Monday, 28 December 2015


With the best of intentions and in good time I sat down and prepared the Pre-Desert Detours Christmas and New Year Blog entry……… Then it all “went to rats” as they say and it didn’t get posted. So with some minor editing we now have the shortened in-between event version.
WHERE DID IT GO? ...........................


I know, as time slips by we all say that at some time or other during the year. But honestly where has this year gone?

Against all the odds 2015 has turned out to be one of our busiest touring years ever….yes we had some “odds” to overcome….. Lol ….. as they say. New and additional staff, vehicle matters, additional legalities and regulations etc. etc……. not to mention the inevitable anti-Morocco references. But the fact is that we ran EVERY scheduled tour. Only one tour [due to late cancellations/breakdown] ran under numbers, which was not a problem, while all the others were fully booked.

Anyway the best advert for touring Morocco is……Morocco. So I am leaving you this month with just a selection of photographs taken by an American client, Ryel and Joll Kestano,  on our November tour…….



And client comments are by far our best recommendation so with permission I quote from an email from Steve and Lynda Hugill who also recently joined us on tour.
"We had a fantastic time on our tour of Morocco.  Our expectations were all well exceeded.  We think your pacing of the tour was perfect.  You gradually introduced us to the Moroccan culture and way of life.  We've never experienced anything like it on our previous travels!  We would like to say a big thank you to you, Debbie and Hammid for such a wonderful experience".
Next year [2016] has already well surpassed our best expectations; leaving us with just a few places available on the March/April and Sept/Oct tour dates…..and incredibly we already have confirmed more than a few firm bookings for 2017…………Retirement is on hold yet again!!!!

1st Mar ‘16

THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

1st April ‘16

THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast


3rd SEPT ‘16

Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast


1st Oct ‘16

Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast



Inevitably we get clients cancel or change tour dates but rather than continually post our full 2016/17 schedule contact us to check if there is availability…….remember, except for high summer we are in Morocco EVERY month. 

Should there be demand we may perhaps schedule additional tours during MAY and NOVEMBER. Let us know as soon as possible if you have these months in mind.

From our [Desert Detours] point of view and observations Christmas and the New Year can be very special and so much fun in Morocco. Our own tours over this period have always been some of our busiest, with bookings running years ahead. Christmas day on the sand dunes of the Sahara and then moving on to celebrate the arrival of a New Year in Marrakech is by any standard both astounding and amazing.

In the West the celebration of Christmas has become mired in confusion and commercialism and that modern and mercantile "spirit of Christmas" has it seems reached Morocco. While many are embracing some aspects, for other Moroccans the festival is an anathema  
"We don't need Christmas in Morocco," one Moroccan Riad said, owner said “In fact a lot of my guests say they are coming to Morocco to escape what they call the “Christmas madness". One of our clients said that there were Christmas commercials on TV way back in the beginning of November!"
Ask many tourists arriving in Morocco over the festive holiday period and they will tell you that they want to get away from the commercial hype and secular "celebrations" of Christmas. In England and in many European countries the Christmas season gets under way weeks before the actual date and its biggest impact is on the national economies and personal credit cards.

For devout Christians, Christmas can be observed in simple ways, but each year it becomes more and more secular and divorced from its roots. Sadly, it is this style of Christmas that has arrived in Morocco. And, it will be no surprise that Christmas is embraced far more strongly by the younger generations. At the same time many young Moroccans are forgetting elements of their own culture.

Tinsel, toys, candle-holders, candles, candies, garlands and wooden ornaments can be found in markets. The lights, sounds and sentiment that symbolised and celebrated home and family has moved outward into public streets and stores. There are now street decorations in some parts of Morocco.

Since the celebration focuses on the secular aspects of the “Prophet” Jesus, some conservative Muslims frown upon the act of celebrating Christmas, arguing that it is a sort of “bida”, a fad that has not been taught by Prophet Mohamed.

