It’s 1:05 am in my home country and, if it wasn’t for Flexpat, I would not be typing away from a chilly Marrakesh apartment right now.
But let’s go back a bit. What am I doing here?
After blogging for a while, I surely started reaping some f*cking awesome perks. It didn’t take long to know travel blogging downsides too. The worst one IMHO?
Loneliness (not solitude, which I made friends with a long time ago, as you should) hits you without notice. No matter how Pinterest-ready is your office corner or how extroverted you are, isolation in home-based jobs is a real issue. Without people around, soon the long sitting hours, weeks, and months become a burden. And so depression kicks in, and the job – the only reason why you are there, alone, day after day with your laptop as the only companion – does not get done in the end.
As I am based in a small Galician village – gorgeous yet lacking the social atmosphere I crave – shit got real and isolation hit me hard in the beginning.
I thought I had it all figured out: As always, I would just go places whenever I wanted (read, whenever I was fed up with feeling alone in my town).
If anything, travel has always been a key healing factor for me.
However, soon I realized that traveling the way I was doing it (to put it simply, fast-paced and for pure leisure most of the time), wasn’t turning me into a productive person. On the contrary, work was piling up and catching up started to feel like an impossible enterprise.
COWORKING, COLIVING & THE DIGITAL NOMAD LIFE
I looked around and realized, slowly but surely, all the ‘digital nomad’ friends I had, were transitioning from crazy-paced travel to a slower ‘I’ll be based here for a while’ kind of thing.
It made all the sense, so I started looking into it. Berlin, Lisbon, and Athens were all cities I had fantasized about the idea of being based in for a while, however, there was still something missing: the ‘office’ space.
What does it matter where are you based if there’s nothing to hold your back in terms of social interaction with like-minded individuals?
And that’s when I realized the perfect office for people like me was probably a coworking space.
All over the world, people with enough drive to make it happen, started putting together awesome working hubs for us – online entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and the likes – to work from.
And so I decided to use coworking spaces every once in a while to get some fresh air before feeling stuck and lonely.
So far, I’ve been lucky to spend some time in three of them:
5 MONTHS AT GAIAS, SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN
The sleekest I’ve ever been to, and perhaps because is barely 30 min away from my base, the one that made it quicker to my heart. Based in a Peter Eisenman building overlooking the always pretty medieval city of Santiago de Compostela; Coworking Gaiás – aka. Centro de Emprendimento Gaiás – was my first coworking experience.
Thanks to an EOI project, both Jose and I got a spot on their Go2Work program, that stretches over 5 months and allows entrepreneurs to use their coworking grounds in the meantime.
Mentoring, networking events and a demo day where everyone gets to pitch their idea in front of an audience – and the occasional investor – were also included.
5 WEEKS AT IMPACT HUB BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Soon after my first coworking experience, I was already signing up for a second one. This time, the European Coworkings program, co-founded by EOI and the European Union. Flights from my base, mentoring, an unbelievable apartment and access to Impact Hub Budapest for 5 weeks were treats I couldn’t resist.
Soon after, our project was chosen among many others and I got to live, work, mingle and play in Budapest for a while along with other 2 Spanish entrepreneurs in the fin-tech and translation services industries.
ONE WEEK WITH FLEXPAT MARRAKESH, MOROCCO
After meeting this company’s online marketing team at Web Summit Lisbon 2017, I got an invite to join the Flexpat tribe for its first-ever month abroad in the always stunning Marrakech. As you can imagine, saying no would have been a terrible mistake. And so here I am, 01:47 am in Spain and 00:47 in Morocco, excited to tell you what the guys at Flexpat are putting together and ready to rock this digital nomad coliving and coworking in Marrakech with some interesting people.
I will just be here for a week but so far it is looking pretty sweet. So much that I have just decided to write a sort of daily travelogue to show you all how a week in the life of a digital nomad looks like.
After being welcomed by a Moroccan driver at the airport last night, and started honing my lousy French skills on my way to Ezzahia Residence, aka. Flexpat apartments, I had a quick dinner in front of my new home and went to bed. As it happens, last weekend was a 48h celebration of Responsible Tourism in Leon after winning a ‘Responsible Blog of the Year’ award. Lots of food, great wine, and just a handful of sleep hours had me exhausted.
So after my several hours’ beauty sleep, I woke up at noon (don’t judge!). Soon after, Dion – a Dutchie on its mid-twenties and one of Flexpat’s trip leaders – showed me to The Spot, the coworking space where the Flexpat tribe – and me! – will be working from while in Marrakesh.
a whole day 5 hours working, a few mint-teas and coffees and a couple of runs to Le Pain Quotidienne, a nearby patisserie, a bunch of us went for dinner together to Saladbox and introductions took place.
I will be sharing this week with an Australian photographer, a UK content creator, a US vlogger, a NZ funnel-hacker gal, and a few Dutch guys part of the Flexpat core team. So far, so great!
