Monthly Archives: September 2013

Best Books to Read before Traveling to Morocco

The Caliphs House

Before visiting Morocco there are some must read books that will enhance your travel experience. From guide books to fiction and non fiction taking hold of a vacation whether you are traveling on budget or a luxury private tour is easily done. It is also important to have a good guide book to inform and orient you when taking a  Morocco tour. With a wide range of guide books available the ones that come out on top are the Rough Guide to Morocco and Lonely Planet Morocco. Both serve as a reliable and practical introduction to the history of Morocco along with its urban and rural life. Both guide books also offer travelers information about Morocco’s souks, historic sites, best places to eat and shopping options.  There are a growing number of guide books to Morocco and local city guides as well however Rough Guide and Lonely Planet are generally reckoned to be the best and most up to date available on the market.

Rough Guide to Morocco

The best cultural and historical introduction  to Morocco with the emphasis on joie de vivre and an appreciation of Morocco’s Malakite spiritual rite of Islam and the way it influences daily life, is Barnaby Rogerson’s Cadagon Guide. It captures the essence of locations both urban and rural and relates their history and cultural value. It is more of an introduction to Morocco than a simple guide but it is the best account of the adventure and excitement to be had from north to south.

There are also a number of authors who have related their impressions of Morocco as it used to be which are useful for understanding Morocco and its history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Barnaby Rogerson’s publishing house Eland also publishes a number of anthologies of writers on Morocco such as Marrakech the Red City, which contains George Orwell’s impressions of Marrakech, amongst other well known writers.

Lonely Planet Morocco

Eland also publishes important authors on Morocco which would otherwise be out of print including The Lords of the Atlas by Gavin Maxwell which is an account of feudal Morocco from before the First World War to Morocco’s independence in 1956 and the rule of Thami El Glaoui and his family during the French Protectorate. Moroccans remain ambivalent about the Glaoui’s role but it is an important part of Morocco’s history as Churchill and Roosevelt and many other personalities came to Morocco before and after the Second World War.

The book which Lords of the Atlas is said to have partly relied on is Morocco That Was by Walter Thomas correspondent for the Times in Tangier relates many amusing stories of intrigue in the court of Sultan Abdelaziz in the 1890’s and early 1900’s.

In Morocco written by the American novelist Edith Wharton published in 1920 tells of her visit to Morocco at the invitation of the Resident General of the French administration in Morocco the famous General Hubert Lyautey in 1917. Edith Wharton had been decorated by France for her work with refugees during World War 1 and her book is said to be the first travel guide of Morocco. There are vivid encounters with the wild Berber tribesmen in the Medina of Marrakech and in the houses of the gentry with their restricted role for women in the household and harems of Rabat and Fez. She is sometimes criticized for being too pro French but in truth the colonial administration did much for Morocco under Lyautey, particularly with regards to preservation of Morocco’s historic buildings, finding and saving the Saadian tombs in Marrakech for instance.

Also published by Eland is A Year in Morocco by Peter Mayne which recounts the author’s experiences as he interacts with the local and foreign inhabitants of Marrakech and is useful for understanding some of the foibles, customs and pitfalls for trying to set up house in Marrakech.

The American novelist Paul Bowles spent 52 years in Tangiers and he writes about the city he loved in his collection of travel writing Travels published by Sort Of Books. His novels and short stories also include Morocco often and he played an important role in recording Berber tribal music which is now preserved in the US Library of Congress. A good description of Tangier from 1962 to 1979, which features Bowles and his friends and the Beat generation is The Tangier Diaries by John Hopkins.

The novelist Tahir Shah wrote The Caliph’s House about moving to Casablanca and the challenges he and his family faced in renovating a derelict palace infested with Jinns (Moroccan evil spirits) with whom he has frequent encounters. In his other novels he blends his Afghan heritage and knowledge of the east of his forefathers and their long experience of Morocco to produce an exciting and dramatic read. His infectious enthusiasm for Morocco and Casablanca is also evidenced by frequent travel articles in the international press.

Laila Lahlimi is a Moroccan novelist who published her novel Sacred Son in English in America, being the first Moroccan to do so. It provides an interesting view of different generational attitudes and clashes in today’s Morocco.

A good introduction to the finer points of the does and don’ts of Moroccan society is Culture Shock by Orin Hargraves. Different attitudes to timing and the primacy of family life and the necessary white lie figure prominently.

