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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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California Dreamin’ with tajawal

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I’m a huge fan of tajawal. In fact, I’ve been using their services ever since they launched in 2015. Because they’re a local travel brand, they’re able to offer the best travel deals in the region. That’s why I was jumping for joy when they contacted me for a collaboration for my trip to the States and Puerto Rico last May!

If you’ve checked out my previous post, you can get the lowdown on my trip to Puerto Rico and some tips on where to go, how to get discounted tours and tickets and all the activities you need to cover. You can check out my full detailed itinerary here.

And because we covered a lot of ground and activities on our US tour, I’ve decided to divide the itinerary into two posts. This one is going to be all about Cali, baby! If you’re interested in how it went down, and you’d like to see a few of our photos, scroll on down, partner!

Day 1 — Los Angeles

Sunny LA, right? Nope. It was rainy, it was gloomy, it was freezing. lol not a good start. We had just gotten back from Puerto Rico and were fried by the sun. We also hadn’t packed properly–I guess the hot Dubai summers make you forget what a mild one is like!

We arrived at the Milner Hotel late that night, and after a somewhat bumpy check in, went straight to bed. The hotel has a wonderful location smack in the middle of downtown and with ample paid parking right next door. It was by no means, a memorable one–but it did serve its purpose. We wanted something comfortable, budget friendly and had a good location to be able to explore the rest of LA.

The next morning, we headed to the infamous Hollywood sign trek. Sadly, it was super foggy and wasn’t able to get any good shots of the sign. 2 hours in, we had hiked to the sign and checked out the Griffith observatory. We took a few pictures and it was on to the next destination, Santa Monica.

Took a walk down Santa Monica Bvd, had lunch, bought a few things and then hopped into our rental and took a trip down to Venice Beach.

Although it seems that lately Venice Beach has gotten a somewhat bad rep as a “tourist trap” and whatnot, it was our favorite place in all of LA. Food was delicious, sea breeze divine, and quality music and entertainment right-left-and-center. All the things I wanted in one. What’s not to love?

Up until that point, Venice Beach felt like my first actual glimpse into the Californian life I was expecting to see–surfers, hippies and the homeless all just hanging out. I loved the vibes. I loved the music. I loved the food. I was content with spending the rest of my time in LA just there.

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Day 2 — Los Angeles

We woke up the next morning, determined to scratch the quintessentially touristy parts of LA: Malibu and Beverly Hills. We met a local guy who took us around and showed us what the glitzy side of Hollywood was all about. That not really being our forte, we cut the trip short and decided to go check out Santa Monica Pier–a place I found to be much more in tune with what I wanted to see. I mean, we live in Dubai, the luxury that surrounds us makes it hard to take notice or be impressed by anywhere else.

A quick bite of seafood at Bubba Gump, a few purchases later and a trip on the ferries wheel and we were set to jump back into the beast that is the Mustang rental and drive around a bit more.

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For sunset, we decided to head on back to Venice Beach for dinner and a good old-fashioned session of people watching and getting to know whoever crossed our paths.

Day 3 — Carmel Valley

As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t until day 3 that we really started to feel what the sunny State was all about. We jumped into the car early in the morning and began our gorgeous road trip from LA to San Francisco–with a stop at Carmel Valley for a night in the middle.

Here’s the part where I tell you what to do. Listen up close. You rent a car and you drive. You only drive on the Route 1 (aka the Scenic Route) all the way up to San Fransisco. Even though it’s longer, you will not regret it. There’s a reason it’s been dubbed the “scenic” route. It’s because it’s an utterly breathtaking view with stops that are just ridiculous.

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The Beast

It was a short and sweet four-hour drive to Carmel Valley. With good music, the wind in my hair (my hair in my mouth and eyeballs) and beautiful coastal views, I could finally understand why so many songs had been sung for Cali.

On the way, we made a quick pit stop at Blancas Piedras to check out the Elephant Seal Rookery. Which is just about the cutest thing you will ever see. We were lucky and the beach was just full of fat little seals, just chilling on the beach in their natural habitat. It was a truly beautiful experience.

