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Sushi-A-Go-Go

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

 

I am just a couple of days away from Auckland, which also means just a couple days from my return to the US.  It is coming incredibly fast, this imminent moment.  I know I’ve spent a year away, but going home means having to get back to reality, and that is something I’m not sure I’m ready for yet.  You see, my first title for this blog post was going to be “Heaven IS a Place on Earth” because New Zealand is just that; paradise, ethereal, surreal; nature’s utopia.  Easily one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.  Yet, I decided that this blog must be dedicated to the one who has made the last four weeks possible, the one who has moved me around this amazing country, who has provided shelter and been home base.  Her name is Sushi and she is a 1993 Subaru Legacy that Dore and I bought for $300NZD (approx. $255USD) in Christchurch upon Dore’s arrival.

Now, everyone knows the saying “you get what you pay for” and we knew that we were buying an old car, our girl has almost 300,000 km (180,000 miles) on her; a car which has problems, her prior Japanese owner told us in his broken English what might be wrong with her; and a car which might not get us to the end of the road.  But at that price, these were all things we were willing to deal with, to see what just might happen.  And we did.

We drove her hard for the first two weeks on the south island: across the huge Alps of Arthur’s Pass, up the windy roads of the West Coast, through the mountainous terrain of Abel Tasman and Golden Bay.  That’s when we had to have a repair done, which has made her a $725 car, and one we knew we needed to be gentler with.  So, as we hit the north Letting Sushi Cool Downisland this meant taking our time, making planned stops in beautiful riverside picnic areas or taking nature walks through Kauri forests to let her cool down and catch her breath (Kauri are ancient trees which grow huge, but have been endangered by disease and humans.  Not a similar tree, but similar concept to our Redwoods.).  All this worked out just right, allowing us to see things we may not have otherwise.  We have definitely gotten our monies worth from her in transport and accommodation as we’ve spent many nights camping in her.

Following is a quick rundown of what’s been done in the last month, all in a couple liners; 90%  has been camping and hiking, and most of the other 10% has been visiting vineyards and craft breweries, in lieu of cities and towns.  There is no way that words or pictures can do justice to the sheer beauty of this country.  To truly get it, one must see it for themselves.  Every road traveled, every forest traversed, every beach walked, every river swam, every bay spotted will take one’s breath away.  It’s almost unfathomable.  And the people are genuinely friendly, helpful, and full of pride for their amazing country.

Christchurch: devastated by four earthquakes from Sept. 2010 to Dec. 2011, CC looks like a war zone, so we bought Sushi and left.

Arthur’s Pass: the crossing from east coast to west coast.  Started at Castle Hill Boulder Field and ended with a full day climb to Avalanche Peak, 1833 meters (5500 feet) up sheer rock on a narrow trail for views of several glaciers, including Crow’s On way to Avalanche PeakGlacier.  Lord of the Rings fans, this is Mordor.

Hokitika: west coast artist colony, a beautiful beach covered in driftwood art; fun and groovy.

Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers: south end of the West Coast region, the worlds only glaciers nestled within tropical rainforest.

Greymouth: depressed mining town midway up West Coast.  The place we decided to start camping in Sushi.  Perfectly sized for the two of us to stretch out comfortably, paying a lot of money for petrol, and then we could stay wherever we wanted.  It was decided.

Pancake Rocks:  Incredibly unique geological formations.  Just a quick stop, but worth a mention.

Karamea: remote northern tip of the West Coast, on the western border of the Kaharangi National Forest.  Starting point of the Heaphy Track.  The beaches here are vast and empty, we hiked to Scott’s Beach, through rainforest to a white sand beach that ran as far as the eye could see.At Pancake Rocks

Upper Moutere/Ruby Bay: east of Abel Tasman, reunited with a couple we’d met in Thailand; attended music festival headlining New Zealand’s Fat Freddy’s Drop, talented and energetic, love them horns.  Delicious local craft beers on draft at The Moutere Inn.  If you like beer, this is a must stop.

Abel Tasman:  One of the Great Walks; dazzling bays every hour to two of walking.  Stayed three nights at Totaranui Campsite.  Solo hike south through beautiful Goat’s Bay, returning to a gourmet Italian dinner made by Dore; incredible what can be cooked up in one pot.  Then, big hike together north to Separation Point, home to a seal colony, and on to crystal clear tropical blue waters of Whariwharangi Beach.  Feasted for dinner on 40 of the biggest, most scrumptious New Zealand Green Shell Mussels which we harvested ourselves.

Farewell Spit: the largest natural sandbar in the world, 21 miles long and possibly a mile wide.  Breathtaking sight of rolling white sand dunes to the horizon.

Wharariki Beach:  just another beautiful beach (sense the sarcasm), different than all the others.  New Zealand just kept Beautiful Abel Tasmanastonishing me.

Onekaka/Golden Bay:  Shambhala Guest House, for a couple nights in a real bed, is also a yoga center and organic farm run off solar power and rainwater.  The Mussel Inn, the best bar/restaurant of the whole trip, brewed their own beer and cider, had delicious fresh food, a great staff, and an inviting and comfortable atmosphere in which we played a game of Scrabble.  Another must stop.

