Sunday, 6 April 2014


With just a few days in between returning from our March tour and meeting the April 2014 tour, I am already amazed at where we already find ourselves.  Two [Jan and Feb] "Classic" tours and two of the all new "Premium" tours are already behind us ..........  That's 4 tours in the first 3 months of 2014 with two more tours before our summer break from Morocco and the start of the Andalusia Tours.

Both the "Classic" tours were run at what we consider full i.e. all 12 vehicles arrived for departure on each while both the "Premium" tours ran at the scheduled 5 vehicles on each.  April sees a semi-private "Premium" tour with just a fly-in Australian client, a local [British] client and their UK based friends ......... Perfect!

As mentioned earlier I am now concentrating on the Premium Tours, as far as actual tours I will personally lead, but I may join a "Classic" now and then ..... But I WILL be "guesting" on both the May "Discovery" and the September "Amazigh" tours as I just love those stunning routes/destinations [just one vehicle place now available on each tour].

There was some shuffling around with existing clients switching to the Premium tours [as it was announced after their initial booking], but no problem.  This does mean that there are just a few places available on different tours over a number of dates between this coming September and December.

Not altogether surprising we find that some of our 2015 Premium Tour dates are now FULL with just a few places left scattered throughout the year......  Availability changes almost daily so no point in listing here ...... call/email for latest information.


But it's not just good news for Desert Detours ..... not that we have ever had a problem with an excellent client returnee rate.

Morocco's tourism minister says a record breaking 10 million people visited the North African country during 2013, indicating the industry is recovering from the set-backs of the Arab Spring revolutions.

After several years of flat growth, Morocco reported a 7.2% increase in arrivals since 2012.  Morocco, whose beeches, exotic cities and pristine mountains are popular among Europeans.  Morocco relies on tourism for 10% of its GDP, the second largest contributor after agriculture.  Tourism minister Lahcen Haddad predicted another 8% increase for arrivals in 2014.

Travelling around with our own clients we did detect a very small increase in UK motorhome visitos, but by far the biggest numbers were from France and Germany, with reported numbers will up on previous years.  We also saw a couple of quite large Italian tour groups.


How many times do you wonder what story lies behind a street, theatre, museum or public square?  There are few occasions when you find somebody who can give you a story about the name, and it is often very subjective, other times an ordinary person does not miss the opportunity to flex his narrative muscles and a very fertile imagination of which the name of the hero or heroine is the only real detail.

For those who have paused a while at the fabulous view over looking "Mandar Itto", while on one of our tours, will no doubt find forever the view etched into their minds.  For others who may in time pass that way a recommendation ..... If you choose the city of Meknes as a starting point head towards Azrou.  It cannot fail to escape your attention, 12 km before Azrou on the right, those gentle undulations that form a vast natural illusion spreading before your eyes and sometimes beyond your visual field.  It is the vast and breath taking panoramic view of Itto, commonly known as "Mandar Itto".

Mandar Itto is not like those heavenly places that only lucky adventurous people have the privilege to visit.  The site is a gift of nature to whoever travels on that normal road.  Offering a space to rest it has a layby, but this one offers you an earthen balcony over an amazing view.

Itto is the Berber name for Fatima or Fadma.  Few are the places that are named after females in Morocco and as she was Amazigh [Berber], she must have played a revolutionary role to be granted such an honor.  However, unlike many other places that carry names that may not even be Moroccan and to which no description is provided, Mandar Itto blows the visitor's mind by providing a very striking description engraved on a white piece of marble as if it is an epitaph of the heroine.

The marble is written in French and it says, "Itto Laarbi is a powerful and prestigious woman who was highly respected within her tribe.  A true military leader, she led wars against the neighbouring tribes in late 19th century and against the French armies during the protectorate.  The territory under her rule was named after her and thus the French names this panoramic balcony "the landscape of Itto" .......

Located at the heart of Ait-M'Guild, which is at the centre of Amazigh culture and traditions, this rolling landscape, abundant in cedar and oak trees, offers a majestic view that overlooks the valley of Tigrigra.  Reading this description makes your head nod unintentionally, your eyebrows rise, your eyes widen and a "wow" expression crosses your face.

The story of a woman called Itto who loved to sit on that very high mountain for the sake of contemplation has been circulating for a long time, however, the description debunks this myth and reinforces feelings of respect and appreciation not only towards Itto, but towards other Moroccan women who live in a country where women play leading roles and places are named after them.