I had made sandwiches for the road, because aside from the seal rookery, I didn’t want us to make any stops. I know there’s so much more to enjoy on the road, but we had booked a KILLER Airbnb and only had one night in it–I wanted to squeeze that night and I’m glad I listened to my gut. You’ll see why…

We arrived at Carmel Valley and I was in heaven.

Our Airbnb was a thing from fairytales. An old water tower converted by our hosts Jeanne and Tiger Steele into one of the most beautiful Airbnbs we’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.

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What a view! What a host! What a place! What. An. Experience.

Tiger Steele is not a man I’ll be forgetting any time soon. If you’re in Carmel, don’t you dare for a second, hesitate to stay on his gorgeous estate. With his two gigantic Great Danes, Isabel and Fiona–a fully equipped room (I mean this guy puts ANY 5-star hotel to shame). You can find out more about his place here.

This old water tower is the thing of dreams, I promise you. A sunrise view that just doesn’t quit and starlit night that will have you pinching yourself. My goodness, me. I could NOT get enough of this place. My heart hurt me at the thought that the next afternoon we’d be leaving.

Day 4 — Off to San Fransisco

After the best night’s sleep I’ve ever gotten in my life, it was breakfast and coffee on the porch and our last couple of hours of stimulating conversation with Mr. Tiger and his little babies.

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I’d recommend you’d go for a hearty brunch at Jeffrey’s. It’s a 10-minute drive from Tiger’s place and it will give you the fuel you need to sustain you all the up to SF. You can find directions to the place here. One of the best breakfasts I’ve had in a really long time.

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After brunch, it was time to hit the road again.

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2 and a half hours later, and there we were, in San Fransisco. We handed in the car and made our way to the Mosser Hotel where we were staying–again, smack in the middle of town. The hotel was a bit over the budget we intended on spending, but hotels in SF run pretty steep. Excellent location, good view over the city and a comfy room–it served its purpose right. It was the perfect platform for us to go explore SF, while also being close enough to the good restaurants and cable cars and street performances.

Day 5 — San Francisco

Our trip was starting to come to an end and suddenly I had this overwhelming sensation of NOT HAVING DONE ANYTHING YET!

We roamed the streets of San Francisco in search of the house from Full House, then we hopped in the bus and took a ride to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once we were done with the Golden Gate Bridge, it was off to the biggest Chinese community out of Asia, the famous China Town of San Fransisco. We hung out there, had a few dimsums (for breakfast) and then headed off to Golden Gate Park to check out Hippie Hill with the beautiful sunshine, great music and picnic we had packed.

Day 6 — San Fransisco

We had some shopping to do while in Cali and that’s what we pretty much spent our morning doing.

For lunch, we decided to check out the Fisherman’s Wharf. Best place in town for good quality, fresh seafood–with famous dishes like clam chodwer in a sourdough breadbowl and steamed crabs–it was an affordable seafood feast fit for a king (or two hungry hippos).

We chilled at the pier, took part in a protest against GMO products and just really tried to soak up what the area was all about.

California really is something else, unlike any of the other States I’ve been to. San Fransisco and Carmel are places I could really see myself staying in one day.

Thank you tajawal for the opportunity to #tajawalTheWorld. Use the hashtag #tajawalTheWorld on any of your travel pics for a chance to be featured!

Tropic Fruit Rolls with a Yogurt-Turmeric Sauce

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I’ve got a real issue when it comes to fruit–I love ’em, but sometimes that sad little old orange could sit in the fruit bowl for days on end without me touching it only because I can sometimes, sorta be a lazy bum. If it’s washed, cut and ready in front of my face, I’ll have at it, if it’s not, I procrastinate until the poor little old orange whithers away and dies. Morbid…I know.

With Ramadan right around the corner, and plenty of Ramadan menu tastings happening, I’m trying my best to eat clean (especially the days I work from my home office).