Most modern Moroccans do not have this attitude. Yet opinions vary widely. Some say that Christmas is an occasion for them to greet their Christian friends. Others see it as a way of showing tolerance, while others are less than impressed with the commercialisation and also reject it on cultural and religious grounds, saying that Christmas does not represent Moroccan Islamic culture and celebrating it is synonymous with blindly adopting others’ lifestyles and cultural aspects.

I should stress that this does NOT manifest itself into any sort of physical or verbal conflict.

…….. That’s it, just a short Christmas/New Year Blog issue [I may get around to an early New Year one!]. So once again from all at Desert Detours……have a great holiday wherever you may be? 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015



……..Well, ‘till next March anyway!

Recently back from a perfect November tour with both fantastic weather and clients I have decided that after a busy and hectic year I am going to take a much needed 3 month personal break. Of course all scheduled tours [Dec, Jan and Feb] will in the meantime continue without me.

Leaving behind extraordinary storms in mainland Spain and a cold front drifting down from the UK we were a little apprehensive as to what to expect in Morocco during November…..but as we crossed the Med the grey and cold gradually receded and we were greeted, as usual, by sun, sun and even more sun for the whole tour.

Horizon to horizon blue greeted at our desert camp

After 3 nights, during which some camped at a luxury “Deep Dune Camp” overnight, it was a shame to leave.

By the time you receive this blog issue I will hopefully have headed off to the UK for the annual pre-Christmas family gathering, so have little time to re-issue and update our 2016 schedule…….but taking just a quick look at the booking-list in the office it looks like there are just a few places left only on the March and April, September and October 2016 tours………. So if you are thinking of joining us next year don’t think too long! 

Jardin Majorelle is one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Marrakech and is rated as one of the world’s best tourist destinations.
Created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962), the Majorelle Garden is a twelve-acre botanical garden and an art’s landscape in Marrakech.
For tourists or inhabitants of the city looking to escape the crowded old medina and Jamaa El fna, the peaceful atmosphere of Jardin Majorelle offers a moment of rest and refreshment in the shadows of its exotic plants.

The garden, a little heaven, is an ideal place for those who love nature and colors. Painted with dark blue with bright yellow vases in every corner, the garden is a masterpiece combining Moorish and Berber-style.

Visitors enjoy walking through the clean pathways under the shade of the trees and plants that draw artistic shapes on the ground, or sit on a colorful bench listening to the tweeting of birds.

The ticket price of MAD 70 is perhaps a little expensive compared to other public sites in Marrakech, but the money goes to promote the Berber culture and organize events and exhibitions.



Perhaps I should rephrase that…….Not a lot of people have realised………

Given the combined billions concerned or entangled I am surprised that nobody has pointed this out before……. Someone probably has I expect!!

During my latest research project [Political Islam] I realised that this year [2015] “Eid Al Mouloud,” or simply “Al Mouloud,” the observance of the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, will occur twice. That’s because Muslims first celebrated it earlier when it fell first on January 4, and they will observe it again on December 24 or 25.

Even more remarkably “Al Mouloud” and Christmas Day will fall on the same day for the first time in 457 years. This rare coincidence, specially separate events for both Muslims and Christians, has taken place only three times in the history of humanity………not withstanding that Islam has only been around for something less than 1500 years….and did I say “Humanity” …. Now there’s a laugh!

Anyway to explain…….. “Al Mouloud” falls on the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, that’s the third month in the Islamic calendar. However, the date in the Gregorian calendar varies from year to year, since the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, while the Islamic calendar is a lunar one. In the Gregorian calendar, “Al Mouloud falls on a different day every year by approximately 11 days.
The date of “Al Mouloud” may also vary from country to country depending on the sighting of the lunar crescent, which marks the beginning of a new lunar month.
Given this rare coincidence of Al Mouloud with Christmas, some are divided on when to celebrate it. Will Muslims celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad at the same time as the birth of Jesus or will they skip a day to celebrate “Al Mouloud” on December 24 or 26?
Whatever, I expect they will find a consensus and slaughter one another on this special day as on all others……..

