THE almost full moon is playing hide and seek under a tattered crochet rug of cloud and I am crouched around Clyde’s Pond, admiring acrobats. Hours earlier, I’d missed the annual ritual of climbing to the Hilltop at the Woodford Folk Festival to applaud the last sunset of 2017. The weather had other plans, you see. But the fierce thunderstorm predicted for the site, in the belly of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, barely raised its voice, as I sought shelter in the Coopers Bar, cradling a cold beer, and singing with the motley musicians gathered in a circle. Turns out Grandma’s Feather Bed was not a shabby Plan B at all.
New Year’s Eve 2017 and the rain retreats as quickly as it’s gathered, cleansing the site, showering our souls. If ever there is a place to spend that no-man’s land which is the week between Christmas and New Year’s, this is it. A time for replenishment and renewal. And here’s the 10 things I took away from this year’s event.
1. Go with the flow
I deliberately go to the Woodford Folk Festival with very few plans (aside from climbing to the Hilltop for the last sunset of 2017…and look how that worked out). Because, life, as we know it, has other ideas. And besides, with so much of life scheduled, where I can, I try to toss away the calendar. If I’m working from home in Brisbane, sure, I have an idea of what I’d like to achieve that day, but things get in the way. And if I’m travelling, I’m even more open to the universe. And that’s the lesson. Go with the flow and you will be richly rewarded.
2. Silence is golden
My second favourite tradition of the Woodford Folk Festival, and one where no weather can interfere, is the three-minutes of silence the entire site respects at precisely 11.30pm on New Year’s Eve. For three eerie and earthy minutes, all the bands ground to a halt, and 35,000 visitors on site pause to remember those they’ve loved and lost that year, while holding a lit candle. In a world in which we are inundated with noise, there’s a maudlin magic to this moment. Try and snatch a few seconds of silence every day.
3. Talk to strangers
Remember when you were a kid, and you were ferociously warned against talking to strangers, and for good reason? Well, you’re an adult now. Woodford has this precious power that upon entering the festival, you become a better version of yourself. Kinder, softer, more gentle with yourself and those around you. And all of a sudden, you find yourself chatting to complete strangers. Revelling in a shared experience. Maybe take some of this back out onto the city streets. You might be surprised at its effects.
4. Nourish yourself
Not only did I indulge in some fabulous food at the festival: think slow-cooked lamb and the best Yemeni chicken wrap I’ve ever eaten (OK, so I’ve never eaten anything from Yemen, which made this even more special) – but Woodford is all about nourishing the mind, body and soul. Take the time to have more massages, do some yoga, join a meditation group, take an art class, try something different. Love thyself and treat yourself like you want others to treat you.
5. Give peace a chance
There was a really interesting installation at this year’s festival, a replica of the Montreal bed in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their “love-in” for peace. Visitors could dress up in some cool gear and plonk onto this bed, to have their photo taken. There was also a flash mob for peace, and plenty of signs promoting peace. After all, if we don’t give peace a chance, what chance have we got? Embrace peace, whether it’s big or small. You don’t have to fight every battle.
6. Nothing is ever what it appears
Random acts? They’ve got them in droves at the Woodford Folk Festival. One minute you’ll be walking down a weirdly-named ally (there’s plenty of these here too), the next, you’ll stumble across some punchy performers. When is a pineapple not a pineapple? When it’s a bar, of course. Keep your eyes and your mind open to life, and the good stuff seeps in.
7. It’s OK to play
Give yourself permission to play. Dress up in a costume, assume an alter ego, let your imagination run as wild as a brumby over an open field. You’ll find plenty of play at Woodford. Step out of your version of you and wrap yourself around a wilder adaptation. Go to a local park and jump on the swings. Dance around the house. Sing in the shower. Catch waves at the beach. Plunge deep into yourself and pluck out that child that once played.
8. Connect more
Sure, we live in the most technological era in history, but how much do we really connect with those around us? How close are you really to your 500 Facebook friends? Check in on your mates. Go crazy, pick up the phone and ask them out for dinner or a drink. Two things I loved at Woodford – this gigantic post box where visitors were encouraged to pen a letter to someone on site, and it would be delivered; and the phone a granny booth, where, for various hours each day, you could catch a chat with grandma.
9. Recycle more
The fine folk of the Woodford Folk Festival have been leading the way with recycling for years and each festival, it just gets better and better. (That’s another thing I love about Woodford, you can go every year, and there’s always something different). I adored the giant bamboo structure in the guts of the ground; had a few lazy drinks in the Vinyl Lounge (think your grandmother’s living room); and adored the giant sculptures made from recycled materials.
10. Smile more
I can’t count the number of complete strangers who caught my eye with a smile at the Woodford Folk Festival. And yes, it’s infectious. The next minute, I’m smiling at complete strangers, and then they’re smiling at complete strangers. You get my drift. And do plan a trip to Woodford this year. You’ll smile so much, your cheeks will ache.
The Global Goddess was a guest of the Woodford Folk Festival. To find out more about the 2018 festival, or other events on the site during the year including The Planting Festival, from May 4 to 6, go to https://woodfordfolkfestival.com
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AS a travel writer, it’s natural for me to focus on the destinations in which I find myself, but for my last blog of 2017, I wish to highlight the people behind those places I was incredibly fortunate to visit this year. When you’re out in the world, hunting and gathering stories and photographs, it can be a bit of a lonely place, particularly if you’re travelling alone, as has been my strategy in recent years. Until you meet your guide. This year, I was blessed to have the most generous souls cross my path as I wandered around the planet, people who went above and beyond their roles as tour guides or tourism staff, many of whom became friends.
