Cristian

Cristian

With a passion for travel and particularly Morocco, I co own and manage Sun Trails.

Website URL: http://www.sun-trails.com

The rise of a pasha

The rise of a pasha - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

Many of our private tours of Morocco include a detour by the Pasha Glaoui’s ruined palace in Telouet, up in the High Atlas mountains and the nearby salt mines. But not many know that from this desolate group of ruins in the High Atlas, so far from the seat of government at Fez or Rabat, arose by a strange chain of coincidence a generation of kingmakers...

The castle stands at an altitude of more than 8000 feet and its scattered rookery of crumbling predecessors occupy the corner of a desert plateau, circled by giant peaks, all of them rising to more than 10000 feet. The kasbah is a tower of tragedy that leaves no room for laughter. Not too far away are the days when a giant Black slave used to open the lock with a foot- long key, one among the 67 he was carrying, and set his shoulder to the iron- bossed twenty- feet high doors. The reception rooms had taken 3 years and three hundred men to work on, plaster workers, carvers and one painter. The owner of the castle had intended that is should become the most fabulous palace in Morocco. But deep invading cracks cut crudely through the intricate elaboration of years of work, for the kasbah is empty now and slowly returning to the soil it was molded from. If these crumbling walls could talk...

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The year is 1893 and the Sultan Moulay Hassan has decided to visit the desert regions of Morocco including far – off Tafilalet, the great oasis form which his dynasty has originally sprung.
Leaving Fez in the summer, the Sultan proceeded south, crossing the Atlas and descended to the upper waters of Ouez Ziz. Food was lacking , the desert regions could provide little. The water was bad, the heat unbearable. Every kind of delay, including rebellion and the consequent punishment of the tribes, hampered the Sultan’s movements and it was only towards winter that he arrived in Tafilalet with a fever- stricken army and greatly diminished transport.

He did not try to return to Fez, but instead made for the southern capital of Marrakech, separated from Tafilalet by the mighty High Atlas mountains. By the time his army had reached the foothills of the Atlas, the winter snow had begun; as they climbed higher into the main massif more and more of the camels, mules and horses, weak with starvation , stumbled into deep snowdrifts and died.

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Men too weak to carry their weapons any further dropped them and struggled on unarmed. The main arsenal, however, which included a Krupp assault cannon and a quantity of its weighty ammunition, was never abandoned. The Sultan was still many days march from Marrakech, and he was far from certain of his reception by the mountain tribes through whose territory he was passing.

Reading from left to right as the Sultan’s army now looked up at the mountains, these tribes were the M’tougga, the Goundafa and the Glaoua, the latter dominating the pass then called Tizi n’ Telouet. The chief of each of these tribes was officially a Caid, or representative of the Sultan, responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing recognition of the central government. These were the principal three caids of the High Atlas and they were constantly at war with one another and constantly changing alliance. They exacted heavy tribute from the caravans of dates, olives , argan oil and walnuts, whose trade routes led from south through the passes they commanded.

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Caid Madani El Glaoui, controlling Tizi N Telouet was of different caliber from either of the other rival war lords. He was a young man of great intelligence and limitless ambition, an outstandingly brave warrior who possessed at the same time something more than a flair for intrigue. The Glaoua were almost unique among the Atlas Caids in that they did not owe their comparative affluence entirely to piracy and violence for they owned an extremely profitable salt mine. The old pass snaked upwards through the desolate, lunar valley of the Oued Mellah – the river of salt. To these salt mines of Telouet came camel caravans from the Sahara, from the Sudan, from Mauritania, from inner Morocco and from the great oases of the desert. The family was by now on its way to comparative wealth but not to power, for it could command, at the most, between two and three thousand mounted warriors.

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In that autumn of 1893 when what little remained of the Sultan’s army was struggling upward through the snows under a canopy of ravens and vultures and with a rearguard of jackals and hyenas, the Caid Madani El Glaoui was twenty seven years old , and his brother Thami , was fifteen. The Glaoua pass at Telouet lay on the Sultan’s direct route to Marrakech. Madani and Thami heard of the approach of the defeated Sultan’s army while it was still many miles away. The sum of their knowledge added up to the desire of giving the Sultan the greatest welcome he had ever received from a mountain Caid. Having taken this decision, Madani put the greatest pressure upon all the tribespeople owing allegiance to him , and in 48 hours they had collected a vast number of mules and horses, an uncountable number of sheep and goats for slaughter, and special dues poured in from every corner of their kingdom in cash and kind until, when the Sultan’s harka was still twenty miles away, Madani El Glaoui was prepared to entertain the Sultan and his army for as long as they cared to stay.