For months the debate about linguistic identity has raged in Morocco. The tussle is between French, and English, with clear lines between those who favor retaining what they describe as the "language of history and the protectorate" and English, the language of "science and civilisation"

The politicians have been vocal in the debate with Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, expressing his desire to give English prime importance in the educational system and to become the second language after the Arabic.  The Minister of Higher Education, Lahcen Daoudi, has repeatedly stressed of English in the scientific disciplines, saying "We are obliged to gain proficiency in English" .

According to a recent poll by the Hespress Newspaper, the overwhelming majority of voters want English over French in Morocco's educational system in Morocco.

The results of the poll of  41,526  people saw the support rate for English at 85.98 with only 14.02 per cent of respondents wanting to keep French
Dr Abdel Kader Fassi Fihri, International expert in the field of linguistics, said the result was "good news", because it reflects the awareness of Moroccan citizens in regard to the choice of foreign language, and the language of education in particular.

He added……"Being the universal language, English is the language of trading and if you want to reach out to the world or want to move between one region and another, even in the Arab countries or  China, you need English." He also pointed out that English is the global language of science and scientific journals internationally and are all indexed in English and noted that "English has become the first language in Europe.  For example, in Spain, Germany, Portugal, and France the first other language is English," adding that "You only find  French as the first foreign language in some African countries, which were a colony of France and Belgium."


This slim volume of stories contains local stories that Herron collected and some that she created herself. They are poignant tales of magic, love and loss. Their brevity makes them vignettes rather than short stories and yet they have a power that belies their short length. 

The stories are retold in modern times and so from time to time a character will produce a smart phone, or mention watching television. This intrusion of the contemporary into ancient tales is a device that works to enhance the notion that the reader is getting a remarkable insight into the longevity of traditional beliefs held by Moroccans living today in the Draa valley.

I studied classical Arabic and the Quran with the women of the village, travelled in the desert, learned how to take care of camels and sheep, how to wash and pray, and helped the other women in the family with the day-to-day running of the home. I fell in love with storytelling and stories, which are at the heart of everyday life in Morocco: sharing old stories handed down from generation to generation, embellishing jokes, spreading gossip or simply recounting a personal experience. I began to document the stories I was hearing and then found myself imagining and composing my own - Samantha  Herron

The author of 'Travels with a Tangerine: A Journey in the Footnotes of Ibn Battutah', Tim Mackintosh-Smith agrees: 'Samantha Herron found some of her Moroccan stories ready-made. Others she imagined or dreamed. In size they are miniatures; but they all express big things on a small scale. Reading them is like peering through a series of keyholes – and, each time, glimpsing something momentary but momentous, instants with life-long consequences. They will make you smile, and shiver. And they will tell you as much truth about their Moroccan setting as a shelf-full of ethnologist.'


DEC-JAN 15/16


[Standby Places Only]
1st FEB ‘16
THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

[Standby Places Only]
1st Mar ‘16
THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

1st April ‘16

10th April ‘16

THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast




1st MAY’16

7th May ‘16

20th May ‘16

THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

From the Moroccan Sahara to the Spanish Sierras

Remote, Hidden, Spectacular Morocco. THE TRANS ATLAS-IMISHIL EXPEDITION



    1st Sept ‘16

2nd Sept ‘16

[Small Group only

From the Algerian Border to the Atlantic Coast



3rd SEPT ‘16

Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast


1st Oct ‘16

Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast


1st NOV ‘16

3rd NOV ‘16
Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

THE MOROCCAN “CLASSIC” TOUR Trans Riff-Atlas-Forest-Sahara-Atlantic Coast

1st Dec ‘16

THE MOROCCAN “WINTER WONDER TOUR” A Stunning tour for those who wish to escape the cold and grey of Europe [Give Christmas/New Year/Plus Time in Morocco option]

[Standby Only]
17th Dec ‘16/17

XMAS-NEW YEAR “CELEBRATION” TOUR Imperial City – Xmas Dunes – New Year In Marrakech

[Standby Only]

Thursday, 5 November 2015



For most, when they brought their Motorhome/Caravan, somewhere in their minds eye was the lure and dream of driving freely on endless, empty and open roads towards a distant horizon and adventure. Sadly the reality is all too often different……..
This photograph was taken last month as our tour group crossed the Plateau du Rakkam, heading for Figuig. As you can see there are still places [quite a lot in Morocco actually] where the dream can become reality………..