Moroccans speak their own dialect, darija in everyday life and the best way to really connect with Moroccans is to learn some greetings and phrases in their dialect. Lonely Planet’s excellent little phrasebook Moroccan Arabic with useful words and phrases is an essential companion on your Moroccan tour.

A List – Best Books to Read Before Traveling to Morocco

HISTORY 

  • Morocco That Was – By  Water Harris
  • Morocco Since 1830  –  By C.R. Pennell
  • Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua  –  By Gavin Maxwell
  • The Conquest of Morocco – By Douglass Porch

FICTION & NON- FICTION  

  • Culture & Customs in Morocco – By Raphael Njoku
  • In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams – By Tahir Shah
  • The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca – By Tahir Shah
  • The Spiders House – By Paul Bowles
  • The Sheltering Sky – By Paul Bowles (Book & Film)
  • Let It Come Down – By Paul Bowles
  • The Last Storytellers: Tales from the Heart of Morocco –  By Richard Hamilton
  • Their Heads are Green & Their Hands are Blue – By Paul Bowles
  • Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem –  By Fatima Mernissi
  • Berber Odes: Poetry from the Mountains of Morocco – By Michael Peyron
  • The Hamadsha: A Studio of Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry
  • A House in Fes –  By Susannah Clarke

For More Information traveling to Morocco

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.
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Rue Laksour and The Mouassine, Gateway to the Marrakech Souks

Marrakech Souk, Bab Laksour – The Mouassine District

Marrakech’s hippest shopping destination is rue Mouassine in the Marrakech Medina. Bab Laksour and the Marrakech medina’s Mouassine district is an intimate introduction for first time visitors to Marrakech. The Mouassine in the Marrakech medina boasts many trendy, fashionable boutiques, antiques dealers along with arts and crafts shops. The Mouassine has become one of the best places to shop in Marrakech. One of the easiest ways to get to Bab Laksour and the Mouassine is from Avenue Mohammed V just after the Ensemble de Artisans which leads to rue Laksour. This route offers an alternative to entering via the Jemma El Fna and the crowded souks.

Riad El Fenn

The Mouassine District is also home to Vanessa Branson’s stylish Riad el Fenn, located at the Derb Abdallah ben Hssain. Riad El Fenn (fenn means art in arabic) is a former palace with panoramic views of the medina and Atlas mountains from its terrace. Also close by is the classical  Moroccan restaurant, Le Tobsil.

The Kounouz jewelry shop is also a well known place to shop and Maison d’ Argan for those who cannot make it to Essaouira. There are many spice and essential oils and natural product stores in the Mouassine. There are also many hanouts, Moroccan owned domestic shops,carpenters and a motorcycle repair shop. Normal domestic life blends seamlessly with the tourist scene in the Mouassine.

Just footsteps from rue Sidi Yamani are antique shops, the Mouassine mosque and fountain. Kulchi, a stylish clothing boutique and Chez Khayati known for quality leather poufs and babouches are two well known boutiques.

Kifkif Marrakech Medina

Kifkif is another intimate and trendy boutique that has jewelry, textiles, leather goods and accessories made by local artisans with a European twist. Kifkif’s owners have a boutique in both the Moussaine District of the Marrakech medina and in Sidi Ghanem, an industrial artistic district 15 minutes outside of the city center of Marrakech.

Rue Laksour, the main street of the Mouassine has a candle shop that sells colored scented candles. There is also a store with traditional Berber musical instruments nearby Stylia Restaurant which is a former palace with a huge ornate door offering the very best in traditional Moroccan cuisine.

The emporium, Artisanal Dar Essalam is also worth visiting. You cannot miss it with its over sized wooden doors decorated with a white stucco portal. The Artisanal sells all kinds of craft items and paintings, a veritable Aladdin’s cave at fixed prices for those who don’t want to haggle with shop keepers over tea.

As you walk on the narrow streets of the Mouassine, a small wood shop displays its wares, bowls, boxes and trays. A covered section has another emporium, the Palais Vizier, which sells carpets. Mosques, local hanouts and riads line the streets of the Moussaine which offers the feel of ordinary life in the medina.

Well known in the Mouassine for socially responsible shoppers is a women’s cooperative called Al Nour that sells hand embroidered sells scarfs, children’s garments and fine linen accessories, all made by handicapped women.

