I submitted a guest post for another blog. If you get a chance, please check it out. It’s on relaxing and why sometimes it feels difficult to get into a relaxed state. Blogs to come more often in the near future!
I lived in the Casita de Masaje. The one-room structure hid in the wild brush and trees that grew tall along the little stream running through camp. To the right of my little hut sat the vegetable barn. Every morning between 7:00 and 7:15, I heard the wooden door to the vegetable barn scrape the concrete floor as someone opened it gathering fruit for breakfast. At 7:30 my alarm sounded. I got up and trekked a hundred yards to the bathrooms across the field to wash my face. Then I trekked back to my casita, put on my yoga clothes, and gathered what I needed to lead the flow for the morning. I carried my backpack with yoga notebook, phone, and insulated mug to the kitchen to fill my cup with coffee or tea and to prepare coffee or tea for the sleeping clients to whom I would give a wake-up call as their tent captain.
At the beginning of the trip, most people were already awake when I arrived to wake them, but toward the trip’s end, I was most often greeted by silence when I brought them their drink of choice. I would whisper good morning, set down their drinks, and quietly leave to go to the yoga deck. Some of my favorite moments came next.
I sat up my yoga mat and did my own practice overlooking the Futaleufu River. Many times I stood with my hands in Angeli Mudra just breathing and taking in the scene of the morning; thanking God for the opportunity to be right where I was. Then, clients began to arrive, trickling in slowly, setting up their double mats, and taking in the beauty as well. Mornings usually started crisply with the sun still tucked behind the crevice of the mountains. But as we moved through warriors, mountain poses, and downward dogs, rays of light started to shine above the “v” where the two sides of the valley came together. As we ended, and I led the class into savasana, the sun fully shone (if it wasn’t cloudy) and each body lying flat on the ground received the warmth of those rays. I (usually with help) offered lavender eye pillows and adjustments for anyone who wanted to receive them. When savasana ended, we thanked each other for the practice, rolled up the mats, and went to the “breakfast of champions”.
The breakfast spread usually included homemade granola, homemade yogurt, homemade breads, homemade jams, eggs, meat, fruit, and whatever else might randomly appear. It really was a breakfast of champions. Everyone ate heartily as the trip leader discussed the day’s events and choices for activity. After a few questions for clarity, the group broke to prep for the days water adventures. Those adventures might include rafting Class III, IV, or V rapids with a guide and a team; captaining a single-person ducky (inflatable kayak); or horseback riding to a waterfall.
After a full day on the river, everyone returned to camp to either relax in the wood-fired hot tub, have a drink and appetizers at the bar (or both), or take a nap (or all three!) Staff and guests drank, ate, and chatted together watching the sun set behind the mountains, the river reflecting the light. Then the bell rang for dinner, and everyone gathered in the dining area for the first course: hot soup. Following the soup, the concinieras (cooks) set the large table with a grand buffet, and the main meal was served. Indian night, Mexican night, Italian night, Peruvian night, Chilean night, Argentinian night; every night had a different food theme. Everyone ate at the big community table, drinking wine and talking. Conversations became connections for friendship at dinner. I heard discussions on God, religion, jobs, adventures, broken bones, broken hearts, kids, grandkids, and much more. The conversations continued through dessert. Sometimes dessert turned into drinks which sometimes turned into a big dance party. Other times, campfires and guitar pickin’ followed dessert. Of course sometimes sleep followed dessert and nothing more. At the end of the day, everyone went to their tents (large canvas tents with real beds and feather duvets) to rest for what would come the following day.
What a sweet treat to have so many days on the Fu, meeting incredible people and experiencing great adventure. One of the guests wrote the following impactful words and shared them with me:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, and a stranger into a friend.”
My Futaleufu River time has started and is already nearing the end. I am completely enchanted by this place. The turquoise Futaleufu River winds through black shale-like rock walls with lush foliage everywhere. Rafters and kayakers from around the world come to this river to navigate the white water. I came to teach yoga and absorb the South American culture. The first week I stayed in the Bio Bio camp in the orchard up on the hill behind the Tias’ house. Every day I would cross the little bridge over the stream of runoff that waters the Tias’ farm. Every day a mother hen with her little chicks ran from me through the tall grass to safety. The trees dropped sour apples. The sheep called to each other across the yard, and Tia Nellie yelled at Gary (their new puppy) for jumping on somone or for stealing shoes or for some other puppy antics. I could walk 50 feet to be at the yoga deck that overlooked the Futa River and Macheta mountain. The boards of the large yoga deck warp upward toward the sun making yoga on one mat uncomfortable but two mats inviting. I always go early to do my own practice before teaching. There’s no need for music with the river, birds, and animals all contributing to the song that surrounds the Futa. The chill of the morning makes my bare feet cold, but as I work through sun salutations, warriors, and arm balances, my body warms and the sun starts to peak through the mountains facing the back of the platform. Mountains surround this place, and clouds constantly play through the cracks and creases to create mysterious and ever-changing settings. Sometimes the clouds rest on the water like a blanket or a smoke screen until the sun arrives to chase them. If it’s cloudy, they stay all day. Many days it is cloudy and rainy and deep sinking cold settles into the bones. On those days, we sit in the wood-fired hot tub or sauna to remove the chill. Actually, we sit in the wood-fired hot tub any day we can. If it’s too hot, then we rope swing or rock jump into the refreshing waters of the Fu, swim to the stairs, walk through the bar, and go back to the hot tub. Hot cold hot cold hot cold. Smiles. Laughter. I’ve been the bar tender. I’ve been the fire watcher. I’ve been the yoga teacher. I’ve been the dish washer. Whatever needs to be done, you do. It’s a training ground for life and good living – appreciating people and the moments you have. People discuss this concept all the time but rarely do it well. Here, it is the only way. Wi-Fi doesn’t exist in camp. Cell phones are used for cameras, alarms, and flash lights; otherwise, they’re pretty useless. You don’t see everyone on a cell phone here like in the States. People talk to each other. Lively conversation is shared just like the meat, food, and drink, and when people say the party starts at 5pm, it’s acceptable to arrive at 8p or 9p or later. Come whenever…as long as you come. Being here, being present, that’s what is important.
