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Features

The Long Island Social Diary: My Travels To Exotic Tan-Tan, Morocco

There’s something about traveling to exotic lands that gives you an appreciation for how big the world really is. One of my fondest experiences involved traveling to Morocco for the annual Moussem of Tan-Tan, an annual event where 35 nomadic desert tribes and roughly 30 to 45 thousand people — including Berbers and Bedouin — gather for a week-long celebration of Hassani culture while buying, selling and exchanging food. There are also numerous competitions, including horse and camel contests that are part of a more widespread cultural exchange.

This was my second time in North Africa in 18 months. I was fortunate enough to go with a delegation of 16 or 17 of my friends in the Explorers Club. We went on the behest of His Royal Majesty King Mohammed VI. Our guides were Fadel Benyaich, royal advisor to the King, and the dashing Kitin Munoz, the Moroccan Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a published author.

Both times that I’ve gone have allowed me to experience rich cultural traditions, whether it was through the goodwill and kindness of the natives or the numerous stories I’ve heard while sharing meals with my fellow explorers. While Tan-Tan is actually a port city, the actual festival is held on its outskirts. From the minute I got off the plane, I was immersed in Moroccan culture when a group of musicians playing native music greeted us with tambourines and drums. Like before, the site of all the tents and people milling about really takes your breath away.

If that wasn’t enough, my fellow explorers, including Alan Nichols, president of the Explorers Club and Dr. Kenneth Kamler, kept things interesting at mealtimes with stories from their travels around the world. Dr. Kamler in particular had no lack of tales given the fact that he’s climbed Mount Everest twice and ventured undersea four times. His is a story that will be revisited in a future column.

Even though tents served as our sleeping quarters, it really felt like we were sleeping under the stars. At night, the sky lights up over a nearby body of water that makes it feel like you’re under a dome like Jim Carrey’s character in The Truman Show. During the day, the surroundings were no less breathtaking, from the beautiful wares for sale throughout the festival to the colorfully dressed nomadic horsemen racing against each other, stopping long enough to periodically shoot their long rifles into the air. Like the experience I had at the airport, the music was very exotic sounding. It was the perfect soundtrack for this mini tent city that crackled with different sights, smells and sounds, reminding me of a scene from Lawrence of Arabia.

To get a feel for what the Moussem of Tan-Tan is like, I highly recommend you find a copy of Kitin’s book The Moussem of Tan Tan: Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The pictures alone are worth the effort, and will give you an idea of how I felt while getting in touch with my inner Indiana Jones.