Berber carpets line the wall of the Mouassine. Facing A Nour is an archway topped by a building of Portuguese origin which bridges the street. There is a spice and natural products shop. Passing through the archway you will find the large wooden door of the Kssour Agafay which is a 16th century riad once home to a noble chorfa family. It has been completely restored to its former glory featuring painted intricate stucco decoration and 4 meter high doors and carved wooden ceilings, by Abel Damoussi. As well as being a guest house it is also an exclusive private members club. If you knock on the door you might be lucky enough to be shown round.

Nearby Kssour Agafay are two fine Berber jewelry shops and a ceramic store. Finally a kelim and rug shop with antique wooden doors on display, the Bazaar Chichoua, completes the rue Ksour and leads on to the rue Mouassine.

If books are what you fancy then off route of the rue Mouassine is a French language bookshop filled to the brim of coffee table books on Morocco. To the right is the busy covered street leading to the Place Bab Fteuh and beyond it the entrance to the Souk Semarine. To the left the rue Mouassine leads on up to the Mouassine Mosque and its Fountain.

During a walk through this gateway of the Marrakech souk you will also discover an impressive, colorful array of shops lining the street that offer the best in Moroccan handicrafts including jewelry shops, ceramics, leather goods, lanterns ,carpets, rugs, clothes, lighting design shops and fine linen (Kis boutique and Esprit Coton) spices and natural products such as Argan. Marrakech’s Mouassine District is full of surprises.

For More Information about a Marrakech Tour of the Bab Laksour or Mouassine District in Marrakech

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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The 16th Century Douiria Discovery in Marrakech, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Marrakech -Mouassine Derb El Hammam Douiria

A previously hidden discovery of great historic and cultural importance is emerging from behind layers of white plaster in a private residence next door to the great 16th century Mouassine mosque built when the Saadian dynasty made Marrakech their imperial capital. Marrakech became one of the great cities in the Islami c world with a population of perhaps 50,000. The major projects of the dynasty including the mosques at  Mouassine, Bab Doukkala, Ben- Youssef  and  Sidi Bel -Abbes  gave the city a new dynamic.The Saadians initiated a grand building program and moved the Jewish population to the Mellah and distributed land to Chorfa families so they could occupy the area.

Between the mosque and the Mouassine fountain an archway leads into a small street, the Derb al Hammam alongside  the great wall of the mosque . The area is undergoing major restorative work. There is  a massive entrance door into the mosque on the right hand side and on reaching the Douiria you find a small entrance “the Saba”.  The open doorway reveals two  internal doorways.

On the left, stairs lead up to the douiria which was a guest apartment and the other door leads in to the house and the hammam  which gives its name to the street. The guests were given an honored place separate from the domestic life of the house. The Douiria in its restored form is an important commentary on 16th century Moroccan social history the courtly art of hospitality for honored guests who were housed so close to the mosque.

The Mouassine Derb El Hammam 16th Century

As you enter the apartment you come into the central room, a lounge which has two seating areas  facing each other crowned by carved wooden designs and  an intricately painted ceiling. On either side two rooms face each other . They could have been a bedroom or sitting room.  Four large panels in the central lounge repeat floral patterns in a set of three colors: green, red , yellow. The completed restoration will reveal a symphony of color.

The room behind the hall has a wooden ceiling decorated with a sun design. The walls and pillars with stucco decoration reveal brightly colored designs the ” testir ” geometric tracery radiating around a central star called ” the cobwebs of the Prophet é. The ” touriq ” ornaments represent leaves and the sculpture, a  ” honeycomb ” of wood , stone, or plaster, repeating a pattern called mqarbes.  Plasterers or “guebbassa ” could generally read and write. The effect suggests an ornamental garden. .

Patrick Man’ach  and Hamid Mergani of the Maison de la Photographie  in Marrakech and the Berber Ecomuseum  Dar Tafza near Ourika bought the Mouassine  Douiria in December 2012 and the restoration work is supported by friends including  Xavier Salmon, of the Louvre museum in Paris,  Hugo van Tilborg, Bruno Biker,  and Peter Mestralett.

This apartment was inhabited from 1954 to 2013 by a family from Marrakesh, who concreted the floors and put layers of white plaster over the walls and ceilings which actually helped to preserve most of the decorative motifs and ornamentation underneath.

16th Century Ceiling Derb El Hammam

When they acquired the douiria, rain was falling from the terrace, toilets had destroyed some of the  stucco. They could not see the ornamental details but what was visible was the wood elements, the doors, and ceilings. The walls were covered with water paintings. They completed tests in different parts and found that  under the painting was a layer of white plaster, and another layer of painting and  a further layer of 6 cm. of white plaster. Underneath this they found the original pink plaster which covered the walls.