With his younger brother, he rode out to meet the harka, accompanied by a bodyguard of five hundred mounted warriors and behind him trailed the infinite army of mules and horses that he had requisitioned. Madani observed every detail of protocol, prostrating himself before the sultan in the snow and touching his forehead to the ground. The Sultan had no choice but to accept his offer. After all, he knew that without prolonged rest and food he and his army would never reach Marrakech. He therefore graciously accepted and within five hours he and his army were installed at Telouet. The diffa , an endless banquet at which course succeeds course, spiced chickens and pigeons, couscous, and whole roast sheep and kebab and almond pastries and sweet mint tea – long after the guest can eat no more, lasted all through the night.

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By some unguessable means, Madani found the resources to prolong this situation for several days, while the sultan recovered his strength and his army munched its way through a few more thousand sheep. The day before their departure, the Sultan made Madani his personal khalifa , or representative in the region, giving him nominal command of all the tribes between the High Atlas and the Sahara. Of infinitely greater significance, he made him a present of a considerable amount of modern arms and ammunition. This included the 77 mm bronze Krupp cannon, the only single heavy weapon in all Morocco outside the Imperial Cherifian Army. From then on the surrounding tribes regarded Telouet as a veritable arsenal of modern warfare.

To be continued...

© Sun Trails 2016. All rights reserved. This article is based on excerpts from the book 'Lords of the Atlas' by Gavin Maxwell. 

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Lost Kingdoms (8- 10 days)

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This 9 day off- the- beaten- track Morocco tour leaves Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains, reaches the Sahara to then take you deep south into a mystical land where not many have ventured before. 

We follow the old caravan route from Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains, past UNESCO world site Ait Benhaddou, along the Draa river with its Biblical villages and lush palm grove and into the Sahara desert.  After riding a camel and having dinner under the stars, spend the night in Erg Chigaga dunes, in the safety of your private tent. Then, ride through the desert, have tea with the nomads and pick up milennia- old fossils. Later on, continue south, and uncover some of Morocco's besh hidden secrets, with the distinct feeling that you are the first person to ever walk there. We are now quite far from any beaten tracks.Trekking up a river bed to find yourself in the middle of primordial gorges, their wax- like lava walls appearing to have caught time suspended. Century- old granaries, fierce mountain- top fortresses, where the village folks still stock their grains. The ruins of a 17th century mosque, hidden in the middle of a palm grove. The millennia old rock engravings, portraying wild animals, hunters and some of the first letters of the Berber alphabet. Then, we head north into the Anti Atlas and spend a night in the highly picturesque village of Tafraoute, a heaven for trekking, hiking and mountain biking. End the tour with some pristine Atlantic beaches, absconded behind towering sand dunes, before reaching the 'small Marrakech' - Taroudant. 

Click here to see detailed map

Day 1: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka – Telouet – Ait Benhaddou ( 3 hour drive).

Leaving Marrakech behind, we soon take on the High Atlas. Breath taking panoramas and hair pin curves succeed while the route follows one minute out in the open, the next under dense pine trees. Shortly after reaching 2200 meters altitude, you leave the main route to reach the village of Telouet and the Kasbah of the Glaoui. From the ensemble of three ruined kasbahs only one has maintained its reception rooms where intricate zellij patterns and precious wood greet the eye. Pacha Glaoui had employed the most skilled artisans to build and decorate his main residence and, in its golden age, armies, stables and Christian slaves were confined within its walls while a flourishing Jewish community managed the nearby salt mines.

Then, our road follows Ounila valley with its mosaic of gardens and tiny douars. Occasionally the valley turns into a canyon, where the nomads have dug centuries ago galleries of grottos to stock grains. Late afternoon is the time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. With a bit of luck, the crowds have already deserted the place. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud and straws mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourself in its derbs and explore the honey – comb structures. Spend the night in a refurbished Kasbah, in the vicinity of Ait Benhaddou. 

