Category: Africa

Santa Maria pier Sal, Cape Verde

Unpacking the package holiday – Sal, Cape Verde

Santa Maria beach Sal

Cape Verde

About 20 years ago ‘the spy’ told me I should go to Cape Verde. Before it got spoiled. The spy, a military man and drinking pal of my father in law, had ‘worked’ there and had fallen in love with the country. I didn’t even know where Cape Verde was. Later I looked it up and found out it is 500 kilometres from the coast of Senegal and mentally filed it as somewhere to visit, someday.

A few years ago my daughter visited Boa Vista and loved it. Underdeveloped, huge beach, luxury hotel. A place where she and her SO could relax and recharge. Sounded like hell to me. Nothing there. Not a beach person.

Sal

Fast forward to 2017 and I finally get to Cape Verde. I chose to visit Sal, one of the 10 islands that make up the archipelago that is Cape Verde. It had been a busy year. The Mr and I had lived on a building site, slept in 13 beds, decluttered and moved from airbnb to house sit while our house was beining renovated. And if this was not enough going one we had the daunting task of house clearing the mother in law’s house. We were exhausted and needed to be pampered and to relax. So Sal and the Riu Palace Cabo Verde it was.

The flight

We flew from Birmingham Airport. Don’t. If you are going to Sal and can fly from Gatwick you get a decent Dreamliner plane. From Birmingham you fly in a sardine can. With no entertainment for 7 hours. A 17 hour flight from Auckland to Dubai was more comfortable than the relatively short flight to Sal.

Sal has an airport with a long runway, hence why big planes can land. Built in 1939 by Italy as a refuelling stop, Amilcar Cabral International Airport was later bought by the Portuguese. And during the Space Shuttle flights, NASA chose it as one of the emergency landing strips. Long runway equals big planes and while not technically a long haul flight I am sure I would have arrived in better shape if I had been on a decent plane.

The Dreamliner flies to Sal from Gatwick

Fly from Gatwick. Unless you want to emerge from the plane feeling like you will never walk again, with a full bladder because the guy in the aisle seat slept all the way through, don’t fly from Birmingham. Do you hear me Birmingham Airport and Thomson Airlines? Get your act together. Birmingham is a good airport, with a new long runway, so give us some decent planes please.

Sal is an arid island with little rainfall

It has 350 days of sunshine on average. There is no fresh water. On my first day I overheard a tourist complaining about a day trip she had taken exploring the island. Nothing to see but barren land and a shanty town full of poor people apparently. She was wrong.

Get out of the All Inclusive Bubble and explore

Most of the tourism on the island is All Inclusive Hotels – huge ones. Recently the government have insisted that there should be no hotels with more than 700 rooms, which has meant that some of the biggest have split in two. They are still huge. And hardly anyone leaves them. It is a fair walk from most of them to get to the local town Santa Maria and taxis were a four Euros each way. We went one night to listen to live music in a small bar/gallery we had found earlier that day and it was brilliant.

We joined the reps walking tour of Santa Maria, which was useful if only to get to know the town better. This is how we found Kaza D’Artista. By day a cafe and art gallery, by night a bar and music venue.

We then took a taxi into Santa Maria a couple of times to explore the town by ourselves once in the day and one evening. And we were one of very few tourists there. They just don’t leave the hotels. There is a school where donations of pens, toiletries and clothes are welcome, a few cafes and restaurants, and a small sprawl of beach bars.

All the action is on the pier when the fish arrives off the boats. And after the boats have delivered their haul, it is party time. A perfect place to people watch.

The night we went was supposed to be a Saints festival – it was very low key, a band of young people gathered in the main square and played some music, while a dress rehearsal for a fashion show carried on in the background. All very bizarre. Later we went to listen to live music at Kaza D’Artista which had visited earlier that day and it was and excellent atmosphere. With an audience of perhaps a dozen people.

I think the reason people don’t leave the hotels is because they are all inclusive – and they can’t bear the thought of paying for drinks when they can get them ‘free’ at the hotel. And that is a shame, because getting out there is one way of putting money in the hands of locals as opposed to the big hotel chains. So get out of that bubble and leave the hotel.

The day tour

The guides and drivers are locals and know and love their island. We visited most of the highlights of the island. We booked this through our tour company and lunch and entrance fees were included. There are a number of companies offering similar trips so I would recommend you also check them out. My personal experience is that Viator seem to offer some of the best tours and can be better value than your package holiday provider, but do check out what is included as often lunch and fees are extra. This full day road tour is similar to the one we took.