I flew from Paris to Marrakesh constantly on the look-out for a cute brunette with a yoga mat named Ashley. I didn’t find her until we landed, and I overheard another girl ask if she was going to a yoga retreat. I promptly asked them both about the yoga retreat and came to meet Ashley (a flight attendant from Seattle) and Faiza (a lawyer from New York City). We found our driver holding a sign reading Alma Retreats (the retreat company owned and operated by my friend Stacey), got in the SUV, and watched in horror, excitement, and awe as we darted through the tiny streets of Marrakesh barely missing people, bikes, wagons, donkeys, and small children. The car stopped, and we were instructed to get out and grab our bags. The driver then led us through a maze of narrow streets filled again with people, carts, motor bikes, bikes, and donkeys. Thirty-foot, adobe-like walls surrounded us on either side making it difficult to tell what direction we were going. We turned right and walked toward a children’s school. We turned right again and saw a dead end with a door, no sign. We rang the bell, the door opened, and we stepped through the opening into the beautiful oasis of Zam Zam Riad, our home for a couple of nights. A beautiful plunge pool greeted us and then opened to a small courtyard flooded by sunlight filtered by a palm tree taller than the building itself. The outside walls, all white, had large cutouts revealing the hallways and doors that led to all the rooms and extended three stories above us on all four sides. I marveled at the details of this place: the brass cut-out light fixtures that cast beautiful shapes on the walls and ceilings, the tassels at every corner and turn in every color, the delicate embroidery detail on the pillows and window treatments. It was unlike anything I had seen before, and I knew Morocco was going to be a memorable experience.
Faiza, Ashley, and I roomed together along with Sam who joined us later. After we were settled, we all found our way to the rooftop to do our first yoga practice with Kevin Lamb. And what a practice! It was one of the most intense two-hour practices I had done and included a one-legged side plank that turned into the front splits. I’m still working on that one. After the practice we freshened up for dinner and all sat at a long table draped in a white cloth under the palm tree and night sky. We were about to experience our first round of Moroccan tajine, a style of slow cooking in a clay dish with a conical lid. We had aubergine (eggplant) salad and bread, tajine with chicken and vegetables and rice. I know we had dessert at the end but I cannot remember. I was so full of delicious food. I went to bed satisfied and wondering what the next day would hold.
I awoke the next morning at the 5am call to prayer. The calls are five times a day over loud speakers all across the city. I tried to go back to sleep but just laid in bed until we started our vigorous yoga practice. Breakfast couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I was so hungry that I devoured the fruit, pancakes, omelets, and bread with various jellies, butter, and honey. Moroccan mint tea is served at almost every meal and throughout the day, and I enjoyed the calming effect it had on my stomach after eating so much. My next mission was to prepare for a tour of the town and a bit of shopping in the souks (markets). Brahim, our guide, met us and led us through the crazy maze of the walled streets through the courtyard of a mosque, past a fountain, and to an apothecary. We smelled and tried all sorts of different concoctions, but the one I purchased was black cumin. We wrapped a small amount in a thin cloth, crushed it by rolling it in our hands, and then smelled it. The effect was close to eating a large ball a wasabi – incredibly opening in the sinuses. After spending a significant amount of time and money in Herboriste Du Paradis, we left to get lost deep in the markets of Morocco amidst the colors, confusion, crafts, and chaos. “Where you from? Oh, good place. Look in my store. You like? I give you Morocco price.” I think every salesperson said this to us as we walked through the tight corridors made of small stalls filled with leather shoes, wooden boxes, brass lamps, hamam towels, and leather bags. Turns into turns into dead ends and back and suddenly we were in an open courtyard with snake charmers, monkey owners, food stands, goods stands, and restaurants. We met up with another part of our group that had gone shopping at a warehouse and then walked back to Zam Zam for yoga and dinner.
