I’M on assignment this week on beautiful Bawah Island, a luxury eco-resort three hours from Singapore via ferry and private seaplane. I’ll be back shortly with more photographs and I’m certain, an evocative travel tale or two, to share with you, my lovely reader. Sending you warm island vibes. The Global Goddess. x
The Global Goddess is travelling as a guest of Bawah Island https://bawahisland.com
I CAN tell that she’s stunning, even beneath her Muslim hijab, as she sits next to me on my flight from Dubai to Casablanca, this pretty Palestinian woman and her handsome husband, a Moroccan man. She smells of musk and optimism and when I ask her about the name of her perfume, she opens her phone and conspiratorially shows me a photo of a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair.
“It’s me,” she whispers.
Despite her head covering, we are not that different, my seat mate and me. During the seven-hour flight she listens to Adele and watches Wonder Woman. I view a documentary on Whitney Houston, and punctuate the hours by listening to Mariah.
From time-to-time she teaches me a few Arabic words: Maharba (hello/welcome); Shokrun (Thankyou); and Smaheli (Excuse Me). The phrase I most adore, Mashi Muskil (no problem), rolls off my tongue with such delight I can practically taste the words.
But she looks perplexed when I ask her for a polite phrase to use in case I am hassled or harassed.
“You won’t be hassled,” she assures me.
Yet, I persist, until she asks her husband who eventually utters “Baed Meni” meaning “stay away from me.”
Seven hours later in Casablanca, a rusty, dusty place, my first impressions of the men pendulum from being complete gentlemen concerned about my welfare as a woman, travelling alone until I meet my tour group, to that of a bunch of leering, jeering fools.
Earlier that evening on the street, while talking to my hotel door man, I am hassled by three men speaking Arabic. I don’t understand what they say, but my hotel host looks horrified and explains: “They say something very bad to you. They are drunk.”
I have just met a bunch of Casablanca wankers.
“I can get this shabby treatment back in Brisbane,” I want to shout after them, but my limited Arabic fails me.
I have a long, dark night of the soul in my basic hotel room with an inexplicable amount of door locks. I can’t work out whether they are to keep me in or to keep someone out. Why have I come to this strange land all alone?
The solitary light bulb in my spartan room explodes, stranding me in complete darkness. I toss and turn until I hear the dawn call to prayer wailing out above the sleepy city.
So unfamiliar am I with this haunting, yet beautiful sound, at first I think it’s a motorbike in the distance. I lay in bed in the early morning cool and wait, impatiently for first light, still searching for meaning behind my latest travels. Of course, I am here to hunt and gather stories and photographs for my editors, but on a personal level, what is it that I seek?
The next day, I steel myself and catch a cab to the art deco museum which is a feat in itself, as cabs in Casablanca are shared affairs, with the driving stopping randomly to pick up other passengers. By now, I’ve learned the word for “hot” as in the weather. I practice my Arabic, telling the driver it is hot today. He replies “You are hot.”
I’m frustrated when, as each male passenger enters his cab, they begin a long conversation which, from the pointing and staring, includes me.
I make a lunch reservation for one and dine at Rick’s Café. Over Moroccan lemon roasted chicken with saffron rice, raita, and a cold Casablanca beer, the water asks: “You like Moroccan food?”
“Yes, very much,” I say.
“You like Moroccan men?” he asks.
“I don’t know yet,” I respond.
Is it fair to impose my Australian views on feminism onto another culture? I juggle this concept in my mind during my 13-day Intrepid Morocco Uncovered journey which starts in Casablanca before heading north to Rabat, east towards Meknes, north to Chefchaouen, south through Fes, Midelt and the Sahara, before hooking back west again through the M’Goun Valley, Ait Benhaddou and finishing at Marrakech.
Khaled, my Intrepid Travel tour guide and a proud Berber man from Morocco’s Indigenous people, teaches me about Moroccan marriage law.
As late as 2004, a man could have three wives under former laws which were brought in to support poor women. Now, a man can only take a second wife if his current wife agrees. And women can divorce their husbands, and in most cases, custody of the children is awarded to the mother.
It’s a complex system where if a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim woman, the woman need not convert to Islam, but if a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man, the man must convert.
Arranged marriage still exists in some villages and if a man visits a woman’s family and they serve him tea with sugar, he has been accepted into the family. If the tea is bitter, he has been rejected.
One magical morning, while wandering Morocco’s blue city of Chefchaouen, I catch an elderly couple holding hands. They disappear around a corner. Like a lost puppy I follow them for a while, watching him assist her up those steep streets. Wondering about their love story.