Te Waikoropupu “Pupu” Springs: quick stop to view what is literally the clearest water in the world, like nothing I’d ever seen.

Break here with bout of car trouble, an incredibly odd night at a backpacker’s that was housing Tongan fruit pickers, and a tow to Nelson the next day.

Blenheim: a series of vineyards, starting with George Michels, and then discovering MANA, an org whose farmers are all organic and biodynamic, so from there we hit three members vineyards: Fromm, Highfields, and Rock Ferry.  Each specialized in different varietals, and Rock Ferry has a remarkably good restaurant where we had a fantastic meal.Pupu Springs

Queen Charlotte Sound:  meeting up with our friends again, totally by surprise; we kayaked the sound, enjoyed a night with friends, and a morning playing mini-golf before catching the ferry to the north island.

Waiohine Gorge in the Tararua Forest Park:  fantastic walk through tropical forest along the banks of crystal clear rivers; met a fellow camper who had been deer hunting and gave us a generous portion of venison.

Hastings/Havelock: more vineyards, where the south island is most well-known for its Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, the north island is most well-known for its Chardonnays and Merlots.  Those worth mentioning, Trinity Hill, Te Awa which also labels Leftfield, Black Barn, and Crab Farm.  Delightful lunch at Black Barn, dining under vines dripping with grapes.

Napier: Art-Deco city.  Funky architecture, historic in nature.  Yummy Turkish food.

Break for second bout of car troubles trying to make it over mountainous terrain to Tongariro National Park.  Assisted by a couple of local guys we were successful in making a quick fix (stop leak stuff can work wonders) and we changed our

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route.  We really wanted Sushi to make it to Auckland.

Kaingaroa Forest:  the largest forested area on the north island, home to the placid and picturesque Lake Waikaremoana.  It was here that we cooked the venison and drank the perfect wine that we’d bought at Te Awa.

Rotorua: met a local who turned us on to Waiotapo Springs and Kerosene Creek, both sacred hot spring pools; Waiotapo at night was amazing, a sky full of stars and the pool surrounded by candles.  It was like nothing else.

Lake Taupo:  the largest lake in New Zealand and the one that feeds the powerful Huka Falls.

Karangahake Gorge: Dickey Flat campground, in the center of what used to be a flourishing gold mining town.  Hiked to Karangahake Peak, 544 meters (1632 feet), a big difference from the peaks of the south island; views of the Coromandel Peninsula, swims in Waitawheta River.

Lake Waikaremoana

 

Coromandel Peninsula: known for its beaches; some very touristy like Hot Water Beach and Cathedral Cove; we took the more treacherous remote road to Fletcher Bay.  Gifted with fresh fish and garden grown veggies.  Hiked the Coromandel Coastal Walkway, up the mountain biking trail for spectacular views returning via Stony Bay on the more level coastal trail.

Clevedon Farmer’s Market: if you are ever driving from the Coromandel to Auckland on a Saturday this is a must stop, absolutely the best farmer’s market I’ve ever been too.  Every single stand offers samples of their fare and it is amazing.  Oh, and don’t eat before.

Final stop, Auckland: stayed with Dore’s family friends, wonderful people, and were welcomed with an earthquake just after arriving, trippy.  Wonderful collection at Auckland Art Gallery.  Final meal, fantastic Malaysian food and incredible ice cream before heading to the airport to fly back to the US.

Time to give thanks.  Thank you, Sushi, for all you offered and making it all the way to Auckland.  Thank you, Dore, for being our official driver and my travel buddy…full circle.  And thank you, New Zealand, for being so absurdly beautiful and a Coromandel Peninsulamost memorable last stop.  I know I’ve written quite a lot here, so thank you, too, for reading all of this.  Truth is, it doesn’t even tell it all.

It is now several days from when I started to write this blog and I am in New Jersey.  Almost 48 hours back on US soil and while it is wonderful to see my family, it is strange and surreal, natural yet unnatural all at the same time.  There will be time to contemplate, ruminate, and reflect, and I’m sure that will loan itself to the next blog post.  Until then, thank you for taking this most amazing, life expanding journey with me.  It’s been one extraordinarily incredibly phenomenal year.  Namaste.

PS.  Photo albums will be posted soon.  Will let you know.

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Posted in Food, history, nature, travel, Yoga | 7 Comments »

G’Day Mates

Friday, February 8th, 2013

I had pretty much convinced myself that I was going to completely bypass Australia, and go straight to New Zealand.  This was all for financial reasons; Mom & I at the Opera HouseAustralia is one of the most expensive countries in the world, and Sydney just recently beat out Tokyo as the most expensive city.  I figured my money would go further elsewhere, and I had a strong desire to spend more time in New Zealand.  But my mother convinced me otherwise.  See, Mom had planned to travel to New Zealand and Australia on a tour to meet up with me, and the way the tour was going to time out, I would have missed her in New Zealand, so I conceded.  It actually worked out quite well because Mom’s free time on her tour was in Sydney, and Dore was living in Sydney, so that seemed to make it more plausible.

