In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂
In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂
Last time I posted, I was feeling pretty downtrodden by our first seven days here in Buenos Aires. Happily, the weather took a turn for the better this past Tuesday, and my mood, along with the city itself, is much lighter as a result. All the locals we’ve chatted with seem to have been similarly depressed by the rain; typically Fall in BA is much more like this past week – crisp, sunny, invigorating. Since the weather has improved, I’ve been loving the cool morning walks to Spanish class and the play of autumn sunshine across the wonderful mix of architecture old and new, and I’m starting to discover why and how people get enchanted by this city.
Here are some random impressions and experiences from the past week.
– I talked in my last post about the fashion sensibilities of the young porteñas in the city. I’ve noticed too that the older generation – 60 and above – tend to dress with an awful lot of panache and I adore seeing the elegant older women in refined, well-tailored fall colors, the men with small moustaches, stylish blazers and dashing neckerchiefs wandering around the streets of our neighborhood.
– I don’t want to jinx things, but I seem to be developing a knack for avoiding the dog poop (caca de perro) on sidewalks. Knock on wood – I haven’t stepped on any since arriving and I’m even starting to get a kick out of what Roman and I are terming the “dog trains” that trundle along the sidewalks here. Imagine a single dog walker as the spoke in a wheel made up of at least ten leashed dogs, from pocket dogs to great big labs and everything in-between. Now picture this moving down the street at a good clip, and the millipede effect of all those legs trotting along at once. Quite a sight, and there are tons of them, in our neighborhood at least.
– BA is great for trees! I love, love, love how many streets are covered by an arching canopy of branches that reach up and over from opposite sidewalks to touch hands high above the traffic. Especially gorgeous when sunshine filters through the branches. Photos to follow one of these days… In the mean time, here’s a whole blog devoted to the subject: http://losarbolesdebuenosaires.blogspot.com.ar/2009/03/tipa-trees.html
– There are some not-so-good smells in the city for sure (reference the previous dog poop item) but there are good smells too. Our little corner almost always smells like the fragrant smoke from a barbeque, which makes me hungry. Need to find out which restaurant this smell is coming from. 🙂 I love passing by the little cave-like meet-cheese-and-wine shops and getting a whiff of the evocative, musty, cloistered smell that wafts out of the open door.
– I am loving our Spanish classes! I’m the only beginner student at our school at the moment (it’s low season), so I’ve been having one-on-one sessions with my teacher and I’m amazed how much ground we’ve covered in just one week. We’re at Vamos Spanish, in case you’re interested, and Roman’s been really happy with his intermediate class too. Friendly, highly competent staff, good value for money, nice location – based on our first week we can definitely recommend this place. 🙂
– We got to experience a protest! We were at home one night when I thought I heard some weird noises coming from the apartments next door. I went onto the balcony to check it out, and the racket only escalated. Cars honked, pedestrians clapped, and people all over the neighborhood stood on their balconies and leaned out their windows, hitting pots and pans, whistling and blowing on vuvuzelas. We were baffled but intrigued and delighted. Take a listen and maybe you can see why we were initially confused: Palermo 31 May. The event went on for about an hour, and we found out when we went for drinks with our “landlady” (the woman we are renting from on Airb’n’b. She’s a total sweetheart) later that night that it was a protest against the government. Here’s a bit more info about it if you’re interested. There was a second round the next night, and I have to say it’s been pretty amazing to see so many people participating in something like this.
– I’ve found a yoga studio. It’s in the neighborhood, is teenie-tiny but cute, is staffed by Americans and the classes are all in English. Bad for my Spanish practice maybe but oh so good for my state of mind and my out-of-shape body. I’ve been going just about every other day and as per usual, a regular practice just makes everything better. Thank goodness for yoga. Another definite recommendations: http://www.happysunyoga.com/
And, just for good measure, here’s a few photos to visually whet your whistle for Beunos Aires. 🙂
Ko Lipe is surrounded by a group of islands that form the protected Ko Tarutao Marine National Park. It’s meant to be some incredible nature and we’d had plans to hire a long tail and go exploring, but Roman enjoyed the dive intro on the Aquila so much that he came up with a suggestion: Why not get certified?
Lipe has a good number of dive shops that have Lonely Planet’s stamp of approval, so we decided to go for it, and we signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver course the next day. I’ve added “Seeing the Tarutao National Park” to my to-do list for the next time we go on vacation in Thailand, but the diving was such a phenomenal experience; I have no regrets about saving the park for next time. 🙂
We ended up diving with a shop called Ocean Pro. Chilled out but professional, and if all their instructors are as good as the one we learned with then I can recommend them hands down. Rebecca was our teacher, a very cool chick from NYC of all places. She was informative but very fun and knew tons about the fantastic marine life we got to see in and around the coral reefs we dived at. We also bonded over the time we’d both spent working in the in the finance industry making the money to fuel our dreams. 🙂
Learning to trust the breath
The first time I went diving was back in 2002. Getting over a hard break up I decided to shake things up and do something completely new, so I took myself on a short island vacation to Aruba. Following the “be adventurous” theme, I signed up for one of those hotel one-day dive packages, where you learn the ropes in the pool in the morning and then do a simple dive in relatively shallow waters in the afternoon.