Khaled, 35, is a modern Moroccan man who, by his own admission, is a “bad Muslim” who drinks alcohol and rarely prays.
He confesses how he once told a young Moroccan woman in Marrakech who was wearing a skimpy outfit to cover up, saying he found her outfit “disrespectful.”
She told him to “mind his own business.”
I ask Khaled why there appear to be no woman anywhere in the country who frequent the coffee shops at which there are copious men.
He explains that “women don’t like going out for coffee”. He believes Moroccan women have equal rights to men in his country.
Exploring feminism in Morocco is like stumbling into the Fez medina without a guide. There’s 10,000 streets here, and in one wrong turn you can become hopelessly lost. Hakima, our Fez guide, says if a woman is smart, she will learn to shut her mouth to a stupid husband, and then do what she wants anyway. Perhaps feminism isn’t struggling here, but cleverly hidden, under the veil many women discarded here 1912.
Despite its differences and difficulties, allow yourself to fall in love with the people of this colourful kingdom in northern Africa. For they are generous souls with an incredible history.
By the end of my journey I know about 13 Arabic phrases, one for every day of my trip. And I’m smitten. Arabic sounds as spectacular as it looks in its written form. A rush of long, curly sounds and words that stretch as far as the Sahara itself.
Wrap your mouth around Morocco. And open your mind and heart. Things won’t be the same again. Inshallah.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927
THE scorching Saharan sunshine is beating down upon me as I stumble, for 1.5 hours, barefoot, through Africa’s famed desert. Lawrence of Arabia, I am not. Just a foolish Australian woman who has decided to trek, rather than ride a camel, across this magical Moroccan land. I’m as stubborn as a mule, something I could do with right about now, as I slowly shuffle, increasingly sinking both with the soft sand and emotionally, through this starkly, stunning landscape.
The ochre sand is surprisingly cool and silky underfoot, as I curse my blatant stupidity with every step. What idiot decides to walk through the Sahara, up and over steep sand dunes, when there’s a perfectly competent caravan of camels available? Something that was not lost on the rest of my party, who at this point, are perched high above me, tossing words of encouragement, and the occasional bottle of water, down in my direction.
In my defence, while I like camels as animals and admire their incredible efficiency, I once had a bad experience on one while in Alice Springs. It was here, in Australia’s red centre, that my sexually-charged camel at the back of the pack, decided he wanted relations with a hot female at the front of the caravan, and hence proceeded to gallop past the rest of the herd, taking me flying in his wake. Another journalist colleague was once thrown from a camel, breaking several ribs. Camels and journalists get on as well as journalists and accountants. The two just don’t add up.
I am on a 13-day Intrepid Tour through mystical Morocco and up until now, things have gone swimmingly. Khaled, my Intrepid Tour Guide, a man for the traditional Berber tribespeople of Morocco, and someone who has become a friend, walks beside me for a while, until it becomes abundantly apparent he is annoyed with my antics. He attempts to show me a “shortcut”, leading me along a knife edge of dunes that are as high as 150 metres and drop away dramatically either side, but I am having none of it. We come to a standstill and bicker like lovers. “You said the sand was hard,” I protest. “No, I meant hard to walk on,” he reasons. Ah, by “hard” he meant “difficult”. Eventually, frustrated, he dumps me back at the camel caravan and disappears into the desert, his long, blue Berber robes flapping dramatically against the rusty landscape.
I clearly read the trip notes which said: “If you prefer, it’s possible to walk alongside the caravan on the sand for about an hour. But don’t worry, as it’s a gentle, relaxing walk.” Are they insane? Whoever wrote these notes has never walked beside a camel caravan in soft sand for 1.5 hours under the October Saharan sun. I trek on, caught between the first half of our caravan, and the second. I receive the occasional pitying look from the young camel herder when I ask how much further we have to travel, each peak delivering just more and more desert. I think back to the young Palestinian woman I met on the flight over, who warned me to “watch out” while I’m in the desert as “you never know what’s going to crawl out of the sand…like snakes.” And here I am, barefoot.
