MOROCCO: Tagines, Tantrums and everything in between

The Planning 

After discussing most of the countries in the world everyone finally agreed on Morocco for our family reunion. The idea was for all four of my grandparents’ children to meet again after my wedding (6 years ago!). Of course, this had to include grandchildren (including myself) and their great granddaughter Krythya (my 22 month old daughter). We were a group of 12 (8 adults, 3 kids and a toddler) travelling from India and the US. US citizens didn’t need visas, we however did, although quite a simple process via a travel agent.

The Journey

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Abu Dhabi – In Transit

We chose to travel Etihad business owing to the age and health of those travelling, plus it was nearing the end of Krythya’s almost free airfare age. Needless to say, the lounge and flight had its comforts. Although it was way past Krythya’s bedtime the excitement of having family around kept her wide awake through the first leg of the journey to Abu Dhabi and during transit. We carried a few snacks as well as mini tetra packs of milk as she’s a dairy baby. I was only hoping the longer flight would be bed time and thankfully she slept through. Other air journey tips can be found here.

Casablanca

Our first destination, or base camp I should say, again chosen based on everyone’s flights. We got in by around 7am, all of us got through immigration quickly except for my grandfather who is an Antiguan citizen, as the officer wanted to make sure it was a real country! We picked up some croissants and sandwiches for breakfast at the airport and headed out. It was a good idea to pre-book a mini bus with an English-speaking driver to make our local travel easy. Although not mandatory we traveled with her car seat as its very convenient and safe for road trips. It took about an hour to reach our hotel Pestana Casablanca, located on the Atlantic coast, after which it still took another hour to get our rooms as we were early for check in. Krythya was however on schedule with her nap and didn’t mind the lobby sofa. Even if it’s a hotel, choosing places that are equipped with a kitchenette makes it convenient to prepare some quick meals etc. The staff were extremely friendly, even upgraded the baby’s room. Who doesn’t love some extra space?

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Kids Enjoying The Old Medina

Once everyone was checked in, and in our case napped and bathed we headed out to the Old Medina. The kids found a small garden to play in, with my grandfather and uncle watching over while the girls walked around. The tiny streets were lined with shoes, carpets, and endless artifacts. Soon it was time for dinner, we headed back to our hotel as it was conveniently located next to a mall with multiple food options. On our walk over, the kids rode camels on the beach while the toddler wanted to give it a bath. Also made a quick trip to the grocery for fruits, yogurt etc. With my rusty French I ended up getting sweet yogurt and mixed it with rice, yep you guessed it, Krythya spit it out. Only then did I realize it!

 

 

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Day 2 was a bit more touristy. Started off with our travel standard baby breakfast which usually contains oatmeal, eggs and fruits. We visited the Hassan 2 Mosque which certainly lived up to expectation. Being the 5th largest mosque in the world you could pretty much see it wherever you went. It was beautiful weather for the long walk around or should I say run around for Krythya. For lunch we went to a sea side cafe where I found one of my favorites – paella and Krythya had her grandmas tomato rice…. Just kidding she loved the green olives and pita bread too. On our way to the next attraction our driver decided to stop at a government building as they had some local street artists there. Turns out it was not such a good idea as Krythya did not like the look and sound of them. Took us a while to convince her that the drum man was gone.  By the time we had reached Mahkama du Pacha, the city courthouse it was Krythya’s nap time and she was tucked in to her seat and so my mom stayed back with her while we got to see some gorgeous architecture. Funnily enough the best part of the day was being stuck in Casablanca traffic with everyone singing wheels on the bus and learning mandarin from an 8-year-old.

Marrakesh

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Road Trip Swag

Road trip! We had an early start to beat the traffic for our 3-hour journey to Marrakesh. The timing worked out well to include Krythya’s nap. It was no short of an adventure from the minute we reached. We chose to stay at a Villa – Paix et Palmiers, which was not an easy job to locate. A beautiful rustic French style villa with a pool and lush gardens all around. Krythya was fascinated seeing oranges on trees. It was lunch time, and everyone were quite hungry, the villa only served breakfast, so my uncle ventured out to get some food. Behold it was a feast in the parlour/dining room which was on the other end of the swimming pool. We had the local version of roti and chicken, couscous salad and pizza. After lunch, we realized the gate to the parlour had locked on closing with the key outside, turning it through the grill wasn’t working. At a distance we could see a gardener who couldn’t hear us calling out (my aunt suggested he was a ghost haha). To make things worse my little cousin got her head stuck in the grill, which luckily wasn’t difficult to get out of, but she started to cry. Finally, one of the house maids came out and showed us how to open the lock. Enough adventure for one trip, right?

