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."