1998.  A tag that stands the trees in good stead in these restive, modern times, perhaps, for it takes them at least 50 years to reach fruiting maturity. Starting with the early Phoenicians, Argan oil has been used in Berber folk medicine for centuries.  The cosmetic and food industries, however, have only woken up to its potential as an anti-ageing wonder and super-food in the last decade.

In a low ceiling-ed room at a women's co-operative in the Ouiraka Valley outside Marrakech, Berber women of all ages sit cross-legged on colourful rugs and extract this wonder oil.  It's a time-and-labour-intensive industry, where everything is done by hand.

On an average, I am told, 20 working hours are spent for every litre produced. I have watched a few elderly women crack the hard shell of the nut with sharp pieces of rock to release the soft kernel inside, while others grind them into a paste that looks like gooey peanut butter, even as another set of hands squeeze the oil out, it's a sort of primitive assembly line production.  Also, as with many traditional products, even the waste is put to good use.  The residue from the kernels after oil extraction, a thick, chocolate coloured paste called Amulou, is sweetened and served as a dip for bread at breakfast and used to make soaps, creams and shampoos.  The oil too has more then one use, in cooking, stirred into couscous and drizzled over salads, and now, in the global cosmetic industry, prized for its high Vitamin E content.

But its most valuable by-product, perhaps, is empowerment.  Much of the Argan oil in the country is made in co-operatives by women who work for half a day to support their families and ensure a good education for their children.  Like the hardy trees that have for centuries prevented the Sahara desert from expanding, oil-making has emancipated local women and kept the male-dominated Berber society in check. 


Every year Morocco celebrates its Independence Day, the Eid Al Istiqulal, on November 18 to honour the return of their King Mohammed to Morocco. At some point during our regular November tours we witness these celebrations in some form or another .... and this year was no exception.

The King had been exiled too Madagascar when Morocco was a French protectorate until his return when he proclaimed the freedom of Morocco from France and Spain, which had colonized the country for 44 years. 

Since then, Independence Day 18th November, is taken as an opportunity to look back at the achievements of the three monarchs who led the country through the different stages of its history, namely, late Mohammed V and Hassan II and the current King Mohammed VI.

It is also an occasion to hail the efforts and sacrifices of the Moroccan people, who sacrificed their lives and money to achieve the independence of the country and subsequently to place it amongst the most democratic modern, and moderate open countries in the Arab world.

Just a little history ..... According to the official story, November 18th, 1955 Mohammed V declared the independence of Morocco, after signing with the French Prime Minister Antoine Pinay.

However, the date of 18th November is actually one of the enthronements of Mohammed V in 1927.  At the same date in 1955, Mohammed V commemorating his early reign, in a speech, announced negotiations with France to put an end to the protectorate.  So the date is now officially the anniversary of the independence of Morocco.

However, the repeal of the protectorate between Morocco and France was actually signed a few months later, on March 2, 1956.


No trip to Morocco would be complete without a visit to that most iconic of cities .... Marrakech.  However, it can also be one of the most daunting as the labyrinthine alleyways start to all look the same and the road you thought would lead you back to the main square [Place Jmaa el Fna] turns into a dead end.  But do not be put off one of the most exciting aspects of a trip to Morocco-Marrakech is rooting through the souks for an elusive bargain... not to mention the smells of spice and foods, the sounds of souk life and the hustle and bustle.

There are signs, maps and guides, but my advice would be just to lose yourself in the markets and follows these simply tips to stay on the right track [and keep your sanity!]

1. Load the map ... If you have a smartphone, you can load the map of the Medina e.g. From Google Maps.  You can also drop pins in key locations such as your hotel, the restaurant where you have booked or the shop you are trying to find.  Even when you are not using the internet [Wi-Fi or 3G] the map is visible, can be magnified on your screen, and should show you where you are [using the GPS from your regular phone signal]. Personally, I'd rather take out my phone to find my way then unfold a map conspicuously on a street corner.

2. Place Jemaa el Fna ... This is the main square and the orientation point for any route description around the Medina.  Shopkeepers will happily point you towards it if you look a little lost.  However, it's not always on internet maps.  Drop a pin on Cafe Argana on Google Maps to denote the square.

3. 'Road Closed' .... A ruse of tedious longevity for those of limited other job prospects are to tell tourists that their chosen route is barred.  This enables the 'helpful' local to direct said tourists around an alternative, possibly via a shop where they might get commission and probably for a fee.  Moroccan's are very helpful, hospitable people and may genuinely be trying to be of assistance, so use your common sense; if there are streams of people coming towards you the street is unlikely to be closed!

4. Watch out pedestrians!  Although most of the Marrakech Medina is pedestrianized, bicycles, mopeds, handcarts and mule or horse drawn carriages are a constant hazard for the dawdling tourist.  Keep to the right, keep your wits about you and keep a hand on your purse/wallet.  If you hear 'balek'!  get out of the way!

5. Guides ....Many hotels and restaurants will happily send their staff with you to see you on the right way.  However, due to a crackdown on 'faux guides' [false guides] a number of years ago, some locals may be reluctant to be stopped by the police while accompanying tourists if they do not have official papers.  The action against unqualified guides has undoubtedly reduced the hassle-factor, but many very knowledgeable older people [who were unable to pay for official certificates] have now been excluded from the market.  The upshot is: a good guide is unlikely to be touting his trade in whispers on a shady street corner.  If you would like the services of a guide, ask your hotel or a friend to recommend someone.

Marrakech is a fascinating city and part of the thrill is total immersion, which occasionally means getting lost!  A little common sense, a confident air and an awareness of what is around you will mean your stay is infinitely more pleasurable than if you are timid, suspicious or scared.  People are often happy to help, so do not be afraid to ask. However, some people are opportunistic: Morocco is a developing country and tourism offers a lot of opportunities to earn money.  People will expect to be paid for services they offer, but if you did not want or request the service, there is no reason to pay!