They painstakingly removed the layers of white plaster and the interior of the douiria began to change as various ornamental features were revealed giving a subtle variation and lightness to the decor. They discovered that the original pink pigment layer on the walls was intact.

They had to consider the right process to clean the pigments and preserve them.  They also had to avoid using any water in the process as this could damage the pigments. Water, on cotton, was used to remove the white plaster layer and reveal the original delicate pink on the walls.

This cleaning process was particularly important in the chamber at the back of the Douiria adjacent to the mosque wall. Two columns of white plaster stretching up to the ceiling were covered with paintings. Following the careful removal of the white plaster tests showed a motif of pink plaster, and an elegant motif probably from the early 17th Century, the period of  Sultan Moulay Ismail.

Patrick Man’ach and Hamid Megrani  decided that the douiria had to appear as it was,  as the quality of its preservation was exceptional.  Elements would only be added where, there absence would present a problem in the general appearance  of the apartment in its original form.

They selected two young expert potters  from Dar Tafza, in the  Ourika valley who understood what needed to be done during the restoration. Xavier Salmon stayed some weeks in the douiria to complete the tests and understand the details. He transmitted his passion for the restoration process to the young craftsmen. A total workforce of ten men was selected.

They uncovered and completed  restorations on the terrace , removed the surface layer  and checked the wooden beams. If the beams were in bad condition, they were replaced. They cleaned all the “dead earth” the mud which had fall over the reverse side of the décor up to one meter or more. There is a vacuum between the décor ceiling and the beams supporting the terrace floor. The structure of the walls was checked and carefully repaired. Inside aeration was reintroduced systematically in the construction, to guarantee the ventilation in the spaces.

On the façade, they had to pull down a heavy layer of cement, repair the façade with original old bricks and they found a beautiful portico and remains of pink stucco. After some weeks of intervention, the façade appeared in its simple, elegant  perfection.

Inside, they had to cover the wooden doors and eliminate the cement floor of the patio. Then they discovered the three cupolas of bricks for the ground floor hamman. The beams supporting the inner walls were in a very bad condition: it was a very delicate operation to cut them in pieces, remove and replace them. The complete structure of the douiria was isolated from humidity and direct water. Toilets and septic tanks were removed.

A systematic sequence of photography was introduced to cover all steps of the restoration. Students of the Ecole d’Architecture de Marrakech visited the Douiria regularly and were introduced to the concept of patrimony.

The doors and wooden ceilings were left untouched.  Nothing was done to the colors except careful cleaning and nourishing of the wood.

The pigments were intact and nothing was added. The original pink plaster was repaired using gypsum from a gypsum quarry in the Ourika valley .The gypsum stones were heated in an oven and  filtered resulting in excellent quality stone which was used to repair the pink layer of plaster when needed.The restoration is still in process with a workforce of ten men . The next period  of restoration will be consecrated entirely to cleaning the pigments.

They have approached UNESCO  via  Mr. Abdelghani Tayyibi Director of the National School of Architecture in Marrakech and Delegate UNESCO Chairman for Morocco to obtain the UNESCO  designation or title as a Masterpiece at Risk. The designation would help those who wish to restore and revive buildings at risk. Morocco does not have the legislative or regulatory apparatus to qualify a building as a ” masterpiece at risk” and what qualifies a building for such a category.  Architectural agencies which can respond to the ancient architectural considerations are also still lacking. Many buildings of various sizes, could benefit from obtaining this qualification, and the government would then have an additional means of action to initiate restoration projects.

One wonders what other hidden treasures exist under layers of plaster in other properties in Marrakech’s medina. Marrakech can only benefit by more such discoveries that can be put on public display. Morocco’s turbulent history has meant that much from earlier generations was destroyed.

Apart from the magnificent Medersa Ben Youssef so much of Marrakech’s Islamic art treasures are hidden from view and non believers are not allowed to enter religious establishments. Hopefully one day this may change for a few of the older mosques and zaouias.

