5 Reasons To Visit Marrakech

A £50 return to magical-Marrakech was too tempting an offer to refuse. So in January I packed my bags for a chilled weekend of yoga, good food and culture, and here’s why you should do the same…

1. The Maze That Is The Medina

Despite being a short 3 hour flight from home (in my case, the UK), Marrakesh could not feel further away from my familiar: A pastel-washed labyrinth of markets, Mosques and mayhem. With recognizable landmarks far and few between within the walls of the city, enjoy getting lost where the hustle and bustle is incessant, the Mosque’s cry for prayer will enchant you and the treasures for sale in the Souq are irresistible for shopaholics and collectors alike.  Rooftop cafes are oasis’s from the chaos of the Medina, with breath-taking views of the Atlas Mountains, and late night strolls around El Falma could lead to a monkey or snake being plonked on your shoulders… it’s impossible not to be seduced by the shabby-opulence of deeply-traditional Morocco.

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2. The Food

As a life-long lover of North African spices and aroma, I was in my absolute element indulging in tagines, cous-cous platters and sweet-‘n’-sticky Baklava. The best of which being the food in the ‘locals market’ on the north-west side of the city, just beyond the walls of the Medina; serving the locals the finest sausages, stews and suppers at local prices. Not to mention the refreshing peppermint tea served at every opportunity –  make sure they go easy on the sugar though!

 

3. The Markets

Marrakesh seriously tested my self-restrain. The textiles are vibrant, the spices are aromatic, the leather is supple and the silver is cheap. Taking an empty suitcase comes highly-advised for fellow shopaholics, and my top tip is to haggle on just about everything – it’s all part of the fun!

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4. The Mountains

A short hour-long drive out of Marrakech will guide you to the dramatic, snow-capped Atlas mountains. It’s hard to believe the snow is real when looking from the scorchingly-hot, claustrophobic capital, but the rural landscapes of Berban Morocco is otherworldly. A day trip will set you back about £15 and is well-worth the trip.

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5. The People

There had never been a more controversial time to travel to a Muslim country than when I visited Morocco in January, following Trump’s travel ban. What I experienced couldn’t be further from the fear-mongering garbage the tabloids would have you believe: the Moroccan people are warm, hospitable and funny, not to mention eager for visitors to experience the magic their home offers. It was fascinating immersing myself in a totally different culture and observing the Moroccan people’s customs, one of which being the Hammam experience (which is well worth the read if you want to hear how I found myself naked with a bunch of lovely Muslim women throwing water on me)…

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Experiencing a local Hammam

 

Traditionally, a Hammam is a Middle-Eastern bathing chamber where people go to cleanse, bathe and exfoliate. Overtime this communal experience has become loved by tourists seeking an alternative spa experience during their stay in Morocco.

Inevitably the Hammam has evolved from the traditional (and rather basic) experience into something somewhat lavish to pander to the Western ideals of relaxation and well-being. Google ‘best hammams in Marrakech’ and you’ll be inundated by recommendations from Vogue, Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor – all of which have cherry picked the finest and most luxurious Hammams in this city, costing anywhere upwards of £25.

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A Westernized Hammam – definitely more on the luxurious end of the scale!

If, like me, you’d prefer to experience the real deal then you need to scratch beneath the surface. There are hammam’s on virtually every street in Marrakech but you’ll need a local to point them out, blink and you’d miss them. I asked in my hostel where I might find a local hammam, and was surprised to learn it was literally round the corner, and further amused by the map I was drawn. “Go past the man selling meat opposite the tobacco shop, five paces past the man selling fish on the left-hand side and it’s the first door on the left”.  My friend in hostel wrote down exactly how much I should pay for the experience, a grand total of 60 Dirham/ £6 (and this was for the full body scrub, should you wish to go and wash yourself it’s a mere 10 Dirham/ £1).

The limited instructions were amusingly accurate and lead me to hole in the wall, which gave no indication of the secret inside. To the untrained eye the “door” looked more like the entrance to a slightly dodgy, alley…

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My local Hammam – not quite on par as the one above I’m sure you’ll agree! Sadly no photos are taken inside, but I think the entrance paints a pretty good picture…

Two women wrapped in Hijabs sat inside the small, dimly lit chamber/reception. In my best French (the extent of which, I should add, could just about order me a croissant) and a lot of sign language, we managed to articulate that I wanted to come in and experience the Hammam. It was difficult to work out whether they were confused by my limited French or why the hell we wanted to come in at all. After a baffling exchange of money and quick game of shirades to explain what I wanted I parted with 10 dirham for the entrance fee, and 50 dirham for the body scrub. We were handed a squishy, newspaper-wrapped pouch containing our “savoire noir”, a sticky black paste locals use for cleaning with.