Kite Beach

We started off the day with a visit to Kite Beach – which in high season is host to international kite surfing competitions. We then went on to do a full day tour of the island with lunch in Espargos.

A taste of Sal

The highlights of this tour (for me) was bathing in the salt lakes at Salinas and visiting the rescued animals at the botanical garden Viveiro. However I enjoyed the day immensely. We had an informative guide and this together some good company in the other passengers made the day for me. I learned a lot about the history of Sal and the country of Cape Verde. Saw some men playing a game of Oware and went to the highest point in Espargos.

Bathing in the salt lakes was hilarious as we all tried to bob along on our backs – you are so buoyant it is hard to manoeuvre – but it is definitely an experience I recommend. I would recommend you wear sandals you don’t mind getting wet (but that won’t float away) as the ground underfoot is rough and you may cut your feet.

Rain

We also visited Palmaira which is where the main port is and where a bigger port (that will be able to dock cruise ships) is under construction – and there we had rain. As there is so little rainfall on the island this was a novelty – but it did mean that we missed out on seeing the Blue Eye, due to it being overcast. It was reassuring to see that the windscreen wipers worked on the bus and they knew how to switch them on given that they only have to use them a few days a year. We then drove to the desert to see the mirage.

I liked Murderia. Possibly because there are no big hotels there. At the moment it is very low key. Tourism outside of Santa Maria is minimal – I did see some rooms to rent and smaller pension type hotels in Palmeria and Espargos but not many. Getting out of the AI complexes is the only way to find the real Sal.

Viveiro – a solution to the drought

I felt that I had got a taste of Sal in a day – and I suppose that is what the tour was meant to do. Was it barren? Well yup – but then you get to Viveiro and you can see what can be done on an island with little rainfall. The owner of Viveiro has not only created a garden of Eden in a barren land, but also grows all the trees and plants for all the hotels.

Water and irrigation

The guide told us that the owner also came up with the idea to recycle all the waste water the big hotels produce by using it to irrigate the gardens. Ah that is why the morning walk to breakfast was perfumed with a la compost corner…..  but this is great and IMHO needs to be adopted more. With 500 plus bed hotels that is a minimum of 1000 showers a day per hotel in a drought ridden country. Plus all the loo flushing, that is a lot of waste water that can be utilised to irrigate not just hotel planting, but food too.

The catamaran trip

There were a few versions of this trip available and again we pre booked with the tour operator (will I never learn)? Again I would say check out Tripadvisor and Viator for tours. We also saw many trips advertised on the jetty of Santa Maria, so there are lots of options. We chose to go on the adult only one and wish we hadn’t because it was all about the booze and loud music. The best bit, apart from the swim, was the trip on a tiny boat to the catamaran and hanging around the harbour. We also spent most of our time chatting to the photographer who was the most interesting person on the trip.

The coastline isn’t pretty. It is no Santorini. And while I jumped on the person who whinged about the day trip and the island being barren – well this was just a brown coast with a bit of swimming. Which is the bit I love. The priority of most people on the trip was to ‘top up their tan’ whilst getting pissed. Choose your trip wisely. Disappointing. I am sure there are better ones out there.

Quad biking

I am not an adrenaline junkie but my daughter, who is, told me that this was a must do activity. She was right. I didn’t get to drive but riding pillion was just fine for me. We had a short introduction to the vehicles and then headed out of Santa Maria to the dunes and salt flats to explore the area.

You will get dirty, dusty and hot. There were a few participants who were petrol heads and wanted to be at the front – overtaking dangerously – what these idiots did not realise that they would always have to wait for the ones bringing up the rear (us) aka Mr Captain Sensible and Mis Daisy).

There is still a lot of undeveloped land around Santa Maria – new roads have been built leading to nowhere and there is very little traffic – so the short time you are on road during this trip you are not battling for space with trucks and cars. It was a fun day – but boy did my legs and arms ache the next day.

We got to see more of the coastline and the landscape of the area around Santa Maria and again visited Kite Beach. The tour finished up at a small beach bar which was perfect location to cool off. Although we seems to have travelled miles, this bar was just over a sand dune from our hotel. A place I discovered we could wander to along the beach if we escaped the security of the AI hotel.

I am glad we experienced the quad biking, despite the heat and the dust, it was a good way to see more of the island.

The food

We were warned that the food in the hotels would be poor- as it  all imported. Expect tinned peas they said, the ones who have never visited but their friends had. They were wrong. We only ate outside of our hotel once, in Espargos, on the day trip, and the food was very good. The food in the hotel was exceptional. Yes it was a RIU hotel, yes it was a buffet, yes it was good. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, some excellent fish too. There were also some stations where food was cooked  to order, so yes, good fresh food was available.