When the restoration work on the Dar El Hammam Douiria is complete it is planned to open it to the public and to mount high level art exhibitons there. If you want to visit the Douiria in Marrakech contact the owner at www.douiria.org

By Colin Kilkelly

For More Information about a Marrakech Tour or to visit the restored 16th Century Douiria

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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The Moroccan Music Scene, Your Morocco Travel Guide

Traditional Musicians Gnaoua

On Marrakech’s Jemma el Fna Square amongst  the orange juice stalls and story tellers you will find stalls with  CD’s  testifying to the popularity and importance of Morocco’s contemporary music scene which began with the accession of King Mohammed VI in 1999 when greater liberalization of musical genre  especially for young people  who sought music which reflected  their aspirations was gradually phased in and supported with musical festivals organized with royal support and sponsorship like the  annual Mazawine Music Festival in Rabat, The Gnawa  Festival in Essaouria and the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez.  Moroccan TV and radio channels also play an important role with live performances. Young musicians are encouraged to perform and Morocco which has successfully fused elements of its ancient Berber musical traditions with modern music such as Chaabi, Hiphop and Rai and Rap.

This has not been without controversy with orthodox Islamic opinion and 14 young members of a heavy metal band were arrested for making “satanic music”, though they were eventually released. Rap stars who make sensitive political comments are sometimes imprisoned. Members of the Islamic led PJD government have also criticized music festivals for corrupting Moroccan youth but generally Morocco’s spirit of compromise wins through despite the tensions affecting the region. Indeed you can see and hear moveable cassette vendors with their barrows playing religious music with other wares for sale on the main Avenue Mohammed V in Marrakech’s  ville nouvelle, Gueliz.

Traditional Berber folk village music called Ahwash, is very much alive and is on display in July each year at the National Festival of Popular Arts at the Badii Palace in Marrakech.  The music performed by professional musicians called Raiss includes comedy and dances in their performances.

Master Musicians of Jajouka

Two famous traditional musical bands are Bachir Attar’s  Master Musicians of Jajouka who originally met with Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones in 1969 and recorded with them. Their music celebrates the pagan rites centered on the figure of Boujeloud who has been likened to Pan. They perform regular concerts  in Morocco and abroad including the United States and Germany playing with international musicians. They recently featured in Anthony Bourdain’s  “Parts Unknown “  program on CNN. The other traditional band is the Daqqa of Marrakech who perform a ritual dance for the religious festival of Ashura.

Chabbi Musicians

Chaabi is a popular music descended from Moroccan folk music. Originally performed in markets, it is now performed during celebrations or meetings. Chaabi songs end with a swift rhythmic section and syncopated clapping. Modern instruments like electric guitars and buzuks are also used as well as lutes and a drum.

Andalusian classical music called Al Ala was brought to Morocco following the Reconquista in Spain when Muslims and Jews were forced to leave. It is an urban form of music which is highly popular and performed with large orchestras frequently on TV and radio.  Jewish musicians had a profound influence on Al Ala.

Gnawa was  brought to Morocco by Sub-Saharan Africans and later became part of the Moroccan tradition. Much of the modern fusion draws on Gnawa and the annual Essaouira Gnawa Festival is now broadening its musical performances to include a more contemporary repertoire.

Classical Malhun  music which translates as “gift” or “inspiration” is Arabic in origin and is derived from  Sufi inspired Arabic Andalusian poetry.

Sufi Brotherhoods (tarikas) are widespread in Morocco, and music is an integral part of their spiritual tradition. The purpose is to induce a trance state which inspires mystical ecstasy. Leading  Sufi Brotherhoods include the Derkoua, Hamadasha, Aissoua and the Jilala.

Modern music includes Rai which is associated with Algeria in the international music scene, but Morocco has produced its own stars lincluding Cheb Mimoun and Hanino. Other genre include Hiphop, Electronica and Fusion, which draws on Gnawa,  Jazz and heavy metal. Casablanca is a major center for contemporary Moroccan music.

Pirating remains a concern for Moroccan musicians as it is difficult to establish copyright for music performances and CD’s, although Morocco has an intellectual property rights law. In Marrakech an English music producer Nick Wilde set up Marrakchi Records a record label, music publishing and artist management  company to support young Moroccan musicians. Marrakchi Records provides a management service for Moroccan musicians and promotes them thus helping to establish them in the fast moving contemporary Moroccan music scene. It covers all genres from Rock, Hiphop, Electronic,   gnawa ,  blues and African music. Artists who have successfully produced albums with Marrakchi Records include Caravane, Blue Medina, DJ Haze, Mwanssa, Chaabi and Nisrine.

For More Information about a Marrakech Tour and the Marrakech Music Scene

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

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