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.”
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.
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.
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.
What a full week! We started the week on Sunday with our day off by celebrating the first birthday of our yoga teacher’s son. The party had it all: balloons, a piñata, a horse, and a massive chocolate cake with loads of icing. We all sugar-loaded (which took no time at all due to our limited-sugar diet) and then headed to Maderas Beach. The local transportation ranges in style and class. My personal favorite is standing facing forward in the bed of a pick-up while holding the steel bars to keep from falling out and ducking at appropriate times to keep from getting whipped by a branch. It’s like riding a motorcycle with a wider base. After a 30-minute ride, we made it to the beach and prepared for our surf lesson. I’m pretty certain that the two surfer dudes, also called our surf instructors, were friends with someone from the yoga facility who landed them a sweet way to make some cash. In Spanglish Pedro and Oscar gave us a brief lesson on the beach and then took us to the water without instructing us on the finer points of navigating a board through waves that crashed over us. We did, however, discover the ultimate neti pot experience from this particular form of teaching. Throughout the day when I bent over, water would randomly pour out my nose.
Pedro also offered to video us using one of the girl’s GoPros. Though I managed to stand up and ride a small wave on my second try and several times thereafter, he only captured this awesome FACE PLANT (click the words to view). Overall, we all had a really good day with a few souvenirs in the form of scrapes, bruises, and board rash. Plus, we devoured some really great fish tacos, watermelon smoothies, and crepes; treats outside our amazing vegetarian cuisine. I’ve included a few more pictures of the food because I’m just so impressed with the diversity of the food. I also included more pictures of our living arrangements, just to give a better idea of the community living.
Finally, the week included a lot of yoga…a lot of different yoga for me. We’ve been furthering our practice of asana’s and assists so we can build our own vinyasa classes. We also learned a bit about partner yoga and acroyoga. Acro stretches boundaries of trust and balance. In one picture below, I’m doing a shoulder stand on one of my fellow yogi’s feet. Acro is a lot of communication, focus, strength, and stamina. I’m excited to learn more. For now, I’m off to bed before the next 6:30am, 2-hour yoga practice.