When in Sydney, you could really be in any city in the world, albeit a very beautiful city, it is big and international, like so many others.  Aside from the picturesque and well known Opera House, to me it is just another coastal town with harbors alive with restaurants, shops, and galleries.  Taking the ferry from one port to another offers fantastic views of the city, the coast, and the surrounding area, in addition to giving one the opportunity to get up close to Luna Park, the early 20th century style amusement park.  One evening we ferried to Darling Harbor for dinner, and another afternoon around the coast to Manley Harbor for a few hours.

The Opera House has several small theaters within it.  Mom and I did enjoy a On the Ferry to Manleycabaret style show there, which was loaded with young men sporting very fine hard bodies.  The acrobatics were incredibly impressive and could inspire one who wants to improve their own physical fitness.  We also enjoyed an afternoon walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and a day walking through St. James Park into the King’s Cross neighborhood to visit the Jewish Museum.  Australia has a very interesting Jewish history, and was one of the only countries after WWII that allowed Jews to immigrate with no problem.  Add in some very nice meals, and that was 2 ½ days with Mom.

Dore and I had another week until I flew to New Zealand.  She took off of work so we could enjoy a little time.  She was living in Maroubra, but the beach town next door, Coogee, offered a lot of great things.  The beach was beautiful and lively, there was a great yoga studio, and lots of nice food.  I had dinner at my first sushi train.  It was fun and yummy.   From Maroubra to Bondi Beach there is an excellent coastal walk with gorgeous scenery and views.  For pictures of Sydney, click here.

The next stop was Kurnell, a beach suburb of Sydney on the southern peninsula.  In the Philippines, I had met a very nice couple from here Walk to Coogeeand they invited us to come stay at their house, even though they weren’t going to be there.  Their nephew took great care of us the first night, and then he left for the weekend, so we had the house to ourselves for two days.  It was nice to be able to indulge in all the things a proper home has; wifi, laundry, stocked kitchen, cable, and comfortable beds, even if only for a couple of days.  It did happen to be Australia Day while we were there, and there was a big family-style celebration in Cronulla, the next beach over, which is where Captain Cooke arrived when he discovered Australia.  While it wasn’t a big deal for us, it was a pretty big deal for the Aussies.

From there we took the train to Katoomba, one of the main towns in the Blue Mountains.  This is a fantastic place.  There is a huge beautiful valley here, covered in tropical rainforest, with lots of gorgeous formations (including the famous Three Sisters), breathtaking waterfalls, and loads of hiking trails.  This was certainly the highlight of my time in Australia.  We did two days of serious hiking, both days arriving at amazing waterfalls.  Katoomba is a very inviting small town with many healthy coffee shops and cafes, including the Common Ground Café which is run by a cult called The Twelve Tribes.  They grow the majority of the produce they use on a farm near town, and bake all the bread they serve.  Dore figured it Katoomba Fallswas a cult after noticing how matronly all the women were dressed and all the stares she was receiving due to her low cut shirt, and she was right.  For pictures of Katoomba, click here.

One thing that is very different in Australia and New Zealand in comparison to Asia is that eating out is very expensive, so all the hostels have fully equipped kitchens.  There were two things I really wanted to try in Australia, Barramundi and Kangaroo, and succeeded in trying both.  Barramundi is a delicious firm, but flaky whitefish, which I had on a sandwich at the Common Ground.  Kangaroo we cooked up ourselves at the hostel one night, and it was some of the best meat I’ve ever had; mild, but flavorful, tender, yet lean.

In the end, I was glad that I had stopped in Oz, even if just for a brief visit to a very small area of this vast country.  My next trip there will be longer and I hope will encompass the north and west of the country.

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Posted in Food, history, nature, travel, Yoga | 4 Comments »

Pai in the Sky

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Have you ever landed somewhere and just immediately felt at home?  That’s how Pai made me feel.  Like what I’d been looking for for several weeks.  Yes, the beaches and islands of Thailand are amazing, but there is something about Pai that is unique.  It is small and laidback, the Thai are super laid back anyway, but the atmosphere here lends itself to go at one’s own pace, no need to worry about anything, no need to make plans.  My accommodation was a bungalow, next to a river, with beautiful green mountains on the horizon.  The guest house offers a funky bar playing ambient music where the masses can gather.  There is a common kitchen and dining area as well, which offers for social interaction, as well as allowing artists to show their work.  It makes for very homey surroundings.

I hadn’t known much about Pai, but I met two Australian girls on my flight from Phuket to Chiang Mai who had been before and mentioned that that was their final destination.  It sounded like an interesting alternative to Chiang Mai, the city of more than 300 temples, Thailand’s third largest, and while the old city area is contained and doesn’t feel so much like a big city, on the whole, it is busy and spread out, and unlike Pai, you cannot see the mountains in the distance.  My initial plan was to take a massage course in CM, so I investigated that option in Pai and found that there was an accredited school which had been there since the 80’s.  So, after 2 days in CM, my mind was made up.  If I’d stayed in CM, I would have become bored and spent way too much money, so after 3 days, I headed to Pai.