The next morning started early and with no yoga. We drove to the Sahara desert and made a few stops along the way. We saw women grinding almonds to make argan oil. We looked at carpets in a massive (and extremely expensive) carpet store. We stayed for one night close to the Casbah where part of Game of Thrones was filmed. We drove through a forest of palm trees. We tried not to get sick on the incredibly windy mountain roads. And at the end, we raced. Four, four-wheel-drive vehicles bouncing through the dunes of the Sahara to our camp.
We arrived to find large white tents in two rows with covered candles lighting the way to the resting and dining tents. Each tent was divided into two sections on the inside: two beds in one area and a bucket of water, shelf with mirror, and bucket with a toilet seat in the other. We learned that we would be “flushing” the toilet by putting a scoop of sand in the bucket when we finished. That night, I stepped on the rug in front of our toilet and found it sopping wet and the bucket surprisingly empty. We got a new bucket the next day. You can’t expect perfection when glamping in the desert.
Once the sun came up, the flies came out. They didn’t bite, but they did swarm. Each person had their own fleet of 50 flies at all times. We did yoga shrouded in our turbine scarves, trying to keep the flies from crawling on us. Once the coolness of the morning evaporated, the heat set in. Because the tents had no ventilation, taking an afternoon nap inside felt like trying to sleep in a sauna. We sought refuge under the shade of the open-air dining tent and played Farkle (an amazingly fun dice game that Danielle, our NYC bar owner friend, taught us) while drinking water, sometimes with ice. Then the sun set, and the flies went to sleep, and the Sahara nights charmed us into forgetting the days by offering uninhibited views of the galaxies and sweet, cool breezes. We ate lavishly and drank wine with dinner. Then everyone sat around or danced by the fire as the locals played drums and sang. I drummed with them a couple times and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Sahara left many memories: the camel ride that was supposed to be at noon ended up happening at sunset because of a sick camel (thanks camel!), the walk around the dunes with the locals telling us about their lives, my solo walk along the ridges to take it all in. It was truly like no other place I have ever been.
On the day we were to return, half the group caught the “epidemic,” which was terrible for an eight-hour car ride through the very windy mountains back to Marrakesh. I thought I had escaped, but it was not to be. I ate lunch, and then the car ride turned into a nightmare of unending turns, swerves, jolts, bumps, inevitably stops. We all eventually made it back to Zam Zam and with great relief, I went to bed. It wasn’t a great way to end the trip. Some people left early the next morning. I laid low, still feeling terrible, but took advantage of getting a hammam bath (someone else scrubs and bathes you, which was exactly what I needed in my state of illness).
A few of us stayed an extra day in Marrakesh, and after the sickness finally subsided, we all went shopping in the souks again before preparing to see the beach side of Morocco in Essaouira . We stayed at an amazing little place jointly owned by a couple, she was from France and he was from Morocco. She said they met 15 years previously on the beach only a short distance away. For a few days we enjoyed each others’ company, the markets in the town, and a great little French restaurant that was only a few blocks from our rooms. We did not, however, enjoy the beach. Unfortunately, torrential rains flooded the area and the water closest to the shore was brown. Oh well. It was chilly anyway. Then, we all started going our own way. Alicia, Ashley, and I met Faiza in Paris for a day, and then Alicia and I met up in London before my flight home. Then, the magical trip ended, and I was again in Colorado.
Our first rafting day! We were finally going to face the rapids of the Zambezi. Before breakfast I enjoyed my own yoga practice on the deck of the pool overlooking a distant watering hole, active with animals. After joining Jody in the dining room to eat eggs benedict and bacon, I gathered what I would need for the next three days and stuffed it in my dry bag, hoping that the day we carried all of our gear on the rafts, the bag would live up to its name. We loaded a safari truck for a short drive to the entry point, and then proceeded down steep metal stairs and rock trail from the top of the gorge to the bottom all while wearing or carrying our life jackets, helmets, and paddles. The rafts waited for us in the water, and each person claimed a raft and a captain to ride with for the next three days.