The more pressing issue than snakes is that the sun is setting rapidly and we are not even at camp. I have two choices. To lay down in the desert and die, or to pull myself together and keep walking. I consider the first option for a good minute, before I decide I can do this desert thing. I can make it out of the Sahara alive. The caravan and I limp into camp just as the sun sets and the night is cooling. I am so exhausted I retreat to my basic mattress on the floor and hot, fat tears roll down my face. I’m so angry at Khaled, I can’t even look at him. And even angrier with myself. “The sand wasn’t hard,” I say. “The sand was difficult.” In that cool, crude tent I give myself a good talking to, pull myself together and rejoin the group. One of the group has taken two cracker photos depicting the moment Khaled and I had our spat atop the sand hill, and the other when we made up, strolling down the dune holding hands, smiling. We all look at these perfect pictures depicting one of life’s comical moments and burst out laughing. Khaled and I are friends again. Order is restored. Yes, this was me at my desert dumbest.
Later that night we eat a simple beef tagine and lay under the stars on woven Moroccan rugs. The clear, cool, North African night sky is a belly dancer’s costume of diamontes. I crawl into my cot and fall asleep to the sound of drums, before the desert finally concedes to a Saharan silence. The next morning, I lay awake, aching, to the symphony of a snoring camel. Yet there remains one problem. How the hell am I getting out of this desert? Luckily, Khaled, professional that he is, has arranged for me not to depart by foot or camel, but a 4×4 over the desert dunes. Under a yawning saffron sunrise, the 4×4 climbs the steep dunes, pauses, and then shoots down into the valleys. I squeal with pure delight. We repeat this giddy trek over and over before I arrive back at our meeting point and I can’t help smiling. These peaks and troughs remind me of why we travel. You never know what’s over that next sand dune. And it turns out to be the ride of my life.
The Global Goddess travelled to Morocco as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927
ENSCONCED in an international airline lounge you can be anyone in the world. This journey begins in the Emirates Lounge in Brisbane, where, wrapped in my purple pashmina, I pretend I am a princess of Persia. I am whiling away the hours before my flight to the Middle East, dreaming of delicious dates that dance around my mouth like music, and figs that foxtrot. I snack on bright beetroot hummus and tangy tabouli. There’s beef carpaccio with truffle pecorino. I swirl Moet around my palate to wash down white and dark chocolate profiteroles with chiboust cream filling. It’s a delectable start to an exotic trip.
Fourteen hours later, and I land in Dubai where, in this Emirates Lounge, I am a maiden of Morocco, my ultimate destination for this travel tale. This close to my delicious destination, I can already smell the souks. The riads are becoming real. In this luxe lounge I sip mint tea, take a spiffy shower and daydream of cool Casablanca nights where I am Bergman in search of her Bogart. In another six hours, the warm north African breeze will frizz my hair and curl my mind. I can’t wait to wrap the foreign place names around my tongue. Marrakech sounds like a lover. Fez, like someone who could betray me. There will be desert nights and delights. Camel rides and sleeping under the stars. Haggling in the heat. Sandals and sand storms. Mosques and mountains. I am brimming with wonderment.
International airline lounges offer us that rare, brief, delightful pause in our travels. I want to announce to all of the other strangers with whom I share this sacred space that I’m off to Casablanca, slowly sounding out each brilliant consonant. But they are entwined in their own fabulous fantasies. Instead, I use this as a chance to stretch my legs and unleash my over-stimulated mind, allowing it to roam free. For it is here, waiting in airports, that we forage among our imagination and dare to dream of new horizons and bold beginnings. We think of old lovers and new friends we are yet to meet. As for Emirates, it’s one of the best in the business. Would I travel with them again? Play it again, Sam.
The Global Goddess was a guest in both lounges of Emirates https://www.emirates.com/au/english/ and is travelling in Morocco as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927
A FEW years back, concerned that Australians no longer seemed to be sending letters in this most technical of ages, one of my travel writer friends decided to do something about it. They established a Facebook group (the irony was not lost on us), labelled it Friday Postcards, and invited those of us in love with the written word, and partial to the odd postcard or two, to join. The motive was simple: send a postcard on a Friday to someone. Spread the love. Keep the written word (and Australia Post) alive.
I love being a part of this group: collecting cool cards when I travel, the tingle I feel when I send off a handful of post cards, and the rush when one lands in my letterbox. Over the years I’ve noticed a trend emerging among those I’ve been receiving. Yes, I’ve been receiving male, plenty of male…I present to you some of my favourites, which have made me laugh like a lunatic while standing at my white picket fence in Brisbane.