Associating an image or a name with an idea or a definition is a beautiful marriage of elements that complete each other.  The Belvedere of Itto is a place where nature is wedded to the contemplator's memory, an open invitation by Mother Nature to embrace its golden fields in the summer, the greenery in the spring and the glittering snow-capped mountains in winter.  It is one of the most stunning views, easily accessible, in all of Morocco.



South Eastern Morocco is a treat to the desert lovers where the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky and the plain view spreading before their eyes offer them an escape towards the serenity of heavenly scenes.  Again, another stunning location/area/region we visit on some of our tours.  Goulmima .....

Goulmima derives its name from Aglmam [lake].  Goulmima is an oasis located at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in South Eastern Morocco where the common language is Tamazight [Berber].  It is also referred to as Ghris or Tizi n' Imnayn.  Its ever green palm trees spread 15 km along the banks of the seasonal Ghris River and its economic resources are mainly agricultural.

Goulmima is 60 km south of the province of Er Rachidia in the region of Meknes-Tafilalet.  Its width is estimated of 3 to 4 km with a population of approximate 18,000 inhabitants.  The common system of irrigation depends on the seasonal precipitations and the springs in the neighbouring oasis of Tifunasin.

The French protectorate entered Morocco in 1912, and it was not until September 18 of 1932 that Goulamima fell under the French control after a long and powerful resistance.  In 1945, Goulmima had its first school built inside Ksar n Igulmimen.  It was called Tibaqshin - Sparrows.  The school consisted of 10 classrooms and provided about 314 seats.  It contributed to education in the area since it first opened its doors in January 2 of 1948.  However, today, nothing is left from it but its ruins.  After the dilapidated condition of some parts of the Ksar, a majority of its population left to settle outside its walls where six primary schools were built, two secondary schools and one high school that all continue to contribute to education in the area.

If you head south from Er Rachidia towards Tinejdad and Tinghir, the gorgeous green carpet that stretches down the hill of Asdrem is inescapable.  The hill offers a panoramic view of Goulmima and weather permitting makes, Tinejdad visible from 18 km away.

On one end of the U-shaped Asdrem hill, a wall built by the Portuguese stubbornly fights time's erosion and stands as a witness of their passage by the city.  The wall is commonly called Berdqis - Portuguese.

Goulmima hosts its visitors and tourists with traditional accommodations, mainly represented in inns/lodges that often constitute the owner's sole source of income.

Outside the main door of Goulmima's historical site Ighrem n 'Iguelmimen - castle of lakes - lies a public square called Inourir.  It is a common space for threshing and drying crops.  Famous for its reputation as a "platform" for couples to flirt with each other, or Taqrfiyt, publicly, the square was also reserved by local authorities for celebrations.

Goulmima is home to a myriad of ethnicities and races.  Its populous white race is represented by the tribe of Ait Merghad hailing from Amedghous in 1884.  Also inhabitants of Goulmima are the Haratine ethnicity "which is mainly dark" as well as minorities like Shorafa, Ait Baali U7mad, and Ait Atta.

A festivity marking the diversity in Goulmima is the festival of masks of Uddayn n Ashur - Jews of Ashura - which is celebrated two months after the religious holiday Aid Al-Adha.  This Judeo-Berber tradition is held annually to commemorate a Jewish tradition that used to be celebrated by the Jews of Ighrem n 'Igulmimen's Mellah neighbourhood.  Berbers celebrate the festival by donning masks and parading in the streets of the city reciting chants that recount the daily activities of two Jewish protagonists Biha and Moshe.  The occasion is an outlet for locals to voice their opinions and demands in the agora of Inourir Square where original spontaneous plays are performed by ordinary people.

Among the many festivals and cultural events organized by civil society is an annual summer festival of mysticism and spirituality where a Sufi group called Ismkhan-Gnawa - of dark skinned Berbers perform dances and repeat religious chants in a very spectacular scene.

Despite its remote location from imperial cities, Goulmima has introduced prominent officials and well educated youth to society who occupy high ranking positions in Moroccan administrations.  Famous Moroccan Berbers of significant reputation amongst poets were Amr Umahfud, Lbaz, Sakku, Asis, Umar, Taous, Umar Darwish, Ali Cherwit, Hamid Amhal "Itij", Muha Bensaine, Hamid Talibi ... and many others who have preserved in the past and currently the cultural heritage of the region.

Youth in Goulmima have dreams which go beyond the majestic Asdrem hill that hides the horizon.  The region has been suffering from marginalization despite its history of resisting the French and the remarkable reputation of producing geniuses who defied their hard life conditions.  This situation has been a major incentive behind the determination of youth to overcome the scarcity of opportunities to celebrate the cultural heritage of the city and at the same time try to make their voices heard and hopefully bring attention to Goulmima.  Some youth, play musical instruments and form popular bands like Imenza and Tinba while others resorted to sports competing at national competitions.