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Orange Trees at Our Villa

It was time to explore Marrakesh, we headed out to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the market place. It was quite entertaining for kids and adults alike. Horse carriages, snake shows, pottery, what’s not to like. Krythya got herself a pet camel (no not a real one….), while my grandfather got his shoes polished.

Day 4 started with lazy breakfast by the pool, as the day was slightly warmer. The weather in general was much cooler than expected. Always a good idea to pack in layers, and fleece jackets helped. Today we drove to see a Berber village in the Atlas Mountains. For lunch it was Tagines, a local delicacy of cooking in a clay pot. The restaurant overlooked a stream with hanging bridges, Krythya spent all her time on it and we took turns outside with her. Then we visited a facility where we witnessed the making of Argan oil. Argan peanut butter yumm! Tonight was going to be a late one, once we were back at the villa we made sure Krythya was fed and dressed in warm comfy clothes and made our way to Chez Ali. I would say it’s an elaborate version of Jaipur’s Chokhi Dhani. As expected Krythya fell asleep on our way, it was a stroller kind of night. There were beautiful warm and cosy tents set up for tables. Tagines for dinner again, the vegetarians had couscous and carrots. For entertainment were folk dancers making the rounds and the main show Ali baba and the forty thieves was set outdoor. Sure shot way of waking up a baby, fire forty gunshots… and she was up. She did enjoy her first belly dancing show that followed

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Bye Bye Marrakesh

Next morning was time to say goodbye to Marrakesh, the beautiful Villa and the very hospitable owners. On our way back to Casablanca we stopped at a resto-gas station for a quick bite. There was a children’s park as well, so we spent more time than planned for. Krythya made conversation with kids that were speaking French so it was quite amusing to watch. We arrived in the evening only to spend time together as some family was set to leave that night. The kids got very emotional as they didn’t want to leave Krythya. This bonding was really what the trip was meant for.

Rabat

The last leg of our trip was a one-hour drive to the capital city of Rabat. If you’re looking for roman ruins and nature walks The Chellah is the right place to be. Krythya got to see some large vultures and their nests too. At which point she referenced the baby bird from her book ‘Are you my mother’. For lunch, any guesses? Yep Tagines! But this time in Dar Naji a highly recommended restaurant for its beautiful and comfortable seating especially with a toddler who likes to be on the move and of course amazing food. Then we went on to see the Hassan tower, where we got creative with picture taking and had some very hygienically squeezed sugar cane juice. One last stop before heading back was Kasbah of the Udayas. As majestic as the name suggests but not very stroller friendly. Krythya did enjoy the mini doors and cobblestone paths like a she was in a story book. On our way back was a beautiful seaside drive that put all of us down for a nap.

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That night we were packed and ready to leave the next morning. The driver agreed to drop us off at the airport although that wasn’t in the original plan. Overall this was one of the friendliest places I have visited. And a truly memorable one for all ages!

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Memories Made

Useful Tips from our Trip

  1. Using a travel friendly car seat is both safe and convenient for road trips.
  2. Planning the day with Krythya’s nap schedule in mind helped avoid a tired and cranky baby.
  3. Choosing places to stay either villa or hotel that provide a kitchenette makes cooking small meals to pack and go convenient. Carrying dry items like rice and pasta would suffice.
  4. We found that involving Krythya in the plan of places we were going to visit got her very excited and interested in anything we did. Also helps them learn and make memories.
  5. Always have flexibility in plans. As sometimes just having time and space to run around in a garden makes the holiday so much more fun.

 

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An Anniversary Trip to Maldives with Mystery, Romance, Action, Comedy, and Horror

 

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I loved these matching family slippers at Anantara Dhigu 🙂

I know what you are thinking… Why take your baby on your romantic getaway? Well, there is room for romance, action, comedy, and horror on every holiday when you bring your toddler along – and we would have nothing less on our Anniversary Trip to Maldives

This was our second trip to the Maldives – we were there in 2010 when we celebrated our first anniversary, and there we were celebrating our 9thin 2018. This trip, with Arya in tow, was obviously a very different experience. Saurabh chose the Anantara Dhigu Resort because it is extremely kid friendly, and located only a 35-min boat ride away from Male Airport.

