Dar Basyma

Moroccan Sahara Tours is happy to announce that we have a house in Marrakech! Dar Basyma is a modern house with a relaxing decor. Perfect after a day in bustling Marrakech. Contact us about your next trip!

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Things can change in a hurry

Five years ago on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, I broke an ankle and severely sprained the other. It happened so suddenly yet seemed to all go in slow motion. And I can remember it all as though it happened this morning.

I remember lying there thinking, “Shoott. And it’s such a nice day out, too.” And then I proceeded to try and push the ankle back into alignment, which to this day I can’t believe me, of all people, even attempted.

So here’s my takeaway on this experience: I never want to mess up a beautiful day with nonsense. And I always think I can fix things that go wrong.

But there’s more about this experience that is important. The whole way to the hospital I denied what lie before me. No way was this going to slow me down. In fact, my sister finally did the equivalent of slapping me hard across the face like they do to hysterical women in old movies by saying,”My god, Jane! Why are you denying this? You ankle is dangling. The thing is broken!”

So here’s my takeaway on this after that: I never want to mess up a beautiful day with nonsense. And I always think I can fix things that go wrong. AND, I deny that it’s really as bad as it is.

How dare she tell me my life was going to change, even short term! I can get through this, I thought. Then came the X-ray and the look of shock on the faces of those who read it. And it started to sink in… And then the ambulance ride to a larger hospital for surgery…. And the long process to healing…. And I knew this wasn’t an ordinary Saturday.

It was during this time that I learned I heal fast and apparently have a high tolerance for pain. But mostly, I learned that things can change in an instant. A split freaking second. One second you’re enjoying the sunny summer morning and the next moment you’re lying flat on your back looking at your ankle protrude in a direction that just isn’t natural. One second you’re wondering what to have for breakfast and the next you’re helpless and relying on your screaming-voice to get the attention of those nearby.

And shortly after that the reality of your life before doesn’t even matter because now you’re just trying to figure out how to get dressed by yourself, or go to the bathroom or to eat. It doesn’t even matter what work appointments you have the next week or what big events are taking place in your territory or who you have to call back from the week before. You’re now just trying to get through this mess you’re in without causing too much trouble for those around you. But that’s impossible because you must rely on others to help you. You have no choice. So now you are a burden to others and you’re not able to function like you once did and it all starts crashing down around you as you realize things have changed.

So here’s the lesson I continue to realize every single day. Life can change in an instant. It sounds cliche, for sure. but it is true! And when i say that not one single day goes by that i don’t realize that, I mean it. In fact, I think about it many times each day.

I was lucky my situation would be something from which I would recover fully. I often wonder what my mettle would actually be if faced with something life-threatening or serious. And not one day goes by without being thankful for both of my ankles and the fact that they are now in good working order.

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Points of view on travel

I’ve been traveling to where other people consider ‘strange places’ for years; since 1992. And after all these years the reaction from others is still the same: Why are you going there? Or, You’re traveling again? Or, Don’t you ever work? Better (or worse) yet, they say, “I wish I could travel.”

I can’t figure it out. I get mixed messages from those who ask these questions as if they’re angry I’m leaving again or they’re jealous that it’s not them. “What are you running from?” they ask me knowingly, like they’re certain they’ve caught me and there must be some big sadness or woe I seek to escape. “I’m running toward, not from,” I say when given the chance. To which I receive a blank stare.

‘But there’s so much to see in the United States! Why would you need to travel anywhere else?’ ‘Aren’t you scared traveling alone?’ ‘I can’t travel because my husband/wife/partner doesn’t like to travel.’ ‘I’d travel but I don’t have the money.’ ‘I would never go there!’ ‘Don’t you just want to stay at home?’ And on and on…

And by the way, people who tell me they wish they could travel: you can travel! If it’s a priority for you, you can do it. And also, people who ask me if I ever work or if I’m still on vacation: I get multiple weeks each year from my employer to use as I see fit. I’m not going to forfeit those days.

I don’t care what other people think of me and my travels. I really don’t. But getting bogged down with these kinds of conversations has made me clam-up and not discuss travel plans or travel in general with people; especially at work. Why would I want to invite such comments from people?

I’m long over thinking that I can change other people’s attitudes with one single comment. So I blog. I write my experiences down and post them, assuming that the people who read them will already be somewhat interested in the topic to be reading about travel in the first place. And those who don’t understand either will come to accept it about me, or not. It won’t matter to me because it won’t change what I do. And it won’t change what I love.