Jody and I along with Gaston, Saira, Jerad, and Kay (and sometimes David) along with our fearless river guide, Lorenzo, formed, what we would later call ourselves, Team Fireball (self-named for our awesomeness or because we had a bottle of Fireball in the raft thanks to Jerad and Saira). The 21 rapids we faced that day (and would redo the following day) had several class V rapids; most notable: rapid 5 (Stairway to Heaven), 9 (Commercial Suicide) which we portaged around, 12 and 13 combined (The 3 Ugly Sisters and The Mother), and rapid 18 (Oblivion). As we approached each rapid, Lorenzo told us the different routes we could take through the rapid and the one that he wanted to take. Sometimes he said, “I don’t know what will happen. We’ll see how Nyami Nyami feels. Just get down and hang on!” Nyami Nyami is a mythical snake/fish creature that personifies the characteristics of the river. When we started the trip, everyone was given a Nyami Nyami hand-carved from bone to remind us of the power of the river. Rapid 18 became our team’s challenge, and we approached it from the middle, the most difficult route, but with the biggest wave train. As we rafted through the middle, we hit the first wave and water splashed over us. We hit the second wave and more water came into the boat. We hit the third wave, and water anialited our boat. The river swept us all from the boat and into rapid 18…everyone except our guide, Lorenzo. I got caught swimming circles in an eddie, and Lorenzo threw me a rope to drag me in. We rescued the other members of Team Fireball as our boat continued down river. It was my first time to swim while rafting. We watched the other rafts attempts at the same route and saw almost everyone ejected from the rafts. Rapid 18 is the most famous on the Zambezi for flipping boats, and we were all on an amazing adrenaline rush after getting back in the rafts and continuing down river for the short trip to our camp. To see the carnage, check out this YouTube Video of Rapid 18.
Our landing spot for the evening fell in the middle of rapid 21, which was not difficult, and looking up as we neared the site, we saw a group of men dressed in African tribal attire dancing and singing amazing harmonies to welcome us there. We all watched and listened (some joined their dancing) while we changed out of wet clothes, grabbed a beer, and took in the beauty of the place. Massive rock walls surrounded us on either side, the river played its song below, and our camp was a wide expanse of soft sand that rose into trees and brush to the wall behind us. The singers finished their serenade and several people from the group took their sleeping pads and joined me as I led evening yoga on the helipad that happened to be at the site overlooking the river. We ended yoga just as dinner was announced and the moon was shining brightly overhead. We ate dinner, surrounding the campfire, talking and learning about one another’s stories and listening to different people sing their talents. When sleep overtook us, some people crawled into tents and others, me included, slept under the stars on a layered system of sand, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. Surprisingly, no bugs bothered us, and though I woke up several times in the night, I watched with pleasure the moon set and Orion travel through the expanse of sky, stars, and uninhibited darkness until dawn began to color the sky.
Then we got up and did it again. We first, however, had to get out of the beach area where we camped. Though our itinerary mentioned a hike, we were not prepared for long, steep trail lined with tree branches that had been secured across the trail to prevent us from sliding and falling backward. It seemed like we climbed 1000 feet in the distance of 500, and just when I thought I had reached the top, I found a false summit. I turned to the right and looked skyward to see the real summit. Taking their own pace, each paddler trickled to the top, feeling like we were pushing water uphill. After everyone summited, we rode in open air safari vehicles to proceed down the same steep climb we did the previous day. The same rafts. The same rapids. The same lunch and lunch spot. But nothing is ever exactly the same. This time when we went through rapid 18, hardly anyone swam…except me. Everyone made it through the middle, over the big wave. Somehow when I looked up to grab the rope on wave 3, all I saw was a wall of water rushing toward me. I was out of the boat, in the water, and swimming toward shoreline, when my boat rescued me. The rapid was considered a success, and everyone was elated, including me! We made it back to the campsite, and though the singers weren’t present to welcome us, everything else remained: the magic of eating, talking, singing, and camping on the beach of the great Zambezi.
In the morning, we all packed our dry bags and passed them down to the rafts to be loaded for the self-supported part of the trip. With all our gear in the rafts, we again started down the Zambezi toward our new camp. The river didn’t have as many big rapids through this section, but still a few that were noteworthy. Fewer people run this part of the river, and they don’t usually number the rapids, only name them. It was a beautiful day as we rafted through The Narrows, tight canyons of black Basalt rock for several big wave trains and boiling rapids. Toward the end, we came to a large rapid called Lower Moemba, and as we watched the first boats go through, they completely disappeared into the waves and water, and then popped out a couple seconds later. Lorenzo reminded us of the power of the water and told us to get down, hang on, and see what would happen. As we moved into the rapid, I saw a wave crash over the front of the raft, then another wave overflowed the right side, and then a towering wave from the left submerged us. I felt my legs go under the bolster in front of my seat as the water rushed over us, and I held on to the straps in the boat. We were sinking, and then, suddenly, we popped out of the water into the sunlight – our boat completely swamped, but completely intact (aside from a few missing water bottles). We all yelled, “Fireball!”, gave the traditional paddle high five, and continued down river. The next rapid, Chabango Falls, was a large waterfall that we had to portage by dragging all of the rafts up and over a rock wall. Because they were full of gear, this task proved to be difficult, but working together, we finally portaged all three passenger boats and the gear boat to the other side.
We arrived to our new campsite a little later – a nice beach of soft, white sand with a trail up to a wide mesa of more soft sand. We ate and some slept at the lower level while others chose to climb up the mesa to sleep a little closer to the stars. Where the sand ended, the black basalt rock began, and we hiked a short distance for an amazing view of the waterfalls we had previously portaged. It was, again, an amazing night with dancing, music, food, and drink around the campfire on the beach. Some of our guides sang and danced for us, and we only tried to keep up with their musical magic. It was our last beach night, and I again slept under the stars and watched as Orien made his way across the sky.