We also booked one night in the a la carte restaurant, included in the AI price. It was lovely to have table service for a change. That said the service from the staff in the main buffet restaurant was the best I have experienced in an AI hotel. Talking to a few of them, they felt appreciated by the hotel, they had access to learn German, French and English, and loved their jobs. Tourism is one of the main source of work for local people.

Population

The population of Sal is growing. I think that one of the reasons was there is some movement here due to the work offered in the tourist industry.

The island population is now currently around 40,000 and is now the fifth most populated island in Cape Verde. 

Source Wikipedia 

We were told by the woman who ran the music bar we went to that there are more women than men on the island. Again, I can only quote what I was told, but she said that a lot of the men left the islands to find work. I think however, and again speculation, that many are returning as tourism expands.

Espargos

This had meant rapid expansion of Espargos with new small apartments being built. My concern is that when almost all the employment eggs are in one tourism basket and that basket being an AI one, what happens if the bubble bursts?

Windsurfing and Kite surfing

One of the reasons that Santa Maria has developed as a tourist centre is the wind, the dunes and the huge beaches, which are the ideal conditions for wind and kite surfers. Between December and May Sal is the hot spot for these activities. I imagine the demographics of the tourists changes significantly at this time of year.

Accommodation

Mostly AI hotel but a lot more apartments being built (windsurfers take these over in the main season).

There are older and more central in Santa Maria hotels and apartments, which if I return I would choose, however, AI is popular because it works out cheaper to book AI rather than rent an apartment and buy food – and the options are limited and not very affordable. I would say if you were in Espargos – a bigger town, there are more eating out and buying food options. Although there were a number of small cafes in Santa Maria which I would have loved to have tried.

The other drawback to being in a big AI hotel was that you could have been anywhere in the world. Attractive but identical blocks of buildings, pouring out holiday makers trekking to the pool to put a towel on a sunbed, the beach to top up a tan, or to go and eat one of the 5 meals a day on offer. That said the room and the hotel over all was lovely.

Every morning as we walked to breakfast I half expected to see the big white ball from The Prisoner. It was all a bit dull and monotonous as people walked to and from their rooms to breakfast, lunch and dinner and to and from the pool to reserve sunbeds. Which is why we escaped on trips and visits to town.

Slums and slum clearance and the Espargos shanty town – the Political bit

We drove past this on the day trip. Personally I think it is voyeurism and I was uncomfortable with it. The tour guide then proudly pointed out all the new build apartments and announced that the shanty town dwellers were moving there now. Of course I asked if this was a choice. No it seems, it is a policy.

Now while on paper a new apartment with clean water and a bathroom seems a good idea, it struck me that every hut in the shanty town had a bit of land where some veg was grown, a goat grazed and chickens scratched. The people living here were self sufficient. And most of them I was told had full employment and it was a choice to live here. Again, I can only repeat what I was told. What I could not understand was how the building of apartments and not small houses with a bit of land was the right solution to improving lives.

Could they not use the waste water from small houses to irrigate gardens so the once fertile plain blossomed with food again. The capital, Espargos was named for the wild asparagus that grows on the island. But now almost all the food is imported. If Viveiro can grow palm trees, it can grow tomatoes. There must be a better way.

I don’t know. But I think the politicians need to rethink their housing policy. In the UK and other developed countries there is evidence that moving people from substandard houses in established communities to apartments without gardens leads to isolation. Emulating developed countries is not the solution. Creating solutions for your community is.

Most of the hotel workers lived in Espargos and were bussed in to the hotels in Santa Maria. It is a city that will expand – the land is flat, it is the most fertile area, so in 20 years or so, who knows?

So, why visit now?

There is a new dock being built so cruise liners can go there – more tourists and more development will follow. The cruise companies want this as it is an all year round destination and with some countries being ‘closed’ due to real and perceived threats of terrorism, Cape Verde is the solution to cruises closer to home. It offers much of what the Caribbean offers, white beaches, a laid back atmosphere, without the long flight.

Places that are empty now will be crowded when they dock. The blue eye was quite busy when we visited (as it is only visible between 12 to 1 – this will be when all the trips from the cruise ships will visit and then it will a trip to bathe in the now almost deserted salt lakes.

The roads are quiet – there is no chains (apart from hotels) so local people run local businesses at the moment. While the casino and other swanky hotels have taken years to build, many plots remain half-finished and abandoned. This will change. Traditional winter destinations such as The Canaries are at full capacity and Egypt and Tunisia remain to some extent closed for business. Cape Verde is a therefore a solution for the tour companies for the demand for winter sun. It has a big runway. Good roads. Infrastructure. Sun.