I get the most defensive when people assume my travel interferes with my work as a sales rep. I cover three large states in the US and am on the road a lot just for work. I work many hours a day (and night!) because my work is always with me no matter where I am. I’m reachable by phone(s), text(s), email(s) and am talking all day long in dental offices. I’m constantly on. And the fact that I’m unmarried and have no children means I have that much more time to devote to work. And it means that I’m the only one who can get my stuff done for myself between business trips: laundry, mail/bills, errands in general, food shopping, maintenance, etc. So life can be crazy. I don’t only want to travel, I need to do it. And I’m tired of taking flack for it.

It seems to be virtuous in the circles I’m in to forfeit vacation. To give the appearance that I couldn’t possibly take vacation because I’m too integral to the success here. Or to give the appearance that I’m such a hard worker and am so dedicated to this job. When really it might be that people just don’t know what they’d do with themselves for more than a few days off at a time! I’ve never been so relaxed as when I’m on vacation, away from home, for longer than one week. It’s remarkable how relieved and light one can feel after no thoughts of work or home.

Don’t get me wrong, there can be negatives for traveling and I’ve been penalized greatly for my travels. It still surprises me it happened. Once a co-worker stepped in while I was gone and worked her way in to a job I was interviewing for using my time away/vacation as a way to disparage me. Another time I was demoted after taking a three-week vacation (for which I was given approval) because I used poor judgment taking that much time off. (At the end of the year and when not even using all of the vacation time due me, by the way!) So there can be a price to pay. But it’s worth it to me. I am a changed person after every trip. I am fuller and happier and more settled. It’s what makes me who I am.

The point is, everyone can travel. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do. You can travel. You can travel in your own city! Pretend you’re a visitor and see the place you know and live with fresh eyes! Plan a trip in your own state and see something you’ve never thought to visit before. Go to a neighboring state for a weekend. Try new foods. Be open to new activities. All of that, to me, is considered traveling. Say yes to travel! Define it your own way – – and just do it! Be open to the things the world shows you and teaches you. You’ll never be the same.

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Moroccan Ramadan

Ramadan is the most important holiday in Islam. It’s probably most like the Christian Lent, but the two don’t really compare. Ramadan symbolizes when the Qur’an was revealed to Mohammad. It occurs every year in the 9th month of the 12-month lunar calendar. Lunar months are shorter than Gregorian months by 12 days so Ramadan is earlier in each Gregorian year.

This year Ramadan is 9 July, 2013 – 8 August, 2013. But the bottom line is: Ramadan requires abstention from food, drink (even water!), sex, and smoking. During daylight hours. The point of it is to show devotion to Allah and to become a master of self-discipline.

Some people view it as recognizing the hunger and thirst that the poor feel every day of the year and to suffer it in silence and, hopefully, to become a kinder person for it. But from what I gather, it ends up being a contest with oneself or others of endurance! The weather is particularly hot during Ramadan and in 2012 it seemed to be nearly unbearable even in the beginning, only getting worse as the month wore on. Old people, children, pregnant women and others are exempt from this practice of abstention, but I notice from stories I’ve heard that even they press on out of devotion or whatever drives them…

The fast is broken when the sun officially sets and is broken usually with dates and milk. Or harira and dates. Harira is a soup made from tomatoes and lentils. It is served in Morocco year-round but is especially popular during Ramadan. A few more meals are eaten throughout the night so that everyone is nourished for the next morning when the whole thing starts all over again.

Everything moves at a different pace during Ramadan. And from what I’ve heard, people become edgy, groggy and increasingly irritated. All of this is followed by Eid Al Ftar, a festival to break the fast for the year. According to Wikipedia, here’s some more information I find interesting:

“Typically, Muslims wake up early in the morning—always before sunrise— offer Salatul Fajr (the pre-sunrise prayer), and in keeping with the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad clean their teeth with a toothbrush, take a shower before prayers, put on new clothes (or the best available), and apply perfume. It is forbidden to fast on the Day of Eid. It is customary to acknowledge this with a small sweet breakfast, preferably of the date fruit, before attending a special Eid prayer (known as salaat).