Day 2: Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate- Agdz – Zagora ( 3 hour drive)

Today our trip of Morocco will follow the mythical Draa Valley, a route so often used for centuries by the caravans bringing gold, slaves, ivory or feathers from Mali or Ghana. But first, locally sourced breakfast – better had on the roof terrace from you can admire the palm grove below. Entering Ouarzazate, you are welcome to visit the world famous film studios, where lately scenes of Game of Thrones were shot. Leaving the plain behind, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up through bare calcified gorges. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, a green river of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, le grand sud.

Right after Agdz, we turn left and will stop to wander around the eerie kasbah of Tamnougalt. Biblical adobe villages border the palm grove. It is worth visiting at least one of them – perhaps the one where most of the population is still black, descendants of former slaves- the Harratin. A picnic lunch by the river, under the palms, is quite a treat. Or perhaps discover the rock engravings at the end of a dusty off road track. We reach the tranquil town of Zagora late afternoon. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested inside the palm grove. 

Day 3: Zagora – Tamegroute – Mhamid – Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour drive)

After breakfast, our 4x4 Morocco tour will take you through adobe villages bordering the route and the first patches of sand start to show. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and the adobe synagogue still stands. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where century old Qorans and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly arranged behind glass windows in the zaouia’s library.  The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco Watch how the clay is being turned into emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens and glazed into its particular emerald green cover. Before long, our tour reaches M’hammid, where civillization ( or at least the tarmac ) ends. 

The next two hours of our tour make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to gravel and then sand dunes, past the occasional water well and oasis. The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you- these are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Just as you enter the dunes, you are meeting the camels. Ride a camel into the dunes as the sun is slowly dipping into the horizon. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. There is nowhere else you would rather be. Have dinner in front of your tent, by the camp fire, under starriest sky. At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf as you fall asleep. 

Day 4: Erg Chigaga – Lake Iriki – Foum Zguid – Tata ( 4 hour drive)

Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches the perfectly flat Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Later on, we will have tea with a family of nomads and search for fossils. Then, we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac... Though the dunes are behind, the immensity is still present. The tarmac swirls past barren plateau and sun- burnt ridges while you barely cross another soul. Continue south and stop by the nearby waterfalls. A couple of hours later, reach your accommodation for the night, a five- century old noble house erected on a top of a village overlooking the palm grove. The many hidden corners, passages and patios will delight adults and children alike. Food is rustic, locally- sourced and really tasty.

Day 5: Tata – Akka – Icht ( 2 hour drive)

In the morning have breakfast on the roof terrace – one can hardly imagine a breakfast with a better view. Spend the morning learning how a water clock works in the nearby palm grove, preparing traditional bread in the village stove, visit the grottoes or trek by the cliffs. Picnic in the nearby palm grove to then reach a very old Berber village where you will be able to push the gate of a 18th century old granary, recently restored. Inside the palm grove an unfinished mosque from centuries ago stands as a silent guard.  Your accommodation for tonight resembles an African lodge more than a Moroccan kasbah. The owners, former rally pilots, are the most welcoming hosts and have plenty of stories to share over the hearty dinner. 

Day 6: Icht

Today, we will discover the local area and its not- so- obvious attractions. The remoteness of the spaces is why most people would come and stay here. But don’t let yourself be fooled by the appearances. In the surroundings, at the right place and time of day you can glimpse foxes, eagles, wild boar, hares, mountain gazelles, bustards or partridges. After breakfast, leave the guest house and take the route to the old village at the foot of the local djebel. Visit the old streets of the village, the museum created by Abdesalam, and the women’s cooperative who make colorful rugs and other home objects ( who also adorn the rooms of the guest house). Then trek to Ait Ouabelli and head south after crossing two beautiful dry wadi ( rivers). Discover the pre-Berber tombs (burial sites of over 3000 years) and a stunning rock engravings site. Picnic within a beautiful wild oasis under the shade of the palm trees. Time to climb some dunes (on foot or 4x4 ...) Heading north now, over an ancient dry lake, we will cross nomad herders with their camels and goats. And at the day’s end, you get to return to surroundings that, given the middle- of- nowhere coordinates, are impressively indulgent.