The day before heading to Pai, I did a visa run to extend my stay for another 15 days.  Depending on where you are in Thailand, and what you want to do, these runs can be made to anywhere in the region.  You just need to cross the border and come back in.  My run was to Myanmar.  Interesting, one cannot obtain a tourist visa at Myanmar’s border, but you can cross over for 24 hours just to take care of your Thai visa.  For me, the whole process took about 15 minutes.  See, I was on a tour that makes the visa run one of the stops, so, I was literally stamped in and out and back into Thailand in no time.

The tour was different and funny.  The first stop was a hot spring which was literally a pool about 6 feet in diameter that was in the middle of a parking lot, blocked off by a railing, with a fountain spouting from the center.  The last stop was at a tribal village, in which the tribes people don’t even live anymore.  They dress up in costume and sell goods to tourists.  The one stop I did enjoy was the White Temple in Chiang Rai.  The construction of this temple began only 15 years ago, so it is very modern in architecture and art.  It is medieval in that there are skulls and skeletons, and hands reaching to the sky with nails painted red and black in the midst of a sea of white.  The mural in the temple is by one of Thailand’s premier artists.  It was extremely different as it depicts super heroes, world leaders, modern technology, and even the disaster of planes flying into the Twin Towers.  The whole thing is a bit eerie and weird, and unconventional in comparison to the other Buddhist temples I’d seen.  For pictures of Chiang Mai/Rai, click here.

The drive to Pai is on a beautiful mountain road with over 750 switchbacks.  The road is flanked by jungle and mountains, and if you are one who gets motion sickness, this is certainly a trip on which you would want to take an anti-nausea med.  It takes almost 3 hours to go the 130 miles from Chiang Mai to Pai, and upon arrival, everyone is relieved to have made it without getting sick.  The main town is very small, one can easily walk it in an hours’ time.  The streets are lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, as well as art galleries, book stores, and souvenir shops, yet none of it in a cheesy-touristy way.  Maybe because there is a clear combination of expat and Thai culture, maybe because Pai is a major destination for Thai tourists, or maybe because no one is hawking their wares, they just allow things to happen as they will.  There is a huge night market featuring tons of delicious food options, artists, performers, and vendors.  It is part of what makes Pai what it is, allowing visitors and locals alike to share in the nightly fun, social activity.

A big piece of the culture here is to light floating lanterns. It is often done in celebration or to mark an auspicious occasion.   They act like a hot air balloon, you light the wick and the heat from the fire causes the lantern to rise high into the sky.  It is a beautiful thing to see, especially when there are several of them floating at one time.   It was something I really wanted to do while there, and on my last night I lit one with my friends from Sweden.  We had a nice two day reunion, and this was a sendoff for all of us.

In addition to all that Pai offered, I enjoyed it because it gave me an opportunity to do whatever I wanted to.  There were no plans or deadlines or expectations of other people.  I got back into my yoga practice after five weeks (my cracked rib was finally healed) and practiced every day, I read and wrote every day, I practiced my new massage theory on willing bodies, I slept as late as I wanted, ate when and what I wanted (and with that I have to add, great healthy food, juice and tea bars in Pai), and for the first time in a long time felt like all my time was my own.  For those of you who are parents, or employed for that matter, I don’t know how you do it.  🙂  For pictures of Pai, click here.

So, Pai is one of those places I could see going back to.  I could even see staying there for a season.  See, I know I could make money.  It is the sort of places that lends itself to a yoga practice, but that is lacking there.  And every time I was offering a massage, there was interest from others.  And in doing those things, I would be doing what I love, and not have to do too much of it, because it is Thailand after all, and the cost of living would be easy to meet.

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Posted in Food, Massage, nature, travel, Yoga | 5 Comments »

Shiva Festival

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

At some point India had to become difficult.  Everyone I know who has ever been here has had their stories of some sort of challenge.  Dore & I had been cruising along, wondering if this was true, if it all really had to do with the people themselves, their personalities and outlooks on life, the way they handle themselves in any challenging situation.  Well, welcome to North India, to the Shiva festival, and thousands of male pilgrims on the same path as you.  Add in a rickshaw driver who won’t take you where you want to go, but will take your money; a bicycle rickshaw driver who takes you 20m, tells you he can go no further, and takes your money; and a long walk through narrow unknown old city streets, following and trusting a complete stranger, who gets you where you need to go, and will take your money.  For that moment, it had become difficult.

Little did we know that our journey to Varanasi and Rishikesh, two of the holiest cities along the Ganga River, would be coinciding with the Shiva Festival.  Had we known, would we have changed our plans?  Probably not, especially since we had no idea what it meant, but also because these are two spiritual cities that we really wanted to visit.  The challenge comes from the fact that we are a spectacle here in India; white women walking with our rucksacks on,  surrounded by hundreds of juvenile Indian boys; well, not really boys, young adults and men, but they act like children.  “Hello. How are you?” followed by something in Hindi which we can only perceive to be in some way sinister by the way they snigger.  Cell phones pointed at us without the sometimes polite “Photo please, Madam.”  This can become extremely tiring, annoying, and challenging.  Dore had finally let an “F…Off” come out, while I found myself holding up my hand to block my face from their cameras like some Hollywood starlet.  It’s not so much that I have a problem with being in their photos; it’s more the sheer disrespect of them not even asking, yet being incredibly blatant.  Starts to make one feel like a caged animal on exhibition, yet without the bars.  And while this uncomfortableness came to being in Varanasi, it came to its pinnacle in Rishikesh, and in some ways tainted the spirituality of these mystical cities.  Thankfully, we have had a full week in Rishi post-festival, and been able to get more of a feel for the place.