I was led into the first chamber with three other Moroccan women, one of which must have been a similar age to me, the others easily in their 50’s. I did as they did: strip. Dubiously removing layers as they did until we found ourselves in just our pants. It was a slightly strange experience seeing women who at all other times are so modestly covered suddenly in nothing by their pants: their dark, curly hair in tussles around their shoulders and their enviably curvaceous figures strutting around unphased by communal nudity. We were ushered out of the changing chamber, through a second chamber into a third where the air was dense with humidity and steam. There was certainly nothing glamorous or lavish about the chamber: in fact, if you had seen a photograph of me in that room without knowing we were in a hammam, you might have thought I’d been abducted and held hostage in some sort of dank prison.

The women filled four huge plastic buckets with warm water. Rather than delicately pouring the water over our skin, the buckets were chucked at me as if we were being punished. I couldn’t stop giggling, it was so hilariously ironic and utterly unsensual I couldn’t contain myself. The practice couldn’t have been further from the therapeutic experience the luxury spas promise, this said, this was exactly what I wanted to experience.

After the soap came the exfoliator. A rather unappealing coloured paste was scrubbed into my skin with a course mitt, leaving my skin feeling baby-soft and radiant. After a final rinse off we scuttled back through the various chambers to the changing room and put back on dearly missed clothes/ modesty.

If you’re travelling to Morocco, you really must try this authentic and bizarre experience. There was something really comforting and unifying about being in the buff around total strangers, especially the Moroccan women who are always covered from head to toe. You won’t find these places advertised on Trip Advisor, so make sure you ask in your riad where’s good to go!

Marrakech: My first experience in a Muslim country

I’m currently sitting on a rooftop terrace cafe in the heart of Marrakech’s Medina, with a fresh Moroccan mint tea warming my hands on this chilly evening; oil lanterns glowing around me and the chaos of the night markets hustling and bustling below…

It’s my first day in Morocco, first time in northern Africa and, most significantly, my first time in a predominantly Muslim country. There doesn’t seem to be more of a controversial or fitting time to immerse myself in the Muslim culture following President Trump’s bigoted and outrageous decision to persecute Muslims this week. Whilst I’m reluctant to share my political views on my travel blog, it’s important for me to share my positive experiences and encounters with a community who appear to be endlessly persecuted.

I fear that Donald Trump would gladly have us believe places like Morocco are treacherous breading grounds for extremists. So far, it couldn’t be further from the opposite. The Moroccan people I’ve encountered so far are welcoming, inquisitive, humorous and friendly people who are eager for visitors to learn about their fascinating traditions, try their exotic cuisine and learn about their customs.

I met an adorable woman this afternoon called Leyla. We sat opposite one other in a cafe: my brown hair hanging in curls, hers neatly disguised by her hijab. I struck up conversation, and before long we were talking about anything and everything – also discovering a mutual love for makeup. She guided me through the Souk to the heart of the Medina to show me her favorite cosmetic seller who sells natural spices, oils and pigments. She told me that men and women use amber and other natural incenses as perfumes as typical perfumes/ aftershaves contain alcohol which the Muslim community are not allowed to wear to the mosque. It was a fascinating afternoon , with no expectation or assumption that money was to be exchanged for her company.  It was just a brief encounter of two people from different worlds who had two hours to burn together.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 4 days have in store for me and look forward to sharing my adventures in this mad little city. Now, back to my tea…

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The Travelling Tapir’s Annual Roundup 2016

2016 was full of adventures, hurdles and progression: a year I’ll remember for forcing me to make crucial life decisions, some of which were for the best and some out of necessity. Despite blessing me with some beautiful memories, it’s been a year I’ve been looking forward to finishing, putting behind me, and learning from. Here’s my roundup…

2016 began in Vietnam: raising a glass of Bia Hoi to a new year that, for once, I had no intentions or plans for.

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My sweet ride around Hanoi

It was a transitional time for me: adapting to a city I thought I knew well, but my memories felt somewhat distorted upon my return. It was probably because  when I left Hanoi it was was suffocatingly hot and freezing cold when I returned. I’d made a few changes the second time round, like swapping my moped for a bicycle, moving in with the awesome Rebecca and was trying to play catch up on all that I’d missed out on in the four months I’d spent back home.