The Mystery Begins…

cae3b0ba-841a-4c13-8d7e-77340b6c2057So… This was supposed to be a surprise anniversary trip for me – but I must have been a cat in my previous life, because curiosity literally kills me, and I can’t help myself from extracting every secret out of Saurabh through third degree interrogation techniques (as he claims they are). He had booked the trip with this “Luxury Surfing” company called Tropic Surf which arranges for packages with surfing, accommodation, and food (if you choose that option). This was an absolutely brilliant move by Mr. Marda because I think the experience and service through Tropic Surf is really unique! They have a special welcome crew, seamless check-in process, and special concierge service for bookings made through them.

Romance

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The Spa at Dhigu

Since this was an anniversary trip, there had to be an element of romance 🙂 This is where the resort’s excellent kids club came handy. We were able to get some alone time while Arya played with the 12 or so other kids who were checked into the kids club. This allowed us to go surfing and paddle boarding when we wanted to, and also had a chance to visit the sister resort Anantara Veli (which does not allow kids). With Arya safely deposited at the kids club we indulged in an extra drink (or two) at the picturesque bars at Veli. The baby-sitters were extremely flexible with timing and Tropic Surf team made sure that we had hassle free cancellations of babysitting service on the day our surf lesson got cancelled due to bad weather.

We had already done all the romantic stuff like sunset dinner on private island, and picnic at private lagoon on our previous Maldives holiday so we kept this one simple. But if you have not done that once – I highly recommend the sunset private dining experience!

Action

IMG_4866Although Maldives is supposed to be known for a relaxing holiday we are not ones to sit still. We had pre-booked 4 days of surf lessons (two of which got cancelled due to bad weather), but the ones we did get to do were amazing. Tropic Surf team has its own unique method for teaching which I think is quite effective! We managed to get a few really good waves. The only down side to surfing in Maldives as beginners is the reef break – we had a couple of small scrapes from waiting too long to dismount and getting dragged on the reef – nothing serious though.

The calm waters near the resort are also excellent for paddle boarding. So calm in fact that we took Arya with us. Paddle boards are free to rent if you book surf lessons through Tropic Surf. The resort gave us an infant life jacket for her and the Tropic Surf instructor showed her how to hold on to the ropes and sit. We could see turtles and small fish as we paddled through.

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The Swings in the Middle of the Sea

We also rented the glass bottom kayak on one of the days. Arya enjoyed sitting in the middle and looking at the reef and fish below while Saurabh and I paddled through the calm waters. We even spotted her a nurse shark below. We kayaked to the neighboring Picnic Island where they had these beautiful swings in the middle of the sea that made for amazing Instagram material.

Diving in Maldives is also phenomenal – we stayed at the Banyan Tree last time we were there which had a phenomenal house reef. If diving is topmost on the agenda I recommend choosing a resort where you can simply start from the house reef! We skipped diving this time around because it would require a half hour boat trip at least, an we already had too many other non-child-friendly activities planned.

Comedy

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Refreshments at the Pool

Life is generally full of comedy with Arya around. She just makes it extra special sometimes. When we were not doing anything we were sitting at the pool bar and sipping (pitchers of) Sangria, while Arya goofed around with the kids at the pool. Particularly hilarious was her interest in three blonde Russian brothers between the ages of 4 and 8. She tried to individually impress and befriend each of them – the whole effort was made especially comical by the fact that none of them spoke English – so she tried all her vocabulary in the three languages that

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Watching the Sunset from the Poolside Bar

she speaks (English, Hindi, and Telugu). Failing which, she also tried to befriend them by sharing everything she had (her pool floats, her beverages, the cashew nuts she had requested from the bar tender). Her final attempt – she tried to impress their mom (a 6-foot tall blonde who was only mildly amused by the chattiness of this 3-foot nothing creature).

Arya finally gave up on the kids and started befriending all the old people in the resort by telling them she was 65 years old. So… that worked! And we were suddenly getting life advice from retired CEOs and fund managers whom Arya had broken the ice with for us.