I hope that Cape Verde negotiate a good deal with them, I do. Irrigation being part of it. And ecotourism. They have made a start in some areas, and this is a real opportunity to develop it now, before the big boys take over and quite frankly ruin it.

There are a few Europeans who have set up businesses in Santa Maria. They like Sal for its all year round sun. And who can blame them? Some are the chips with everything and Sky Sport 24/7 type bars. Others are more upmarket. Local bars are low key with emphasis on the music. Property is relatively expensive.

I also heard that there are lots of issues around getting stuff done. The Hilton Hotel had taken many years to complete so the local tour rep told me. Many of the other hotels had had to remodel due to the restriction on number of rooms each hotel can have. At this moment in time there is not enough of this type of development to turn into a Costa del Hell but more development is on the way. It does seem to be concentrating on the top end of the tourism market though.

Would I go back?

Yes. Preferably as an indie traveller and go island hopping. I asked if it was possible and locals said yes, but transport was unpredictable, boats left when they were full. This would not be Greek Island Hopping. It would be slow travel, it would not be cheap, but I think I would like it. Boa Vista and Sal are the islands that the big tour operators and hotel chains have focussed on, and that is purely down to the long runway at Amilcar Cabral International Airport and the beaches of course.

Having learned more about some of the other islands and the ecotourism and small guest houses such as Spinguera on Boa Vista and the vibrant and verdant of Santiago, I realise now that there is much more to Cape Verde. Currently most tourists on an average package holiday stay in an enormous, soulless All Inclusive resort. They see little more than the pool and the restaurant. And I am happy to leave them to it. And yet if a really cheap AI came up again, yes I would go again. If I could go there on a decent plane. But I would leave the hotel, hire a car and explore. And find the real Cape Verde.

Have you been to Cape Verde?

For more information about Cape Verde here are some useful links

 

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cape-verde

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/africa/cape-verde/articles/reasons-to-visit-cape-verde/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing it all in – in defence of the package holiday

Travelling Coral

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Package Holiday Coral

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Are you a traveller who plans their own itinerary or a package holiday fan?

I ask because I want to know what defines a traveller.

I started my blog, Travelling Coral, to document my first round the world trip in 2011. It turns out I like this blogging malarkey, so I carried on. I like travelling, eating and I like package holidays. I love to have the sun on my back and writing about where I have been, what I have eaten and I like writing about other stuff too. It is my therapy.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a package holiday.

The beach bums

When I was on a tour in SE Asia, we stopped a few nights at Langkawi. The resort I stayed in was full of long-term travellers and beach bums, who were just like my brother. Because he had lived on a remote island in Thailand for a few years he had a travellers superiority complex. Like the people at Langkawi he viewed tour groups as fake travellers, unlike themselves, the true travellers.

The digital nomads

We are all digital nomads. I can text on the bus and read my email in a cafe. I can work from home or someone else’s home. I can write my blog in Birmingham and Brisbane.

The travellers that describe themselves as digital nomads mostly work in Chang Mai. The package tourist is everything they wish not to be associated with and don’t we know it.

Travellers sleep on the floor/dorms

When I reluctantly let my brother stay in my home for a couple of nights he refused the bed. He slept on the floor and made a big thing about it (saved me washing sheets). He moaned about how unhygienic western toilets were preferring to squat and wash rather than to sit and wipe.

He sneered at every aspect of my life. My kids (too much of a drag, man) my house (still wanted to stay there) and like those languishing in Langkawi, thought westerners who chose to go to work and pay taxes were somehow inferior to him. My package holidays were nothing like what he did (drug dealing and cadging cash off the mothership) he was cool and I was not because he travelled and I did not.

The Carry On Brigade

Then there are the travellers who have lived on the road for six years with backpacks that they carry on to planes. Like carry on is the only way to travel. Self proclaimed digital nomads that never check their bags. They boast that they only carry seven days of clothes, yet manage to pack in the ipad/applewatch/macbook air and a mirror camera whatever that is. They write e-books about it and feign disdain at people who for whatever reason book a package holiday.

Sexy travellers

You will see this same group of bloggers featured in the top 10 sexy travellers lists (no one likes an old frumpy traveller do they?) selling online courses to enable you to have a six figure income on the road. If I were making a six figure income on the road I would upgrade to first class travel and check in my luggage and not work out of a café in Chiang Mai.