Although we pass very close it’s not a route our standard Motorhome Tours follow, but as I say it’s very “close” and is a section our 4x4 and motorbike trips track.
Having said that our current tour has managed to visit and pass a few service and rest areas and watch a couple of stages.


In particular a welcome to the wonderful Auberge du Sud at Merzouga, Erg Chebbi ……. To many this will be a reminder of your earlier visit to this unique and exclusive camping location with Desert Detours.

Never resting Auberge du Sud continues with upgrades and enchantments, whilst never loosing sight of that very personal touch which makes this a truly exceptional location……..and one that continues to offer an exclusive camping area available only for Desert Detours clients. Take a look…….. 


Even more than is normal recent visitors to Morocco would quickly have become aware of the sound of drumming.  Everywhere small drums and tambourines are being carried and played by children. From the large supermarkets to small street stalls drums in every shape and size are for sale everywhere.

The most common instruments for sale are small colourful tambourines and shopkeepers explained that usually boys had a tambourine and girls a vase-shaped ta’arija. However, this is not strictly observed and we saw all kinds being played by boys and girls.

What was it all about?........ Ashura !

Trying to discover the reason for such gifts during Ashura is complex as everyone has a different explanation. One of the most common responses to the question "why do children get gifts of drums at Ashura?" is "So they will be happy". ……… and they are “happy” well into the early hours during the celebrations.

The symbols and rituals of Ashura have evolved over time and have meant different things to different people. However, at the core of the symbolism of Ashura is the moral dichotomy between worldly injustice and corruption on the one hand and God-centred justice, piety, sacrifice and perseverance on the other. According to many local storytellers in Fes, Ashura is a time of sadness and many people both Sunni and Shia mourn the martyrdom of Imam Husayn and the significance of the events at the Battle of Karbala.

Sunni followers also fast to commemorate the day when Moses and his followers were saved from Pharaoh by Allah creating a path in the Red Sea. According to Muslim tradition, the Jews used to fast on the tenth day. So Muhammad instructed his followers to be different from the Jews and recommended fasting two days instead of one.
"The children are given presents at this time to cheer them up, so they are not touched by the sadness of the history of Ashura," says Hicham, a Fes drum seller.

In some villages there is still the tradition of Baba Ashura, ("Baba Achour") a father Christmas type, who, dressed in a costume of goat skins, gives out the gifts to children. In the Moroccan city of Goulmima there is a large street festival where people celebrate Ashura by wearing costumes, different skins of sheep and goats, and scary looking animal masks. In the Berber tradition, the costumed people are referred to as “Udayen n Ashur,” the Jews of Ashura. With only tambourines and handclaps, “Udayen n Ashur” creates lively music, performances of acrobatic dancers. Everyone sings and dances with amusing variations on the songs, until very late into the night.

In the cities, Moroccans call the tenth day of Muharram, Zamzam day. On this day, they spray water on each other. Whoever wakes up first sprays the rest with cold water, and gets lots of children and young people out into the streets to spray every passer-by with water. Over the course of the first hours of the morning there are fierce "water battles," especially among friends and neighbours. Whoever refuses to celebrate with "Zamzam water," by sprinkling a little of it on his clothes may be exposed to a number of volunteers taking turns dumping all of their water on his clothes. Then the day is capped off with a meal of "Moroccan couscous" with dried meat saved especially for this day from the sacrifice of Eid al-Adha.