Horror

9f464b2b-80f4-4374-9aa4-d8b44b07454dSo… What can be scary about the Maldives? Sharing your bathroom with reptiles and crabs!!! Most of these new-age Maldives resorts have outdoor bathrooms. While they are very romantic and exotic and all… they can be a bit scary if you are a toddler. On the first day Arya spotted the chameleons in the bathroom and squeamishly ask me what they are. Now, typically I believe in telling the truth, but a chameleon sounds like a scary animal even in my head – so I told her they are squirrels (because squirrels are cute). She even pointed out that those were some weird looking squirrels and I had to improvise and say that’s what squirrels in Maldives look like. So, every time we went to the bathroom we would acknowledge the “squirrels,” birds and stray crabs (if any) with “Hi squirrel! Hi crab! Hi Birdie!” before going about our business.

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All in all – I would say, while it is not a typical family destination, Maldives can be fun for kids who love the beach. Of course – do your research and pick a resort that caters to kids (not all of them do!). Anantara Dhigu has small perks (like free lunch buffet for kids by the pool, and kids eat free at dinner and breakfast buffet policy) that makes it good value for money (well… relatively!).

5 Useful Tips for Mauritius and Seychelles With a Toddler

I now realize I am running about 3 trips behind on blogging. So I made this one short and to the point – particularly since Mauritius and Seychelles are both islands with a limited set possible itineraries and all of them have been listed on the interwebs.

We did a 10 day trip – 5 days in Mauritius, 4 in Seychelles (and one day of traveling). It was just Saurabh, Arya and I one the Mauritius leg, and a group of 16 family and friends (including 4 children) on the Seychelles leg. You can read my general tips about a beach trip in my blog What to Pack For A Beach Holiday With Baby. And air travel tips in by blog post 11 Things I Do To Make Air Travel With Baby Easier.

My tips for making it a hassle-free trip in both the countries for kids:

  1. Drive! In Both Mauritius and Seychelles, driving is safe, convenient, intuitive andIMG_3463 cheap, and parking is amply and freely available even near tourist destinations. Plus – we were smack in the middle of potty-training when we went to Mauritius and Seychelles, and I refused to let that slide. So we stopped at the side of the road for bathroom break at our leisure. Being able to drive also gave us a lot of flexibility to sightsee at our own time and pace. We rented a bright orange Mini Cooper Convertible in Mauritius to make extra fun to enjoy the sights.

 

  1. Get a Baby-Sitter: If you are adventure junkies like us and want to indulge in some IMG_3388diving, surfing (while in season), or other sports where kids are not allowed, or simply want to get some time for R&R, I highly recommend choosing a resort that has a well-reviewed nanny service. We chose Angsana Balaclava which provides a great nanny service which is also not too expensive. I know some parents are not comfortable leaving their children with strangers – but this is not someone you got off craigslist! It is someone the resort recommends and takes responsibility for. I always book for an extra hour before just so I can also personally evaluate the babysitter and offer them tips. Our babysitter at Angsana was actually a sweet Mauritian Indian Aunty who also spoke Hindi and was a pro at handling kids– so it worked out quite well.

 

  1. Go Boutique: I prefer small boutique hotels over large commercial resorts, mostly IMG_3454because in my experience, the service is more personal. Angsana is a small enough resort (not a huge one like the Hiltons / Club Meds). By the end of our 5 day stay, the staff knew our daughter well – what she likes to eat, play, etc. They knew our preferences and made sure they catered to our needs in the best way possible. There is, however, a tradeoff – I am told the bigger resorts have more activities options, and company for kids. It is hard to imagine my 20-month old would have been eligible for any group activities – maybe I will re-evaluate when she is older.

 

  1. Plan Ahead! Now I am all about spontaneity but I do believe one requires a bit ofIMG_3533 planning to make the most of a vacation (especially when you are in a large group). While it was just the three of us in Mauritius – we were a group of 16 family and friends in Seychelles. I do think we could have seen and done a lot more in Seychelles had we planned ahead a little bit for that leg of our trip. Even simple things like finding a restaurant that will seat 16 together can be difficult for a group that size. We had a couple of situations where we were looking for suitable places to eat with 3 hungry and cranky toddlers in tow.