Day 7: Icht – Tafraoute or Icht – Guelmin – Sidi Ifni -  Mirleft ( 3 hour drive)

Today we will leave the deserted plains behind and, depending on your preference, will reach the Atlantic coast or a most picturesque village high in the Anti Atlas. In the winter months, we recommend the latter. Then and there a subtle but undeniable transition happens: where desert vistas and acacia trees give way to abrupt cliffs, barren mountains and almond trees. Only one hour drive away, you’ll wander through the 70 odd rooms of the local granary overlooking the village from 600 meters high and see where locals used to stock grains, raise bees and collect rain water. It was also used as a back drop in times of attack from a different tribe or the nomads from the Sahara. After a Berber omlette and a coffee in a local gite, trek up the river bed to find yourself in the middle of primordial gorges, their wax- like lava walls appearing to have caught time suspended. Natural pools of deep- green transparent water appear here and there, where fish swim. The climb is sometimes steep but you’d do it again in a heartbeat. At the end of it, the 300 meter high gorge opens up and you can make your way back through the deserted plateaus above. Back inside the vehicle, a most stunning off road crosses the Anti- Atlas , via one of the former piste des legionnaires

If choosing the other variant, after the visit to the granary and the gorges you will follow west, reaching the Atlantic coast at Sidi Ifni. As the road unfolds in turns and twists from Goulmine, reputed otherwise for its weekly camel souk, moisture from the Atlantic layers the landscape in a prismatic haze and argan trees and white- washed houses come about. Follow the sea side route and stop at the natural beach arches before reaching Mirleft. Here the most amazing view over the Atlantic awaits you on the terrace of your accommodation for the night.  

Day 8: Tafraoute / Mirleft – Taroudant ( 3 hour drive)

If you have decided for Tafraoute and if any energy left from the previous day, hop on a bike and explore the local gorges and awe at the games of light and shade the palm grove and the bare mountains offer. For those interested, a few tracks are available for trekking or rock climbing. As you thread your way through the gorges and deep red villages, there will be a flash of quicksilver to your left: an oasis of deep- green water, ringed by a white granite bed of rocks, glinting in the sun. The local painted rocks and Napoleon’s hat are also worth a detour. Or the Lion’s head… After lunch, take the route over the Anti Atlas and stop on the way to admire the 360 rooms of a local agadir, set on 5 stories where rock slabs are used as staircases. The route then goes up to arrive in the tranquil town of Ighrem to then descend on Taroudant and its fertile plains, the snowy peaks of the High Atlas in the background. If you've decided for Mirleft the previous evening, relax by the beach to then follow the Atlantic coast and stop in Sous Massa natural park a bird watcher paradise. Nearby, in Tifnit, fisermen caves dug into stone line the dramatic beaches. Arrive in Taroudant in the evening. 

Day 9: Taroudant – Tizi N Test – Tinmel – Asni – Marrakech ( 5 hour drive).

Also called sometimes ‘Petit Marrakech’ Taroudant is in fact older than its northern sister. Its walls were built by the Saadi sultans back in 16th century when the city was their capital and the main base to attack Portuguese invaders on the nearby Atlantic coast. In this quiet town where most folks go around on their bycicle, hop on a caleche and have a tour around the city walls or wander the souks best known for silver, honey and argan oil and imagine how Marrakech used to be 30 years ago.

Back on the road we are now taking up the imposing High Atlas this time reaching the Tizi n Test pass at 2100 meters, surrounded by snowy peaks. After the pass, our Moroccan itinerary serpents its way through the mountains and scattered Berber villages. At first sight just another Berber village, Tinmel is the birth place of the Almohad dynasty, who shaped a great empire in the 12th century stretching from Senegal all the way into Spain and Algeria. The open air mosque was built on the model of the mosque in Cordoba and the remains are worth a visit. Later, as you cross Asni, to your right you can wave hello to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in Nothern Africa and have lunch at Richard Branson's nearby Kasbah Tamadot.