Our raft time to the take-out point the next day was short. Each member of Team Fireball took the time to write a favorite quote on our paddles for the next paddler to contemplate. Mine? “You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” A large open-air bus picked us up after hiking from the river to the road, and we found ourselves driving through the real lives of the people of the Zimbabwe country-side. We stopped at a local school so Melinda and Robert could give a few school supplies to the kids, and it was great to see what school was like for them. They had amazing smiles and curiosity, and we drove away with a few of them running after the bus. Then we traveled to our last resort, Elephant Camp, individual tents with every luxury you can imagine: indoor shower, bath tub with bath salts and robes, outdoor shower, cool plunge pool, deck, sitting area, mini bar, and the magical mosquito netting. When we first arrived, keepers brought the elephants for us to pet and photograph – Jumbo, the elephant, was our photo buddy. After about twenty minutes of mingling with Jumbo, we all separated to shower (again much needed), rest, and ready for the evening safari drive ending in drinks and horderves while overlooking a pond that reflected the sunset. Taking in the evening, everyone talked and visited until the drivers collected us and took us back to Elephant camp for dinner. With satisfied bellies, we fell asleep, our beds surrounded in the dreamy cloudiness of mosquito netting and minds dancing with visions of the great Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Our final full day began lazily with breakfast and lingering as we enjoyed Elephant Camp before getting swim ready to go to the falls. Before we left, caretakers brought Sylvester, the pet Cheetah for us to pet and take photos with. Sylvester was found in the wild after a lion attacked and killed his mother and four siblings. Though they tried to release him to the wild, he was not able to survive on his own. Now they use him to help educate people on this vulnerable species. After visiting with Sylvester and eating lunch, we drove to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border to pass through customs and see the falls in Zambia. Many people want this experience of being in the water before it falls, so when our group arrived, we were guided like clockwork to get to the site. We took a small speed boat through the upper waters of the falls to a location where we could capture part of the magnificence fall. Then, we swam across a canal of water and climbed into Devil’s Pool to look over the edge and see the water falling 355 feet below us. It was an amazingly surreal experience to be so close to the edge. We stayed in the water a moment, and then the guides escorted us to a serving area where we enjoyed drinks and appetizers, which were amazingly delicious. We all ate reservedly because we knew we had a big meal for the celebration of our last night. As we left the facility to board our van, three wild zebras were eating the green grass of the lawn, and we stopped to take pictures as close as we dared (they’re mean!).
When we returned to Elephant camp, we got ready to share our last evening together as a group. Lorenzo’s amazing wife Terry, had not joined us on the rafting portion of the trip, and instead visited a friend in Capetown and in the process collected several South African wines to host a tasting for us before dinner. We enjoyed the wines, and then carried the leftovers to an outdoor dining area set with an exceptional feast. The singer/dancers greeted us again, and we celebrated birthdays for Diego and Saira with cake, kudu, pasta, potatoes, mopani worms and every other delicacy you can imagine.
And so our time in Africa ended, a magical variety of experiences, people, and new friendships. It’s difficult to convey the depth of gratitude I have for this trip. Jody and I both called it a “trip of a lifetime” as we saved money for two years to prepare to go. It was definitely unforgetable, and I hope I get to do it again.
To see a video that Jody put together of all the weeks in Africa, click here.
Jody and I reached Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and met with our group in the airport. Bio Bio Expeditions (based in the US) worked in conjunction with Wild Horizons (based in Africa) to organize the trip. Our group of 20 took shuttles to the first lodge, Imbabala, a small, magical (or so it seemed) resort with individual bungalows surrounding a large center yard where we ate family-style meals all sitting together at one long table. The food and the atmosphere amazed as we looked at the Zambezi river from the table and from our porches. We could see elephants swimming to the island in the river and hear hippos calling to mark their territory. We watched groups of 100 or more impalas bed down in the yard between our huts and the river and wondered what animals the night watchmen chased from the area while we slept. We had high tea each of the three days there at 3:30pm and boarded the pontoon boats afterward to watch the sunset from the water while drinking gin and tonics made by our boat driver and trying to catch glimpses of animal activity. We safaried on the grounds around the lodge, seeing a slue of animals and birds that were once only real to me in zoos and childhood stories, and when we went to our rooms at night, the beds had been surrounded by sheer veils of mosquito netting. It was truly an exquisite place.
We took two excursions while staying at the Imbabala. Our first excursion was an adrenaline-pumping trip to the gorge swing and zipline, and when we arrived to Victoria Falls River Lodge, those who dared donned harnesses to await their turn. While we waited we gazed down 355 feet down into the beautiful, gaping gorge that held the Zambezi River at it’s bottom, which we would raft in the days ahead. Jody and I both decided to do the biggest of the three options available – the gorge swing. We had three options for leaving the platform: stepping off forward, falling off backward, or doing a handstand on the edge and diving in. I chose the handstand and before the countdown ended, the weight of the ropes pulled me from the platform, and I free-fell, screaming, for 210 feet. The ropes caught, and I swung to within 70 feet of the river at the bottom of the gorge, where a large crocodile lurked in the water. My heart resettled in my chest as I hung in my harness over the great Zambezi at the rope’s end waiting to be raised back to the platform. Several people in the group did one or all of the adventures, and we took video and pictures of everyone screaming like little kids. It was a great bonding time.