Once past the initial shock of being ripped off by not one, but two drivers in Varanasi, the city itself grew on us.  Dore more so than myself; being a very religious city, there are cows everywhere, and I found it arduous to constantly dodge piles of cow dung.  Yet, regardless, the soul of Varanasi is apparent in the overall ambiance.  The holiness of the city leaches into you.  In walking the Ghats (the stairs that lead down to the river) it is impossible to ignore that the Ganga is where people gather to pray, pay homage to departed souls (famous for the cremations which take place in public along the rivers edge), as well as cleanse their bodies and souls (dipping oneself in the Ganga is a baptism of sorts, washing away ones sins).  The evening puja ceremony is beautiful.  Even nonHindus can sense how special it is, watching 7 Hindu men cloaked in white perform their spiritual fire dance along the river’s edge, giving thanks for the day.  We spent two days there walking the Ghats and people watching, witnessing a funeral and puja ceremony, and experiencing sunrise and sunset on the river, the main attractions in Varanasi.  Having done all that, and because the city was so crowded due to the festival, we decided it was time to move on.  Our time in India is rapidly coming towards completion, and there is still much to see in the north; plus, we are looking forward to getting more yoga time in.

On to Rishikesh, a city known for its yogic soul and sheer natural beauty, situated along the Ganga, enveloped by green mountains.   There are dozens of ashrams in Rishi, countless places to practice yoga, and where we made our home for 12 nights.  We found a room with a kitchen, and a flat mate for the first six nights, Adeline from Paris, who we traveled with on the train.  Within our first day, we ran into a woman we’d met at Sivananda, and she turned us onto a great yoga teacher who holds classes in a hotel right next to our guest house.

At last, we have found our guru.  His name is Sirander, and it is apparent that he loves to share his yogic knowledge and culture.  He is a teacher who deserves the guru label; a patient and peaceful soul who has an amazing ability to read his student’s needs.  He is able to lead each one of us individually, on both a physical and spiritual level, even as each of us is one of several students.  While the physical practice has been rewarding, challenging, and expansive, I feel like I have finally found the yoga I had come to India for: the Dharma talks, the spiritual explanations of this path and journey, yoga with a soul and the soul of yoga.  On more than one occasion, his Dharma talk went in the direction of something I had thought about earlier in the day or practice, and his explanations and analogies are simple to understand, as life should be.   I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to practice with him for over a week, and have contemplated a return visit.

Ready to leave Rishikesh, yet sadly leaving this specific practice behind, I look forward to one last class with Sirander tomorrow morning before we head off to witness another powerful soul, the Dalai Lama.  Our next stop is Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama has resided in exile since 1959, and if we are lucky, he will be addressing an audience while we are there.  Hadi Om.

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Posted in nature, Spiritual, travel, Yoga | 9 Comments »

Fire Temple, Big City, Breath-taking Beauty

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

I left off in Pondicherry, the town which could have kept us there for a long time, but we forced ourselves to escape. This is a big country and there is a lot to see. Highlights of the last couple days there…we did find a yoga instructor that we enjoyed practicing with, Satheesh, who taught in Ashtanga style, and because it is slow season in Pondi, we basically had private lessons with him. This was definitely to our advantage at $6/class, and because he was a very good instructor. Pondi is host to Goubert Market, which encompasses about 3 sq city blocks. It is loaded with fresh fruits and veggies, spices, grains, legumes, and pastas, flowers, fish, and meat. It is so colorful and beautiful just to walk around, lively and aromatic. If I lived there, I know where I would be doing my shopping. We left one day with a bag full of produce to make 2 types of mango salsa. One day a pink grapefruit-mango salsa, the next an avocado-mango salsa. There are fresh chip stalls in all the towns, and tapioca has become one of our favorites, perfect for salsa. Because of the French influence, the streets are small, the architecture Mediterranean influenced, and all in all, the French Quarter, a quaint town in a small city. Our favorite places were kasha ki aasha for fresh Indo-European food, salads and juices, and Villa Shanti, the home of the Mint Daiquiri.  Click here for more pictures of Pondi.  You’ll notice, I am a little market obsessed.  (More pictures of more places will follow, upload can be very slow here :).  Link here for Dore’s blog on Pondicherry.

