Cuba’s People, Cuba’s Story

In January, I went to Cuba. I ended up there for a service trip with 12 other people all 20 years or more my senior. We didn’t really know each other…at first. But, when you spend 10 days in close proximity with a small group, it’s difficult not to get to know each other. The stories I heard were magnificent and horrific and adventurous and beautiful and true. I love true stories.

First came the stories from the patio of our accommodations at Matanzas. The patio, chairs and tables were all made with concrete and tile. We sat in these chairs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, devotions, lessons de espanol, and seated yoga practice. Over wine and rum, we had our first tastes of beans and rice, rice and beans, beans over rice, and rice mixed with beans. We played dominoes, learned to Cuban salsa, and shared stories. Stories of personal planes and flying to another city for dinner. Stories from a marriage with 30 years of abuse and two trips to the emergency room. Stories of working the football sidelines to direct the commercial breaks for televised games. Stories that brought us together.

We learned all about each other, and together we learned all about Cuba and its people. We learned about the strong bonds amongst Cuban communities. We learned how they support each other, how they laugh together, how they share. They work with what they have and what they have is enough. We shared crafts with women, children, and people with disabilities. And you know what we learned there? How creative they are and how artistic. How playful and fun. How readily they smile. How thankful they are for smallest of gifts. We learned what a beautiful people they are in Cuba. They introduced us to their families with pride and invited us into their spaces with grace and humility. They included us.

We delivered food to some of the families with disabilities. At one house a grandmother took care of her severely disabled, 35-year-old grandson who had the strength of a man. Their house was all concrete with no furniture in sight. Sometimes they couldn’t get the medicine for his kidney condition, and he would jump and yell to try to help the pain. When we came, his pain was great. His grandmother tried to calm him, her tiny body taking the brunt of his misunderstanding. When our guide gave her the food offering, she asked him why he always brought something when he came.

We came to know Cuba in a different way than most people. We still saw many of the beautiful sites. The turquoise waters and pristine beaches of Veradero. The fancy mansions and hotels of the past when the mobs ran the island. The old town of Habana (Havana) with its Spanish facades painted colorfully. The famous Malecon seaside walk. The street art. The music. The dancing. But we also saw great faith and great feats. We saw strong families and beautiful people. We heard amazing stories and the history of their people. It was truly an amazing story to learn.

The Magic of Morocco

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.

Italy Week 2: The Dolomites

We took trains to get from the western Italian coast to the Italian Alps in the East.  I found myself unable to stay awake and drooling as the trains rocked and hummed through fields of corn and vineyards of grapes.

What a magnificent place, the Dolomites of Italy. When Anita and I talked about where we wanted to go, we knew that we wanted to be in the Alps somewhere.  At first, I wanted to go to the Swiss Alps, which I still think would be amazing, but we decided to go to the Dolomites when we couldn’t find an open reservation for the Swiss Alps.  We took several trains and a bus to reach Cortina in northern Italy.  I did not know that northern Italy was once Austria and much of the cultural influences come from that history.  Nornthern Italy came under Italian control during WWI.  Many historic sites including tunnel systems and the Via Ferrata are in the Dolomites from WWI.  We booked a self-guided hike through the company Dolomite Mountains.  We were not disappointed. They booked all of our taxis, nights at the hotel in Cortina, stays and meals at the rifugios, and our guide on the Via Ferrata. Cristina, our informant for the trip, met us our hotel the night before the start of our hiking.  She had a map with the course for each of our five days clearly marked, each rifugio (mountain refuge) we were to stay at, and any voutures we needed for food.  Tent camping is actually illegal in the mountains surrounding the Cortina area.  Instead, backpackers book rooms at a refugio where warm beds, hot showers, and amazing home-cooked meals are provided.  All we had to carry was our clothes, sleep sack, snacks, and water. It’s the most posh backpacking I’ve ever done.

Our first day we started a Lake Braies.  We hiked about 8 miles and climbed around 5000 feet of elevation, taking lunch at a refugio half-way through our hike. Feeling fresh on the first day after our lunch, we summited an additional peak and had some incredible views of the lake where we started. The views from the top were amazing, but I was most captivated by the bells we could hear throughout the valleys. All the cows where them, and when they eat, the bells ring, and when all the cows are eating it creates a soft, wind-chime like effect that enchants the valley. We listened a bit, ate some Nutella, and then hiked on to Refugio Fedaro, where we ate and slept our first night.  We also encountered a famous German talk show host, though we didn’t know it, who let me borrow his 3-day-old carbon fiber mountain bike for a quick ride in the mountains. I can’t tell you how excited I was to ride!  We kept up this schedule for the next few days: breakfast at the refugio, hiking to a lunch refugio, eating lunch, hiking to our evening dinner and rest refugio, shower, eat, sleep, repeat.