Our second outing took us to Chobe National Park in Botswana, a refuge for all kinds of African animals. The first half of the day, we took a boat on the river through the park to see the wildlife and the second half of the day was by truck. We saw hippos, elephants, impala, kudu, water buck, wart hogs, baboons, water buffalo, giraffes, crocodiles, and birds of all kinds. The guide told us that over 120,000 elephants live in the park. I did not know that many elephants existed, and it was amazing to see them in a natural, protected habitat.
On our last night at the Imbabala lodge, some of us went on a night safari. When we went on safari in the open-air trucks with stadium seating, we drove in what seemed like endless circles through the bush. I asked the guide if he ever got lost. His response? “You are never lost; you are only temporarily unsure of your position.” I like that. Soon after we were greatly rewarded on our night safari by seeing two hyenas, a lioness, and an adolescent lion – the first and only big cats we saw in the wild. Early the next morning another group went on safari and saw the lion and lioness mating. All of the animals we saw were completely wild… and some very close to our lodge – so close that some people had a wild elephant eat out of a tree next to their hut, proving that the watchmen were a necessary part of this place.
We left Imbabala on day three and paddled down the river in crocs, inflatable canoes, to reach our camp site along the river for the night. We maneuvered around a few hippos, but the first day was very low-key on flat water. When we arrived, the staff had erected tents with mattresses in them for our posh camp site and the group dinner table and serving table both had table cloths. Otherwise, the space would have looked like another shore on the river with trees and brush and sand. They made a meal of potatoes, chicken, and vegetables, and then we sat around the camp fire and listened to the night while talking and sipping on glasses of wine before going to bed.
The next morning, sunrise called us out of our tents where basins of hot water waited for us to wash our faces. We ate a hot breakfast and then put on our life jackets to start down the river for a second day in the crocs. At one point the guide told us to swing right to avoid a hippo on the left and as we watched the hippo on our left, a large hippo surfaced and began charging from the right. The group split in two and we paddled like mad to get away from both hippos. Luckily, they were spoof charges, and everyone made it safely through the chaos. A few small rapids, more hippos, and one crocodile later, we made it to our take-out point.
We rode in safari vehicles to our next bed, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, to shower (it had been a few days), rest, and have dinner at a theatrically African restaurant. They served all kinds of local foods, and I tried wart hog, impala, African Guinee hen, and kudu…as well as mopani worms (slightly squishy and chewy and crunchy, but not bad). Then, everyone in the restaurant was given a djembe drum, and we, along with the other 200 diners in the place, tried (and failed miserably as a group) to play a beat. Luckily, the real musicians had microphones on their drums, and we still experienced some African rhythm. After the dinner experience, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed to get good rest before we started the next part of our great adventure: rafting the first 21 rapids of the great Zambezi.
I continue to be mesmerized by all the beauty in this world – and the similarities across time and space. I am so thankful for this time and these experiences wandering through the world.
I recently needed to make a trip back to the Farmington, NM, area for work and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to also visit friends and places from my previous home. I started from Golden on Sunday morning and made my way west on I-70 to Palisade, CO. The drive held views of snow-capped mountains and amazingly green hillsides (thanks to May and its showers; does that mean there will be flowers in June?). I met up with friends in Palisade just in time to get a drink at the Peach Street Distillery before heading to the Palisade Bluegrass Festival for the last act.
We hopped on cruiser bikes to ride to Riverbend Park and watch Elephant Revival close the festival. I got a couple videos of this Boulder-based band singing acapella and playing their last song. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with the sun shining warm and clouds providing a little respite from the heat.
While Sunday was incredibly relaxing, Monday was full of activity. After taking a 75 minute hot yoga class to warm up, we went on a 10-mile bike ride of Horse Thief Trail in 91F weather. It’s one of my favorite mountain bike trails in the Fruita-Grand Junction-Palisade area because of the amazing views and flowing single track. After a sushi break and showers, we hiked up Mt. Garfield – a 4-mile out-and-back with 2000 feet of elevation gain – just in time to catch the sunset and more incredible views.
The adventures in the valley ended and I drove south to the Durango/Farmington area. It was an incredible time of catching up with friends, seeing what has changed since I moved, and riding trails that taught me to mountain bike. I had the ever-famous GPAM (ginger-pineapple martini) at Distil while hanging out with my crazy-fun friends from Williams, I ate green chili for multiple meals, and relished the rain-cured trails of the high desert. I heard stories of new paths, new baby bumps, and new little walkers. Then I packed up (and helped a friend pack a bit before their move) and drove through Pagosa Springs and on 285 back to Golden.
