Monday, 27 October 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

SKINS .....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 October 2014

SO WHAT'S NEW ........

It has to be just a short and rushed blog entry this month as having arrived back from a great Amazigh Tour just a few days ago and then off again for the Camping and Caravanning Club tour in a few days I find myself extremely pushed for time ...... Not for the first time! 

So a quick Desert Detours update and a few news/feature items and then I will have to leave it to Debbie to proof, set and post whenever!!!

I really like driving our Renault Traffic vans on tour so despite a scheduled full service, brake overhaul, new shocks, tidy-up of a minor scrape [bloody shopping trolley jumped out in front of me] and a real good clean this particular one will be on a rapid turn-around ready for me to get back in its nicely moulded seats for the forthcoming Camping and Caravanning tour.  I say seats as at [ever increasing] times I have relented to let Hammid drive ..... According to him he is quite good ..... Mmmmmmm



Your last chance for a 2014 tour is November Classic Tour.  With the December tour now fully booked November is the only date left that has a place available this year.  Actually the larger group November Classic tour is full so the one vehicle place available is on the smaller group [5 vehicles only] premium tour, led by myself and Hammed.  If you are quick it meets in Algeciras on 3rd November.

2015 FILLING UP .....

2015? .... Without my distraction and disruption the office buzzed during my recent absence taking bookings that have resulted in over half of our 2015 tour dates being FILLED.  I don't have the time just now to issue a current availability listing, so if you are interested in a 2015 Moroccan Tour just contact us in the usual way [phone or email] and the office will give you the very latest information and availability.

Despite its popularity we are under extreme scheduling pressure so there will be only ONE AMAZIGH tour in 2015.  This tour will again follow our small group format and depart during September .... Consider, perfectly time to combine both an Andalusia and Morocco tour, as a few clients have done before .... very cost effective!

Talking of costs ... I am told that exchange rates are very attractive at the moment and if you book any 2015 tour date before January you will get it at the 2014 costs .... Can't be bad!

Jimmy, my new companion passed his first tour with flying colours and clearly enjoyed himself immensely.  However [Hammed will be pleased!] I will be leaving him at home for the next tour .... Solo travellers with pets need to be very aware.  For the time tine, but who knows for how long, the new and stringent document checks for pets at both the Moroccan and Spanish border crossing points noted an omission in Jimmy's pet documentation.  As we are well known we were allowed to proceed after a phone call! 

Although minor and easily corrected I really do not have time to sort it out before the next tour and will not push my luck taking a known risk .... So, after his first tour Jimmy will have a break before re-joining the November tour.


No, not what you were thinking.  Eid al-kabir [also called Eid al-Adha] is one of the two important Islamic festivals, Eid al=kabir begins on the 10th day of Dhu'l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar ..... that would be 5th October.  Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca.  Muslims all over the world celebrate Eid al-kabir, not simply those undertaking the hajj.

Eid in Fez is a festival that brings families together and is centred around the sacrifice of a sheep and the sharing of food.  It is a time of joy, celebration and sharing.  At its heart Eid is a reminder of Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in obedience to a command from God.  The occasion serves as a reminder to all Muslims that they should submit to God and be prepared to sacrifice anything that God wishes.

It has little to do with shopping and fireworks, but sadly there are some countries where the character of Eid is changing.  In some countries, commercial interests have taken Eid as a time to maximise profits and boost local businesses.  For years Christians around the world have lamented the commercialisation of festivals such as Christmas and Easter.  Now the signs are that Eid may be heading down that path.

For example .... In Dubai, the DFRE [Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment], an agency of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, have announced the dates for what they are calling "The Eid in Dubai Festival".  The festival will run for seventeen days and appears to have little to do with the traditional religious festival as we know it.  The Eid in Dubai Festival makes no mention of sheep.  It does however promise Eid fireworks!

In Fez and other parts of Morocco the first indications that Eid is coming are the appearance of street sellers offering sheep food and hay and the opening of the large souks selling sheep and goats.  Going to the souk and haggling over a sheep is an important moment followed by the struggle to get your sheep home, up the stairs and into your house.