As an obligatory act of charity, money is paid to the poor and the needy (Arabic: Sadaqat-ul-fitr) before performing the ‘Eid prayer:
To show happiness
To give as much charity as is possible
To pray Fajr in the local Masjid
To go early for Eid salaat
To read the takbirat in an open field.
Go to the Eid prayer on foot
Do not speak one word other than words that remember Allah or anything Islamic terms before and after Eid Salaat. You can speak once you’ve left the Masjid, or Mosque or any other place you were praying
Say ‘Eid Mubarak’ to other Muslims
Muslims recite the following incantation in a low voice while going to the Eid prayer: Allāhu Akbar, Allāhu Akbar, Allāhu Akbar. Lā ilāha illà l-Lāh wal-Lāhu akbar, Allahu akbar walil-Lāhi l-ḥamd. Recitation ceases when they get to the place of Eid or once the Imam commences activities.
Muslims are recommended to use separate routes to and from the prayer grounds.
The Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, community centers, etc. or at mosques. No call to prayer is given for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two units of prayer with an additional six incantations. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for God’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat. Listening to the sermon at Eid is a requirement i.e. while the sermon is being delivered; it is prohibited to talk, walk about or offer prayer. After the prayers, Muslims visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances or hold large communal celebrations in homes, community centers or rented halls. Eid gifts, known as Eidi, are frequently given at eid to children and immediate relatives.”

So this is Ramadan and the celebration of Eid afterward to break the fast. It is both eagerly anticipated and dreaded. While people are reverent, they also become impatient, irritated, edgy, and angry. It is, it seems to me, a month of extremes. Extreme heat. Hunger. Thirst. Exhaustion. A month of prayer. Gorging. And whatever else goes on when it’s not daylight.

I admire the dedication to this holiday. And I’d like to see just once if I could do it. But it seems impossible to not eat or drink water when temps can rise to 45 degrees! (over 100). I can’t even see me lasting two days, honestly. But someday I’d like to try.

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Couscous Friday

Friday in Morocco means one thing: couscous. The national dish, couscous, is made in households across Morocco every week and is greatly anticipated. Fridays are traditionally considered a holy day in Morocco and many businesses are closed for the day or afternoon – – or at the very least, a long, long break in the middle of the day for mosque (for the men). Life takes on a slower pace on Fridays. And at the same time there’s a sense of urgency about everything: “We better get to the bank before mosque. It’s Friday!” “We have to hurry to the tire store to get new tires this morning. It’s Friday!” “I couldn’t mail the package to you. It’s Friday.”

Couscous is the best part of Friday. It’s made in restaurants and at home and it seems everyone looks forward to it this week just as much as they did the last week. Moroccans seem to love their couscous even more than the ubiquitous tajine.

When eating couscous with my friend’s family last month, the family commented how long they’d had their couscous serving dish: 12 years. The 15-year old daughter commented that ‘it’s like my little sister!’

The process for couscous is not a small or quick task. Vegetables need to be cut and sliced to the correct sizes, meat (usually lamb) needs to cook until tender, and the couscous itself (semolina: tiny granules of durum wheat) requires a tender process of cooking and stirring – – almost kneading – – until it reaches its perfection. This requires pouring hot water over the grain and “stirring” it with your hands and then putting it back in the pot and repeating the process 15-20 minutes later, 5 or 6 times. It’s a hot, steamy business, this couscous-making.

Finally, the ingredients are all added together in specific order (meat in the middle of the dish itself, couscous all around, then vegetables added on top) and it’s brought to the table where everyone forms golf-ball sized clumps of the hot grain in the right hand and it’s popped into the mouth! Yum!

And the other thing about couscous: it uses a special pot called a ‘couscousery’ which I always say to the tune of “Chim Chiminey” from Mary Poppins. It makes me happy to say it. It’s a special pot system that resembles a steamer and a large pasta pot in my world. I’ve been taught to make this treat but it seems best when I make it in Morocco, with people filling the kitchen with noise and laughter; people I’m growing to love.




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Packing for Morocco

Do as I say, don’t do as I do. Because no matter how sparsely I pack, I still bring too much.

It is completely feasible to travel through Morocco for 10 days during the warm season with just a couple of dresses/skirts, 2-3 shirts, 2 pants, 2-3 undies and a pair of shoes. It’s all possible because it’s so dry that when you do wash things out, they dry immediately! The colder months (through June in the north) make it more difficult because you’ll need a wrap and your clothes will stay wet longer after washing.

It’s nice to pack lightly since there are hills and steps everywhere. Personally I’m a fan of the backpack. I like the idea of everything in a small pack so I can quickly grab it and go. But I also need a bag for miscellany and technology. Actually, this is the bag that turns out to be heaviest and most critical. In it I keep: computer, iPad, cameras, chargers, guide book, toilet paper (a must!), soap, medicines/first aid, and water. Most public restrooms don’t have flush toilets let alone toilet paper. But even when you can find a flush toilet, it’s rare you’ll find the toilet paper – – unless you pay someone sitting outside the doors for some. Usually about 20dh. So keep some coins on hand as well.

I like to shop when I’m in the souks. Invariably I’m buying a tajine, or some other kind of pottery. Neither of which is easy to pack. So I like to bring an empty sack or duffle inside my backpack for that reason. But you’ll have to figure out your airline’s requirements for bags because you might be forced to check a bag or be ready to pay the fee for excess bags, which in some cases is less expensive than the cost of shipping your items home. It all depends.