It sounds basic, and it is, but for me it was a big deal, because I’ve got a bit of a fear of drowning. I’m not sure where this might come from, but not being able to breathe really frightens me, more so than the normal person. I was fine during the pool practice, but I started to freak out as soon as my head went under the ocean water in the afternoon and I began hyperventilating.
Luckily the instructor saw me and was able to “talk me down” using eye contact and sign language. What happened then was amazing. Using my mind and my breath I was able to calm down enough until the wonder of the dive – the amazing feeling of floating through the water as though I were flying and the excitement of seeing beautiful fish in their natural habitat – overtook and completely replaced all of the irrational but massive fear I had been experiencing.
Power of the breath
Holding to and working consciously with breath is something I learned even more about as I began and developed my yoga practice shortly thereafter. It’s something that is so simple and yet so powerful; it never ceases to amaze me when I can reconnect to it.
It was therefore really interesting for me to come back to diving after my first experience years ago and after all the practice with breath work that I’ve had from yoga. In fact in some ways certain things were actually harder for me – yoga breathing is primarily through the nose and of course when you’re diving everything is through the regulator in your mouth, so I had to overcome some well-ingrained habits.
But it was fascinating and fun to see how big of effect conscious breathing has on diving. The amount to which you can regulate your depth or the amount of oxygen you use is astounding. It was especially eye-opening to me when I was diving with an underwater camera (this was after we’d completed our certification) – I was distracted by taking photos and didn’t pay attention to my breath at all and I went through my air twice as fast!
The course was pretty full on (the days started early and were full of painfully dorky PADI videos, above and underwater practice, independent study and practice quizzes until it was time to sleep) but fun, and we loved the dives so much that we signed up to join a fun dive (means that the crew would set up and clean up your gear for you and you can just show up 🙂 ) bright and early the next day and ended up diving at three different sites.
We didn’t see any big critters under water, but the reefs around the islands were just teeming with life. As soon as your head is under the surface (or sometimes even before!), there’s not a direction you can look where you wouldn’t see something interesting. Puffer fish, clark’s anemone fish, sting rays, trigger fish (some that tried to attack me! 🙂 ), clown fish (the Nemo fish, in case you didn’t know that already 😉 ), porcupine and goat fish, ornate ghost pipe fish, fancy looking lion fish, poisonous and camouflaged scorpion fish, eels, sea slugs and cucumbers – the list goes on. And the anenome and coral were gorgeous and fascinating too!
We couldn’t get enough of watching it all, and we definitely plan to make diving a part of the rest of our trip, depending on location and budget. 🙂
Dive plan Rebecca drew up for one of the fun dives
We got to use Rebecca’s underwater camera one day. I have a lot to learn about underwater photography yet – the pics aren’t great, but here are some of them anyhow. 🙂 Full disclaimer: Most of the pics have been pretty heavily doctored in iPhoto to try to get the colors to match my memory…
Can you find Nemo? 🙂
Sea squirts – This particular version are one of my favorites, they are so pretty and such an amazing color in real life
Can you see the scorpion fish in this photo?
I know not everyone is a fan of Bangkok. It has a bit of a reputation for being filthy, overcrowded and a bit sleazy, with neighborhoods dedicated to strip clubs and worse. There’s no question it is massive, and there’s plenty that I didn’t see (which may contribute to my high opinion), but I really enjoyed the city.
All together we ended up spending a large chunk of time there. We used it more for down time and transit, so I actually have very few photos from the weeks there (Bangkok was our first stop after Myanmar and my camera was so worn out after the three plus weeks there that I think it needed a break more than I did! 😉 ).
I’ll write more about our first visit to the city another time, but here are some more mental snapshots from the long weekend I had there on my own before coming to Laos, plus some of the few photos I did take.
Little things I want to remember:
The street musician with the tattooed face, pilot-style hat (close to the scalp, with ear flaps) and sunglasses who played beautiful music on a bamboo flute and looked more like a fantastical anime character than something of this world.
The wonderful taxi cabs – spotless little Toyotas in different colors with all the subtlety of a child’s first set of markers. Besides the most common sun-flower yellow topped, light forest green bottomed cars, there were plenty of smurf blue, cherry red, grape purple, frog green, juicy orange, cotton candy pink or, my favorite, super shiny iridescent hot pink cabs roaming the streets.
