Welcome to Morocco – اهلا بكم في المغرب

Moroccan breakfast

 

Prepare yourself for my most visually invigorating post yet–not because my photography skills have blossomed (they have not), but because Morocco promises beautiful pictures even if you were using a Nokia 3300.

I’ve been putting off writing my Morocco post for longer than I should’ve, only because I wanted to make sure it was as perfect as it could be and that it did the beautiful cities of Marrakesh, Chefchaouen, and Essaouira justice.

As a child, being a mixed kid always confused the heck out of me. I often wondered if I were more Arab than Hispanic, or vice versa. As an adult, I realized that being both was double the awesome–I wish I could’ve explained that to little 7-year-old Ahlam. I wish I could’ve told her that there would be a day you’d get to travel to Morocco and find city, upon city of people as vibrant, as culturally diverse and as authentic as you. With African, Arabic, Moorish, Spanish, Amazigh, Portuguese and French influence, Morocco stole my heart the second I landed in Casa Blanca.

A true feast for the senses–with sights, smells, flavors and various textiles caressing your being as you walk down the colorful alleyways of each city–Morocco needs to be on the top of travel bucket list, my friends.

Moroccan mint tea

Day 1

We landed in Casa Blanca, and hopped onto the airport train and straight to our hotel. We had lunch, slept at an Ibis hotel right next to the train station as we were heading early morning the next day to Chefchaouen. The hotel was clean, beds were rather comfortable and it was less than a 2-minute walk to the train station.

Day 2

The next morning we woke up at dawn to head to the beautiful blue-washed village of Chefchaouen. Located in the midst of the Kif mountains, painted from top to bottom in different blue hues and without a car in sight–it’s most definitely not a sight to be missed. We took a three-hour train ride to Tangier and then hired a petit taxi (a taxi cab) for an hour and a half to take us to Chefchaouen.

Then. We. Arrived.

I could try night and day to explain to you how beautiful this place really is, but I would never be able to do it justice. The people are kind, the breeze is gorgeous, the food and music and leather and..and…the list could go on for days!

ChefChaoun view

We commenced with the near hike through the steps, upon steps of blue that led us straight to the first hotel we’d be staying at, Dar Zambra. We were greeted warmly and taken to our beautifully decorated room. That photo above was the view from our window. The entire hotel only has 4 rooms, try to get the Green room–the room on the highest floor right next to the breakfast terrace. Put your stuff away so you don’t clutter the serenity of the room with every nook handmade to artisan perfection. Take a shower in the beautiful bathroom and just open the window and allow the golden Moroccan sun to warm you up as you lay in bed and feel the chill of the Kif mountain breeze and the sound of the adhan echoing through the air. It brings tears to my eyes just remembering. It was and is utter perfection.

The manager and his wife could arrange for a Morrocan cooking class in their quaint little kitchen.

Once the afternoon sun has subsided a bit, venture through the souks of leather bags, poufs and hand woven carpets and tapestries. Enjoy a conversation with the group of old men sitting on the ground, painting a masterpiece, conversing with friends and enjoying a drag of cigarette simultaneously.

street view morocco

Day 3

The next morning, wake up at dawn (trust me, do it) and enjoy the sun rise over the mountains. Enjoy the sun set over the mountains. Enjoy the moon emerge from behind the mountains. Enjoy the mountains.

Dar Zambra - StraightupBananas

Then head on out to the terrace and enjoy one the best breakfasts you’ve ever had.

Moroccan breakfast

We spent the rest of the day enjoying our room and scenery then once again, when the sun’s harsh rays subsided we walked through the alleys again. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of Lahm wa Barkouk (a lamb tagine with prunes and almonds) at a restaurant called Ali Baba…and then we enjoyed that dish 4 times more before we left 🙂

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Then it was on to shopping for some leather, hand woven carpets and silver Amazighi jewelry.

Day 4

We checked out of Dar Zambra and in to Ryad Lina & Spa for a taste of a stay at a true Morrocan Riad and a Moroccan hamam.

The hotel was lovely, a bit more continental than Dar Zambra. The spa was absolutely lovely, but the staff didn’t add the personal touch that the folks at Dar Zambra did. The estate itself was lovely with a large terrace in front of your room where you could order room service.