The Amazigh [Berbers] have a different name for each of the three days of Zamzam: The first day is “Bou Isnayen” the second, “Bou Imerwasen” and the third is, “Bou Imrazen.” These are translated as “the day of throwing water,” “the day of repayment,” and finally “the day of fight.” On any one of these days, if water is thrown at a person, they have the right to throw stones back.

One type of Ashura gift is traditional yet frowned on by some. The giving of toy guns and water pistols seems an odd way of banishing children's "sadness due to Ashura", but at least it is better than the practice a few years ago when guns that could actually fire a powder charge were very common. A young Medina business man said he recalled having a functioning gun as a child "But there were many bad ones that caused injuries, lost eyes or burnt skin. Thankfully they were banned some time ago".

On the lighter side, a client, walking down a dark Medina alley and hearing the sound of drums, first in the distance, but getting closer, said "It brought to mind the drums of Khazad-dûm deep in Moria and at any moment I expected to see a horde of Orcs appear. Instead it was six small boys with huge drums..."


October 16th, was the 40th anniversary of the day that the country's King called for an event which became Morocco's famous Green March.
The announcement back in 1975 by the late Hassan II of the Green March resulted in an event which became an important part of Morocco's contemporary history by enabling Morocco to recover its southern provinces. It came after the confirmation by the Court of Justice in The Hague of the existence of Morocco's legal ties to the Sahara.

In its opinion, dated 16 October, the Court of Justice ruled that the Sahara has never been "terra nullius," and that there were legal ties between the territory and the Kingdom of Morocco. On the same day Hassan II decided to call for the organisation of a peaceful Green March in early November.

Citizens responded on November 6th with the participation of 350,000 Moroccans 10% of whom were women. Forty years after the Green March, Morocco will again celebrate the return of the Southern provinces.
Anyway……let’s not get into the politics, rights or wrong and the “Women” aspect ……. Just an interesting old video…….Take a look.


This months the feature “Photo Of  The Month” is by Cat Wilson, an Australian now living in Morocco………..


Moroccan forests and mountains once harboured many animals that are now extinct, some due to natural causes, but many caused by humans.  According to the High Commission for Water and Forests, many remaining species are considered endangered and in the years to come, could face the same unfortunate fate as their extinct predecessors.  Other threatened species are already considered extinct in the wild, but can be found in zoos and animal reserves.

Here are 5 animals that are extinct now but in the past found a safe haven in Morocco:

Also known as the Barbary Lion, is a species of large mammalian carnivores that once inhabited North Africa and mainly in the Atlas Mountains. It is believed that the last Atlas Lion living in the wild was shot by a colonial hunter in 1922, near the mountain pass of Tizi n’ Tichka, Morocco.
The male Atlas Lion distinguishes itself from sub-Saharan Africa lions by its long dark mane and its muscular build thought to be the result of the life of hunting and climbing in the Atlas Mountains. It is now considered extinct in the wild, but efforts have been made for the reintroduction of the species to its natural habitat in the Atlas Mountains. The Rabat Zoo has 35, approximately half the remaining population of Atlas Lions in the world.


The Atlas Bear is believed to be Africa’s only native bear that once inhabited the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and neighbouring countries. The last sightings of the Atlas Bear date back to the late 1800s.

Following its expansion in North Africa, the Roman Empire hunted thousands of these bears for sport and entertainment.  The animal which is a sub-species of the brown bear is now assumed to be extinct.


The North African Elephant (Loxodonta Africana pharaoensis), is an elephant species that once existed in North Africa during ancient Roman times and were used mostly in wars.

Reports suggest that the North African Elephants or Atlas Elephants must have become extinct just some decades after the Roman conquest of North Africa.  Extinction of the Atlas Elephant is said to be due to overhunting by the Romans for use in the Venatio games: a form of sport that involved hunting and slaying of wild animals.