The Construct My Own Lumberjack
Fresh from her travels in the Yukon, Julie Miller posted me my own lumberjack. As the card says: “As it has become increasingly difficult to clear airport security with a rowdy lumberjack.” Thanks Julie, he was very handy with the, err, wood…
My Own Maori Warrior
Fellow Brisbane travel writer Lee Mylne, who hails from the Land of the Long White Cloud, kindly sent me “a little bit of Kiwi culture” in the form of a Maori male. Two months earlier, while travelling in our home state of Queensland, Lee sent the post card, which leads this blog, from Agnes Water. Yes, I caught her excitement and am off to get my own net for a spot of fishing…
Colorado Has Awesome Scenery
Kris Madden sent these thoughtful greetings from the USA. We all enjoyed the scenery immensely…
A Terrific Toy Boy
While travelling back to her home country of New Zealand, Briar Jensen went to the trouble of finding me this toy boy. “Have fun with him!” she wrote. Oh, I did…
A Myanmar Man
A few years back, Deborah Dickson-Smith and I were travelling through the River Kwai and staying in a floating Mon Village on the Thai/Burmese border. We loved the idea of finding me a Mon man. Deb was up in Myanmar looking for Mon for me…
A Hairy Man
Travelling around the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany, Philip Game pondered whether I like my blokes with a few whiskers. Nothing at all fishy about this card…
Melanie Ball found this “cutie” at the National Folk Festival over Easter and while recognising he wasn’t a man of the human variety, she thought he was an interesting crittter all the same…
Sending me a bit of tundra Tinder, Kerry van der Jagt wrote that “polar bears are the pin-ups” in Norway’s Svalbard. Yes, and about as endangered as a decent bloke in Brisbane. I get where she was going with this…
Never underestimate the power of the post to brighten someone’s day. Write to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Pen a love letter. Believe in the written word. Dust off those handwriting skills and then write your heart out.
With love from Brisbane, The Global Goddess
THIS story is a sashay down memory lane to those halcyon days of childhood summer holidays on the Gold Coast. Worry-free weeks of sandy feet, sandcastles and the occasional sneaky sunburn. Of sunkissed, sleepy nights on cheap, cotton sheets. Pink zinc cream and mozzie bites. Scorching days where we would reluctantly leave Coolangatta beach and pile into the gold Kingswood with its branding-iron seat belts that nobody ever wore. We’d venture across the border into northern New South Wales to visit our wild boy cousins also on holiday. Kingscliff, Pottsville, Cabarita…they were all so daggy back then. About as much style as the terry toweling shorts which barely covered our bums.
But those were the halcyon days where we’d stand along the shoreline like soldier crabs and dig for pippies with our feet. Go on adventures with the wild cousins, mud squelching between our toes, and wander the mangroves with a yabby pump. How time and places change. I am in northern New South Wales visiting Nimbin in search of nirvana, or at the very least, the remnants of Australia’s hippie movement, for a story I’m writing for a magazine about the 50th anniversary of Flower Power. I’m unclear about whether the hippies want to hug or hurt me. I suspect it’s a bit of both. I’m tailgated on the windy road deep into the Tweed Valley. Where is the love? Things just aren’t like they used to be.
With my story captured like a fugitive in my imagination, I head back towards the coast where I check into Halcyon House for the night. It’s the ideal spot for this journey back into nostalgia. The bones of this old surf hotel are still here, replete with 19 individually-designed rooms and two suites, but these days she’s a lady of luxury. These elegant rooms combine coastal chic with all the flair of a British B&B by the sea. But Brighton this is not. It’s sunny Cabarita Beach upon which this grand dame is perched.
There’s an all-inclusive mini bar with floral-infused gin and dirty tonic water which, by description alone, I’m unable to refuse. Organic red and white wine, plus Byron Bay beer and soft drinks make up the remaining delectable drinks. Chips, Lindt chocolate and even some Tweed Coast salami is cooling in the fridge and it would be oh-so-tempting to pull up a perch on my royal blue outdoor chair and watch the ocean, but I’m determined to try the acclaimed restaurant here.
The pretty Paper Daisy is named after the wildflowers that bloom nearby at Norrie’s headland. And chef Ben Devlin, formerly of Noma fame, specialises in coastal cooking. There’s pippies here too, but unlike anything my cousins and me ever imagined. These days you’ll find these shellfish in semolina pasta, native pepper and macadamia oil. I opt for the Wagyu minute steak with fennel, witlof and pomelo and served with purple cauliflower and walnuts, and cucumber and cashew nuts. Want dessert? How about a messed-up cookie or a lemon myrtle meringue cone? Or you could go the whole hog and order the four-course degustation menu.