Not all of us can carry on

The type of people who respond with ‘oh we never go on packages’ when I mention on their Facebook Page that there is no way I could travel from Birmingham airport with carry on only.  It always gets weighed and the limit is 5kg, so no I can’t, package holiday or otherwise.

I have travelled with carry on only. Twice from the UK, both times with Easyjet out of Gatwick. Once they insisted that a tiny sling purse counted as a second item of hand luggage and I had to put that in my bag. Crazy, but rules are rules. #jobsworth .

*update

In Australia last year (August and September 2016) we travelled carry only on domestic flights to Tasmania/Darwin/Alice. Checked in online and hoped we were not stopped at the gate. I am more pro carry on now. Also had to dump 11kg of clothes in Melbourne as I overpacked for the 4 month trip.

Not a travelling snob

While I go on package holidays I rarely have anything in common with most of the passengers on my plane. Particularly those with names on their t-shirts who clink on all the duty-free they can and buy perfume and makeup in the sky, I don’t really get them at all.

I genuinely hope that they are not in my hotel. I do. That is not me being a snob, it is me being me. I would not want to spend a week with a bunch of saga louts nor a bunch of toffs who snort coke. It is not who I am. I do like meeting new like minded people and as such have made friends with ambulance drivers, tube drivers and someone big at Weta on my travels. I am interested in people but not ready to fill my life with buckets of booze and karaoke. Except for that one time in Krabi. We don’t talk about that.

When I go to Turkey the ‘I have my name on my t shirt in case I forget who I am in Bar Street’ brigade get on the big packed bus to Marmaris, while I and my family are the only ones on the minibus to Dalyan. Phew. Dickhead Dave, Saucy Sue and Peter the Plonker who had beer for breakfast at the airport pub may visit Dalyan to wallow in the mud for the day at some point, usually as part of a transfer deal with the tour company, but that is it.

I get my Dalyan with the locals and the Dutch who have made it their second home. I watch the sleeping Dalyan Dogs and live like a local.

Husky on Ice

I go have a beer with Fatih, say hi to his mom Rose (one of the best cooks in Dalyan) and Aycut and his jeep, that frequently breaks down, gets our business every time. When he gives lift to random strangers and pops to see his mom when taking us on a trip, that is a bonus. The rep for my hotel invited us to his family home. The owners of Metin, the family run hotel we stay at, entrusted me with their daughters passport renewal forms. That is how we do package.

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What we don’t do is lie on a sunbed, work on our tan, eat English breakfasts, drink Carlsberg and stay in the hotel complex. We catch buses and go for long walks. We get lost in thunderstorms, narrowly avoid being struck by lightning, get woken by earthquakes and run the bar for Fatih when he joins in the water polo match. And yes some days we may swim and sleep because we can. Because we are on holiday.

In Malta we got the cheapest hotel and were out all day exploring by bus. We went there to sus out whether we would want to live there. We don’t. Another package because it suited us at the time.

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Our first All Inclusive was in Marrakech, which we loved. Our second in Tunisia, we hated. Before that it was usually self catered to keep the costs down and meant that I didn’t have to dress for dinner.

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And that is the point. We do what we want to do. If Carlsberg and chips is your thing, good for you, enjoy. Just don’t call me a snob for choosing not to.

If sitting in a cafe as a nomadic blogger in Chiang Mai is your thing, great. Go write that book about how you travel with only one pair of knickers and flip flops. I won’t buy it.

None of us are superior to anyone, tourist or traveller or staycation lover. No, not at all. It was a digital nomad, What’s Dave Doing,  who gave me the best advice when I was planning my first big trip. Supportive and informative. He is still travelling (slowly now) and I am pretty sure he checks his bags. Dave goes home and sees his family and likes western toilets and comfortable beds, but will sleep on the floor if he has to.

Sorrento here we come

Next week Phil and I are off to Sorrento for a week. I went to Thomson Holidays, after some research on the interwebs, and booked a package holiday.

Yes I could have booked it online. I didn’t because there is only one travel agent on my high street now. Use it or lose it, be it butcher, baker or holiday maker. The staff there are lovely, remember my holiday disasters and know why I don’t do cruises.

Sorrento is a holiday. A much needed holiday after a downsizing house move, a bereavement and every other weekend visits to a hospitalised terminally ill mom/mother in law.

And I will not be taking carry on only. I am packing a posh frock, and some real shoes. I will take sandals and linen tops and trousers and jeans and shoes and as the weather is warm in the day and cool at night, some scarves and a cardie. I may even pack my trusty kagool.