It sounds a bit monotonous, but the scenery of our hikes removed the monotony and made it absolutely amazing.  Because I live in Colorado and hike frequently at elevations over 10,000 feet, I thought the 7,000 – 8,000 foot elevations of the Dolomites would be easy.  I was incredibly wrong.  The Rockies, though difficult, have saddles connecting many of the peaks. I have a post from September 2014 describing my 100-mile hike along the Colorado trail.  It was tough.  The Dolomites, even though at a lower elevation, are much more rugged. They have more steep ups and downs. Most of our hike was along the Alta Via #1 hiking system.  It was very well-marked and traveled. So, we felt safe the entire time.  On the second day, we hiked through an amazing green valley along a river where domestic horses grazed. Another hiker gave us some sugar cubes to feed them as we took pictures.  After that wide, easy valley, the trail started to climb steeply, and we found ourselves in a series of constant, short switchbacks that led to a pass that was only 10 – 20 feet wide and virtually impassible before 2014. As soon as we reached the top, we began sharply descending between two high rock walls.  Fog sat over us, and we could hear the echo of our voices among the rocks. It was an earily beautiful and surreal experence.  At the end of the descent, we went slightly off-course to eat our packed lunch at a pond.  Because it was cloudy, it was too cold to swim, but we put our feet in the water and watched as the little fish gave our feet pedicures in the mountain pond.  After lunch we continued hiking up to the highest refugio in the area, Laguazoi. It rested at the top of an historic tunnel system used by the Austrian soldiers in WWI.  They do reenactments on a daily basis with people in full dress.  At the top, we stopped for a snack and a beer and met a family from Norway having one last vacation with their daughter before she went for a foreign exchange year with another family in Idaho. We rode the tram down with them, and they gave us a ride to the next tram we were to ride to our next refugio. We were already exhausted from a full day of tough hiking.  We ended up missing the lift by two minutes and had to hike a very steep hill to Scolliatoli (squirrel), a refugio that had beautiful views and access to Chinque Tori, the five towers.  At dinner we met a photographer with a couple that he had taken on a photo tour of the Dolomites. The views from this location were stunning.  The final day we hiked on seeing more beautiful valleys and views.  We ended our hiking at a restaurant where we waited for a cab to transport us back to Cortina.  We had one beer, and then the two people we met at the bar insisted we have another. Ok. We stayed at Hotel Panda that night and ate at a pizza placed owned by a guy who went to school at Denver University. We shared grappa in honor of Denver.

My final day in the Dolomites (Anita stayed a few more), we hiked and climbed on the Via Ferrata (the Iron Way), exploring the rope system paths and tunnels that the soldiers of WWI used. It was a very cool lesson in the history of the area. That night we ate a four-course Italian meal, and I had my now favorite melon and parma ham as well as fresh pasta with mushroom sauce, and of course, wine.

The last day we meandered a bit and then I caught a train to Milano (Milan) to fly back to the States the following day. I stayed at an AirBnB where Marina, the hostess, had decorated the place with famous jazz musicians that she photographed while playing. She recommended a restaurant with delicious Italian food, and I was set to eat and wander through Milan to see what it had to offer in the dark. I didn’t have enought time to do more, but it was enought to get a taste of the city, it’s history, and it’s sense of fashion.

New Skis

I finally did it tonight.  I ordered a new pair of skis…after mine were stolen…out of my car…while in Breckenridge, CO.  I was so sad because I liked those skis (2012 Blizzard Black Pearls) and because skis are expensive.  It seemed that a streak was beginning.  I had already lost two packages from my apartment due to misdelivery.  I’m guessing it was wrong delivery because we had two packages at our apartment that were both for an apartment C, but the wrong building number.  I could only guess that someone else at another apartment C was enjoying my packages.  Then one morning, my roommate called as I was en route to Nebraska to pick up Kemba (my dog) from the farm.  “Do you have a silver Salsa bike?”  “I do.  Why?” I asked.  “Well, it’s lying in the road outside of our garage.”  What?!?  Someone had taken my bike out of the garage, most likely taken a joy-ride, and then “returned” the bike by laying it in the road in front of the garage.  This bike is my nicest bike.  I was horrified and starting to get paranoid about all of these incidents.  Then, I talked to my friend, Anita.