Goulmima might be in the middle of the desert but its people remain connected to the rest of Morocco as an integral part of its diversity and culture.  The people of Goulmima love their country and work hard to contribute to its growth and prosperity.


Continuing along with the "travel and views" theme I thought I would post this piece I stumbled upon recently ..... Cannot credit it as I have no idea where it was from or by whom.  But for the real thing you could join one of our "Discovery" tours .....

"....... Pumping the brake pedal of our Peugeot 206, I wonder whether I've been reckless in electing to drive the Tizi n Test myself.  Several of the websites we'd pored over earlier - including one dedicated to dangerous roads that had graded the mountain pass as 'scary' - had suggest the Tizi n Test is best navigated as a passenger, with an experienced local driver at the helm. 

But adrenalin had prevailed over advice, a desire to be behind the wheel on the hairpin-strewn pass that slices through Morocco's High Atlas Mountains had seemed all-important.  Up until a moment ago, at least.

Now, the realisation that the brakes in our car feel spongy underfoot casts a question mark over my testosterone-fuelled decision - almost as large as the Atlas that loom ahead.  But there's no way we can turn back now, there are 90 miles between us and the hire car bureau back at Agadir Airport.  Instead, we opt to proceed with caution.  Safety before speed, we agree, before beginning our ascent.

It proves a sensible mantra.  Although the volume of traffic over the Tizi n Test has been curbed by an expressway that opened in 2010, linking Agadir, Marrakech and Casablanca, precariously laden lorries still hurtle along the pass at break neck speed, seemingly oblivious to the width of the road - barely enough for two vehicles - its potholes, or the fact its near-vertical drops are frequently devoid of barriers.

Negotiating one tapering stretch, we encounter a particularly kamikaze dairy truck driver intent on speeding up his journey to the plains and desert of the Souss-Massa-Draa region below.  The relief we feel having successfully swerved to avoid him as he veers onto our side of the road is compounded when we make a sharp right 100 yards on.  Better to have met him on the straight, we conclude, than here on this blind bend.

What the Tizi n Test delivers in fear it more than compensates for in beauty and charm.  The panorama - a patchwork of ochre, olive and plum dotted with juniper trees and, higher up, Atlas cedar and prickly pear - is sprinkled with mud-hut villages within which Berber women in jewel coloured clothes gather to talk - babies strapped to their backs in makeshift papooses - while their menfolk toil in fields or stroll alongside donkeys carrying half their weight in logs.

A commercially-minded few have built roadside shacks from which they sell fossils and slabs of rock, their grubby exteriors belying cores thick with amethyst or milky quartz.  And close to the pass's 6,864 feet high zenith, a van crudely painted a deep red terracotta and white juts over the precipice, its engine removed to prevent it toppling and its back doors flung open to reveal a cornucopia of earthen ware tajines and clay stoves for passing trade to barter over.

There are other spectacles, of course, the majesty of the Tinmel Mosque - one of only two open to non-Muslims here in Morocco, a glimpse of the snowy peaks of Toubkal and its sister mountains.

But it's the road itself that I'm contemplating now - specifically the return journey.  The ascent was tough, how will the descent be?  Settling behind the wheel, I'm about to find out....."

I should perhaps add here that there has been much improvement to the pass over recent years with wide pull-in's and broadened bends.  We actually drive Tizzi n Test on our "Discovery" tour but start early in the morning, to catch the sunrise and cloud formations..... departing from a private farm at the very bottom on the pass and take all day to reach Marrakech.  Taken with care it remains one of the most spectacular and exhilarating roads you are ever likely to drive.


I have heard it said often enough that the "Charmer's" snakes in Jama El Fna have had their venom removed or are drugged .... I wonder?  Snakes are bewitching creatures to watch, but they can also be the cause of unforeseen tragedies.  A snake charmer in Marrakech lost his life recently after he was bitten by one of his snakes.

The Moroccan snake charmer lost his life at Mamounia Hospital after he was bitten by a snake he was charming in the red city's famous Jama El Fna Square.

The snake charmer had reportedly attempted to save himself traditionally by just trying to suck the poison out of his vein using his mouth.  Clearly that method did not work.

As the snake charmer felt acute dizziness, he asked his friend to take him on his motorcycle to Mamounia Hospital, where he died shortly afterwards.

The sad incident has stirred a debate among Marrakech residents, as well as Moroccans from other cities who visit Jamaa El Fna especially to enjoy the memorizing performances of snake charmers.

