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Just some observations

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

  • The state of Kerala, where I spent the first month of my travels in India, is a democratically elected Communist state.  Because of this, the literacy rate is in the 90 percentile, there is virtually no homelessness and unemployment, and it is very clean in comparison to the rest of India. Most people of the younger generations know some English, and all want to practice it with you.  The conversation usually consists of, “Your name is?” “Where coming from?” “Time in India?” “Do you like?” and always accompanied by huge smiles.  One tradition here, which took us a couple hours to realize was not some kind of scam, is that Indians want to take pictures with tourists.  When first being asked, I thought Dore looked like some Bollywood star, but we later found out, it is just part of their culture.  Now, we gladly appease by smiling in pictures with complete strangers.  It would be fun to try on the streets of a US city sometime, walking up to obvious tourists and asking to take a picture with them.  May try it sometime just to see how it goes over.
  • Taking a bus in India is a great way to get a full body workout.  If you are lucky enough to get a seat, your arms and core will still be worked out as you hold on and engage to stay in your seat as the driver makes quick sharp turns.  If you have to stand, the legs are added into the workout, in what often proves to be a harrowing ride.  There are hardly any rules to the road here.  Passing with oncoming traffic is standard, and horns are used all the time.  Some sound like boat horns, some like trains, some have their own jingles.  They are used to say “Hi!” “I’m passing!” “Let me back in!” “Get out of my way!” and probably some other things I haven’t realized yet.
  • India is known for it’s mangoes, as some might remember GW traded India nuclear weapons in exchange for some yummy mangoes.  Well, I have officially embarked on a mango tour of India, as Dore says she is just along for the ride, as I purchase a different kind of mango almost every day.  Some are sweet like candy, some are sweet yet finish on a sour note (like a lemon), some are floral, and the only one we haven’t liked tasted like saltwater.  In southern Kerala, mango trees are everywhere, all different varieties and sizes, you can hardly go a mile without seeing one.  I have to admit, I am having a slight addiction problem with them, but as we all know, there are worse things to be addicted to.
  • On another fruit note, the variety of bananas here should leave us feeling shamed to the two varieties we have in the states (our common Chaquitas and the Cuban finger bananas).  Here there are similar ones to our common variety, several different fingerlings, in addition to green bananas (yes, they are ripe) and red bananas (delish).
  • It’s funny how cultural differences and reality can clash.  On a guided walk in Thattekad, we heard wild elephants.  Our guide told us lions not dangerous, king cobras not dangerous, but wild elephants very dangerous, run for your life dangerous.  Back in the states, most people would probably relate the other way around lions and king cobras very dangerous, elephants not so much.  The danger from the elephants comes from the fact that they are very smart animals with very good memories.  Here, when they come too close to human territory, they are greeted with stones and fire crackers.  This, they remember, and in return, they will charge humans when they see them in the wild.

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Posted in nature, travel | 8 Comments »

From the Backwaters to the Bay of Bengal

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

A couple weeks can pass here very easily.  So much has happened since my last post.  I will try to update simply, yet thoroughly.

From Varkala, we headed north to Amritapuri, the home of Amma’s ashram.  What an amazing woman and philanthropist Amma is.  She discovered that she had a spiritual connection with others at a very young age, and started seeing people to give them hugs, thus her nickname, “The Hugging Mama.”  She will literally sit for 20 hours a day for days at a time to see people, giving them hugs, consoling them.  Then, in addition to this, she gives of her time, energy, and money (all raised through donation) to help those in need.  She has rebuilt whole towns destroyed by tsunamis and earthquakes, and she gave to the Clinton/Bush fund after Hurricane Katrina.  She has built homes for orphans, has given school scholarships to thousands of children, built fully modern equipped hospitals, and has opened food kitchens around the world.  Unfortunately, she was not at the ashram when we visited, ironically, she is touring the US (see her if you can), but now that I know more about her, I hope to meet her one day.  Here we met Sammy from North London who traveled on with us for a couple of days.

From there, we continued north to Alleppey (3 buses) where we toured the backwaters by canoe (kind of a mix between a canoe and a gondola, pole pushed, but wide enough that you can lounge out).  This whole town is built on the natural canals which cover the area.  Peoples lives depend on the canals for fishing and Kerala rice (which had just been harvested before we arrived), for transport by canoe or barge, for bathing and washing clothes, and for tourism.  As part of our day with our guide, we went to his home for both a traditional Indian breakfast of a rice-coconut cake and a rice-nut-fruit type of dry cereal, so yummy, and a traditional Indian vegetarian thali lunch, which definitely included the best pickled mango I have had thus far.  His two daughters entertained us with some Indian song and dance.  And we tried a locally brewed coconut beer, good but had a very strong fermentation flavor. The canoe tour took us through the backwaters, lined with coconut palms, mango trees, banana trees, and floating water plants.  It was very beautiful.

