The Santa Clause

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland


THIS Finnish fairy tale begins in the home of a Laplander who talks to elves, and ends with an interview with Santa Claus. I am sitting in the north of Finland in the Rovaniemi home of Irene and Ari Kankaanpaa, and Irene is explaining how one of her house elves doesn’t like where it sits, so much so that when Irene comes home from her artist studio, the elf is often naked. I suggest the elf may want to be in the sauna, where all good Finns get naked. Irene agrees. This is a story of Christmas miracles, elves and how I finally met Santa Claus.

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland


And it starts with this eccentric artist who, with her husband Ari, spends her days crafting handicraft out of reindeer horns and other body parts. I learn a lot about reindeer, how up here they are considered the best due to the high calcium in their bones, and how the Finnish use every part for clothes, tools and food. And along the way I learn a little about love, Lapland style.
“We make love and fishing in summer and not so much fishing in winter,” Irene says.
“Lappish men don’t talk much, so don’t be too aggressive. It is a very equal relationship but both sides know their strengths and there is never a question about it.
“Lapland men want to go into nature too and you must let them go.
“If you want something from a man, always ask him when you are in the sauna.”
I tell Irene that I am meeting Santa the next day and that he’s failed in the past 9 years to deliver me a much-coveted boyfriend.
“Have you written to him?” she asks.
Actually no, I haven’t. Instead, I’ve been a typical female, expecting a man (in this case Santa) to be able to read my mind.
“Should Christine ask Santa for a boyfriend?” Irene whispers to her house elf?
The elf says yes. It’s a good sign.

I sleep the night in the exotic Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle where sublime snow is dumped on my glass ceiling during the night. I’m a tiny figurine inside a Christmas snow dome. I awake, pen my note (tossing in “peace on earth” for good measure), and march through the snow to the nearby Santa Claus Village, where I have the first appointment of the day with Santa.
Santa opens the dialogue, asking me the kind of question a Brisbanite would: whether I live on the “north side or south side” which is a little disturbing, as I feel he should already know this crucial bit of information.
He’s also not so great on meteorology, saying he doesn’t feel the heat in his bulky suit in Brisbane in summer as he arrives at night.
Who is HE kidding? I lay awake in December dressed in far less with a cool face washer on my boiling brow, cursing like a grinch.
Things are off to a shaky start.

But he’s up-to-speed on the no chimney situation in Brisbane, saying he just waltzes through the front door. I ask him whether that constitutes break and enter.
“Who would arrest me on Christmas night in this suit? I’m not breaking and entering, I’m delivering,” he says. (Try explaining that in Brisbane Magistrates Court).
He also wants Aussies to know the days of leaving out a cold beer for him are over “there’s no drinking and driving” and that he’d prefer a water. (Fine, Santa, more beer for me).
“I can promise that you are on the nice list. We don’t take the naughty ones in here at all,” he says.
I ask Santa whether Trump would make his naughty list. Santa quickly shuts me down. International politics are clearly not to be discussed with the big bearded bloke, who has just invoked the Santa Clause.

dig


I move on to the issue at hand. The fact I want to meet a kind, smart and funny man. I personally hand my letter to Santa, having long given up on the efficacy of Australia Post.
“This has been top of the list for many people,” he says, reading my request for love.
“The biggest problem is I have no idea how to park them. Should I put him in a box or roll him up or put him in a sock?”.
I tell Santa to just shove the decent bloke through the front door and I can find him under the Christmas tree. Frankly, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve found a drunk bloke under a tree on my property.
“One problem is we don’t take back presents, there is no guarantee, so you are stuck with them,” he says.
I’m feeling Santa knows much more about Brisbane blokes than I first imagined, so I push him to just try to find me a good one.
“I can try, you never know what is around the next corner. They can just appear sometimes,” he says.
Two weeks to go. I’m waiting Santa. I’m waiting.

Visit Irene and Ari (and their elves) at Hornworks https://hornwork.fi/index.php/english

Stay in Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle http://www.santashotels.fi/en/hotelsantaclaus/glass-igloos-in-rovaniemi

The Global Goddess travelled a guest of Visit Rovaniemi http://www.visitrovaniemi.fi; 50 Degrees North, an Australian-based company which specialises in tailor-made itineraries for regions beyond the 50th parallel north; https://au.fiftydegreesnorth.com; and Finnair http://www.finnair.com. Fly in style via Singapore or Hong Kong to Helsinki in Finnair Business Class aboard an Airbus A350 XWB. Boasting fully flat-bed seats and Finland’s famous Marimekko-design bedding and accessories, these Nordic-styled cabins come replete with Northern Lights mood lighting

SANTA BABY…

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland

HO, HO, HO! With just over one month until Christmas, I’m busy packing to head to Finland this week, where I have my most exciting interview all year…with Santa! I have a few things to discuss with old mate, including why he’s ignored 9 consecutive years of me asking for a boyfriend. Is it the type of beer I’m leaving out for you, Santa? Would you prefer an Aussie shiraz?