 

Them it was time to take a taxi to the local bus station and head to Marrakesh. I warn you that you NEED to properly plan your trip. Geography-wise it’s not the best idea to head directly from Chefchaouen to Marrakesh it’s almost a 10 hour ride (and that’s if you ride the correct bus. We did not)

Word of advice, stick to the touristy CTM buses as they’re quick and they hardly make any stops. The bus that we got on, was a regular governmental bus that stopped every ten minutes. It almost took us 16 hours to get to Chefchaouen. Not the highlight of our trip.

Day 5

We arrived at Marrakesh at 3 o’clock in the morning which means we practically missed our first night there and were only left with one more night. Once we arrived at the bus stop in Marrakesh, we had no idea how to get to our hotel. Luckily for us, the riad manager, Desiree was an angel and when we called her in the middle of the night, she got out of bed and came to meet us on the street to take us to the hotel, Riad Farhan.

Day 6

Weary from the journey of the night before, we woke up without the slightest realization of the beauty of the space we were in. This riad is where you MUST stay if you’re in Marrakesh. YOU MUST STAY HERE! It is absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful! You won’t want to leave your room, I assure you!

It was like waking up in a dream. In a dream where you keep telling yourself that this could not possibly be real.

MarrakeshDSCN0408-01Dar Farhan - Marrakesh

In the afternoon, we ventured beyond the walls of the heavenly Riad Farhan to explore the city, with rows upon rows of souks of spices, leather, lanterns, mirrors and silver. We headed towards the famous Jamea Al Fana, an ancient square or plaza where the wonderful people of Marrakesh gather to perform acrobatic skits, theater, and music. With snake charmers scattered around, performing monkeys and horse-pulled chariots. With steamed snail stands, freshly prepared seafood stands with communal tables and walking vendors with fresh orange juice or fresh Morrocan tea strapped to their back. We realized we were light years away from peaceful Chefchaouen. Marrakesh was a different trip altogether–one not to be missed.

Day 7

Having had our short trip to Marrakesh be made even shorter by getting on the wrong bus, it was time to have one last lunch in Marrakesh and head off for a 2-hour bus ride to the coastal area of Essaouira.

Once invaded by the Portuguese, the dialect and food are totally different in Essaouira. The perfect place from some fresh seafood (especially sardines) and a good old-fashioned tan. We stayed at the lovely Le Medina Essaouira Thalasso and Spa. With a lovely sea view from accross the street and about a 3 minute walk to the city center, it was a good option in Essaouira.

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Day 8 and 9

The rest of our trip was spent roaming the alleyways and fortresses and then enjoying some beautiful sunshine and beach time until we head back to Casa Blanca.

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Day 10

We arrived in Casa Blanca, spent the night at the same ibis hotel and took the train back to the airport and back to Dubai 😦

 

I loved Morocco, I loved every second of it. Marrakesh and Chefchaouen were my absolute favorites. What a beautiful country!

I put together a little video of my stay here.

 

 

 

 

Thailand itinerary–Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Yao Yai

I don’t know why it took us so long to finally visit Thailand, but I’m glad that we did and will take advantage of any opportunity I have to go back–there’s just so much to see, experience and taste!

Here’s a look at our 11-day itinerary to visiting Bangkok, Phuket (Panwa and Patong) and Koh Yao Yai.

Day 1

We arrived in Bangkok late at night and had booked a relatively cheap, but clean hotel. We were heading out to Phuket the next morning and so we just needed a shower and a clean bed to sleep on. At 100 AED a night with breakfast and a 20-minute drive from Don Mueang Airport, D Varee Xpress Makkasan Hotel was a very convenient choice. The location was good for getting a taxi to Don Mueang International Airport early the next morning so that we could go straight to Phuket. So there wasn’t much we got to see in Bangkok then, but we did get to stay a few extra days towards the end of our trip.

Day 2

We woke up at the butt-crack of dawn, had breakfast, checked out and headed towards Don Mueang Airport to catch our flight to Phuket via Air Asia. At the airport, we booked a day full of activities (the Monkey Temple, ATV, ziplining, river rafting, lunch, and take services for our entire stay at Phuket and an elephant ride) for about 180 USD for two. To be totally honest, the convenience of having a taxi driver waiting for you at each hotel and dropping you off the piers and whatnot is worth the investment alone.