The Scimitar Oryx, a.k.a the Sahara Oryx, is a spiral horned antelope that stands over 1 m at the shoulders. The male weight ranges between 140 and 210 kg and the females 91 and 140 kg.  It is said to have reduced its numbers as a result of climate change and excessive hunting for its horns. It once occupied all of North Africa and lived essentially in deserts.
The remaining animals are being bred in captivity in special reserves in Morocco and other countries after it was declared extinct in the wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


The Bubal Hartebeest, a.k.a. the Bubal Antelope, lived in Morocco and across North Africa.  Large numbers were still sighted alive in the north of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in 1738, it was hunted to distinction.  Reports suggest that the last Bubal Hartebeest in Morocco was shot in Missouri in 1925, and according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature the last one in the world was killed in Algeria between 1945 and 1954.


The last Civilized Place, Sijilmasa and its Saharan Destiny is a new book by Ronald Messier and James Miller.

Many people know the word Sijilmasa and regard its existence as merely legendary.  What was the reality of Sijilmasa, perhaps the most important forgotten place in Moroccan history?

Set along the Sahara's edge, Sijilmasa was an African El Dorado, a legendary city of gold.
But unlike El Dorado, Sijilmasa was a real city, the pivot in the gold trade between ancient Ghana and the Mediterranean world. Following its emergence as an independent city-state controlling a monopoly on gold during its first 250 years, Sijilmasa was incorporated into empires — Almoravid, Almohad, and onward—leading to the "last civilized place" becoming the cradle of today's Moroccan dynasty, the Alaouites. Sijilmasa's millennium of greatness ebbed with periods of war, renewal, and abandonment. Today, its ruins lie adjacent to and under the modern town of Rissani, by passed by time.

That’s right Rissani……..All those clients who have journeyed with us on our “Classic” tour will remember Rissani, the last point of civilization where we pause briefly at the market before entering the Sahara for our Erg Chebbi campsite.

This account of the Moroccan-American Project at Sijilmasa (1988 to 1998) draws on archaeology, historical texts, field reconnaissance, oral tradition, and legend to weave the story of how this fabled city mastered its fate. The authors' deep local knowledge and interpretation of the written and ecological record allow them to describe how people and place moulded four distinct periods in the city's history.

Messier and Miller compare models of Islamic cities to what they found on the ground to understand how Sijilmasa functioned as a city. Continuities and discontinuities between Sijilmasa and the contemporary landscape sharpen questions regarding the nature of human life on the rim of the desert. What, they ask, allows places like Sijilmasa to rise to greatness? What causes them to fall away and disappear into the desert sands?


For many years’ tourist operators [ourselves included] and travel websites have warned visitors about the tap water quality in Morocco. While that advice was well meaning, it has now been proved wrong. Not only did it cause apprehension about health concerns, it fuelled massive consumption of bottled water and huge amounts of plastic waste.

A little research via the internet will turn up some interesting facts ..... One that may surprise you is that tap water in Fes for example is better than that of many western cities. 
Independent laboratory analysis of tap water in Fes has proved what the water authorities have been saying for years - tap water in Fes is clean, pure and uncontaminated.  Having said all that the bottled water industry is booming, recording a strong total volume growth of around 16% on 2014.  Despite the evidence growth is driven where it is thought that in some Moroccan cities the domestic water was sometimes unclean and salty, which encouraged a large number of families to shift to bottled water.
So what’s the advice for tourists and if the tap water is said to be safe?

We still take no chances and use bottled, which is in any case so cheap. 

The popular bottled mineral waters are Sidi Ali, Sidi Harazem (Saint Ali, Saint Harazem) etc., the joke phrase for tap water is Sidi Robinet (Saint Tap).

The emphasis is that it's vital to do what your mother taught you as a child and wash your hands before eating. Most upset stomachs are caused by handling dirty bank notes and other items, then eating bread with your hands and transferring the bacteria to your stomach.

Moroccans are fastidious about washing their hands before eating and every café, no matter how humble, will have a sink with running water for washing your hands. Mime 'hand washing' and you'll be pointed to it. You'll also gain street credibility amongst Moroccans who are generally amazed at the poor personal hygiene of Europeans."