What eased me back into expat-life in ‘Nam was my rusty old bicycle. Cycling around the chaos was unbelievably invigorating: I would look forward to whipping around West Lake every day on my way to work, and got to know Hanoi on much more of an intimate level. Even now, 8 months after leaving Hanoi, if I need to take my mind to somewhere tranquil it’s to the moments spent alone cruising around that smoggy lake that I found my place of calm.

 

In February the Vietnamese celebrate Tet holiday (their equivalent of Christmas), which was the perfect opportunity to take two week’s leave to travel around Myanmar: a trip which stands as the most magical and memorable adventure of my life to date. Everything from the fusion cuisine, adorable children, surreal landscapes to the mind-boggling script mesmerized me, the pinnacle being sunrise over Old Baganwhich ought to be on every traveler’s bucket list.

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Sunrise over Old Bagan

Sadly, personal circumstances as well as a readiness to move on from teaching meant that it was time to say goodbye to Hanoi back in May. The decision wasn’t an easy one to come to, as I had had high hopes for Hanoi and a lot of love for the city. But in reality the progression I want to make throughout my twenties would only been stunted by years of TEFL teaching, which I’d realized wasn’t really for me (I mean don’t get me wrong I love running riot with adorable Vietnamese babies, but there’s only so much you can teach during “Worm Week” without wanting to jump). Naturally I had to squeeze in a month of travelling around Vietnam before I left to explore the long list of islands, hill-top towns and both urban and traditional cities I’d been dying to see.

After the novelty of cheese, family, friends, convenience, safe transport and being reunited with my wardrobe wore off (which took all of 1 week) I began to question whether returning home was for the best. England’s pretty rubbish (and extortionate!) at the best of times, but the Brexit referendum really was the nail in the coffin for any sense of pride for Britain. But a little bit of soul searching confirmed that being in the UK near to my family and sinking my teeth into a  career was what I was really craving – something to help me feel I was actually progressing in life rather than coasting. Some dusting off of those corporate skills I’d buried helped me land a job at Hills Balfour, one of London’s most reputable destination marketing & PR agencies.

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Joining as an Account Executive working on the Mauritius account, I began a new chapter as a city girl: commuting on the world’s most abysmal train line, looking forward to my monthly pay cheque and restraining my travel bug in a straight jacket…

A quick holiday to Portugal back in September was just enough to sooth my itchy feet, and was a week filled of mischievous holiday hedonism.

Don’t get me wrong, working at HB was and still is the right path for me – I love the team I work with, and am passionate enough about the industry to wake up early every morning and contend with a railway who strike more often than not – anyone who knows me best knowns getting me out of bed for anything is impressive! And after all, who wouldn’t love a all-expenses paid for trip to one of the world’s most idyllic destinations?!

Spending a week in Mauritius was the ultimate work perk, and introduced me to a new side of travel: luxury. The dangerous thing is, once you’ve had a taste of the high-life it’s difficult to get excited about bed bugs and dorm rooms again. I’m sure I’ll manage!

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In terms of the blog I’m dumbfounded that I have nearly 4,000 subscribers, with 150 receiving email notifications when I post, and an increasing social media presence. Please don’t forget to Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more of my travelling scribbles, giggles and quibbles!

Overall, 2016 has been a mixed bag: it was as liberating as it was limiting, as freeing as it was confining. The greatest lesson I’ve learnt (and am still adapting to) is to trust my inner-teacher who is infinitely wise and knows best what’s right for me. So often I regard the opinions of others with much higher regard than trusting my own intuition – it’s time to have a little more faith in my own path as so far it’s taken me to some pretty amazing places.

Let’s just say I’m pleased it’s over so I can start 2017 feeling fresh, armed with the lessons I’ve learnt and excited by the adventures to store…

Happy New Year!

Love,

The Tapir x

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Mauritius, Indian Ocean

In the heart of the Indian Ocean lies one of the world’s most treasured and esteemed island-edens: Mauritius. A palm-fringed, volcanic island full of humble charm and luxury resorts; idyllic Mauritius both inspired and intrigued me…

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Why? Well, having spent some of my teenage years living in Antigua (Caribbean) where there are visible tensions between local people and (comparatively) wealthy holiday-makers, I was was both humbled and surprised by the genuine geniality of the Mauritian people. Despite the average Mauritian living in rustic ramshackle houses and living off of modest salaries, you would expect the 60% of the island’s inhabitants who work in travel and tourism industry (serving predominantly wealthy, white people people) to have a bit of a chip on their shoulders. This couldn’t be further from the truth – there is such a sincere curiosity and friendliness about the Mauritian community, both in and outside of the resorts which is as magnetic as it is inspiring.