Life happens.  Sometimes it happens in single events.  Sometimes it happens in three’s, and sometimes it happens in strings of events.  I choose how I react to these.  I choose how it will affect my life.  So, I did choose.  I was angry at first because I felt violated.  Then, I was sad because I started to think about how I might miss those things.  Then, I decided that they were things and life is too short to put too much thought into it.  I started to look for new skis, and I bought some (2015 Blizzard Black Pearls).

I wrote off the packages.  The bikes currently reside in the house.  I got renters insurance.  I make sure to lock everything, no matter what.  No person is perfect.  It’s never right to steal someone else’s stuff.  It’s ok to feel violated when it’s true.

And then, each of us has the choice to go forward, to move on, to forget the packages, to save up to buy new skis.  Losing and winning is part of growing in this life.


Managua via Costa Rica and Granada

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!

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat is so much fun! Heather planned everything.  She chose a great condo with Pioneer Ridge that overlooked the mountain and had a free shuttle that took us to the gondola in about 5 minutes.  The clouds dropped 17 inches of snow in the first few days of February allowing us to ski in 35F weather and great snow.  Our group was small this year with only 5 people total (some years we’ve had as many as 12), but not all years can be the same.  So, we had 5 people in a condo with 4 bathrooms and seven beds that over looked the ski mountain and left us marveling at sunsets.

Regardless of the group size, we still had a lot of fun.  This is one of my favorite groups of people, a group where you can be exactly who you are and are fully and wonderfully accepted, though you might be teased a bit.  We all laugh at each other and ourselves and enjoy every minute.

So, we got to spend time together on the slopes and at the Winter Carnival, which had all sorts of craziness for spectators to enjoy.  We especially liked the fire show, the flaming man, the fiery ski jumpers jumping through a ring of fire, and the record breaking fireworks.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a spectacular show of fireworks.  They were higher, and bigger, and louder than any I had previously seen.  Fireworks in the mountains are always my favorite.  I love hearing the “BOOM” ricochet on the peaks.  Following the spectacular show of lights, we found the Old Town Pub, where we ate chicken wings, fried pickles, and French fries and drank the beer offerings to our hearts’ content.  They had a live Americano-style band in from Boulder that night.  We listened and danced and had an awesome time.  I even had someone call me a tall drink of water.  Oh yeah.  That’s right.

Because the shuttles only ran until 10p, we then took the free town bus to a place close to our condo.  We had to wait a bit for it to arrive, so Justin and I took advantage of the hot dog stand next to the bus station.  Yum.  I just wanted the basics: mustard, ketchup, and relish.  Before I could eat the whole thing, I the bus arrived, and we smashed ourselves in with who knows how many other people, hoping no one got sick from the heat or whatever they’d been doing that night.  We rode (what seemed like) forever, and finally got off, at which point, I ate the rest of my hotdog.  Yum.

We slept in the next day, before cleaning up, and packing out.  A few of us went downtown for the tri-pull parade (every float had to be pulling at least three people on skis or snowboards – the full rugby team was the best).  I especially liked the Jeep on tracks.  Where can I get one of those anyway?

Then, we all went our separate ways.  Justin and I decided to find a snowshoe trail to try out our new snowshoes.  We found ourselves hiking through the snow on the 2B Fox Curve Loop.  There were just enough other people and dogs on the trail to make it fun without being a distraction to our hike.  We went through wide open snow-covered meadows, over streams and brooks, and through tight trees.  Cross-country skiers, Nordic skiers, skate skiers, and snowshoers were all on the trail.  The snow scene was beautiful and the trail was a moderate 4-mile, 2-hour adventure.