For me, while traveling is incredibly rewarding, it is also tiring and sometimes lonely. I relish the sweet time with all these friends of old and thank God that I have such incredible people in my life. It is a good reminder that memories shared are better treasured. and also that I am incredibly blessed.
Twenty people, two houses, a hotel room, and seven days in the country of Aruba proved to be an interesting experience. The core group, self-named the Carnival Club, formed after spending time in the military together and now takes a trip together every couple of years to reunite and adventure. Friends, significant others, cousins and acquaintances jumped aboard this trip expanding the group to twenty and representing a variety of careers: pilot, doctor, physical therapist, pharmacist, meteorologist, entrepreneur, engineer, corporate manager, teacher, mom, marketing consultant, and professional gambler – all interested in adventure. Aruba itself was beautiful, warm, and windy – a much needed change from the many consecutive days of rain continuing in my hometown of Seattle…I mean Denver. (Isn’t Denver supposed to be one of the sunniest places in the U.S.? Just checking.) Aruba is known for a few things like turquoise water, white sand beaches, wind surfing, kite boarding, deep sea fishing, and wreck diving. Many of the residents are from Venezuela, because it is close, and the Netherlands, because of the colony and rule of the Dutch. At one time, one of the biggest refineries in the world operated in Aruba, and though the boneyard of a facility still exists, it no longer operates, and tourism now almost fully supports the country. And as tourists, so did we.
Our main vacation rental (Villa Tropical) had beds for twelve, a full kitchen, ping pong, darts, corn hole, pool, games, a hot tub, sand volleyball court, and a swimming pool with a waterfall. We played sand volleyball the first night, four-on-four, and realized that we were in a danger zone. Someone must have hauled in the sand directly from the beach – broken shells and all – leaving us with bleeding cuts and scratches. We kept playing. Then, if the ball went out of bounds, the goat heads (the meanest stickers your foot has ever encountered) pierced the soles of the retriever and stuck in the ball meeting the next server’s hand. We kept playing. When the ball went over the fence, Justin went to get it and came back with a seriously sprained ankle. We finished the game and stopped playing. We didn’t play volleyball again.
For the next six days, we swam, snorkeled, dived (SCUBA), laid on the beach, wind surfed, and did all the things the ocean calls to do. We even took a Jolly Pirates Cruise fully equipped with pirate punch, snorkeling stops, and a rope swing. The rope-swing antics grew with each swing, and at the end two people came out of the water with injuries. Is anyone surprised? No. On another night, we formed two teams to compete in Aruba Mansion Olympics (AMO). Z and I put the games together using almost all the resources from the house. We played in relay fashion starting with a shot of tequila. Two balls to the corner pocket, a volleyball serve, rolling a seven with dice, taking out one piece in a Jenga game, a corn-hole toss, a ping pong ball throw, and one dart to the board, all while carrying the football baton that had to be passed down the stairs to the next contestant. In the end, the teams tied because Z and I finished the relay racing against each other but in all the confusion, he ended by throwing the football and I ended by jumping in the pool. Then everyone jumped in the pool, someone made chocolate chip cookies, and I don’t think anyone really cared that we weren’t certain who won!
Overall, I got to lead yoga a couple times for a few of the girls in the house. I had two wreck SCUBA dives, which were my first wreck dives, and two reef dives. I got to see Panama city for one night on the way in and another night on the way out. I felt the heat of the sun and the cool of the ocean for a few days in a beautiful place with some really interesting people where I heard incredible stories of passion, dreams, and adventure. It’s a good reminder to me to be thankful for what I have, to appreciate where I’ve been, and to look forward to the future.
We left the beach and headed toward Miramar, Costa Rica, to see and explore more of the country. We zip-lined over 11 waterfalls and then traveled to San Jose. Part of the group flew out the next morning, while a few of us stayed back and checked out the city.
Then, Heather and I took off on our own to explore more and headed north to the Poas Mountains area. We stayed in an awesome AirBnb, ate fresh, ripe strawberries from the local farmers and went on a coffee tour at a local plantation before seeing La Paz waterfall. Delicious, educational, and beautiful.
Though the Poas Volcano itself was a miss because heavy clouds blocked the view of the crater, we enjoyed the scenery and drove on to La Fortuna. There we took in four hours of hot springs time at Eco Terminales. By hot I actually mean warm and very different from the hot springs found in Colorado. We saw toucans and leaf-cutter ants while basking in the beauty of the warm, man-made waterfalls. Then we drove to our hostel that night, an eco-farm, Essence Arenal, with a chef on board that wanted everyone to help make their own food so that he could spread the knowledge of preparing and eating good, fresh, vegetarian food. We had vegetable lasagna and made our own “tortas” with a cookie bowl and fruit. The next morning we took the hike to see the farm and wound up doing a yoga class on our own while overlooking Arenal Volcano and the lake beside it.