Our next big destination was Bangalore, and we stopped in the small temple town of Tiruvannamalai on the way. The temple here is one in a series of the five elements dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. This one is the fire temple, Arunachaleswar Temple, and they have 2000 liters of ghee burning daily in Shiva’s honor (for those who don’t know, ghee is clarified butter). This temple was another beautiful specimen of Indian temple architecture, totally different than the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, and was really spectacular when seen from above. From the top of Mt. Arunachala, which is a famous pilgrimage site around the time of the full moon, there is an amazing view of the temple and surrounding area. Certainly not a hike for the meek, we hiked about 2 hours straight up over boulders, through tall grass, and each step was a challenge, but the view was our big reward. Gorgeous landscape. We had taken a night train from Madurai to Pondicherry, and it wasn’t until we left Pondi that we realized how different this part of the country was in comparison to the tropical, wet, humid state of Kerala. Here it is dry, arid, desert. This made for a different beautiful landscape. On the return from our hike, we stumbled upon Indian breakfast of idli, puris, sambar and chutney in what seemed like someone’s home, for less than $1 for both. Then, on the bus for the six hour ride to Bangalore. On the busses from the small towns to the big cities, it can be a challenge to get a seat; you’ve really got to push your way through, past the elderly and the young. There is nothing orderly about it, and can feel oddly wrong at times, but a seat is pretty important on a six hour ride.

We arrived in the big city of Bangalore, the IT capital of India (thus my new Samsung notebook I am currently writing to you from), and all in all, a very Western city, although as a woman you still have to cover knees and shoulders or you get stared at, which gets pretty old after a while. (There was more than one occasion in which Dore or I felt the Jersey rising up in us, just wanting to return the stares of these Indian men with a “F..K off” or “Have you got a problem?” Of course we didn’t, no matter how much we desired, because any sort of communication comes across as an invitation.) So, our main reason for going to Bangalore (and we have now sworn ourselves off of big Indian cities) was to connect with the niece of a family friend of Dore’s who runs a NGO here called CWC, The Concerned for Working Children. This organization has been around since the late seventies, empowering children to know their rights, on how to make choices for themselves, and assisting them in having a voice in governmental decisions. The state of Karnataka is big on local governments hosting “town hall” meetings for the whole community, and CWC has given children a voice in this process as well. It is a really amazing grass roots organization, they were nominated for the Noble Peace Prize this year, and they focus on working from the local level up. We are going to be spending next week volunteering at their school, which is in a beautiful location on the coast, Kundapura, assisting in yoga class and conversational English. The school has been compared to Montessori in its style of teaching. Should be very interesting and rewarding.

So, we made that connection, and then spent maybe two days too long in the city, but we did city stuff, ate sushi , drank cocktails, shopped, went to two English movies (Prometheus- sucked, The Avengers-fun (our choices were limited)), city park, botanical garden. All in all it was good, but we are so glad to be out of the loud, horn-honking, polluted madness of it all. We also both dealt with our first bouts of Delhi-belly. Was it the sushi or the filtered tap water, we will never know, but it had me down so badly that in the middle of a mango festival, I couldn’t even think of trying one of the several varieties of mangoes I haven’t yet tasted. Believe me, that made me very very sad. Thankfully, mangoes prevail here, and so will I.  Link here for Dore’s blog on Bangalore.

Now we are in Hampi, wishing we’d arrived earlier, and could stay longer, but the volunteering will take precedence to traveling this time. This is an amazingly beautiful place, and a World Heritage Site. The landscape is huge boulders formed by volcanoes and centuries of erosion. It is arid, yet there are lots of indigenous trees and plants, and the primary crops, that we’ve seen, are bananas and sugar cane. There is a beautiful river here, the Tungabhadra, so irrigation is not an issue. In the 16th century this was one of the major cities in India, about 500,000 people, and a huge center in international trade. Today it is small town, and we have decided to stay on the north side of the river in Virupapur Gaddi, which is sooo quiet (because it is out of town, and also because it is the off season), we love it. The ancient temple sites encompass about a 3 sq km area, too big to walk, yet small enough to bike. We rented bicycles and rode through it all. The government, along with Global Heritage Fund, is currently doing reparations on several of the sites, of which there are over 40. These include a series of temples, baths, royalty residence, elephant stables, and deity statues. I can easily say that all in all, Hampi is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. The overall terrain is breath-taking, with unbelievable mountain sunsets, and beautiful big skies. This is one of the secrets of India, for any of you who may travel here in the future, do not miss.  Link here for Dore’s blog on Hampi.

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It Takes a Village…

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

Most have heard the saying, “It Takes a Village,” and here in Varkala Beach, it is to haul in the days catch.  I was awoken yesterday morning by a melee of boisterous voices coming from the beach.  When I stepped out on my balcony, to have a look at what was going on, I saw about 20 men bringing in a huge fishing net, surrounded by a large group of onlookers.  Apparently, the way they fish here is for a man in a canoe to bring this huge net about 200 meters offshore. Then, the other men back onshore haul the net in to a call and response rhythm.  Once the net is onshore, with fish, calamari, and whatever else in tow, it is separated by size into large plastic colanders.  There is a broker who negotiates the price for the catch with the main fisherman, and then the others leave with some of the catch for themselves.  It was such an interesting process to watch, as there were also several women and young boys around, some seeming to help and others just there to be a part of it all.  I love how this is the morning activity for so many here, and happens most days of the week.