We arrived in Patong and checked into our hotel. It was clean, cheap and the location was perfect for exploring the hustle and bustle of Patong–plus it was right underneath the night food market which is a win in its own right in my book any day! The Crib Patong checked all the boxes when it came to cleanliness, budget friendliness and good location. I mean, it’s not secret that food in Thailand is incredible, so the being right next to the night market, that night we had about 13 courses! I kid you not, I tried absolutely everything they had to offer–from grilled crocodile to whole shrimp to fried grasshoppers.

Day 3

Our driver came to pick us up in the morning and to take us to our full day of activities. I’d recommend you do your research well when it comes to these things. Some travel agencies get commission based on your purchases and so will cut your actual activities short to take you to some random snake-fight arena so they can get commission on every ticket bought. When we got back to Patong, we headed out to the night market for some grub then hit the infamous red district for a walk into the unknown.

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Day 3

Breakfast. Beach. Massage. Taxi to paradise.

Up until this point, I really wasn’t too sure how I was feeling about Thailand in general. Once we headed for Panwa Beach, I knew I had fallen in love. I totally different vibe than anything in Patong, Panwa Beach is the quietest area with serene beaches–so serene, it feels like your own personal beach. We stayed at Dream Sea Pool Villa and I couldn’t recommend the estate more. If you’re looking for a pause from life, for a place where everything just stands still and is just so beautiful it leaves you speechless, in Phuket this is where you want to be. We got the room right next to the beach, with our own private pool. It was heaven. Pure, utter heaven. I couldn’t believe that just a 30 minute drive away from all the hustle and bustle of Patong, this serene setting existed.

Day 4

We woke up to the crisp sea breeze, and went straight to breakfast. I spent three days in Panwa and my diet solely consisted of fresh coconut water, seafood and sunshine. I didn’t have to wear shoes for three whole days and never realised how liberating that feeling would be. We spent the day lounging around the pool and the beach. Took a few walks. And steps away from the hotel on the beach side, there are only 2 places in the entire area. Lucy’s massage and the little restaurant right next door. Her deep-fried bananas and lemongrass and ginger stuffed prawns were a killer! After your meal, you can go right next door and enjoy a Thai massage right on the beach. I got 4 in three days and fell asleep on the massage bed all four times.

 

Day 5

Last day in Panwa and we spent it eating, getting more massages, kayaking and lounging around the pool. The hotel even arranged for a scrumptious romantic sunset dinner. Absolute bliss.

 

Day 6

I was absolutely heartbroken to have to leave Dream Sea Pool Villas, but alas Koh Yao Yai awaited is and so did our driver. He drove us to Bang Rong pier about 20 minutes away from the hotel and we hopped right on to the tiny, but beautiful island of Koh Yao Yai a mere 30 minutes away from Phuket.

And then it happened. The moment I’d been waiting for my entire life, but didn’t know it. A predominantly Muslim village of fishermen this island is as beautiful as it gets. A handful of hotels inhabit and it’s villagers are kind, loving and simple people that welcome you with open arms.Our hotel, however, was exactly what I’d imagine heaven to look like. 5 months later, and my heart still hurts every time I think of Santhiya Koh Yao Yai Resort and Spa. It was like walking into a dream that you never want to end.

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Day 7

Once you’re on the island, the only things you really can do are discover the grounds of the hotel, or walk outside of the hotel and rent a motorbike and discover the small island. Within 30 minutes, you’re able to get from one side of the island to the other. We lounged around in our private hot tub and in the room the first day. Just thinking about Santhiya brings a lump to my throat.

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Day 8

We woke up early, went for yoga, had breakfast and then went to explore the island and have (a much cheaper option) lunch.

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And then just like that, it was time to leave again. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t tear up. And I’m not going to pretend that we didn’t try to come up with ways to stay on the island forever. But Santhiya will always have a special place in our hearts and I’ll be back soon–I have to.

Day 9

It was time to head back to Bangkok so we took Santhiya’s ferry straight to Ao Po Grand Marina where we were taken by shuttle bus to Don Maueng Airport. The whole ride took no more than an hour and a half. And then we were in Bangkok again–just like that, a total different world! We checked into our hotel Thee Bangkok Hotel on Sukumvit 20. The red light district, restaurants, markets–all within walking or tuk-tuk distance. Bangkok really is totally different from the islands and it can get to you at times. The plethora of homeless people, prostitution and children begging for money in the wee hours of the night is truly heartbreaking. It kills me to know that modern tourism has exploited their destitution. We arranged for a tour to the Floating Market the next morning.