After our adventure, we started heading home.  We didn’t realize that we’d taken a wrong turn until it was too late to turn back and ended up eating in a little Chinese restaurant in Granby, CO.  It all turned out great because we missed a lot of the traffic on I-70 returning to Denver from skiing in the corridor.  And so ended the latest meeting of friends on Team Epic (as we like to refer to ourselves).   Until next time…

Maderas and Ometepe

With the yoga teacher training finished, I set out with three of my fellow yoga teachers (Hannah, Laura, Heather and Me in the picture above) to travel and explore the Island of Ometepe.   After a brief stint in San Juan del Sur to have last tastes of all our favorite things, we took a cab to the ferry.  Hannah and I had suitcases.  Let’s just say, I will rarely travel without a backpack again. Once we got to the island, we stayed at a local Nicaraguan hostel called Monkies Island that had a dock right on the lake.  The staff cooked dinner for us, and then we crashed.  We woke up the next morning and took our yoga mats down to the water and had our practice with the sound of the water, the birds, and the breeze.  It was a great practice.  Again, the staff cooked us breakfast, and we set off to explore and find the waterfall.  After a long and dusty hike, we made it to the cool, refreshing waters.  We may have diverged from the trail and done some bouldering thinking we were on the trail, but what does it matter.  We made it, and after hiking back down the trail, had lunch at a little country restaurant.  On the way back to Monkies Island, a sign lured us to turn down a side road for chocolate and coffee, which lead us to find Finca Mystica, an American-owned hostel with wonderful, locally-grown food, and coffee fresh-roasted and prepared on the property.  It was a magnificent find.  We decided to make dinner reservations there for the next day, but that night we meandered to the local town to find dinner and bananas and snacks for the great volcano hike we were attempting the next day.

So, Volcano Maderas surprised us a bit.  We didn’t really look at the stats.  We knew it would take a few hours, that we needed water and lunch, and that it was tough.  We didn’t know that we would be on the trail for 8 hours, 10 miles, and 4000 feet of climbing.  The trail consisted of dry, normal-looking trail for the first couple of miles, and then as we climbed, the tree roots became the trail, and the mud became our nemesis as we slipped our way up and through and around limbs, branches, and roots to get to the top.  Once there our view consisted of a few bushes and the inside of a cloud – not quite the crater lake view we expected.  Still, we did it and it was a great adventure with our guides.  At the lake back at Monkies Island, we discovered that the small, smooth volcanic rocks of the lake’s beach acted as an excellent mud scrub and skin exfoliate – so much for paying spa prices.  It was awesome and free. That night we walked to Finca Mystica for the fantastic meal of carbs we had earned: pizza, popcorn, and cookies.  Completely filled, happy, and content.

Our time in Ometepe ended the next day with a brief stop en route to the ferry at the fresh water springs of Ojo de Agua.  This beautiful and relaxing stop invited guests to wade in its cool, clear waters, swing from the rope swing, and attempt slack lining across its pool.  We enjoyed our short hour and then left for the ferry.

Hannah and I parted ways with Laura and Heather after our taxi ride to Granada.  We took the “express chicken bus” back to Managua to catch our flights the next day.  The taxi driver we found managed to get completely lost trying to find our B&B, though we showed him a map, the name of the place, the street, the town.  I guess we just got a tour of the city, and he didn’t quite get what he wanted in pay.  Hannah and I ended our last night in Nicaragua at Managua Hills B&B with cold cervezas, a quick dip in the pool, and a pool-side practice of Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation) under a full moon.

Adios for now, Nicaragua.


Yoga Meditations: Week 4

What a great day-off we had on Sunday!  Heather and I decided to walk into town with Frederike and Hannah, who had appointments to get pedicures and such.  Heather and I had to turn around, however, to redirect Isa, the wiener dog, back to Nica Yoga so she wouldn’t follow us all the way.  Once we re-climbed the big hill, we walked the 2 miles to town, checked out one shop, and immediately found a bakery with a cinnamon roll and apple cake.

Our day consisted mostly of shopping for souvenirs and eating.  We had omelets, coffee, fruit smoothies, brownies, fish tacos, fish nachos, and I had a couple of beers.  It was all incredibly delicious and filling.  We had originally planned to go back to Nica Yoga to get ready to meet friends for dinner, but we changed our minds, stayed in town the whole day, took a dip in the ocean, and met up with our fellow yogis at the Cervesceria, where a (somewhat) live band played flamenco music.  Maybe the lead guitar and bass were played on a keyboard by the same person.  Whatever.  We tried to go salsa dancing for Hannah afterward, but the dancing doesn’t begin until at least 10p. We all had to get ready for our finals Monday and Tuesday anyway.  So, we went home at 9p and prepared.