Photo by Kimmo Syvari, Courtesy of Visit Finland

Want to find out all about this naughty and nice trip to the North Pole? Keep an eye on this blog (and my Instagram account @aglobalgoddess) over the next few weeks. Speaking of nice, how good is this… My trip has been organised by 50 Degrees North – a niche, independently-owned, specialist travel company, which designs tailor-made itineraries for travellers. I’ll be taking reindeer rides, meeting huskies, staying in an igloo under the Northern Lights, the works. https://au.fiftydegreesnorth.com
And to top off my last long-haul travel writing assignment of the year, I’ll be flying Business Class with Finnair – http://www.finnair.com
No reindeers for me on this journey from Australia, instead, it’s an Airbus A350 XWB, with a Nordic-styled cabin to set the tone for the story ahead. Finnair was the first European airline to fly this aircraft type, so I’m looking forward to travelling with a carrier with which I’ve never flown before. Put the beer on ice, Santa, I’m coming for you!

Photo courtesy of Finnair

10 Reasons This Indonesian Island Is The New Maldives


10,000 years old, 100 staff, and 1 guest. Me. This is how I spent last week, ensconced on a luxury eco resort in Indonesia, half way between Malaysia and Borneo. So exotic is this location, it was part of the Sunda Land which linked up Peninsula Malaysia, Cambodia, Java and Sumatra, during the last Ice Age. Now, you’ll find the newly-opened and breathtakingly beautiful Bawah Island, just three hours from Singapore. Yes, last week I died and went to heaven…and the angels were serving cold Bintang on the beach.

Here’s 10 reasons Bawah Island is the new Maldives for Aussies…at only half the travel time.

1. It has luscious lagoons
Sporting not one, but three lagoons, Bawah Island is plonked in Indonesia’s Anambas group of islands. Bawah, which means “lower” or “southern”, denotes its position and because of its remote (yet accessible) location, you can expect unspoilt, crystal-clear waters. Spend your days snorkelling or diving the aqua ocean, or sailing, paddle-boarding and kayaking. The passionate Paulo, an enthusiastic Italian who runs these activities, will happily be your snorkelling buddy, provide you with gear, and introduce you to Bawah’s underwater wonders.

2. Life is sweet in your overwater suite
They don’t call these bungalows here, but suites, as this is luxe plus. Saunter along a walkway which splits into your own private jetty, where your name is etched in sand on a timber board (which you get to keep). Perched over the lagoon, your suite comes replete with a huge deck and stairs which lead directly into the water. Inside, the bed is draped evocatively in fabric and the bedroom is air-conditioned. The bathroom is all louvres and Indonesian timber, with a gorgeous copper bath and separate shower. There’s also a walk-in robe and separate toilet. This island boasts 21 beach, 11 overwater, and three garden suites.

3. The food is five-star
Apart from breakfast, where you can choose from the likes of coconut scrambled eggs from the a-la-carte menu, dining here is akin to having your own private chef, with menus based on the fresh produce produced on the island and your personal tastes. Before each meal, the chef will discuss your preferences before disappearing to craft creative plates. For fine dining, head to Treetops restaurant, 88 stairs to the top. The Jules Verne Bar is up here too, up a timber and rope spiral staircase. The Grouper Bar, at the end of the jetty, is an ideal place for a casual drink while The Boat House is perfect for feet-in-the-sand barbecues. Want to learn how to cook amazing Indonesian fare? You can do that here too.

4. The service is superior
Want something? Just ask. This travel writer has a habit of drinking the local beer wherever she goes. (Hey, I like to assimilate). When the island informed her there was no Bintang left for lunch (you are remote, remember that) but there were plenty of other beers, wines and cocktails from which to choose, by dinner, two cold cartons of the local brew had magically arrived. Yes, the staff had disappeared in their speedboat, 45 minutes each way to a neighbouring island, to bring back this liquid gold. Now, that’s service.