Take that, isolation.
If Monday was all about meeting new people and getting settled, Tuesday saw my productivity peak.
I had lunch at a tiny restaurant across the street with the guys and paid a grand total of 18dh (1.5€) for a tajine and a mint tea. Dirt cheap and a great reminder of this country perks. After spending another whole day at the coworking, and feeling a slight case of FOMO building up (as I was there just for a week, and not a whole month as the majority of the group), I decided to book a hammam through Facebook (surprisingly, some Marrakesh tourism businesses are very responsive there), dropped my laptop at the apartment and jumped on the number 1 bus from Gueliz to Medina.
I then stopped at Koutoubia and walked – got lost – for about 20 minutes in the zouks maze before finding the female-only entry of Hammam Mouassine, a recommendation of my local friend Amanda, an inspiring young entrepreneur – that happens to run a Morocco travel blog called MarocMama too – we interviewed a while ago.
Hammam Mouassine was open from 5.30 am to midnight but the guy I talked to on Facebook had asked me to go between 10 am and 6 pm (in any case no longer 10 pm). I soon understood why.
I was welcomed by three – really chill – aged women. They asked for the money in advance (150 for the hammam and 100 for a 30′ massage with normal oil. Argan oil was 50 DH on top) before lending me a basket with a towel and rubber sandals. I stripped down there as per their indications, kept my undies and wrapped in the towel followed the lady that was going to bathe me.
I had been to a hammam before in Istanbul. It wasn’t hip or very touristy, but still, they got lots of foreigners. Here, I was the only one. And the only one getting a lady to do all the work for that matter. I was instantly different and noticeable.
I walked past a steamy room where a mother and her kids were bathing and playing and finally got to my bathing area, where two sisters were also having a hammam. Pretty basic, it had one faucet and 3 buckets getting filled all the time. I was told to sit down on a rubber mat and the ‘ceremony started’.
I could write lots on the whole process but that’d be a spoiler in case you are thinking of taking a hammam in Marrakesh. It will suffice to say that the whole experience is a HIGHLY intimate and intense one. And that if you are looking forward to being scrubbed in a beautiful Arab styled hammam filled with intricate decoration, scents, and people that speaks your language; definitely this hammam won’t fulfill your expectations. On the contrary, it could come across as shocking.
Otherwise, if you leave your fears, inhibitions, and preconceptions at the door and simply relax and let the ladies do their job; you can really enjoy the experience. After all, you are simply being cleaned as throughout as possible. And you will feel really good and immaculate after it. Massage is optional, as it is being bathed and scrubbed by someone (otherwise the fee is just 50 DH), and to be honest, the massage wasn’t the best – nor the worst – I had.
When all is done, an hour and fifteen minutes later, you can get your clothes back and the ladies will most likely kindly offer you a mint tea. Bam, you are out.
In the souks of the Medina, at night.
As a solo female tourist, there are nicer situations to be thrown into. It suffices to say that at the Square there’s no other issue than the usual tourist harassing at dinner time. However, before getting there you will have to walk a few solitary, random alleys and I’m positive you’ll be offered companion a handful of times if not more as if not, you will for sure get lost (NOT). There are many spray signs at every turn pointing to ‘La Place’ (the square). Follow them and only ask vendors for directions as the standing guys (I saw almost no females at that time there) will soon become a burden.
Once at Djema el Fna, I wandered around for about two hours, had dinner, took pictures from Le Grand Balcon du Cafe Glacier and explained a few guys I was not interested at all in whatever they were selling me before simply saying ‘NO’ louder than usual to be left alone. The joys of Marrakech!
From Djema to Koutoubia and then Gueliz I walked, then I took a cab to my apartment before falling asleep around 2 am. It felt great.
In the three days I’ve been here, I developed a small routine. I wake up and boil water. As it takes a while, I get dressed and by the time I’m ready, my tea is too. I then have it in my living room or balcony before heading to The Spot.
Today, I arrived there around 11 am. My friend Amanda, entrepreneur and blogger at MarocMama, came to work at The Spot and I couldn’t wait to catch up with her. We went to Le Pain Quotidien for lunch. The pizza was thick yet tasty. The orange juice was also pretty yummy.
After lunch, Rob and I gave a small talk on blogging at The Spot. It was more of a Q & A session where we got asked some questions like:
– How do you start driving traffic?
– How do you make money? And how much do you make?
– How long does it take to get consistent traffic? and to develop relationships with brands?
– Which ‘aha’ moments did you have?
– Would you do things differently should you start over?
– Which things you started or stopped doing that you wish you had done sooner?
It was an interesting conversation, and the Flexpat session for week 2 – the first week was on ‘Growth Hacking’, by one of the team members, Gert.