I had my 90-minute teaching final the next day at 2:30p, and I was nervous!  When we did our 60-minute practice teach, I was nervous but excited.  The 90-minute held more weight.  My theme revolved around growing from a seed to a tree and thinking about growth in the individual life.   It all turned out ok with my most noticeable slip coming in a loss for “Tuck your…..whatever.”   Ummmm….yeah….that was supposed to be tailbone.

In the two days of finals, each person from the group gave their own and took everyone else’s 90-minute classes.  We were doing about 4.5 hours of yoga a day, and we were completely exhausted.  On Tuesday evening, we had our written final exam – a 65-question written test to complete in 1.5 hours.  Oh my goodness.  All my test anxiety came back, especially when I got to the question, “What breath do you always use in vinyasa yoga?”  Always?  Always?  I don’t know.  Always is such a strong word.  My teacher came over, looked at the question, and said, “Don’t overthink it.”  Do you know who you’re talking to?  “Does always mean USUALLY?”  Yes, she said.  Oh, ok, and I typed Ujjayi – Victorious Breath.

In all, everyone passed.  We all wore white and everyone looked so amazingly beautiful!  It was sad to say goodbye to these amazing people whom I had met only 4 weeks prior, but felt like I’d known my whole life.  I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t know their last names or most of their histories.  It’s crazy how you can be so close to people that you hardly know and feel so connected and full.

I left knowing that I would see some again, some I would not, but if that opportunity every came, I would take it in an instant.  Our group was incredibly diverse, loving, accepting, honest, open, and real.  Our teachers were the examples of those things and more.  I thank Tara, Henry, and Stacey for their passion, presence, and dedication to teaching us and ensuring our success.  I am blessed to have had this incredible and enriching experience and know that it will affect my life from this point forward.

Luckily, I did not have to completely end my time with everyone right away.  I continued my travels in Nicaragua for a few days with four of my yogi compadres as we traveled to the island of Ometepe.

Yoga Meditations: Week 2

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.

Meditating on 200 Hours of Yoga: Week 1

I enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Nicaragua.  The responses for my decision varied widely.  But, since I’m taking a year off (minus the part-time job), I decided now was the time.  I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

About a month before the class started I received an email stating that I needed to fill out a detailed questionnaire about myself, write a bio, read three books, write reports on each of them, and prepare my very meat-friendly self to eat vegan/vegetarian for a month.  What?!? I just wanted to learn yoga.  Oh, wait.  That is yoga…or at least a part of it.

I’ve been here five days now.  We start our two-hour yoga practice at 6:30a in the morning in noble silence, which we keep until after breakfast ends at around 9:30a.  Then, we have a morning, afternoon, and evening session in which we learn poses, proper alignment, philosophy, history, anatomy, psychology, and Sanskrit.  Those times have lunch, dinner, and pool time/free time in the mix as well, and we all go to bed around 10:00p.  Then, we get up and do it all over again.  Tomorrow is Saturday.  Sunday is our only day off.

The food has been surprisingly delicious.  We have a professionally trained chef who specializes in gourmet, vegetarian cooking.  She has every meal planned with no recipe repeats for the entire month we are here.  Though a few of us experienced some intense hunger at first, the chef has adapted the portions and meals to better fit our caloric needs.  (Thanks, Chefanie!)  My favorite meals so far have been an eggplant parmesan variation with ground nuts so the texture felt a little like meat and meatless fajitas with homemade corn tortillas.  Yum.

The grounds are beautiful.  Nica Yoga is a permanent yoga community; so, people walk through the grounds while we’re in the ashram having a class because they live here and use these facilities in their everyday lives.  Everything surrounds the pool and ashram.  The pool snakes through the grounds about 50 meters with varying widths containing the coolest, most refreshing water for these humid tropics.  Bridges cross the pool and other waterways to allow the paths to connect the various buildings and little nooks with hammocks, Adirondack chairs, and tables.  The open-air ashram has three entrances with slate steps, a beautiful wooden floor, and a palm thatch roof.  It’s an incredible space in which to practice yoga.

Our group of 11 students resides in one big house, representing three different countries: the US, England, and Germany.  We were assigned rooms and roommates upon arrival. Yikes!  It sounds like it could be good TV, but I don’t think we’re going to have enough drama to fit in the reality TV category.  Yoga documentary?  Boring.

To liven things up a little and get out of our normal schedule, we’re planning to go into town after our Saturday evening session to dance, and Sunday, we have surf lessons at the ocean.  I’m pretty excited for the break.  My body needs some respite….or maybe just a good beating from the ocean.