I return to my room to find the bed has been turned down, there’s a pillow menu from which to choose, and my clothing has been folded. Two home-made chocolate chip cookies sit beside a note wishing me sweet dreams. And that’s another thing that sets this hotel experience aside from anywhere else. The service is immaculate. It could be these yummy childhood feelings this property evokes, but I would go as far as to say it’s the best hotel I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world. Yes, in coastal Cabarita, they’ve struck gold. That perfect balance between relaxed luxury and sensational service.
And there’s plenty to do here as well. Laze on a plush day bed around the pool, or borrow a complimentary bicycle and explore the area. This hotel also has two Audis available for hire. Or, if you’re like me, and nostalgia has clasped firmly onto your head and heart, if only for one night, do nothing but daydream about those heavenly, halcyon days of your childhood.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Halcyon House – https://halcyonhouse.com.au This five-star boutique accommodation, which is a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels Group, has plans to open a spa in late 2017.
THE green ferry is paddling across Sydney Harbour like a sanguine sea turtle and the sparkling city resembles an Outback night sky. Turns out it’s a celestial weekend in every sense of the word. I’m in Sydney for the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) National Travel Industry Awards in which I am a finalist for the Best Travel Writer and I am staying at The Star Astral Residences. Let me be clear upfront: when I refer to “stars” in this blog, I am not referring to myself. I like to think of myself more as a Halley’s Comet – showing a flash of brilliance once every 75 years or so.
I’ve been upgraded to a one-bedroom suite befitting of a celebrity far more cool than this Brisbane broad who always feels a bit out of place among the lurid lights and screaming sass of the southern capital. From my perky perch on the 15th floor, from which I have a view across Darling Harbour of the city’s skyline, I have a yawning, sunny balcony, a downstairs lounge room, dining, kitchen and powder room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, bathroom, two more toilets and my favourite room of all: a media nook in which they have plonked a ruby, red velvet couch which swivels.
Just when I think I’ve stumbled across the most beautiful hotel room in Sydney, I am shown the latest additions to The Star: three “experiential” studios all of which sport different themes. Chic geeks will adore the Cyperpunk Studio replete with four 65-inch TV consoles as well as its own virtual reality chamber. Then there’s the 70s Glam Studio where the couch comes complete with a hole for your champagne ice bucket and a rotating disco ball hangs from the ceiling. No surprises that my favourite suite is the Dark Romance with its art-deco furnishings, four-poster bed and a romance button where the lights are automatically dimmed and a fireplace bursts to life.
Alas, there is no one on this trip to light my fire, so I scurry back to room I privately label the “no romance suite” (which has everything to do with appalling love life and nothing to do with this gorgeous suite) and collapse on my ruby couch to spin and contemplate romance for a while. But not for long. There’s a decadent afternoon in The Darling Spa (one of three hotels in the Star complex apart from the Star Residences and Star Towers), where a pretty Parisian called Pauline pampers me in a relaxing massage. In February, The Darling was named the first and only five-star hotel in Sydney by the influential ForbesTravelGuide.com.
My five-star experience continues that evening at the beautiful Balla, a fine Italian restaurant within The Star complex and from which I spy my turtle ferries crossing the inky night waters of Sydney Harbour. The Sydney Harbour Bridge winks at me as I dine on duck ragu gnocchi followed by wagu steak, washed down with an Italian Montepulciano. The one benefit of being such a booze hag is that I know my wine and this is a fine drop indeed. I finish this feast with a soft blue gorgonzola cheese with cherries in balsamic vinegar, and a cherry liqueur. Another benefit of staying at The Star is that if you don’t finish your bottle of wine (I know…there’s a shock), and while under law you are not able to take it with you, room service will collect it and deliver it to your suite.
It’s a late breakfast at The Star’s Harvest Buffet the next morning where I appear to have entered Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There’s not one, but three chocolate fountains among a range of international cuisine as well as your standard breakfast fare. By the time I have lunch downstairs at Pizzaperta, and spend the afternoon drinking the rest of my red wine with a mate on my sunny deck, I realise I haven’t left The Star complex since I checked in, 26 hours ago. For a travel writer who is always on the go, this is one of life’s great luxuries. It’s a short cab ride to the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre for the AFTA awards where, although I didn’t win, I come home with a gorgeous glass trophy.
Yes, it’s been a weekend of stars and I suspect this particular Sydney stay will be hard to eclipse.
The Global Goddess was a guest of The Star. A night in the Cyberpunk and 70s Glam Studios starts at $1500. A night in the Dark Romance Studio starts at $500 and the Suite in which I stayed at between $400 and $500. http://www.thestarsydney.com.au