You can surmise from this story that I am no longer at the ashram.  About 5 days in, Dore really wanted to leave, and I was in agreement, so we finished the two week program and made our way to a lovely, simple resort called the Oasis on Odayam Beach in Varkala.  This is my first time vacationing on the Arabian Sea, and it feels so good to be by the ocean again.  Nice waves, just big enough to play in, but not dangerous, and it is off season here now, so it is very quiet and very inexpensive.  Our beachfront room is costing us 400rs or $8/night.  The seafood is deliciously fresh, lots of fish and prawn curry, and calamari tandoori.  The salads and juices are really fresh, and so far, knock on wood, been kind to our stomachs.  Thank you GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract, excellent for everything).  We had planned to stay 3 or 4 days, yet the casual laid-back atmosphere, and other friends from the ashram being here, has extended our stay to almost a week.  After the 5:20 wake-up call at the ashram, it is lovely to wake-up naturally, do yoga everyday at one’s own will, read, walk the beach, relax.  Yet, we have decided to leave tomorrow, continuing to head north to the ashram of Amma “The Hugging Mama.”  A night or two there, and then to explore the backwaters of Alappuzha and Kottayam, before we head east through Munnar and Tamil Nadu to the east coast of India and, specifically, Pondicherry.

My last blog had left off just before our 30 hour train ride south. It was actually a very easy ride.  We splurged for the 2nd best accommodations, so we had a 4 person air conditioned compartment.  It was a really nice change, leaving the city of Mumbai to view the countryside.  Big mountains, rice paddies, tropical trees, lots of water, and cows.  The first couple we shared the compartment with were traveling from Mumbai to open their summer home in anticipation of their children and grandchildren coming to visit with them.  Apparently, several train stations in India are known for certain tasty delights.  When the train stopped at one station, this couple bought us upuma sandwiches, basically a potato patty on a bun with a spicy/salty seasoning, and this (wherever this was) was the place to get them.  Their stop was about 6 hours into the trip, when they were replaced by a mother and son who were heading south for her niece’s wedding.  They too were very friendly and generous, and they are from Renigiri, supposedly famous for it’s mangoes.  She gifted us a can of mango puree, which we actually finally got around to having today, sharing mango lassies with the other people staying at the guesthouse.  They departed about 6 hours before we arrived to our stop, and we had the space to ourselves at that point.  Playing cards, reading, watching the countryside pass.  Here, people come out to wave at the trains as they pass by, with big smiles on their faces.

Upon arrival in Trivandrum, we negotiated a taxi to the Ashram, and after about an hour of driving through dusty winding roads, we arrived to the Sivananda Vedanta Yoga Center in Neyyar Dam.  While checking in, we were informed of the many rules to be followed, and the busy mandatory schedule.  Since I’d read the website countless times, this was what I’d expected.  I was very excited, so looking forward to a dedicated yoga practice for a month, and the location was beautiful.  Our simple room was two beds, some shelves, and a desk.  They provided us with sheets, a pillow, and a mosquito net, which was definitely needed.  Our view was of papaya and mango trees, and tropical forest.  In the distance you could see a temple on top of the highest peak around.  We ended up hiking up their our last morning for an incredible view of the dam, lake, and mountains, and our morning meditation.  We had neighbors from Spain on both sides of us, one of the couples became our friends and are now at the beach with us.  There were lots of really nice people on the program, from all over the world, and many travelers to hear stories from and share tips with.  Yet, in the end, like many things in life, the ashram had it’s pros and cons.  The pros, in addition to the beautiful, peaceful location, and other participants, were the food (yummy vegetarian fare twice a day, as much as you wanted to eat.  Lots of coconut and fresh veggies) and some of the yoga teachers (there were a couple in particular, who really helped me to improve my yoga practice, 4 hours/day, especially headstand, shoulderstand, plow, and crow, all poses I’d been struggling with/working on for years).  The cons were some of the other yoga teachers who just were not good, and the director who completely lacked in spiritual leadership (it turned out it was a strictly Hindu program, but without explanation, they just expected people to blindly follow), as well as in educational ability (we had 1 1/2 hours of lecture each day, which just turned out to be incredibly boring.  The one thing I came away from the lectures with was that Siva created 840,000 yoga poses, of which 84,000 are meant to be practiced by people, the rest by plants and animals).  There were 2 days that the 8 limbs of yoga were touched upon, but not once the Yoga Sutras.  Honestly, in the end, I stopped going, as there was nothing expanding on what I’d already studied in Yoga teacher training and on my own.  Also, they had a way of treating everyone like untrustworthy children, which didn’t resonate with either of us, so we have moved on and are looking forward to experiencing other yoga in Mysore, Rishikesh, and other locations.

We had one day trip, for which we hired a taxi with 5 other women who were on the program.  We started at an elephant sanctuary and bathed a huge female elephant in the river.  It was so amazing.  What a beautiful docile creature.  She ate bananas from our hands.  To bath the elephants, they chop pieces off a coconut shell so you use the rough husk on their skin.  She seemed to love it, and it was very cool to connect with such an enormous creature in that way.  Then, we went to Ponmudi and climbed to the highest point in the state of Kerala.  From there, we were right near the border of the state Tamil Nadu.  The scenery was amazing tropical forest, so many layers of green, it was just gorgeous, and peaceful.  As we were on the peak, clouds rolled in to envelope us.  Next, we went to a beautiful waterfall and went swimming in our clothes in the pool below.  As women, it is disrespectful to show your bodies, if you do it may be mistaken by men as a come-on of some sort, so that is why swimming in our clothes.  The pool was so cool and refreshing, in a tropical forest.  Really great.  And then it started to pour.  Hello monsoon season.  We returned totally soaked to the taxi, and decided to just wring out our clothes, which were really already wet anyway, and then went to eat.  Delicous masala dosa, rice pancakes stuffed with potatoes and veggies, served with a couple different sauces.  And that was it for our free day from the ashram.

