Monday, 7 April 2014

From England to Australia, via Marrakech and the Philippines

After all that glorious sheep farming I did to get my second year's Working Holiday Visa in Australia, I received that much-coveted email from DIAC confirming I'd been granted a second visa (YAY!). The application process was a little more harrowing than I had been led to believe- due largely to all the printing, scanning, copying, filling in of forms, uploading documents and feverish praying that took place. However, seeing as I'm writing this post from that same farm (having realised that farmers make quite good boyfriends) it was worth all that time, effort and printer ink.

Since my last post I've been on a few more intrepid adventures; this time showing England to said boyfriend, exploring in Marrakech and relaxing in the Philippines en route back to Australia. Oh, and I've not yet blogged about my time in Lombok and Bali with Mum last year- I will catch up I promise!

So... England
It was great being back home for a while, catching up with friends and spending some QT eating fish and chips or tea and cake with my family, enjoying how cheap items in GBP were compared to AUD, re-discovering my favourite three cities (London, Birmingham and Manchester <3), watching Matthew Bourne's impressive male-centric Swan Lake in Glasgow, and making more Pinterest-worthy gifts- a blog post on which I will share soon.
Surprise View in the Lake District

Ashness Bridge
London... you beauty
St Paddy's Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square

The view of Manchester's Northern Quarter from the Wheel
Inside Manchester Cathedral

Birmingham's Gas St Basin canal

A sneak peek of one of my recent craft projects

Now... Marrakech
We arrived at the suave but wifi-less Marrakech Airport at 10pm with nowhere to stay, so THANK-YOU to the wonderful tourist information lady with the amazing Arabian eyes for lending us her phone! Our taxi (sans seat belts) straddled both sides of the road, the driver refused to run the meter, talked on his phone, put his (hopefully optional) glasses on just before dropping us off somewhere in the middle of the medina, and then overcharged us for the experience. A couple of young lads gleefully seeing our suitcases offered to take us through the maze of apricot coloured alleyways to our riad for a fee- something badly needed until we got used to the bewildering layout of the medina.

A typical medina alleyway
This is just begging to be explored!

Our riad- Riad Palais des Princesses, was wonderful- all fountains and rose petals and chandeliers, a real sanctuary amid the chaos for around $35 a night, with free breakfasts and sweet mint tea a.k.a "Berber whiskey". We later moved to Equity Point Hostel Marrakech to be more sociable, and ended up booking a 2 night trip to the Sahara through the Atlas Mountains with a bunch of really interesting people- including, excitingly, one of the 118-118 guys! Our trip included chaffed bottoms from 5am camel treks, scaling a huge sand dune to miss the sunset, and dancing around in a huge tent to traditional drumming after a tagine feast. I'd 100% recommend getting into the dunes, but if you can elongate the trip to break it up then do, as the 10 hour bus journey back was less than enjoyable, especially for my chaffed areas!


One of the central courtyards in the riad
One of the cool seating areas at Equity Point Marrakech

We travelled through the Atlas mountains to get to the desert
That's me on the second camel!

The comfiest position I could muster

Almost at the top!
Campfires in the desert with our group

Hello sunrise!

Mohammed the Camel

Walking through the souks (markets) that meander off the main square; Djemaa el-Fna, was an exercise in dodging locals, tourists, donkeys pulling carts, motor scooters, hanging meat carcasses, goods for sale and haggling traders.We saw countless little shops full of lanterns, jewellery, home wares, hand-woven carpets, locals carving wood, piles of fruits and sacks full of spices, Moroccan oils, paintings- you name it. Some of my favourite purchases were more tan leather bags to fuel my addiction, and treasures such as mirrors, lanterns and jewellery. It was a bit of a skill just choosing from the mountains of goods, and also haggling without causing offence- a kind but firm 'la, shukran' (no, thank-you) was certainly the most useful phrase we learnt!


Woven wonders
Decisions decisions...
Spices galore
Street traders

The square itself is unlike anywhere else I've been- drum beating musicians, snake charmers and dancers, ladies offering henna and men shining shoes, boxing matches and games, entertainers of every degree, horse-drawn carriages and men wielding nappy-clad monkeys. A personal favourite were the smoky food stalls with their charismatic faux-accented hawkers, shouting things like "O'rite gov'ner!", "Vajazzle!" and "Lidl prices but Marks and Spencer quality!" We tried everything from spleen pittas to 7 pence doughnuts and harira that tasted like a Heinz soup, plus tagine, bread and couscous galore. I wasn't blown away by the cuisine, but maybe we just didn't find the best places- though the French restaurant at Les Jardins De La Koutoubia was delicious, especially followed by a cigar and cocktail in the piano bar ;)

New friend

Like new!
Harira with strange sweet crackly things and sweet mint tea

A trip to the leather tanneries was both a highlight and an ordeal; great to see how leather is made, not so great being hugely overcharged for a quick tour by a local 'guide', and I encountered a whole host of new smells, even shielded by a 'Berber gasmask' of fresh mint. There are lots of beautiful and interesting buildings that Trip Advisor can tell you about, but I'd rather talk about the strange experiences we had, including my jaunt to a hammam.This is like a communal bath house- I entered expecting something akin to the onsen I went to in Japan (DO IT) but was stripped to my knickers, doused in warm water, rubbed with soap, led into the sauna, later collected and re-doused, smothered with a body-mask, put back in the steam room, doused again, scrubbed to within an inch of my life while lying on a concrete block, then put in the shower to admire my new pink skin. It was hard to communicate with my attempts at bad French but I made it through the massage part of the experience reasonably happy if a little confused and oily.

The tanneries- complete with ammonia aroma from the 'pigeon shit' phase
Scraping the fat from the leather
Marrakech was full of beautiful doorways like this one
Strolling through the YSL gardens- the Berber museum there is 100% worth a look!

Next, but my no means last... The Philippines

We arrived in Manila with no accommodation (a pattern emerges) and accidentally booked into the red light district of the city, Malate, for a place from which to plan our next move. We ended up running through the airport to board a spontaneous flight to the beautiful but touristy island of Boracay, where a last-minute reservation at the Shangri La was the best decision we'd made all week. The resort and it's staff were amazing, as were the cocktails, the shrimp, the in-pool jacuzzis- everything. It took a while getting used to 'vacationing' and not 'exploring' but we managed to go scuba diving, make friends in the capsule-hostel-esque MNL hostel, drink too much local Tanduay rum, get many massages, a $4 pedicure that still looks great, eat wonderful food and buy local crafts for a whole week without feeling too lazy. Back in Manila we rode the shiny Jeepneys to Divisoria market, where we were welcomed by a local shouting "Hey my friend! Welcome to the jungle!". We didn't see another Caucasian all day, but did see bizarre multi-coloured chicks, street foods of every description and more over-head cables than you'd ever expect a pylon to be able support- Asia never fails to surprise.

I hope no chicks were harmed in making them look so awesome
On our way to the resort watching the sun set- beautiful
Feeling like a BOSS
I think this should some with an extreme hangover warning
I love the Philippines!

Divisoria Market
The back of a jeepney in Manila and the ever-present cables overhead

Now I'm back in rural Victoria, and for the foreseeable future will be attempting to balance part-time work (for money), self-improvements (for myself- fitness, creativity, knowledge etc) and working on some hopefully creative, exciting and successful ideas for the future. This is also whilst renovating a house, making good investments and a plethora of interesting friends, with which to share my growing culinary skills and artistic endeavors. Well, something like that- let's see how I get on :)

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