Mauritius has the reputation of exclusivity and luxury – both of which the island certainly delivers. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are accommodation classifications to suit budgets of all sizes. If, like me, you’re not likely to want to fork out thousands for an opulent beachfront villa there are plenty of gorgeous and rustic hotels like Attitude’s Emeraude Beach, which in May can accommodate a couple for £400 (per person) all-inclusive. Not bad if you’re looking for some pre-summer sun! Outside of the resorts and hotels you’re paying next to nothing for food, drink, petrol, and excursions. I highly recommend hiring a car/moped and exploring the abundance of pristine beaches and tropical jungles, indulging on the delicious local street food and cold Pheonix beers!

 

Considering you’re in the Indian Ocean, which has a patch-work of nationalities influencing the heritage and culture, there were more moments the island reminded me more of the Caribbean than it’s African/Indian influencers. There’s something about whiter than white sand; crystal bays stretching to turquoise reefs; trees overloaded tropical fruits; tumultuous driving on bumpy roads; mini marts selling merchandise from bygone decades; street food sellers whipping up an absolute treat in seconds and the most mesmerizing sunsets which plasters a permanent smile on my face.

There’s something in Mauritius for everyone: whether you’re an adventure enthusiast, windsurfing lover, culture vulture, rum drinker, adventurous foodie or unashamedly a fly and flop kind of person, Mauritius is barefoot bliss waiting to be explored.

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Ravenala: a gateway to authentic Mauritius 

The amount I’ve learnt this week about the importance of the ‘personal experience‘ hotels and their intuitive marketing teams, nurture and weave into their rooms is phenomenal. What Attitude (the island’s most populated chain, with 9 unique and rustic resorts) have mastered is showcasing the rich fabric of Mauritanian culture and urging guests to experience Mauritius.

It’s both an effective and popular marketing strategy as guests have the opportunity to indulge in authentic experiences such as visiting a Mauritanian family for an evening meal; master the local language Creole on the beach; explore the island’s forests, mountains and beaches using their intuitive app; meet local craftsmen at the Attitude Bazarre where the hotel invites tradesmen to sell local produce in pop up markets; as well as the embellishment of local art, music and flavour seen across the suites, restaurants and facilities.
Ravenala is a spacious and colonial-feeling hotel with stunning west-facing coastal views – perfect for sunset spotting. The “Otentik” experience is embodied here, offering guests much more than luxury accommodation: it’s an invitation to leave Mauritius having learned about the warm and beautiful culture this wonderful island boasts.

Lux Belle Mare, Mauritius

It’s all about the little moments with Lux, a brand who pride themselves on sentiment and experience. It’s visible everywhere: from the wishes tree, to the messages in bottles (hidden bottles containing vouchers for spa treatments and all other sorts of goodies), to old-school red telephone boxes where you can call anywhere in the world free of charge. Absolute dedication to a vision has gone into crafting such a beautiful resort on the dreamy east coast of Mauritius.
Around every corner is the wow factor, it’s difficult not to be swept away!

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Irresistible Mauritius promises visitors far more than paradise beaches. The mountainous Indian-ocean island is abundant in nature and rich in culture, making Mauritius an island-Eden waiting to be discovered!

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The Indian Ocean has the reputation of being exclusive, luxurious, dream destinations for money-made couples to ‘fly and flop’. Whilst this may be true of the Maldives, which are literally tiny spits of sand occupied by 5* resorts, Mauritius has a humbling and infectious culture and a range of accommodation options to suit budgets of all sizes.

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I was excited to learn that beyond the palm-fringed beaches there’s a thriving, kicked back culture, and mountainous terrain to entertain and inspire me. In fact, Mauritius is starting to be recognized globally for the amount of outdoor pursuits available to visitors such as yoga treks, waterfall expeditions and quad bike safaris. I’m most looking forward to visiting Port Louis’s (the capital of Mauritius) Central Market and trying all the delicious street food and fresh fruit and to get a feel for the Mauritius beyond the luxury resorts.

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Talking of street food, the Mauritian cuisine is a fusion of all the best in the world: Indian, African, Chinese, French and European. I can’t wait to get my hands on the curries, freshly-caught fish and French-Creole inspired desserts. Mmmm…

 

It’s only 10 days until I touch down in paradise. Excited is an understatement!

 

 

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