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you these beautifully satisfying healthy Tropic Fruit Spring Rolls–TADAAAA!

Here’s what you’ll need:

For fruit rolls:

  • Any fruit you’ve got on hand, sliced very thinly. I used bananas, kiwis, orange and strawberries
  • Rice paper

For sauce:

  • 1/3 a cup of cultured yogurt
  • Organic maple syrup (to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of organic turmeric powder

 

How to make ’em:

  1. Fill up a big ol’ bowl of hot water and leave to cool down just enough for you to be able to put your hands in it and not boil your fingertips
  2. Grab your rice papers and submerge in the water for about 30 seconds or until the edges start to curl up a bit
  3. Carefully take the rice paper out of the water and place it on a plate
  4. Layer your fruits on to the rice paper
  5. Start rolling by bring in the sides and roll
  6. For the sauce, dump all the sauce ingredients into a little bowl and mix
  7. Serve, grab and dunk in sauce–good times..

Easy raw strawberry fig cashew bars

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So I’ve made quite a few cashew bar posts over the years, but it’s only because I love them and they’re so utterly versatile you can make with whatever fruit you have in season–now, why wouldn’t I keep posting them, hmmm?

These easy, raw vegan strawberry and fig cashew bars could be in and around your mouth sooner than you’d think.

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • ½ dates
  • ½ almonds
  • pinch of sea salt

Filling:

  • ¾ cup of raw soaked cashews
  • ¼ cup of agave nectar, maple syrup or honey if not vegan.
  • ½ the juice of a lemon
  • ¼ + 1 tbspn of full fat coconut milk
  • ¼ cup of melted coconut oil
  • 1 tspn of vanilla extract
  • Frozen strawberries
  • Fresh figs or strawberries for topping

Top with any fresh fruit you’ve got on hand. I topped some with figs.


HERE’S HOW IT’S DONE, SON:

1) Line you loaf tin with cling film so that you can easily remove the cashew bars from the mold without it crumbling into  pieces.

2) In your food processor, process the dates, almonds, and salt until it forms a crumbly crust.

3) Throw crust into the loaf tin and press down until very firm.

4) In a blender, blend all the filling ingredients for 2-3 minutes until silky smooth and poor over the crust. If you’d like to make two layers like the picture above, just blend everything except for the strawberries together and pour half of the mixture into the loaf tin, then add the strawberries to the remainder of the cashew mixture (now it should be nice and pink) and pour on top of the white cashew mixture.

5) Bang the tin on your counter top a few times to get any air bubbles (and aggression) out.

6) Top with the fresh figs or strawberries and cover with cling film.

7) Place in the freezer to set for 4-5 hours.

8) When you’re ready to have a piece, take it out at least 15 minutes before eating so that it doesn’t freeze your teeth off.


There! Easy, peasy! Please, please give it a go and let me know how you liked it.

Oh, and follow me on Instagram since you’re here @straightupbananas

Tropical-fruit mango and turmeric vegan cheesecake

Vegan turmeric mango cheesecake

Yes, it’s yet another raw vegan cashew cheesecake, folks. And you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like them just as much as I do, now would you?

This cheesecake is processed sugar free, colorant free and full of healthy goodness like the mega antioxidant turmeric and mangos.

Once you get the flow of these raw vegan cheesecake recipes, it’s so easy to pimp it up as much as you want. I love it, it’s like the perfect base for so many things!

Here’s what you’ll need:

For the crust:

  • 1 cup of pitted dates
  • 1 cup of almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon of melted coconut oil
  • A sprinkle of sea salt

For the filling:

  • 4 tablespoons of turmeric
  • 1 can of fullfat coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup of melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup of maple syrup, agave nectar or honey
  • the juice of one lime
  • 250g (a whole pack) of cashews soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla syrup
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger
  • 2 mangos
  • fresh fruit for topping
  • a pinch of sea salt

How to get it done:

First things first, you’ll need one of those cake or tart tins with a removable bottom.