If you prefer, you can also return to Marrakech via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach just north of Agadir. The beaches around bohemian Taghazout are embraced by a warm sea current and you can swim in the Atlantic most of the year. Agadir is only a 1 hour drive from Taroudant and 3 hours on the highway to Marrakech. Arrive in Marrakech in the evening. Drop off at your riad/ hotel for the night, the train station or the airport. End of the tour. 

You may choose to follow the original tour itinerary as described on the website or have us create a tailor made itinerary around you. Please note that all our tours of Morocco are private  and, all along, stops are accommodated as often as you desire, for you to visit a site, take a stunning photo or stretch your legs. 

We believe our guests deserve to be spoiled and stay only at the best properties while on a customized tour of Morocco. We spend a great deal of time and effort to anonymously test and hand- pick the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco. These select properties are constantly monitored and updated. Each one of them is inspired by and reflecting the culture, architecture and cuisine of its location. Upon enquiry, we provide a day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight.

Please find below the resumed itinerary (driving times don't include stops):

Day 1: Marrakech- Telouet – Ait Benhaddou ( 3 hour drive).
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate – Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive).
Day 3: Zagora – Mhamid – Erg Chigaga dunes ( 3 hour drive)
Day 4: Erg Chigaga – Lake Iriki - Foum Zguid – Tata ( 4 hour drive)
Day 5: Tata- Akka – Icht ( 2 hour drive)
Day 6: Icht
Day 7: Icht – Goulmine – Sidi Ifni - Mirleft or Icht – Tafraoute ( 3 hour drive)
Day 8: Tafraoute/ Mirleft – Tiznit – Taroudant ( 2 hour drive)
Day 9: Taroudant – Asni – Marrakech or Taroudant- Taghazout - Marrakech ( 4-5 hour drive).

Feel free to let us know if you would like to include a site/ activity of your own in the itinerary. If you don't know where to start, some ideas are:

- visit the nomad grottoes and Berber granary;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press;
- hot air balloon flight over Marrakech and its surroundings;
- traditional Moroccan hammam ( steam bath) with eucalyptus soap body scrub;
- lunch at Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountains retreat;
- bake bread with the local ladies in the village's oven;
- trekking/ hiking around Tafraoute;
- surfing or wind- surfing on the Atlantic coast.

Below you will find our rates based on two persons travelling together, with the relevant accommodation option:

Dreamers: 1395 €/ 1500 US $ / 1200 £ per person ( double room & basic desert tent);
Privilege & Dreamers: 1855 €/ 1990 US $/ 1600 £ per person ( double room/ junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: not available for this tour.

Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. If you book your tour to take place in December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August, you will be charged our low season rates. We can only quote an exact rate once we have agreed on the precise itinerary, accommodation option preferred, the extras you would like to include and the duration of the journey. Discounts apply when 3 or more persons share the vehicle(s). You can also choose to mix different accommodation ranges within the same circuit.

Our rates include:

- private use of the English fluent driver- guide and the modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 7 nights;
- Sahara camel trek and private basic or luxury tent for 1 night;
- 8 three- course- meal dinners and 8 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- local English speaking guides;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance with Privilege level;
- gasoline and highway tolls;
- transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.

Most of our guests prefer adding an extra day to either allow for some relaxing time by the beach in Essaouira or trekking in the Atlas Mountains. 

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Marrakech to Sahara by small plane

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You are in Marrakech for a few days. You’d love to spend a night in the Sahara but are put off by spending 9 to 10 hours each way inside a 4x4 ? Or perhaps you wish to make your other half a very special surprise and take her/ him to lunch on top of the dunes ? Just for the afternoon. What if we could arrange for you a private flight from Marrakech to the Sahara desert ? And if you’re thinking about ultra luxury fully staffed private jets with champagne on board, think again. We mean a 4-seater modern, safe, single- engine, propeller aircraft. Yes, like the ones you see at airshows. Or the one from the The English Patient. Well, not as old as that one, of course.

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The aircraft in question is a Cirrus 22 SR, from 21st century, boasts state-of-the-art technology on board and leather seats. It can take up to 3 adult passengers with cabin luggage. The pilot speaks English and will answer all your questions during the flight while also pointing out the most interesting sites as you fly over them: the highest peak in North Africa, the scattered Berber villages, the Eddhabi lake or the Draa Valley, that long green ribbon you see from your passenger seat, minutes after flying over the High Atlas mountains. The pics featured here were taken by Sloane and William, our guests in May 2017 that flew out on a Saturday, spent the night in a luxury tent in the dunes, had tea with the nomads, rode camels and flew back on Sunday.