Catching a cab in my favorite hot pink from the airport
Labels on the cab window – including no drinking, no smoking and, in between those, no DURIAN
A street vendor in a massive bamboo hat pushing a cart with a bell tinkling from the corner, from which he sold mini balls of ice cream loaded with toppings and served on what distinctly resembled (but I hope was not!) hot dog buns. He was pretty popular so those must have been some really tasty buns…
Three well-fed rats who seemed to have won the rubbish jack pot because they were out in the light of day (usually we’ve only seen them after dark) happily weaving in and out of a card board box that must have been filled with a rubbish version of ambrosia.
One brave, or foolishly un-self-conscious, woman in a skin-tight, leopard print jumpsuit. Thai women have a knack at pulling off quirky fashion but even they have their limits…
The physical enjoyment of warming up in the extreme heat of the sunny afternoon reflecting up from the pavement after too much time in an overly air-conditioned store or restaurant – and the deliciousness of being engulfed in frosty cool inside air after a bit too much time out doors.
The amazing monitor lizards living in Lumphini park
iPhone photo, not the best quality, but this monitor lizard is still impressive at somewhere between 4 and 5 feet long!
I found a yoga studio in the city that I really like. It’s called Yoga Elements and it’s a well run studio with teachers who really know their stuff.
The studio is fancier/more western than most of the ones I’ve been to so far on the trip. It’s on the 23rd floor of a corporate high rise, just down the street from the Chidlom Sky Train station, and has two large studios with floor to ceiling windows and some pretty great views of the city. The reception area is tastefully decorated and has new-age music playing. The studio provides mats and towels and complimentary tea, all of which are constantly refreshed by a sweet little Thai grandma who weaves between the students in the reception area in black-stockinged feet. All very professional.
Which is why I had to giggle when we were in the middle of a very-zen breathing exercise and a little gecko started chirping from some hidden corner on the ceiling. How he managed to find his way up tot he 23rd floor is beyond me, but he was a great reminder that despite how western the studio and even Bangkok sometimes felt to me, I am definitely in southeast Asia!
My first stop after India was to indulgent health resort just outside the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
I am finding that one of the challenges for me with this trip is the difficulty to feel fit. The way I work, my mental state can be pretty strongly affected by how healthy I am eating and how much exercise I get. India involved a lot of time travelling – long hours sitting on trains, many meals consisting of airplane food or pre-packaged snacks, lots of inclusive hotel breakfasts of white bread toast, and far too much cooling off and refueling with stops at Cafe Coffee Day! 🙂
All this meant that I was feeling pretty flubby by the end of our time in India, so two weeks that offered both detox and yoga sounded just perfect. (I wrote more about finding the resort in an earlier post)
The Spa Resort offers all sorts of different packages with different health focuses. My stay included a four day juice and fruit fast at the beginning of the two weeks, plus daily yoga, Thai massage and time in the sauna. There were people there who were doing more ambitious programs – seven day proper fasts or intense boot camps with full day programs of exercise, but I didn’t want to shock my body after 4 months of basically doing nothing. 😉
The juice fast was in some ways easier than I thought it would be. You’re drinking different things all day long (including amazing coconut water – the best I’ve ever tasted right out of the coconut) and you get a massive platter of fruit at lunch time which was really quite filling, so I never actually felt hungry or anything. But I’ve done similar fasts before and had expectations about feeling more clear and grounded mentally.
In fact, I found I was only feeling more and more restless in my heart and mind as the days passed. The daily yoga wasn’t feeling satisfying; while my body was performing the asanas, the rest of me felt totally disconnected from the practice. A lot of the self-criticism that I’d been participating in during the time in India intensified, so I was spending a lot of energy feeling little and shy and lonely and sorry for myself. When I wasn’t doing that, my brain was busy stressing over visions of the future it was spinning out of thin air and I found myself having all sorts of worries about me and Roman.
After my fast was over, I signed up to have an Ayurvedic consultation, and this session happily ended up being a turning point. I’d always been interested in Ayurveda from the little I’d learned about it in my yoga teacher training. A lot of what it prescribes seems like common sense. Still, I didn’t expect to feel so much better so soon after taking the consultant’s advice.
I won’t go into too much detail explaining, since I’m no expert, but she identified an imbalance and suggested a list of simple things to try to help counteract this imbalance. Based on the Ayurvedic perspective, all the raw fruit I’d been eating was actually only making the imbalance worse. I started eating cooked food right away, going to the steam room instead of the dry sauna, getting oil instead of dry massages.
Walking out of my first oil massage the next day, I felt like I was really seeing where I was for the first time. I’d been able to mentally assess before that the resort was lovely, but only that day did I begin to really realize it and see its beauty. Being more grounded in the present, instead of thrashing about in a tempest up in my head, it was like a blind fold had been lifted and suddenly I could see the world around me. The dance of the butterflies on the path before me. The feel of the breeze on my skin. The glow of the flowers outside the restaurant in the afternoon sunshine.