I joined the guys for dinner at a place where the main dish is a mix of melted cheese, fries, and ham called Pasticcio. I went for a sort of Cesar salad with avocado. Delicious.
Early night, I did laundry on arrival and started typing away. Oh man, the time you save when going for beer and tapas, cooking and cleaning the dishes and watching a movie aren’t involved in your routine!
Last day in town! Technically, because I’m coming back from the desert on Sunday before flying to Portugal on Monday.
Three hours of work in the morning (a sandwich and mini croissant praliné before that) and I headed back to the apartment to drop my laptop. Bus number 1 took me again to the Medina and at 4 pm I started a self-guided walk that took me to some of Marrakesh highlights:
1. Cafe Marrakech’s terrace to catch a view of Koutoubia and the snow-capped Atlas mountains in the horizon
3. Jemaa el-Fna square, where I had an orange juice for 4DH – if taken in a glass, otherwise not only will you be littering the planet with your plastic cup but you’ll also pay 5 or 10 DH total, depending on the plastic thickness)
4. The souks, where two skilled guys fixed my sneakers’ soles in 10 min for 20 DH.
5. Cafe Nomad, the latest hipster hub in Marrakesh, featuring Instagram ready sun hats, 360 views and an overpriced menu.
6. Jardin Secret. Today’s highlight was this recently restored hidden garden, turned into a sort of oasis in the middle of the chaos that is Marrakesh Medina. Simple yet colorful turquoise tiles guide you among lush plants, white painted iron benches, a wooden Summerhouse, some ponds, fountains and finally, a terrace cafe overlooking all the green palette. A must.
7. Max & Jan Concept. Recently opened restaurant, next to a fashion store. Picture perfect
8. Maison de la Photographie. Courtyard oriented property showcasing some of the best photography related to the city and Morocco, a nation that definitely belongs to the exciting countries list from now on. Most black and white (admission fee: 40 DH). As I was short on time, I wandered around some of the rooms and quickly made it to the top, its terrace might be the city’s best to catch planes landing and taking off next to the largest minarets. It is also possible to see all the surrounding mountains and even some green prairies at their foot.
9. Tanneries. If you are a girl traveling solo, I’d not recommend you head there in the afternoon. No police and harassing guys make it for a not so good experience.
10. Marrakech ramparts. Where I finally took a shared taxi (20 DH) to my next spot.
11. Cafe Clock. Every day at 7 pm, this cultural hub has some entertainment. From concerts (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays) to storytelling (Thursdays), make sure to check their Facebook page in advance to see what’s going on. I enjoyed my dinner but the portions size could be bigger. Some of the people in my group didn’t like it at all. On the other hand, the storytelling was all about kings and ministers, palaces, and things we don’t really relate to these days. Takeaways were few and it was easy to get lost, as the tales were really long.
FRIDAY TO SUNDAY
Work hard, play harder.
It was time to go on a long-weekend Morocco road trip, included in the Flexpat program for the month: the desert trip!
After crossing the Atlas mountains, where we enjoyed some snowfall at 2260m, the famous Morocco valleys and its Berber villages awaited. On this first day, we visited Ouarzazate, the Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou (movie set for many Hollywood flicks), some Hollywood studios, and the Dades Valley before arriving at Rose Valley, where we spent the night.
The second day, Saturday was spent driving through the stunning ‘Arizona of Morocco’, Dades Gorge, Todra Gorge, and Green Valley before arriving in Merzouga and the awaited Erg Chebbi dunes in the afternoon, just in time for a sunset ride to our fancy desert camp.
Having been there already in 2009, it was noticeable this tiny desert was way more crowded now than almost a decade back. In fact, it was almost impossible to find a dune without vehicle traces or human footprints. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable experience once again, and a very different one for that matter.
No sleeping in the floor in thin mattresses and freezing ourselves like the first time in Erg Chebbi: this luxury camp had well-set safari tents with three comfy beds and 2 plugins each, a restaurant and toilet tent, welcome tea, and lamps all over to find your way around in the dark!
After a deli dinner – soup, veggies, meat, fruit and even some wine! – the camp team set a campfire and played some Berber music under the stars before most of us headed to the dunes for some night sky awesomeness.
After a hot shower and breakfast – pancakes, yogurt, olives, jam, butter, honey, eggs, coffee, and juice – we left the camp the morning after and got ready for a full driving day to Marrakesh. Our third day was long, but the comfy van and a few strategic stops in Ouarzazate for lunch, the Dra Valley (or dates valley, almost 200km long) and Ait Barka for sunset pics made it bearable and fun. After all, time goes by faster when you are enjoying yourself through stunning landscapes listening to great music and engaging in deep conversations.
Closing the circle, my last dinner in Marrakech – as the first one – was shared with the Flexpat crew. Can’t imagine a better way to wrap up this coworking and coliving week!
Find out more about Flexpat programs to live your best digital nomad life on their website.