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This little marvel would fly from Marrakech over the snowy peaks of the High Atlas mountains and land at the airport in Zagora or Errachidia in about one hour. On the ground, a Moroccan private English fluent driver– guide and a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 await you. In little more than a couple of hours you will reach your luxury desert camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga or your open- air picnic spot, if you opted for just lunch. But perhaps you would like to take your time along the way and first have a guided tour of a palm grove in Zagora with a local. Stop and visit the Jewish old district or the earth ovens in Tamegroute casting that unique green pottery. Then have a wander through a traditional honey- comb ksour  and its wells of light. Enjoy a hearty couscous with a local Berber family.

If you're tempted by the dunes of Erg Chebbi, you will land in Errachidia and spend the afternoon discovering pre Islamic dwellings, prying out fossils, visit the dinosaur sites or the rock engravings and have tea with the nomads.

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Ultimately, reach your luxury Sahara tent after a swift camel ride and have a mint tea on the top of the dunes, gazing at the oceans of sand.

If safety is your worry, not only flying is the safest way of transportation in the world (The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration states that airlines and business aviation (Biz-Av) are about ten times safer than auto travel), but the CAP system on the Cirrus 22 SR aircraft is designed to lower the aircraft to the ground after deployment using a whole- airplane parachute, in the unlikely event of an emergency. 

tea with nomads SAhara

Private flights in Morocco were mostly the domain of helicopter flights until recently. 2016 has seen the opening of a company that offers private jets. While both these choices are convenient for groups of 6 or more persons travelling together, their rates are prohibitive with prices for a flight from Marrakech to Zagora or Errachidia starting at 6000 euros each way. So, if in Marrakech and short on time, book a flight with us and live the magic of the Sahara for one night. 

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Private flights by small plane from Marrakech to the Sahara desert are available starting at 2000 euros per person, including return flights, return transfers by 4x4 to and from the camp, a private luxury ensuite tent with own showers and toilets, dinner and breakfast for two.  

For more details about rates and customized itineraries, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384.

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Private tours of Morocco help educating young girls

Private tours of Morocco help educating young girls - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes

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In 2013, we started supporting the education of the young girls in rural Morocco . Every month, Sun Trails donates 1 % of its income towards Education for All Morocco. So, in booking a private tour of Morocco with us, not only you are likely to have an unforgettable travel experience but also contribute to the education of a young girl that will hopefully one day make a difference within her community. We felt compelled to share with others the amazing work Education for All Morocco is doing. 

On a hot day in June 2013 I was invited to have lunch on the rooftop terrace of a sublime riad in the medina of Marrakech by Cees and Maryk, the riad’s hospitable Dutch owners. Also seated around the table were about a dozen teenage girls eating, talking and laughing. Between giggles and Moroccan briouates, I found out that most of these girls had taken their baccalaureate and were thinking of following on to the university. Khadija hoped to become a doctor, Rachida a French teacher... Their plans may sound normal but their journey was far from ordinary.

They had all completed their education with Education for All (EFA) Morocco, a local NGO facilitating education to Moroccan school girls from remote areas around Marrakech, who would have otherwise had difficult access to education. This program was the first promotion of girls that had been taken under the umbrella of Education for All Morocco, some 7 years ago.

IMG 9202But my introduction to the program began years before, when I found myself struck by a black and white photo of Moroccan children, hanging in the hall of Kasbah Toubkal, an imposing mountain lodge in the village of Imill. The children in it were impossibly beautiful, yet the photographer somehow managed to retain their candid appearance. The text below said ‘ Educate a girl and you educate the next generation’. The photo stuck with me and I decided to look into it, when I got a chance. Then, some years after, I contacted Mike McHugo, the main leader behind EFA Morocco and he then put me in touch with Cees and Maryk. After a few emails, they suggested the best way to find out more about their initiative was to come and meet the girls in person. That’s how I found myself on that rooftop terrace in June, surrounded by a group of remarkable people.

