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!