To what extent are safety standards respected by all performers in Jamaa El Fna?  Control I would suggest would be almost impossible to enforce.  But be careful yourselves, these "Charmers" have a habit of draping snakes around the unsuspecting tourist as they pass by their pitches.


Moulay Ismail of Morocco, "The Bloodthirsty", reputedly sired hundreds of children and perhaps more than a 1,000.  Now computer simulations suggest this could have been possible if the ruler had sex about once a day for 32 years. 

Ismail, who reigned from 1672 to 1727, was the first great sultan of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty, the current royal house of the kingdom.  He was Sharifian - that is, he claimed descent from Muhammed, the founder of Islam.

Ismail's rule was the longest in Moroccan history, and toward its end he controlled the country with an army of more than 15,000 men.  Ismail was infamously ruthless ... his reign is said to have begun with the display of 400 heads at the city of Fez, most of them from enemy chiefs, and over the next 55 years it is estimated he killed more than 30,000 people, not including those in battle.

Any suspicion of adultery against Ismail was severely punished.  The women were either strangled by the sultan himself, or their breasts were cut off, or their teeth torn out.  Men who merely looked at one of his wives or concubines were punished by death.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ismail fathered 888 children, the greatest number of progeny for anyone throughout history that can be verified.  Based on reports by Dominique Busnot, a French diplomat who frequently travelled to Morocco, the sultan may actually have had 1,171 children from four wives and 500 concubines by 1704.  At that time, Ismail was 57 and had ruled for 32 years.

Some researchers claimed it was unlikely Ismail could have fathered that many offspring, noting that women are only fertile for a small window each month, that sperm usually do not fertilise eggs, and that infertility often afflicts women, especially in the developing world.  However, other scientists argued women are more fertile than those doubting Ismail had said.

To solve this question, scientists developed computer simulations to see how many times Ismail had to have sex each day to have 1,171 children in 32 years.  They found the sultan could have set this record.

"We were as conservative as possible with our calculations, and Moulay could still achieve this outcome", study lead author Elisabeth Oberzaucher, an anthropologist at the University of Vienna, told Live Science.

The simulations suggest Ismail needed to have sex on average of 0.83 to 1.43 times per day in order to father 1,171 children in 32 years.  Moreover, the sultan did not need a harem of four wives and 500 concubines to sire that many offspring .... the researchers suggest he needed a harem of only 65 to 110 women.


Super movie star Clint Eastwood is back with a fresh breath - the veteran filmmaker has an upcoming film project entitled American Sniper.  The shooting will take place in Morocco.

Morocco's beautiful landscape is still the favourite setting of world's most successful blockbusters, and Eastwood's upcoming film project is predicted to be a smash hit.

Starring in the film are Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, Sienna Miller as Taya Renae Kyle, Jake McDorman as Ryan Job, Cooper's friend, and Navid Negahban as Sheikh al-obeidi.

The film is based on a true story.  A Navy Seal, Chris Kyle is a soldier who beats all records in sniper kills by an American.

According to the web-site Cinemablend, Americal Sniper is based on Chris Kyle's autobiography, and killed at a Texas gun shooting.


According to a Fatwa [a legal pronouncement in Islam] recently issued by the Emirati Commission for Fatwa and Islamic Affairs, going to Mars with the intention to spend the rest of one's life there is forbidden in Islam.

The Emirati Commission for Fatwa and Islamic Affairs recently issued a Fatwa that has stirred a controversy in the Islamic World.  According to this Fatwa, going to Mars is analogous to suicide, which is an act strictly forbidden in Islam.  "Going to Mars without return seriously puts one's life at risk", news web-site quoted the Emirati Commission as saying.  "There, you are more vulnerable and are more likely to die at any given moment," the Commission added.

According to the Commission, those who have opted for such a "dangerous" experience are willing to die for a religiously "immoral" reason, and "will thus endure the same punishment in the afterlife as those who commit suicide".

However, this Fatwa was not the first of its kind in the Islamic World.  In November 2013, the Saudi Cheikh Ali El Hekmi told Al Hayat newspaper that "an expedition to the red planet transgresses the limits of human beings, whose life must not be wasted".  The expedition El Hekmi was referring to was Mars One, a revolutionary space project that aims to establish a human settlement in Mars by 2023.

Mars One had invited volunteers to take on the challenge of an interplanetary trip and set out to live on the red planet.  Many volunteers from all corners of the world have answered the call and the shortlist has already been made.

Karim El Tahiri, one of two Moroccans who applied to Mars One was selected among 202,586 candidates who had also applied via application videos on the project's official web-site.