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Housesitting in Melbourne

In a few months we are off to Melbourne to house sit, travel in Australia a bit and then after three months there, we go to New Zealand for a month. I sketched out a plan on the back on an envelope, went to STA, and now flights are booked and not much else. I have no idea how we get from Sydney to Brisbane yet. We will work it out. That to me is travelling, a mix of part planning and part seeing what happens.

Packing light

This was my packing for Greece in 2014. A seven day unpackaged holiday, where we flew to Crete,  took a night ferry to Piraeus,  had a day in Athens and then cruised to Santorini for a couple of nights. All the others dragged their huge suitcases to their hotel and stayed in one place. At the airport on the way home I asked some of them if they had been to Knossos. They asked me what Knossos was. #sigh

I pack light. This wheeled backpack from Ikea is just over the measurements for hand luggage on most domestic flights from the UK. And while we travelled light, it was over 5kg.

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Package versus DIY

Before booking the Sorrento package, as an experiment, I checked out skyscanner and various booking websites to see if I could organise a break cheaper than the package. I couldn’t. I could get cheap flights and if I had wanted to backpack in hostels, I probably could have just beaten the prices. Room only in modest hotels were around £80 per night. I could have got a 7 night all inclusive package for £600 if we had been able to go this week. We couldn’t due to work and family commitments. For less than that we have 7 nights half board and, as Sorrento is renowned for being expensive, that is good enough for me.

Spend my tourist dollar in the community

When we go to Sorrento are we going to lounge around the pool? Probably not. We will catch the train to Naples and find the pizza James Martin raves about. We may take a water taxi to Capri and explore the island. Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum at the very least. We will use public transport where we can and maybe take a trip to a farm and make pizza. The food walking tour looks fun too. I like tours, I like meeting like minded people and sharing the experience. Phil and I also like going off on our own and exploring.

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What is important to me is making sure some of my tourist dollar is spent locally. Booking a package and eating only in the hotel, it isn’t. If I am AI and never leave the complex, only RIU and TUI make any cash. In most cases Thomson and Thomas Cook have bed blocked the hotel for a knock down price and the staff are paid the minimum wage.

In Malta we ate in a family run pizzeria and bought pastizzi from the pie shop. We used local buses and put our money into the economy.

This was almost impossible to do in Tunisia and boy did it need the tourist buck. Even our taxi driver worried for us when he took us to Sousse. It was a country in crisis. So sad now that those hotels, the main source of employment, lie empty.

An ex work colleague once moaned to me about her holiday in Kenya, how dirty everything was outside her hotel. She was horrified at how the locals lived and she didn’t want to see that. I explained to her that while tourism may offer the locals employment, the big hotel chains offering AI deals are in effect, stealing the business from the local small traders. And it doesn’t make any difference what the business is, holiday, retail or the coffee shop. Ask yourself why McDonald’s pop up in almost every resort and city now? Why, when in Melbourne, would you choose a Big Mac over the many wonderful burgers this city offers? Think where you spend you money, please. If you spend it with a local independent, the money stays in the community.

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I do sometimes steal McDonald’s wifi though. When a bed bug ridden Maltese hotel charges for it.

Find the family business

This is why I seek family run businesses when I can when travelling. At home I choose indies over Costa and the corner shop over Tesco, Meatshack over Maccie Dees. If I stay in an AI or half board I make sure I get out to the local businesses be they cafes or tour companies and use them. For my forthcoming Australia trip I am using Aussie based tour companies and where I can, family run companies such as Melbourne Coastal Touring and West Oz Active.

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Travelling with grannies and children

When the children were young, we almost always booked package holidays. It was easy, my children learned to swim in the sun, made holiday friends, and I had peace of mind. Both Phil and I had stressful jobs and all we wanted to do then was flop. We did once take our then 3-year-old daughter island hopping in Greece, with 50 something granny aka Travelling Sylvia leading the way.

Santorini post card

We found accommodation as we got off the boat. The owners held photos of their rooms for rent and took us there on the back of mopeds. Of course now we use booking apps but I still see rooms for rent signs in Greece.

Staycations can cost more than a package

I also have unpackaged holidays in the UK, using small independent Bed and Breakfast accommodation. When our Nile trip was cancelled in 2011 we took a tour around Wales and stayed in some excellent rooms. It cost nearly as much as the Nile cruise though, with food and petrol on top of the £80 or so a night accommodation.

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And that is why package holidays are popular, they are mostly affordable. That is what many people want. If they have busy lives and only two weeks off to have a break, most people will probably choose what is generally a safe and predictable option for a holiday. Eat, drink, relax. And so do I, sometimes.

DSCN0841 Copy - Packing it all in - in defence of the package holiday

Yet now I have travelled more I choose packages that will offer me the adventure and independence I prefer.