One of the great things about this type of travel is that a plan can be changed in just one thought.  We were on our way from Alleppey to Munnar, when we realized that we were on route towards Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, and the homestay of Ms Sudah.  With a quick call from the bus, we found out she had a room available, and within 30 minutes we were at our stop.  This is remotely beautiful spot in the Western Ghats of India, still very tropical, but also thick with hardwood forest and rubber plantations.  We saw dozens of species of water and forest birds, as well as monkeys and giant squirrels, the largest in the world.  We did not see, but did hear wild elephants one morning.  As part of the homestay, we were fed 2 amazing home cooked meals a day, and did learn how to make pickled lime/mango/and garlic.  I look forward to the day I can experiment with making these at home.  We also tried “Toddy,” the locally brewed palm beer, although while I say brewed, it literally comes straight from the tree and is ready to drink.  Much more palatable than the heavily fermented coconut brew.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Thattekad.  Click here for pictures from Thattekad.

From Thattekad to Kallar, about a two hour trip (3 buses), we are now 20km south of Munnar, in the thick of the cardamom hills, rich with cardamom and coffee plantations, and surrounded by tea plantations.  Wow, who knew how tea grew, I sure didn’t.  Tea bushes grow on an incline, short thick green bushes, and they are sculpted in a labyrinthine way.  Incredibly beautiful and much cooler here as we are up to about 8000 ft.  We did a 5 mile walk one day, through the winding roads, to a waterfall.  We saw women harvesting the tea, trimming them just like we would trim bushes back at home.  The beauty here, and in Munnar, where we spent the next night, is breathtaking.  Dore said it right, as it is something out of a fairytale, where you are literally standing in the thick of the clouds.  The city of Munnar is a tourist destination, and it is busy and lively, and is the place to buy homemade chocolate, so we did.  Click here for pictures of Kallar and Munnar.  Click here for Dore’s blog on Kallar and Munnar.

Next, we head east into the state of Tamilnadu, to the city of Madurai for one night.  This city was a bit of a culture shock after the beautiful country we had just spent a week in.  A dirty concrete jungle, yet midway on our trip to the east coat, and famous for the Meenakshi Temple, which is incredibly impressive.  It beautifully depicts Hindu culture and religion in colorful friezes and murals.  There are 7 temples on the property, several which only Hindus can enter.  One day in Madurai was plenty, and we anxiously made our way out of town to Pondicherry, the Indian-French enclave on the Bay of Bengal.  Link here for Dore’s blog on Madurai.

 

Pondi is a smaller city, we have rented bicycles and I don’t feel like I may be risking my life by riding here.  Oddly, several businesses are closed here now.  We were looking for an internet cafe yesterday, and when all the ones we’d read about were closed, we stumbled upon a really nice boutique hotel with a bar, and since nothing else had worked out for us yet that day, we ended up enjoying several fresh mint daiquiris, allowing for the heat of the day to cool down.  Pondi is just south of the international city of Auroville, so there seems to be a strong Western influence here, especially in the French/Italian/and Asian cuisine around town.  There is a “French Quarter” here, not like NOLA, but you can certainly feel the European influence with all the balconies and colorfully painted homes.

 

The current plan is to spend a few days here before we head slightly north and then west again.  I hope to be online with you all again soon.  With warm regards.

 

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Posted in nature, Spiritual, travel | 7 Comments »

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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Posted in nature, Spiritual, travel, Yoga | 8 Comments »

Journey of a Lifetime

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

After a year and a half of planning, and a few weeks of parties and goodbyes, I am finally about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.  Flying out of Newark for London in just a few hours, and so looking forward to the 3 weeks I will have in Europe with my cousin and close friends.  Meeting my friend Kari in London, heading to Paris for my 40th birthday, then to explore Antwerp and Amsterdam.  From Amsterdam, flying to Copenhagen and visiting with my lifelong friend, Michelle, in Malmo.  Then, back to London to visit with my cousin Adam and his husband Hector, and meeting up with my travel companion, Dore.  Dore and I will be flying to India for a life-changing and life-enhancing experience.  Dore and I will head from Mumbai to the southernmost point (a geographical destination I am very comfortable with, eg. Key West) of Western India, Trivandrum, and take an hour rickshaw ride to the Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam.

While I am very excited, I am also nervous, anxious, and sad to be leaving family, boyfriend, and friends.  Even so, the excitement does trump the other emotions, as I step out into the unknown, into a realm of new experiences, cultures, and people.  And new learning opportunities to expand my knowledge, practice, and self-growth.

So, friends, family, and bloggers, I bid you a sweet farewell.  I look forward to connecting with you via the internet (a tool I didn’t have access to the last time I traveled extensively), to sharing my experiences with you all, and to hearing what is happening in your lives, too.

To view pictures from farewell parties, link here.  I hope it works, this whole uploading photos for public view is new for me.  The link will take you to one album, but if you go to my name, it will bring you to the other albums as well.  Sorry, the only way I could figure out to do it in a pinch.

Much Love, everyone.

 

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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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Posted in Key West, nature, Special Events, Spiritual, Yoga | No Comments »

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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Posted in Health, Key West, Yoga | No Comments »