I want to say thanks to everyone for your comments and replies to my blog.  I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to answer each one of you individually, but I am grateful to hear from you.  Hopefully, at some point soon, the internet capabilities will be more consistent.  Until then, signing off…

 

 

 

 

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Connecting with Another on the Mat

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Yesterday was a great day.  I was given the opportunity to teach something new, a Partner Yoga class, and it was fun and creative and a pure pleasure to share.  I had never taken a partner yoga class before, and I had only explored a few poses in various classes and yoga teacher training.  One of my students, who is training to become a teacher herself, had approached me about practicing some partner poses with her.   From there, the idea was born.

In conversation, I had mentioned to Nancy Curran, owner of Yoga on the Beach, what we were practicing.  She needed a teacher for the themed first Sunday of the month yoga brunch class, and I was given the opportunity to, with Bonnie, create a partner yoga class to share with others.

We explored compassion together in twists, such as Half Lord of the Fishes.  In a blustery wind, we learned to trust one another, in the balancing poses Eagle and Tree.  We found strength in one another in Warrior poses, and we came to surrender in Child’s pose.  All in connection to another.  It was a really beautiful, heart-opening experience.  

 

I am grateful to all who joined us, and to Yoga on the Beach for the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Key West Yoga Pass

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

It is very exciting to introduce the Key West Yoga Pass as we enter a new year.  This is a unique opportunity to practice yoga and attend fitness and dance classes at 9 different locations in Key West and the Lower Florida Keys, all on one class card.  What a great way to experience the variety of yoga and teachers we have here in our island community.

$75 gets you 5 classes to use at any of these locations:

Ashley Kamen Yoga

Coffee Mill Dance Studio

Key West Yoga Sanctuary

ommPeace Yoga & Massage Therapy

Paddleboard Yoga Key West

Phoenix Rising Yoga Key West

Stay Fit Studio

Yoga Key West

Yoga on the Beach

Looking forward to seeing you on the mat in this new year.  May it be a happy, healthy, and joy filled year for you.

 

 

 

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2011-2012 Yoga Season Opens

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Hello, Yoginis!  I hope this message finds you well after a wonderful summer.

Yoga classes will resume next week, Monday, October 31st, at Parmer’s Resort on Little Torch Key.  ommPeace Yoga is expanding this season.  We will be offering 4 classes a week this season.  Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings, 8:30-10:00, Vinyasa inspired, and Monday evenings 5:15-6:30, intermediate.
I am excited to introduce you to Claudia Gukeisen.  Claudia will be teaching on Monday & Wednesday mornings. A little more on Claudia:

Claudia has an M.A. in Education from NYU and has been an educator for over 15 years.  It was as a Montessori teacher that she began to bring yoga into the classroom and find how transformative it can be for children.

Claudia completed her yoga teacher training with Yoga on the Beach in Key West.  Her classes are Vinyasa, Hatha and Kripalu inspired, including Kripalu’s Yoga Dance.

I will be teaching Monday evenings and Thursday mornings.  The evening class is going to be an intermediate class, with a focus on more inversions, backbends, and binds.  If any of you are ready to expand your practice in this way, I will look forward to seeing you there.
Classes remain $15/class, a block of 5 classes $65, a block of 10 classes $120 *NO Expiration*
If you’d like to stay up to date on schedule changes do to weather, holidays, events, please LIKE ommPeace Yoga & Massage Therapy on Facebook.
Looking forward to seeing you on the mat.

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Travels South

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Road tripping from Key West to New Jersey, and back, is often an eye-opening experience.  I always seem to be at some crossroad in my life, a place of growth, change, manifestation.  Spending so much time in the car allows me the opportunity for contemplation, insight, self-realization.  Sometimes I laugh at myself, and sometimes I cry, but I always end up feeling better, energized, excited for my destination.

 

One wonderful destination this trip back to the Keys was Savannah, GA.  What a beautiful town.  I love the European influence in the architecture and the city design.  The city boasts 24 squares, beautifully lawned and oak shaded parks, within its limits.  One of the many wonderful things about yoga is that you can practice anywhere, so the one morning we were there, my friend, Dore Ann, and I laid out our mats in one of those squares. We followed that up with one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had, at Clary’s.

Just a side note, if you are ever driving past the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, NC, it is worth the stop.

Back in the Keys, we took advantage again, laying out our mats on the old Bahia Honda Bridge, practicing bridge, wheel, headstand, and more, at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t heard me say recently, “I Love the Florida Keys,” well, I do, and it sure feels good to be home.

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