5. You can enjoy your own private beach
There’s 13 beaches here, and with only a maximum of 70 guests at any one time, chances are, you won’t be bumping into anyone else anytime soon. Staff will happily pack an esky and deposit you, and your picnic, at an exclusive enclave. And if there’s anything an Aussie loves, it’s being left alone on a beach. Think along the likes of beaches such as Coconut, Lizard and Turtle, christened after their flora and fauna inhabitants. Sipping champagne in the warm waters? Oh, OK, if I must.

6. Mother Nature sparkles
Fling open the curtains of your overwater suite, laze back in bed and watch the sun rise over a neighbouring island (there’s 5 in this group). At sunset, head to the Jules Verne Bar for a cheeky cocktail. And if you’re lucky, just after dawn, witness the harmless black-tipped reef sharks circle the shallows. There’s plenty of butterflies, birds and giant monitor lizards on this island too. Walk one of the three marked trails for great views of the island. And on a clear night, look up. There’s more stars here than at the Oscars.

7. It’s eco-friendly
The island’s Permaculturalist Joe Semo, who calls himself “the green pirate of Bawah” is working on making the island so self-sufficient that it grows around 80 per cent of its own vegetables and 60 per cent of its own fruit. Where possible, the island trades seeds for food with neighbouring villages. Water is a coveted resource here and comes from three sources: rain, wells and a reverse osmosis system. And you won’t find any plastic bottles, guests are supplied with endless glass bottles of sparkling or still water.

8. It embraces the local community
The island has established the Bawah Anambas Foundation (BAF) which focuses on initiatives to make above (the rainforest), below (the ocean) and beyond (local communities) more sustainable and ethical. The big issues throughout all of Indonesia have been over-fishing and waste disposal and through BAF, local communities are being engaged and encouraged to look at alternatives that will not only address these issues, but ensure long-term employment for future generations. Around 45 per cent of staff on Bawah hail from local villages.

9. The spa is sublime
In the name of research for this story, I took one for the team and experienced a treatment every day. At Bawah’s wellness centre, Aura, you’ll find a spa and yoga pavilion. Select from a magical menu of mind and body treatments. I started my week with a 60-minute Garden of Deep Calm, continued the next day with a 60 Minute Aura Lost Treasure, followed by 60 Minutes of Facial Yoga and finished with 60 Minutes of Foot Mapping, or reflexology, by the pool.

10. You can mix with the staff
Bawah has captured Indonesia’s laid-back vibe that Aussies love so much, and paired it perfectly with five-star service. Unlike other luxury resorts, guests are invited and encouraged to tour back-of-house where you can witness how this property maximises its resources and see where its workers live. A highlight of my week was dining in the staff canteen as well as attending an English class for employees.

HOW TO GET THERE
FLY
Start your journey to this exotic locale in style, flying with Singapore Airlines Business Class. This award-winning carrier, which is renowned for its superior service, has just introduced its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. Under Book the Cook, customers can pre-order a main meal from a selection of options, with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of chefs, including Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran.
http://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/au/home
STOPOVER
Due to airline connections, you may need to stopover in Singapore either before or after your Bawah adventure, or both, as was the case for me. On this journey, I experienced the Royal Plaza on Scotts – a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts https://preferredhotels.com – which has just been awarded its 10th win as Asia Pacific’s Best Independent Hotel. Inside, enjoy Singapore’s first 100 per cent smoke-free hotel, outside you are mere metres from Orchard Road.
http://www.royalplazagroup.com.sg
TRANSFER
Bawah will arrange for a limousine to collect you from your Singapore hotel and transfer you to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal where you will board the Majestic Ferry to Batam Centre in Indonesia. From there, you will be met by Bawah staff for VIP fast-track through Indonesian Immigration and Customs, and driven to the airport where you will board a seaplane and taken to the island.
http://www.bawahisland.com
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bawah Island; Singapore Airlines Business Class; and Royal Plaza on Scotts Singapore.

Postcard from Paradise


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

Muslim Mothers, Berber Boys, and Arabian Knights


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

My Saharan Stupidity


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

Postcard from Morocco


MARHABI from Morocco where I am currently on assignment. Tomorrow I’ll be heading via camel into the Sahara Desert, 7km from the Algerian border. I’ll be back soon with plenty of travel tales from my Moroccan adventure. In the meantime, check out my photos on Instagram @aglobalgoddess.com

The Global Goddess is travelling in Morocco as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927