My travels started in February, at beautiful Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. It was as hot as hell that weekend, where I partook in my first mountain bike tour with Bike On Australia. The next day, I kayaked the Noosa Everglades with Kanu Kapers Australia and both of my female guides were encouraging and taught me new techniques in both adventures, but above all, were the strong, smart women I so admire. Later that same month, I visited the remote Australian territory of Norfolk Island. Here, I met Tania from Norfolk Island Tourism, who introduced me to this destination’s incredible history, local food and wine, and the rugged landscape. I don’t have a snap of Tania, but I took plenty of the cows which inhabit this place, and which outnumber residents.
March was devoted to my home-state of Queensland, firstly visiting Tropical North Queensland’s Port Douglas and the Daintree. Here I ambled among the world’s oldest rainforest, Mother Nature being a particularly good guide on this trip, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, reminding me of why I love living in this part of the world so much. Two weeks later I was in Bundaberg for a series of stories, where among my great guides, I met Suzie from Bundy Food Tours. Mother Nature made another big impact on this trip, introducing me for the first time to her turtle hatchlings on Mon Repos beach. It was so beautiful, I cried.
I encountered one of my favourite guides all year in the Cook Islands, when I met Aunty Nane. Aunty’s laugh was a cross between a gecko and an erupting volcano, and epitomised the soul and spirit of these proud Pacific Islanders. Aunty loved to eat and talk, and we spent 10 days doing just that, enjoying the spoils of the tropics. Aunty was convinced I would find a husband if I accompanied her to church, so off we trotted. I never found a bloke, but the singing gave me goose bumps. On an outlying island I also met Aunty Mii, who told me she spent her days trying to avoid her husband because he was “stupid”. You can’t win ‘em all.
In May, I was in Fiji for the wedding of my beautiful friend Saskia who married her Fijian warrior Pauliasi. The Fijians are great and gentle guides, who teach you much without even knowing it. It’s all about Fiji time up here, learning to slow down, that things don’t always go to plan, but you can always find a reason to smile. It’s a lesson which was carried into later that month when I visited the Whitsundays, which was rebuilding after Cyclone Debbie. Resilience? These people have it in shades, and again, amid the destruction, there were still smiles.
In June, I was up at Noosa again, gathering some last-minute stories for an urgent deadline, but my biggest teacher in both June and July was my wild eastern Australian carpet python, Sylvia. For a few weeks every winter, if the stars align, I try to slow down, stay home, go to yoga and try to find some balance. It’s not an easy fit for someone like me with such an active mind, but it’s crucial if I am to continue a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. Sylvia, my beloved snake, taught me the importance of hibernation, to follow the natural rhythms of the seasons, and to just be, at least for a few weeks. And so I did.
By August I was ready to go again, and after a brief trip to northern New South Wales, I attended the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ annual convention, which was this time held on the Sunshine Coast. On a beautiful winter day, while cycling along Caloundra, I bumped into these bathing beauties, who taught me you’re never too old and it’s never too cold, to swim, or laugh.
September was hectic, but also delicious. First, I flew to Canada where I fulfilled a story wish to snorkel with the salmon over at Vancouver Island on the Campbell River. My guide, Jamie, from Destiny River Adventures, was a little hard core, and proved to be scarier than the unexpected rapids into which I was flung and told to “fly like a superhero” to avoid being injured by rocks. But in the end, Jamie and I became friends, particularly when I emerged from the 14 degree rapids, smiling and shouting “that was awesome.” I was back in Brisbane for only four nights before it was off to Hong Kong, where I met another of my favourite guides, Vivian. I was hunting a story about fortune tellers, and Vivian and I trekked the streets of Hong Kong, while I indulged in “villain hitting” (to banish former boyfriends) and having everything from my face to my tarot read. I also popped over to Macau on this trip, where the guide really understood my need, mid-tour, to pop into the local bottle shop to pick up a drop of the local Portuguese wine.
I spent two weeks in October in Morocco where I was fortunate to have Khaled as my guide as we trekked, on an Intrepid Tour with 13 others, across this incredible country. It was here that I really sat back and observed how tough it is to be a guide, dealing with 13 different personalities, three distinct nationalities, long distances and tiring days. But Khaled never faltered, always finding the positive in every situation, doing his best to secure a glass of wine for us at the end of the day, and at one point, turning up at my door with a can of cold Casablanca beer after listening to my endless observations about how warm the beer was in Morocco.
In November, it was off to Bawah Island, a luxury new destination half way between Malaysia and Borneo, and three hours from Singapore. In terms of guides, it was an unusual week for me, as I spent it with a group of men, mostly part of the management team from Singapore, who were putting the final touches on this beautiful resort. With five men from different destinations, all of whom spoke at least two languages, conversations were colourful and entertaining. One of my favourite guides was the Italian dive instructor Paulo, with whom I would book in a morning snorkel straight after breakfast, and whose enthusiasm for Bawah’s underwater beauty was infectious.
Which brings me to December where I have just returned from a trip to the North Pole to interview Santa. I’d love to say Santa was my best guide, but he was hugely overshadowed by the kind and eccentric Irene, an artist who makes amazing things out of reindeer parts. Irene also talks to her house elves (one of which is currently being naughty and getting naked while Irene is in her studio), which made her one of the most interesting interviews I had all year. I headed further north in Lapland and stayed at Beana Lapponia Wilderness Lodge, where I met Tony, the husky handler, and he was also an incredible guide, teaching me not only how to harness huskies, but how to drive the husky sled through the snow.
It’s been another incredible year and I’d like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who I met on this incredible journey that was 2017. See you out there in 2018.
And to my beloved readers, thank you for supporting me. Wishing you peace on earth.
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.
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.
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
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?
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bawah Island; Singapore Airlines Business Class; and Royal Plaza on Scotts Singapore.
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