 

  1. Choose Villas Where You Can! Since we were a large group in Seychelles we chose
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    The view from our villa in Seychelles

    villas instead of hotels. This gives kids the ability to be themselves (and be rowdy sometimes) without the adults having to apologize to fellow guests. We chose pool villas so the kids could swim to their hearts content. The villa we chose in Seychelles was a 6 BR villa located at the highest point on the island. You could literally see 80% of the island from the villa – simply breathtaking! The only downside of the villa was – because the two grandmoms had a kitchen available, they spent a significant amount of time there cooking for the four kids (I wish they could worry less and enjoy the trip more!).

 

What to see and do with toddlers in Mauritius:

  1. The Zoo (Officially called Casela Adventure Park): Although I am fundamentally against the idea of zoos (because I believe they are cruel) I have had to soften my stance since I had a kid. I still think its cruel to trap wild animals like lions in cages, and surroundings that feel nothing like their natural habitats. Which is why the zoo in Mauritius was perhaps one the of least offensive ones I have seen. About 80% of their animals are from the African continent and hence are not completely out of their element. Plus the zoo does not have small entrapped areas but large spaces to house the animals whom you can view through a vehicle that drives through the area or a view platforms. It somehow felt more humane. Also, Arya had a great time at the zoo walking side by side with giant turtles and ostriches.

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  1. The Curious Corner at Chamarel: This was a totally unexpected stop for us following a somewhat underwhelming viewing of the seven-colored earth at Chamarel (underwhelming only because I sort of expected it to be bigger after all that build-up of standing in a queue of cars to purchase a ticket and then driving 7km on a windy road). This is a museum/experience house that plays on optical illusions to create surreal imagery. This was a fun 1-hour indoor activity with a toddler – although I think Saurabh and I were more excited about the photos than her.

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  1. Get a lot of Beach Time! Needless to say Mauritius has amazing pristine beaches – plan to spend at least an hour a day at the beach – kids love the sun and the sand, and parents can enjoy local food and culture at some of the beaches. My favorites were Trou-aux-Biches, Mont Choisy and Grand Baei in the north of Mauritius – the waters are relatively calm and shallow, which means kids can swim and play without fear. Arya also loved the fresh juices and coconut water at all the beaches.

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There is a lot more to do if you have slightly older children (6 years and older), who can go hiking, ziplining, ocean-walking, kite surfing etc. But we took it easy and stuck to what our toddler could comfortably enjoy. Read my blog post on taking babies Swimming here How to Introduce Baby to Swimming.

 

As for Seychelles:  it is not particularly a place marketed to kids – but kids can have fun if they enjoy the sun and the beach. I could not find any activities specifically for kids but the four children in our group (ranging from 8 months old to 5 years old) had a great time frolicking around the pool in the two villas that we rented, and loved chilling at the beach. Mostly they were happy playing with each other.

 

Activities for Adults:

  1. Diving: both Mauritius and Seychelles have amazing dive sites and great options for diving. We went in off season (for diving) in Mauritius and still saw quite a lot of life. Had to dive through a bit of a surface current in North Mauritius but its all good when you get close to the bottom. The visibility is amazing even in supposedly off-season waters.
    Diving in Seychelles was simply breath-taking! We went diving first in the marine reserve where the density of marine life is some of the best I have seen in my life. Small and playful schools of fish make the experience absolutely unique and awe-inspiring. We also went diving to a wreck which was a fun exercise in practicing our diving skills.
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Saurabh and I during the hike
  1. Hiking: both Mauritius and Seychelles have amazing options for hiking. In Seychelles one of the most well recommended hiking trails began at our villa. We considered bringing our daughter on the hike in the sling but made the wise call to leave her with the grandparents at the last minute. It was a short but tough hike with steep and slippery steps.

 

  1. Food and Drink: If you enjoy eating and drinking – both these places will deliver. Mauritius has a combination of local food joints that bring French and Indian flavors together, and international restaurants that leverage the fresh seafood to cater to all palates. The best food we ate was at an evening local market in Seychelles where they had fresh catch barbequing in a parking lot, and drinks made from local rum to go with it.

 

Overall, I think Mauritius is more kid and family friendly with more structured places and activities for kids. Seychelles is actually perfect for either romantic getaways or short group trips where kids have company to entertain each other.