Day 10

Woke up again at the crack of dawn to go to the floating market. And boy, was that an experience in itself. I highly recommend it–it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before! Old Thai grammies pulling boats closer with her stick so you can buy her fresh coconuts! AMAZING!

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You’ve got to try everything they serve you. Fresh coconut ice cream, deep fried bananas, sticky rice and mango–do not eat before going, because you have to pig out once you’re there.

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Day 11

We explored Bangkok some more and then checked out of the hotel and grabbed a cab to Suvarnabhumi Airport. Give yourself a good 1 and ten minutes to get there, Bangkok’s traffic is tricky.

And just like that our Thai trip was over. There’s only two other trips that I went through a travel withdrawal after–Thailand and Morocco. I can’t wait to go back to both!

Tortilla Baskets Filled with a Mango and Avocado Salad

Ever had one of those lazy Sunday mornings where all you want to do is lounge around in your PJs in your soft bed with the most extravagantly beautiful, but also ridiculously-simple-to-put-together breakfast ever? Around here in the Straight-up Bananas HQ that happens a little more than I’d care to admit. Last Sunday I decided to have these super clean, super easy and super quick baked tortilla baskets with a mango and avocado salad topped with some smoked tuna for breakfast and I couldn’t care less that I was having some pimped up leftovers from last night’s dinner.

Oh, and remember that day when it rained gatos y perros in Dubai? Ooooof course you do, because it’s 1 week later and we’re still constantly hearing about it, non?

Anyhoo, that was the day I decided to make a Caribbean feast so grand that the gloominess outside could never get to me! And boy, did it go well! I made a Caribbean dinner fit for a king with the husband and had the leftovers for breakfast the next day and I ain’t even made.  I made my own rendition of Lorraine Pascal’s Caribbean 3 course meal with baked tortilla baskets as the starters, the sweet potato and fish coconut curry with homemade rye roti as the main and a killer spiced chocolate cake for dessert. Oh. Dear. Lawd.

Take a look at these hot mamas! Breakfast in bed never looked this sexy!

Tortilla Baskets

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. 4 corn tortillas
  2. 1 can of kidney beans
  3. 1 diced ripe mango
  4. 1 diced ripe avocado
  5. The juice of 1 lime
  6. A handful of chopped cilantro
  7. 1 diced crunchy bell pepper (I used an orange one)
  8. A pinch of sea salt and pepper to taste
  9. A glug of extra virgin olive oil
  10. Chopped spring onions

 

Here’s how it’s done, son:

  • First, preheat your oven on medium heat.
  • Then, cut your tortillas into quarters.
  • Then, lightly coat the tortillas with some oil so that they get nice and crispy in the oven.
  • In a muffin tray, stuff two of the tortilla quarters in and put to bake for 10 minutes or until tortillas are golden and crunchy.
  • While the tortillas are baking, you can make the salad by combining all the ingredients above.
  • Once the tortillas are nice and golden brown remove them carefully from the muffin and let cool.
  • Once the tortilla baskets are cooled down and you’re ready to serve, scoop in some of your salad.

If you’re not thinking of eating the baskets immediately, do not put the salad in or else it’ll get super soggy. For this breakfast in bed, the tortilla baskets were already made the night before and the mango and avocado salad was already in a mason jar so I just assembled them and tried to make them a bit more breakfasty by serving them with some smoked tuna and a soft-boiled egg on the side.

You will knock your guest’s socks off with this one. They look so damn pretty that one would think they’d take hours of slaving over a hot stove and a rediculous amount of culinary prowess to get done, but they couldn’t be more wrong. You’ll have these easy, quick and clean babies in and around your mouth within 15 minutes!

Go straight-up bananas with me and give this recipe a shot.

Oh, and since you’re here…why not follow me on Instagram by clicking this little link right here?

 

 

 

 

Morocco in an afternoon cup of tea at Kif Kif – Dubai

If you’ve followed me for the past year, you’ll know how absolutely obsessed with Morocco I am. I love the people, I love the food, I love their sense of style–I love Morocco.

We’ve come across this quaint little restaurants in Jumeirah called #kifkif that offers great quality Moroccan food for very affordable prices and the decor is absolutely gorgeous. Just had some lahm wa barkouk tagine like there was no tomorrow and now we’re cooling down with some afternoon Moroccan tea. Love it!