Meanwhile, the sheep are getting nervous.


Moroccan Cuisine from Mother to Daughter by Touria Agourram is expected in book stores on October 2nd.  The book is published by Albin Michel.  I am not sure if it is yet available via Amazon or on Kindle.  Indeed, I think it will only be available in French to start with, but it is basically a recipe book so self translation should not be too difficult.

Anyway, I have seen a review copy and can confirm that it is an excellent endeavour in which Touria Agourram sets out 210 recipes and variations that have been transmitted from generation to generation of Moroccan daughters and mothers.  In the book, prefaced by Fatima Mernissi, the author pays tribute to her mother and grandmother and points our that Moroccan women are custodians of creative genius of this artistic and culinary skill.

Expressive, friendly and generous, the cook book reveals the profusion of flavours and colours in Moroccan cuisine.  Each region has its own character and its specialties, the Southern and Berber recipes feature mashed dried beans, semolina soup with caraway, the bittersweet nuances of the medinas of Marrakech include green salad with pears and walnuts, Harira, and pigeon, Fez highlights grated carrot salad with orange, Lamb Tagine with quince while the freshness of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts is brought to life via fish stuffed with dates and almonds and of course pastille ..... not to mention the figs with honey, the horns of a gazelle, the Café Spice, Baklaoua ........ AND MORE ....

Throughout Morocco's regions and in the home cooking is an art form, long in oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.  This book revives this culinary heritage and reminds us that the kitchen is also about love.


A couple of stunning photographs taken in the area of Azrou and Ifrane by Jake Warga, a location we feature on our "Classic" Tours!


A town we visit, and my favourite in Morocco, is in heated dispute with an airline .....

Essaouira is at the centre of a dispute between Royal Air Maroc [RAM] and the Moroccan Office of Tourism.  The decision by RAM to end the three flights a week between Paris and Essaouira has caused up roar and the city is not taking it lightly.  The Paris - Essaouira link has been running for 10 years. 

Ironically, it comes at a time when tourism is booming in Essaouira, not that it was ever short of a visitor or two.  The city has long been one of Morocco's iconic cities and a destination popular with fans of Gnawa music who gather in their thousands for the annual Gnawa Festival.

An official of RAM is quoted ..... 'We kept this route until now so as not to cause disruption.  In addition, for tourism considerations, we did not want to reduce arrivals'. 

Frankly, as sad as it may be to see the airline withdraw I think it will in fact have minimal impact.  There are alternative airlines serving Essaouira and the road link between Marrakech and the city is excellent ..... Toll free but motorway standard all the way!


Between the 23rd and 31st of August some 187,500 passengers and 47,200 vehicles embarked at Tangier-Med heading to Algeciras.

According to figures released by the Tangier-Med Port Authority the peak was recorded on August 20 with the arrival of 32,000 passengers and 153 coaches in a single day.

As we reported, waiting times were up to 12 hours. However, the Authority did act to alleviate the situation and managed to achieve 38 sailings thanks to the arrival of two ships as reinforcements. The fleet plan had not initially included the extra ships which allowed for four additional rotations on the day of the peak.

Total traffic recorded from 05 June to 31 August saw an increase of 17% for passengers and 11% for vehicles as compared to the same period of 2013. Bus traffic has shown a marked increase, growing by 66% over the same period in 2013.

I have to be honest and say that when crossing via this route early September, for our Amazigh Tour, we were the ONLY motorhomes on a nearly empty ferry….that’s very unusual as September has traditionally been a busy month for Mototorhome/Campingcar traffic. In fact we saw only TWO other [French] motorhomes during our time in Eastern Morocco…….but that's another story!


Following from last month’s blog piece……. It seemed that everywhere we went we bumped into film crews, actors or even the man himself.
Not a great fan of the Mission Impossible films I will nevertheless watch the forthcoming production as I will be interested in how the well-known locations show on screen and did I manage to get in shot! 

And where is this couple spending their honeymoon? Marrakech of course.