What I’ve said so far isn’t just for traveling to Morocco; it’s pretty general information. The key part about Morocco is that it is a Muslim country and while it is more liberal-seeming than other Muslim countries, appropriate dress is still recommended. I’ve seen Westerners dress in shorts and tank tops and it just seems out of place. While I’m not a stickler on a knee or shoulder showing here or there, a cleavage should never be shown. The rule of the place is modest dress. Scarves are a good way to cover-up when you feel too bare. Skirts and dresses should be close to- or over-the knee. Tops and shirts should cover the shoulder. It’s not like you have to live in fear that one of these parts of you is going to show, but it’s important to be respectful and take care to cover as much as possible. That’s no easy task for me! My summer dresses are short and low but that absolutely doesn’t fly in Morocco and it actually can cause embarrassment for your host.

An example: My host made a comment one day “Chouia colorful!” Chouia means ‘a little.’ He was making a gentle statement about my too-colorful outfit. It drew too much attention on a girl who already doesn’t blend. Another time: I was a guest in someone’s home who is very conservative. Although I was dressed in what I thought was demure (and I really was), it wasn’t demure enough for the household. The host’s nephew brought a djellaba (long gown/dress) to put on and also asked me to wear a hijab (scarf) on my head. It was fun to wear the whole shebang so I enjoyed it. But these are examples of how I was making my hosts feel uncomfortable being dressed as I was. When in Morocco…


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Food, glorious Moroccan food!

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Why Morocco?


People ask all the time what it is about Morocco that keeps me going back. The first time I visited I just wanted to see it. Just the sound of the names of the major cities intrigued me: Cassablanca. Marrakech. Fes. All cities I had heard of and in the same breath as other faraway and romantic-seeming cities like Timbuktu, Constantinople (Istanbul), and Bombay. I wanted to see the Sahara, ride a camel, and photograph the colors.

But once there I realized Morocco is all of that: faraway, romantic, colorful. And it’s a lot more. It’s vast! It’s landscape goes on forever. Only a bit smaller geographically than California, Morocco has everything: mountains, desert, seaside, rich rural culture, and vibrant cities. And more. There’s a grandeur about it on one hand and a plainness on the other. A quietness and a calmness countered with a buzz of excitement and energy.

So what is it about the place that keeps me going back? The people, the food, and the Muslim culture!

I feel safe in Morocco, like I understand the people. I can hold my own there. I can walk through the medina and souk and manage to mostly-thwart their efforts to flirt, sell, or cajole. It’s all a part of the experience. People are helpful and will go out of their way for you when they can. I’ve seen it over and over. They seem authentically happy to have a conversation with you and seem genuine when they say they just want to talk to you. And most everyone speaks a variety of languages. For sure French, Arabic, and most speak some English. So it’s easy to communicate for the most part, at least in the cities.

The food! It is among my favorite taste palettes of any place I’ve visited (Vietnam is right up there, too!). Tajine, brochette, dates and oranges, couscous, grilled lamb! And all with rich spices to add incredible flavor to the simplest of meals.

The Muslim culture. The call to prayer 5x each day is beautiful and calming. But it seems less stringent religiously than other countries seem to be. Now I can’t say that for sure but it seems more relaxed and easygoing than some of its Arab counterparts. I think that’s what makes it easy to travel there: it’s relaxed and easygoing. While it’s important to dress modestly in these Muslim countries out of respect for the culture, Moroccans are more easygoing about it in the cities.

I visit Morocco for all of these reasons. But there’s so much more. So much more that I cannot describe or photograph; there’s a feeling about the place. A calmness; a slowness. A tranquility. But mostly that’s off the beaten track.

If you visit, see all the hotspots in Marrakech and Casablanca, but then spend your time off the beaten track, discovering the hillsides, the riversides, the souks in small towns. Eat at roadside barbecue restaurants. Stay under the stars in the Sahara. Get away from it all and experience the tranquility of Morocco!

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آيت بن حدّو

One of my blogger-friends, Kurt, posted this on his blog, Daily Propaganda. Gorgeous!

K. Wahlgren

The views are stunning. Climbing to the top of an ancient Kasbah allows a panoramic that provides a look back in time. Aït Benhaddou, is located along the historic caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. On the edge of the High Atlas Range, this desert oasis is the perfect place to observe the beauty of earthen Moroccan architecture. The snow capped peaks in the distance display an amazing end to the supine foreground. I highly recommend this locale for those trekking though Morocco.

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