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As we ate lunch, Cees and Maryk explained the history of their project. Though Mike has more than thirty years experience of bringing school groups to Morocco, the beginnings weren’t easy for any of them.

“We’d all lived in Morocco for a number of years and ate out together regularly. Most of us worked in tourism so we came up with the idea that we would go to a restaurant and get them to provide us with a meal at cost and we would promote them. We then charged ourselves the full rate and paid the balance into a fund, which we would use to support something, although at the time we weren’t sure what.”

Over a couple of years the account grew, but it was through a chance meeting with John Woods, creator of the charity, Room to Read, that they found their direction- education. Room to Read is a program that builds libraries in parts of the world where children might never get the chance to see the written word. At first, this program seemed like the answer they had been looking for.

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“Originally we thought that we might just act as fund-raisers for Room To Read,” says Mike, “but then we decided we’d like to do something specific to Morocco. It was quite obvious that girls didn’t have the same educational opportunity as boys, and in addition to that, some of the villages in the High Atlas Mountains are very remote and aren’t accessible by road. Children had to walk for hours to even get to the road-head before they might be able to hitch a ride to school.”

“We realized from the beginning that we had to be very careful with our approach, once we had decided what we wanted to do,” says Maryk Stroonsnijder, who, with her husband Cees van den Berg, EFA’s Treasurer, own Riads Siwan and Azzar in Marrakech, and have been part of Education
For All from the beginning. “We couldn’t suddenly start trying to educate children, especially girls, in a staunchly Islamic society, but what we could do was make it easier for some girls to continue their studies within the established school system.”

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Think of yourself as the father of a young girl not yet even into her teens, and a group of foreigners come along to tell you that you should send her to a private boarding-house miles from home. “It’s for her benefit“ they say, but you might not be well educated yourself, and the idea of putting your daughter into the hands of foreigners who aren’t part of your culture or religious beliefs can be incredibly frightening.

They enlisted the help of Hajj Maurice, a small man with a large moustache and a winning smile. He is well known and highly respected throughout the villages of the High Atlas Mountains, not just because he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca, which entitles him to the honorific title ‘Hajj’, but for the work he has done as a mainstay of the Association Bassins d’Imlil, a non-profit organization that provides immense support to the people of the local villages. He has undertaken a range of projects that have created an incredibly positive impact in the Imlil Valley.

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For weeks Hajj Maurice walked the mountains, talking to fathers and families. He met with families and tried to convince them that allowing their daughters to live in a privately run boarding house while continuing their education was not only the best thing for them as individuals, but also
for their families, their future children and their communities.

In 2006, Education For All was officially recognized as a Moroccan NGO, with a sister charity set up in the UK, and the program began to raise funds in earnest for their first boarding house in Asni, forty-five kilometers from Marrakech. In this house, and those that were to follow, the differences in the educational life of Moroccan girls are taken into account and all houses are within a few minutes walk to the girls’ schools.

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Of the ten young girls who nervously snuggled up in their first ‘own bed’ 9 years ago, seven went on to pass their baccalaureate and five of those seven went on to university. They have become confident young women, aware that they have something to offer the world, even if that simply means they can better their own villages. When these girls finished their first three years with EFA, the program ran into a quandary. How can you educate a girl, expand her horizons, and then simply say goodbye when her three years are done? The answer is – you can’t. But the girls cannot stay at the boarding house, taking up beds that other young girls need. So there really is only one answer – you build another house for the girls who are moving on to the lycée.

Until now the existing houses have been able to cater for those girls, but their number is growing, with more girls each year getting high grades and wanting to continue their education. In September 2013, in time for the beginning of the new academic year, a second house was rented in Asni to accommodate the girls from the area who had reached lycèe age. But with greater success comes greater demand for the limited number of places Education For All can offer.

“Leaving aside the fact that the girls from the EFA boarding houses have an exam pass rate of over 90%, almost twice the national average,” says Maryk, “we are receiving far more applications for places than beds exist, in complete contrast to nine years ago, when Hajj Maurice had to almost beg for girls to be allowed to continue their studies by staying in one of the houses.”