After a couple hours exploring the shops in La Fortuna, we had to buy our bus tickets to Nicaragua. They would not allow a same-day purchase, which lead to a two-hour round-trip drive to buy tickets at a Ticabus office in Quesada before finding ourselves at our last Costa Rican destination of Finca Luna Nueva, a large eco-farm of 250 acres that was originally a ginger and turmeric farm. The pool, Jacuzzi, food, and friends we found there were unequalled. What a treat to be able to meet with Craig and Clare from Farmington, NM, and catch up on life. After chatting into the wee hours of the night (umm….9:30p), we slept and then awoke for a morning yoga session in the jungle.
We had breakfast with Craig and Clare, said our goodbyes, and drove away from the tranquility of the farm toward the big city to catch our bus. The drive was a solid three-hour adventure, and in the last minutes before our bus departed, Heather ran to get some emergency food for our seven-hour bus ride. We ended up with corn flakes – what she could find in five minutes with only two dollars, our strawberries from Poas, a few crackers and oreos from other parts of the trip, and a bag of peanuts. After our seven-hour saga with the corn flakes, corny movies in Spanish, and all the early 90’s love ballads we could handle, we finally arrived to Granada.
Heather is staying in Granada while doing a Spanish immersion school and staying with a host family. I was able to stay there, too, and experience a bit of her life in Nicaragua. I met her host family, volunteered with her where she both goes to school and volunteers, saw where she teaches yoga sometimes at Pure, went to a hot (think both meanings of the word) Zumba class, and ate at a few of her favorite spots. We also meandered to a few new Granada offerings. We swam, floated, and kayaked in a crater lake (Laguna), we had a spa treatment (mani, pedi, and facial for $23!), made our own chocolate, checked out the local markets, and made dinner for her host family. They kept saying how it was nice to have something different than gallo pinto (rice and beans). We ended our adventure with wine and lunch from a little European café, and then I took a taxi back to the Managua airport.
As I blog, I’m still awaiting the arrival of my luggage. I hope it comes. It’s filled with chocolate and coffee from all our adventures. I’m so thankful for this trip and these times. Choa!
Sitting on this porch, I look out and see palm trees laden with coconuts, hibiscus bushes full of red flowers, and the grass of a green yard fading slowly down a hill to a small gathering of water resting a hundred yards from the ocean from which it came. From that point forward lies a wide beach full of sand: loose, deep, tan sand; then packed, wet sand that allows your feet to sink an inch or two; then wet, darker-colored sand that holds firmly; and finally sand that has been licked, lingered, and left by the waves. The waves break suddenly against the shallow shore creating a white marble affect in lines and swirls across the water. Above the water, cranes, pelicans, and sea birds of all types soar across the sky while a light breeze keeps me cool in this humid but rich place.
Yesterday we sat and watched the sun set from a rock outcropping surrounded by scattered pools of water. The pools resembled glass until a nervous crab or two jumped in to hide from our scary shadows. We sat on the sharp, black rocks watching the sun slowly submerge itself in the pool of the ocean until only dusk remained. Walking back to the house, we all took our empty glasses, once filled with Cacique Guaro and Coke, back to the beach in front of our rental. One of the guys built a beach bonfire and encircled it with driftwood benches while others worked at the house to try to make our own authentic version of gallo pinto (rice and beans). The fish cooked in foil packets buried in the coals of the fire, and we sat staring at the flames, mesmerized by their dance. When the food finished cooking, we brought everything out to the campfire: plates, cups, Cacique, gallo pinto, and fish. We sat on our driftwood benches eating fire-roasted fish and gallo pinto, listening to the waves crash against the shore and admiring the expanse of stars that hung overhead. I have never eaten a meal in such a setting.
When we all finished, everyone took the remnants of the meal to the house using headlamps to see in the moonless night. Then, I found my way back to the campfire, slipped out of my cover-up, and walked in complete darkness toward the sound of the waves. I walked forward into an expanse of darkness, not knowing when I would feel the ocean sweep between my toes. With the tide very low, and the beach very shallow, the walk was long to reach the water, and I looked back to the glowing fire to keep my bearings. I felt very small in such an expanse of power, nervous that I could see nothing around me. Then with a rush, I felt a plane of cool water wash over my feet. I walked out further, and the water reached my knees; further, and it reached my waste. I was in the ocean in complete darkness, feeling its power, feeling the rush, feeling so small and vulnerable. Then, I thanked God for His amazing creation, His power in the world, and His power in my life. I left the waves, smiling, and walked toward the fire, toward my temporary home.
Costa Rica has been mesmerizing. We rode horses through the jungle and on the beach. We ate sushi from an open-air cabana overlooking a pool on the edge of a mountainside that then overlooked the ocean. We protected newly-hatched sea turtles as they made their journey to the ocean. We meditated on the ocean waves in savasana for the yoga session I taught. We made s’mores at a massive bonfire on the beach. We danced in the ocean in darkness watching the bioluminescence glitter around our feet. We experienced all these things, and this was only the first week of my Costa Rican adventure. More to come…