Morocco, Moussem of Tan-Tan

On February 23, 2007 @ 7 p.m. at the Roundtable in the Old Grove, hosted by Bob and Maggie Ferreira, I was invited, and privileged, to give a lecture and slide show as a featured speaker to share my experience and photographs from my recent trip to Morocco in December 2006. The positive feedback was most gratifying.

At the indoor and outdoor Bohemian garden setting, amidst Maggie’s beautiful local and international flora, 300 persons were able to view, on a large screen, a photographic slide show demonstration of these dramatic pictures and exciting trip of a lifetime for this photographer. There were over 200 photographs from Morocco, along with indigenous Moroccan music to set the mood, in addition to photo journals from China, Japan, Virginia, and Buddhist monk Mandela Sand Art. Also on the program, Ayurvedic visiting doctors from India provided free consultations and pulse readings before the photo presentation.

The trip came about as a result of an invitation by His Majesty, King Mohammed VI, to photo journal his country’s Moussem de Tan-Tan, an annual festival, where, along with 20,000 tribesmen, we met for a cultural and professional exchange mission 500 miles south of Casablanca in the Sahara Desert. [I was invited, I was advised, after the National Geographic team respectfully declined this assignment, and my website and resume were referred to him. Not unlike Hertz and Avis, I didn’t mind being number two, and I accepted.]

The King flew his private 767 jet, customized from 250 persons for 110 people. Our group of 85 business men and women traveled not first, but received royal, literally flying carpet treatment to Casablanca. This was followed by a flight to Agadir for our initial stay at an oasis called the Sofitel Hotel, located in the Western Sahara Desert on the Atlantic Ocean.

Our group was given a tour of Agadir, which lost its population of 15,000 in the earthquake of 1961, and in a rebuilding mode ever since. We were fortunate to visit La Medina Coco Polizzi D’Agadir, a Moroccan village designed and built by the resident artisan of the same name, including souks, elaborate stonework, mosaic tile, original wood carving, metal scrollwork, and original Moroccan architecture. I had the privilege of being invited by Mr. Polizzi for a personal tour of his home and studio workshop, which was most impressive.

Following an evening of being wined and dined in Agadir, we were whisked through the Sahara Desert down to Tan-Tan, a nomadic tent village on an embankment along the Chbika River where it met the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by sand dunes. We were greeted by Berber and Bedouin tribesmen in their native attire, who sang and chanted to us initially and during our red carpet walk up to the hilltop entertainment tent, where we were dined and entertained by musicians and dancers.  We returned to our accommodations where we slept overnight in goat and camel hair tents and blankets.

The next morning, we were transported a short distance away to the festival area where the King’s brother, His Royal Highness, Prince Moulay Rachid, was to greet our group and other dignitaries. The setting was amongst sand dunes in the Sahara where the reception tent was surrounded by a one-mile cordoned-off area and by Berbers and nomadic tribes with their tents and camels. We were greeted by riders from 20 tribes on their dressed-up Arabian horses and camels who were to compete and posture for the Prince.

While waiting for His Royal Highness to arrive, I commented that he would not win a popularity contest if he appeared in a helicopter amidst all the sand. Well, Mother Nature stole his thunder by providing a genuine Saharan Desert sandstorm, which challenged all in attendance, as evidenced by many of the photographs viewable on my website in galleries 15 and 16.

The Moussem de Tan-Tan has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage for Peace and the Humanities.

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     - H. Allen Benowitz