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You might imagine that the success rate of the girls from EFA might cause envy from some of the schools in the area, but it’s totally the opposite. “We are receiving so many applications now that we are having to set quite strict criteria,” comments Latifa Aliza. “The directors and teachers of the schools are a wonderful help because they know which of the girls really do come from poor families, but also those who have good exam results and the academic will to study. That’s very important, because we can’t afford to offer someone a place if that person isn’t inclined to study. That could lose another young girl her chance in life.”

That afternoon, on their roof terrace, I was seduced by this amazing yet simple idea: instead of temporary fixes for the poor, like food, clothes or money, you offer their children a chance to obtain an education, hoping that someday they will make a difference in their own community, the country or the world beyond. To most of us, access to an education beyond primary school never even enters our consideration; it is simply there, almost by divine right. But what if it weren’t? And almost worse still, what if it is offered but you cannot access it because you live too far from the nearest school? What if your family is too poor to pay even the most basic accommodation costs? And so we decided to donate 1 % of all our revenues to Education for All Morocco with the aim of eventually gathering 10000 euros in the end. 

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This May I decided to pay them another visit, as we like to see whether our modest donations make a difference. As I entered Dar Asni, the main boarding school in Asni, a room full of very dedicated school girls were getting along with their homework. I was also lucky enough to visit the fifth boarding school being built, with all the amenities necessary – in the bathrooms, the architects even fitted in small ledged basins where girls could wash their feet. The rooms seemed spacious and the whole house was bright and modern, built around a central courtyard with light coming through from an opaque glass roof. Latifa, the Head House Master, enthusiastically explained the meaning of each room and you could see from her eyes she was already picturing the house brimming with school girls. The fifth boarding school is due to open in September and currently 149 girls are accommodated and studying through Education for All Morocco. To think that in the beginning, there were only 10.

Because I cannot do justice to the amazing outcomes that EFA has brought about, I share below a story of one girl whose life was changed by this remarkable program.

                                                                   Khadija’s story
KHADIJA ID AHMED OU ALI was one of those first ten girls, so shy that she barely spoke to anyone for the first couple of weeks. Now, t nineteen, she is a confident young lady, totally fluent in English, Arabic and Berber (although she admits she’s a bit shaky in French), who has just completed her first year at Marrakech University. “I arrived at Asni with my father and we didn’t know where the house was. We didn’t have our own Education For All house then, so we started asking people. We started knocking on doors for a long time and finally my sister Latifa heard us and opened the door. I was very scared. It was the first time I was going to another place to live without my family. But it was a great day for me, I felt like this is really the beginning for me, the beginning of my real life. Okay, I knew that I’m going to study, but I didn’t think that I would go this far. I thought maybe I study for a while, for a year or two, then I maybe go home. I didn’t expect that all these great things would happen to me with Education For All. “We started as ten girls. We were different, we were from different villages, but all the girls we were all there without our family, it was the first chance for us to live together, so we had to cooperate, we had to live together, we had to make our own family there. That’s why I consider sister Latifa and all the girls like my second family because they are always there for me. Whenever I need something I know I will find them by my side. In my first year in high school my mother died. I felt a big change for me but when I come back to Asni all the girls were there for me, they were all the time around me, they took care of me until I say it’s okay again. “If it wasn’t EFA that gave me the chance to work I couldn’t do
anything. I had the place I felt safe, I felt everything I needed was there for me. I had the chance, the opportunity to work. EFA offered all that to me, that’s why I have the power and energy to study. Basically they gave us the time, just having the time for us and having the time to have this idea for EFA. I just couldn’t see all that and just do nothing.”
After four years of study Khadija was so convinced that she would go to university that she began preparing her family for her leaving well in advance. “I always imagine the future, so I started telling my parents two years before I went to university that I would be going. I didn’t know if I was going to succeed or not, but again something inside me told me I’m going to complete my studies. The first year has been difficult, but now I’m imagining myself being a doctor or a teacher of biology.”

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It is such a joy to see that we can make a difference in someone’s life and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our previous guests. Having booked a private tour of Morocco, changed, in some small way, the life of a schoolgirl in rural Morocco. If you would like to help or donate for Education for All Morocco, you can do so by visiting this page or getting in touch with Sonia at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

We'd also like to thank Sonia Omar and Emily Kluver for their help with this article. 

© Sun Trails 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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