We chose Sorrento because we have never been before, it offers a variety of things to see and do and because we needed a break. It was cheaper than 7 nights B&B or hiring a camper in England and I am saving my dosh for our Antipodean adventures.

The point of this post is not to praise package holidays, nor denigrate people who take them. I have friends who for environmental reasons won’t fly. My carbon footprint with three long haul flights in the past 5 years is huge. I do my best to balance this with using public transport and walking as much as possible. I don’t waste food. I turn off lights and use environmentally friendly products. I am not perfect nor strive to be.

Love them or hate them

Package holidays are like Marmite, love or hate them I suppose. But don’t think you are superior if you call yourself a traveller not a tourist. Because I will see you at Pompeii and at Knossos, at Hadrian’s Wall and on a beach in Krabi. That is what people who are interested in the world do, tourists and travellers.

I am a traveller, a tourist, a holiday maker who wants to see the world, feel the sun on her skin, taste new food, discover new places and people and return to places I love. Package holidays have made the world accessible to people who would never had left the comfort of their own back yard otherwise. Who knows, one day they may push past their comfort zone and go further, go independently and go travel. Or they may just sit by the pool and work on their tan, because that is what makes them happy. Who am I to judge?

So don’t judge me. I like package holidays. Sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling Sylvia – what my mother did on holiday

I am still wading through the pile of photographs, both mine and my mothers. Hundreds of them, mostly being thrown away before we move house.  Mom kept all hers in labelled shoe boxes. Duplicates and bad photos. Stored for decades and never shared. Organised clutter.

SAM 5886 e1442418104528 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Occasionally I find ones with real significance. To discover that Mom had taken a photo of a church, that years later I chose as a place to scatter her ashes, was moving and very comforting.

Santorini church

And then there are the ones that make me smile. The ones that capture her personality, the things she did on her holiday. The maddening things and the silly things, that remind me of her and of happy times.

My mother liked to go on holiday. She was a school teacher, in the days when a six week holiday was a holiday for teachers too. She took full advantage of those extended holidays.Bathroom after makeover - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Mom often went on a whim, and travelled solo often.

One Christmas, when this celebration was still a big deal for me, she announced she was going to Bulgaria, to a ski resort.mom 4 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

And had Christmas dinner with strangers.

mom 3 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Watching people ski.

mom 5 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Wearing appropriate ski resort wear.

mom 2 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Having her picture take with characters.

mom 6 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

And riding on fast things.

mom 7 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Then there was the time she went to Croatia just after the war for independence. And Turkey, always by herself and always making friends.

mom 1

Turkey – getting muddy.

mom mud - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

She went to Greece a lot, usually with her sister in law, Brenda. Brenda was a carer for her husband, who had MS, so this was a welcome break for her.

One year they went to Tunisia.

They did like dressing up.

And riding Camels.

She generously took me and my family on holiday too. I am glad I have those memories and will be keeping these photos of happy times.

mom 12 - Travelling Sylvia -  what my mother did on holiday

Even when she took us long walks and we got lost.

In Spring 2011 I went to Dalyan with my husband. Mom hadn’t come because she was struggling to get  travel insurance due to her illness. We had been there a day when I got a text from my son.

nan says she will meet you in the market on sat

As I said she did things on a whim.

Our last holiday together was in 2011.  I booked a lovely house overlooking the river at Fowey, with a balcony where she could people watch.

My mom enjoying the peace and quiet

This is what my mom did on holiday.

She also climbed into cages with tigers in Thailand and went on a micro light plane in Dalyan, not found those photos yet. Look out for part two.

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech and why 4* luxury doesn’t have to break the bank

The pool
The pool

I don’t think I have ever stayed in a 4* hotel let alone go All Inclusive so I was a bit apprehensive when I booked a week away just before Christmas 2013.

I had come across an article about Marrakech whilst reading the newspaper in the very cosy bar of The Aysgarth Falls Hotel during a mini break to the Yorkshire Dales

2013 had been a tough year for me and the idea of a pre Christmas break seemed like a very good idea indeed. (Those of you who read my blog regularly will be aware that my mom passed away early 2013 and I have had a struggle clearing her clutter and managing my own health for most of the year). So yes I needed another holiday.

It became a very good idea when I looked up some package holidays and saw the prices.

I don’t usually talk about how much my holidays cost, but on this occasion I will just to put it perspective what an amazing bargain this holiday was. I am always being asked how I afford so many holidays, the answer is that I make sure I get a good deal. If the price isn’t right I don’t go. There are still really good deals to be had. I also never, ever pay for inflight meals or to guarantee sitting together. Utter waste of money. So here goes.