#morocco #tea #teatime #straightupbananas #jumeirah #dubaifood #food #beautiful #weekend #lunch #arabicfood #arab #color #boho #dubai #dxb

(at Kif Kif)

Do you have any idea how super easy these raw vegan cashew bars are?

Day 3 of my veggie diet and these beauties have came to life before my eyes.

These are raw vegan strawberry and fig chewy cashews bars. Recipe is up on the blog 🙂

They almost look too pretty to eat…almost…

What are you having for lunch today?

#straightupbananas #raw #vegan #recipe #rawvegan #veganfoodlovers #bestoftheday #bestofvegan #whatveganseat #veganfood #veganfoodshare #vegetarian #fruit #fruitporn #gloobyfood #uae #beautiful #amazing #loveyourself #love #foodpicsbruh #food #foodporn #foodgasm #feedfeed #feedfeedvegan #gloobyfood #buzzfeedfood (at Sufooh Beach)

Finally watched Cowspiracy last night (yet another wild Thursday night lol) and it’s got the both of us really contemplating our dietary habits and our lifestyle in general.

I think it’s time for some massive changes–for a food revolution. Let’s see..

On a different note, look at all this fresh produce from @organicoasisae 😍😍

#local #organic #vegan #vegetarian #farmers #straightupbananas #organicoasis #cowspiracy #food #farmtotable #fresh #beautiful #healthy (at Organic Oasis AE)

250 claustrophobic steps later, the view proves to have been worth it after all.

Florence will forever hold a place in my corazón❤

#florence #italy #eurotrip #hike #straightupbananas #travel #wander #wanderlust #worldexplorer #worldexplorermag #explorer #travel #vacation #takemeback #love #trip #firenze #beautiful #view #thatview #gopro #fun (at Firenze, Piazza Del Duomo)

Healthy, gooey protein brownies

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Today I’ve got another easy, quick and healthy dessert recipe for you brewing right now in the Straight-up Bananas HQ.

I know what you’re thinking. Is she posting yet ANOTHER brownie recipe? My answer to you is ‘yes, God damnit’! I do what I want. And I want brownies in and around my mouth so shush!

This recipe is awesome because it’s not only gluten free, dairy free and sugar free, but also jam-packed with protein and fiber! Perfect for those who like to bulk up on protein (like the mister). This magic ingredient here is that I’m using black-eyed peas to keep the brownies moist since I’ll be using almond and oat flour instead of traditional flour. At this point, I know you think I’ve gone completely bananas, but you’ve got nothing to lose! Go Straight-up Bananas with me and give it a try!


So here’s what you’ll need:

  1. 1 can of organic black-eyed peas
  2. ½ cup of melted organic coconut oil
  3. ½ cup of honey or maple syrup
  4. 2 eggs
  5. 1 tsp vanilla
  6. sea salt
  7. ¼ cup of melted dark chocolate
  8. ½ cup of oat flour
  9. ½ cup of almond flour
  10. ¼ cup of organic cocoa powder
  11. ½ tsp of baking powder 
  12. ½ cup of organic chocolate chips

Here’s how it’s done, son:

First, place the black-eyed peas, coconut oil, honey, eggs, vanilla and sea salt in a blender and blitz until very smooth (No lumps)

Then, sift together the oat flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and almond flour together and mix with the wet mixture until well incorporated.

Then, mix in the melted chocolate.

Place in a baking tray and top with chocolate chips.

Bake for 20-30 minutes (until the mixture has juuuuust set but is still a bit gooey in the centre.

Let cool and then cut up into cubes.

Voila! There you’ve got it! Easy, healthy chocolate chip brownies that are not only good for your body but absolutely delicious!

Go Straight-up Bananas and give them a try. THEN, follow me on Instagram please by clicking here.

How could everything in this place be so beautiful? Morocco took me in 10 months ago and I’ve just wanted to be back ever since.

#chefchaouen #morocco #beautiful #vacation #takemeback #love #trip #straightupbananas #blue #color #boho #spottly #wanderlust #worldexplorer #worldexplorermag #explorer #travel #amazing #love (at شفشاون – Chefchaoun)

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m absolutely obsessed with mandalas.

Currently drooling over this handmade mandala I had custom made from repurposed wood for my new home office from @woodpicker_decor

In love 😍😍😍

#mandala #straightupbananas #recycled #repurpose #woodpickers #wood #artisan #handmade #homeoffice #decor #beautiful #love #color #boho (at Dubai, United Arab Emirates)