Feeling this difference, I realize that I spent a lot more time in my head than being present while in India. There were definite moments of wonder and connection in India, but I can see that I experienced a lot of it through my head and intellect only, while not connecting emotionally. I’m trying to figure out why this might be, and I can see how I still struggle now sometimes to keep grounded and present at times. I have some theories; maybe I’ll write more about them some other time.
Getting back to the Spa Resort for now though – thanks to that grace, the rest of my time there was just blissful. I felt much more connected to what I really wanted to do (before this, I’d been making decisions based on thoughts like “well, this seems sensible” or “the guidebook says xxx”, rather than what I felt like doing) and started feeling the bliss of yoga again and having fun with some of the lovely people I met at the resort.
It was really a lovely place to be – amazing location, grounds and food – and I’m so grateful for the time I had there.
I didn’t take so many pictures while I was at the resort, but here is the view from my upstairs balcony, just to give an idea of how beautiful this place was!
Roman and I used part of our Goa beach break to plan our next few moves. We’d already had it in mind that we would go to Thailand next. What we’ve decided is that I will fly there ahead of him.
I’d been thinking of finding some yoga in Thailand.
Ironic, I know, daydreaming about doing yoga in Thailand while I’m wandering around the birthplace of yoga itself…
I was open to trying some yoga courses or even going to an ashram while we were in India, but doing research while still in Switzerland, I couldn’t find anyplace that interested me. I’ve been spoiled in my practice; I’ve been lucky to have some amazing teachers over the years. And having done the teacher training course at Air Yoga a few years back, I have a decent amount of knowledge and have become a bit of a stickler for proper alignment and attention to detail in the asanas.
From what I’ve heard, this focus in a yoga practice is often more of a western phenomenon. There probably are plenty of teachers in India that instruct with an awareness of anatomy and injury prevention, but from stories I’d read and been told, it sounded like the standard yoga lesson in India involves less explanation and more just doing it. Certainly the couple of classes I took at the hotels in Kumarakom and Rishikesh confirmed this.
The teachers were sweet and earnest and clearly passionate about yoga, and I enjoyed the practices with them. However, there was very little explanation given about what we were doing and why, and not a word about alignment during any of them. I had to fight the urge to offer adjustments or suggest modified poses to some of the first time students in Rishikesh who of course couldn’t know the intention of the poses they were doing.
Finding improved alignment in poses in my own practice completely transforms my experience of the asanas. Practicing with awareness and with the breath is what makes the practice yoga, rather than just exercise. So I wasn’t going to sign up for just any yoga program simply because we were in India. I’ve kept my eyes open while we’ve been traveling though, in case anything might catch my interest, but I never did get that feeling of “Wow, I really want to do that” from any of the programs we came across during our stay here.
My body has been seriously missing the practice though. The time in India hasn’t been particularly active, and, especially during the more sedentary portions of the trip, I’ve felt my joints starting to complain while my muscles have begun dissolving into jelly.
So – some healthy living is needed. Some yoga is in order. Some yoga in Thailand.
This I have heard good things about. There’s aparently all sorts of western style schools, programs and retreats there, often with teachers from the west. Ritu mentioned one particular spa hotel that a friend of hers had just been to and highly recommended. When I read that they teach Anusara inspired yoga (my favorite style :-)), I thought this might be the place for me. When Ritu said she’d join me for a retreat there, the deal was cinched. 🙂
So, a nearly two week stay there will be my birthday and Christmas present to myself and especially to my body. As you may have noticed from my posts, I’ve been very indulgent on the food front while we’ve been in India – with good reason of course 😀 – and this place also focuses on healthy eating, with things like raw food and juice fasts available. So that should be great too.
We’ve decided that Roman will fly to Thailand to meet me at the end of my time at the spa. Yoga is not his thing at all and two weeks at a spa would just be too long for him. Beyond that, there are still parts of India he is keen to see. Although I am still loving what we are experiencing and am looking forward to all we have planned for the next week or so, I feel like I have “eaten my fill” of India – figuratively and probably literally too 😉 – and feel ready for something new.
It’s also a conscious decision that we build in parts of the trip when we do separate things. So far it’s been even easier than I expected traveling with Roman, but we still have the majority of our adventures ahead of us (Amazing!!), and it’s healthy and probably necessary to mix things up from time to time.
Although Roman pointed out this means that for the first time since the start of our relationship, we won’t be together for New Year’s. We have a pretty exciting treat in store for Christmas at least though: we’ll be celebrating the holiday together on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters. Not a bad way to spend Christmas or to bring to a close my time in India! 🙂