Place all the crust ingredients into a food processor and blitz till nice and crumbly.

Put the crust mixture into the tin and press it down firmly.

Then, in a blender place all the filling ingredients EXCEPT for the turmeric, mango, and fruit for topping.

On a high speed, blend the ingredients together till creamy and no longer lumpy.

Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin and then add the mango and turmeric to the remaining mixture and blitz again till mango and turmeric are combined. (You should get a yellow shade of cashew cream)

Pour the yellow cashew cream on top of the white, and swirl around as much as you’d like to get the marbled effect.

Place in freezer for about 4 hours.

Before slicing and serving, take out of the freezer and let the cheesecake thaw out at least 20 minutes (no one wants to bite into ice. Oh and please don’t forget it out or it will collapse).

When ready to serve, add your choice of fresh fruit on top.

There you go! Easy Peasy! You’re going to love this cake. And no one needs to know that: A) It’s good for you. B) It’s not a real cheesecake. C) It’s got turmeric in it, ’cause that’ll just turn people off from the idea of having dessert for some reason.

Try this easy, quick and healthy raw vegan mango and turmeric cheesecake now! All the ingredients can be found in any regular supermarket in Dubai, it doesn’t necessarily call for a trip to the Organic Shop or whatever.

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

Oh and my Instagram account awaits a new follower in the form of you! Click this here link, matey. Aaargh.

 

Healthy Chocolate Pudding

Healthy Chocolate Pudding

We all have that one friend or sister that is absolutely obsessed with chocolate. If you don’t know that person, then it’s probably you. This recipe is so delicious AND you can have it done in less than 15 minutes! It’s quick, simple, and healthy. And I promise you, no one will be able to tell the difference.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

1- 1 avocado

2- 1 banana

3- 4 tablespoons of raw cocoa powder

4- 3 tablespoons of maple syrup or honey

5- 3 tablespoons of coconut oil

6- A pinch of sea salt

HOW TO GET IT DONE, SON:

This is dead simple. Are you ready?

Just grab all your ingredients, throw them in a blender and blitz. Tada! You’re done! No really, you’re done.

I’d recommend refrigerating it for at least an hour before eating. This recipe is so versatile you can top it with whatever you’ve got on hand. I topped them with raspberries, coconut flakes, and more sea salt because I love the contrast!

Go straight-up bananas with me and give this recipe a shot! You won’t regret it, I promise!

And, while you’re here, follow me on Instagram please:)

Easy & healthy spiced chocolate chia seed pudding

There’s just something about going to bed knowing that when you wake up a delicious, healthy and easy breakfast will be sitting there just waiting to greet you. It puts a little spring in my step in the morning when my alarm goes off (and by my alarm, I mean my husband’s).

Last night I whipped out one of my trusty mason jars and a few ingredients I had in my pantry and put together this oh-so-delicious and good for you spiced-chocolate chia seed pudding. It’s so ridiculously simple and good I see no reason why I can’t have it every morning!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. 2/3 a cup of organic chia seeds
  2. 2 cups of almond, soy or coconut milk
  3. 1 vanilla pod or organic vanilla bean paste
  4. date syrup or honey to taste
  5. 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
  6. 2 cloves
  7. 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder

How to get it done, son:

  • Grab yourself a mason jar or an air-tight container.
  • Dump all aforementioned ingredients in said container.
  • Mix well.
  • Shut container and throw into the fridge.
  • Leave in fridge overnight.
  • In the morning, take out of fridge, plop into bowl and add whatever the heck you feel like adding.
  • Voila! You’re good to go!

You’re going to love this recipe. I promise.

I mean:

  • Chocolate. Check.
  • Cinnamon. Check.
  • Easy recipe. Check.
  • Healthy. Check.
  • Quick. Check.

What more could you possibly want?

Go straight-up bananas with me and give this easy raw, vegan breakfast bowl of goodness a try and let me know how it goes.

Oh, and add me on Instagram!