One week, All Inclusive, gym, indoor and outdoor pool, free shuttle bus to the city,  for two people came in at under £600. ($996 approx). Including flights from my local airport in Birmingham, England. It seemed a unbelievably good bargain. After all we had paid around the same for a grotty bed bug ridden 2 star B&B hotel in Malta only a couple of months ago. Our B&B in Yorkshire was costing us about £80/$131 a night. With all the additional costs of fuel in the car and other meals we were paying about £110/$183 per dayThis holiday worked out at £85/$141 per night.

So of course I booked it.

I had no idea what to expect. I have travelled mainly in Europe and so called First World countries. I have been to Turkey a few times and travelled in SE Asia so thought that I would have been prepared for Marrakech.

I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for Marrakech.DSCN9745 - Copy

As we drove from the airport to the hotel my face was glued to the window of the coach. There were actually donkeys in a 4 lane road surrounded by lorries, buses, cars and mopeds. And bikes, lots of bikes. Moped riders wore helmets, unfastened of course, and bike riders caught lifts from them, one foot on the moped and one foot on the bike pedal and holding on to the rider. Crazy mad dangerous.

I liked this place.

Our hotel was the RIU Tikida Palmeraie Marrakech and is a few miles outside the city, and was an oasis of calm. I was a bit very overwhelmed by all the luxury, the fact that our cases were delivered to our rooms. We were travellers for goodness sake, not holiday makers. Would I have to dress for dinner? Would everyone think we were the scruffs? Would I have to tip?

On the plane there had been some obnoxious, wealthy business men who talked loudly and verbally abused the attendants throughout the flight, and they were at this hotel. My heart sank, we were definitely the poor plebs here. Then I saw they had golf clubs, so reckoned I would not be seeing much of them. They had not brought wives and partners, this was a boys only trip. I imagine their partners had whooped with joy as the nobs their hubbies had left the house and had dashed down to to the Bull Ring with the Amex pretty swiftly.

Marrakech has some very good golf courses. Indeed I noticed that more golf resorts were being built on the outskirts when we were on trips out of the city. And there is a lot of space to build on, and boy are they building. All shiny four and five star hotels. Yawn, golf.

Our room was lovely and we had different swan towels every day. And yes of course I took pictures!

We discovered that we could, like Hobbits, have a first and a second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. (We never did). There were three place to dine, the main restaurant, plus tables at the Moroccan and Italian themed restaurants could be booked. That said the main one served such a wide range of food, including Italian and Moroccan dishes, so these themed places were just a bit more cosy and intimate for a special meal. And all the drinks, soft and alcoholic, were included.

So used are we to being frugal, we forgot that the drinks were free and caught ourselves wondering if we could afford a drink in the bar. Then we remembered we had those little bands on our wrists and we were ‘All Inclusive’. It was a novelty to have a brandy after dinner, or a G&T before. And the waiters always filled up your glass with wine as soon as you put an empty one down. The buffet was so varied, the quality so very good and we tried lots of new foods. It was easy to balance the less healthy indulgence in cakes when you knew you had had lots of salads.

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Two things had worried me about All Inclusive. That people would pig out and overload their plates with food and waste food, and, because the drinks were free they’d get drunk and behave like louts. And I don’t just mean us. To be fair we didn’t stay up late and drink with the many who watched the various entertainment acts at the hotel, yet we never heard any rowdiness, nor witness people getting pissed around the pool by day. This was not the Benidorm nightmare I had dreaded. It was all very civilised without being stuffy. Jeans were ok for dinner, shorts, bikinis and football shirts were not. Correction, football shirts did begin to make an appearance around the pool and a breakfast. That was because Morocco was hosting a big football tournament and many of the fans from Brazil were staying at our hotel.

When we did an open top tour of the city, the bus was packed with Brazilian football fans waving flags and shouting to fellow fans as we passed. In England you would get off a bus if 50 football fans got on, and wonder when the police would be needed. Here, it was all good fun, no nasty rivalry between fans.DSCF7451 - Copy

We couldn’t fault the hotel or staff and there was no pressure to tip. We began to relax and then we took the bus into the city and decided to explore the Medina. And that is when the adventure begin. If only I had been able to read this by The Wagoners Abroad before I went (I couldn;t have cos we went before they did) or this by Life Out of the Box (again, we were there first) but if you are thinking of going to Morocco, I would recommend you read their blogs as they are excellent guides to coping with preparing for Marrakech. I hope that my subsequent posts about our experience will be helpful too.