El Camino de Santiago–The Way of St James–is one of the most ancient walking routes in the world and still today people come from all over to engage in this pilgrimage for many different reasons with religious, spiritual or sport among the top 3. The Way as it is often referred actually takes 40 days from start in the French Pyrenees to finish in Santiago de Compostela in Spain but you can do it over 40 years if you want to. You can walk, cycle or ride your horse! Or you can do the final section of it like the 14 of us STAT girls did and get your “Pilgrim Passport” stamped by walking at least 110 kilometers. Sounds ambitious for a week but not with my Peregrinos. Every day on the trail was filled with camaraderie and a plethora of emotions. From our opening ceremony where we broke all the rules to dancing on tables at lunch and belly laughing into the night over snoring roomies, we experienced the best of Galician hospitality. Oh the places we stayed! They were as authentic as the rhyme goes “Capilla, palomar, cipres…Pazo es!” which means Chapel, cypress and a dovecot…a country house you’ve got!” They all felt like mythical secret hideaways. We even drank the coolaid … the excellent Riberiro and Albarino wines of the area and ate a rich supply of fish including the famous pulpo gallego otherwise known as octopus. We particularly loved our daily portions of salad con tuna and yummy lentil soup with stops every couple of hours for cafe con leche in quaint little villages. This unique experience of traversing Galicia on the Camino Frances following the yellow brick road… I mean arrow… through undulating landscape of green hills grazed by cattle, native forests of oak and chestnut, insane calle lilies,wisteria,and crosses lining the fences, Eucalyptus trees and fertile river valleys could only be surpassed by the beautiful people we met along the way and the incredible chemistry we had for one another. Our 83-year-old Cynthia who has walked the Camino at least 10 times in her life (that she can remember) was our daily inspirational reminder to be grateful. And our beautiful widowed couple we met who were getting married at the Cathedral at the end of their 40 day walk reinforced us that love conquers all. Whether we walked alone in silence or together, there are as many questions as there are pilgrims about lives, loves, faith, jobs, relationships and even the meaning of life and our existence. Walking this trail brought many emotions to the surface and enabled quiet reflection for each of us. But when we came together at the end of the day after a nice hot (mostly) shower, it was quite a love fest. The bonding on this journey was beyond special as we laughed and learned from each other about love and support. Especially that there are no accidents in life except for those who take life for granted. Not us. It’s a gift. Just like the gift we gave those beautiful folks we met at the assisted living facility and the Down syndrome people who walked the last part of the Camino with us into Santiago. What a pleasure to connect with those doing wonderful things in this special corner of Spain for others. Arriving into Santiago de Compostela after a week of walking was magical and just in time for the Pilgrim’s Mass (as a jew) was perfection. Even more perfect was the Parador Nacional de los Reyes Catolicos, the 15th century hotel combining history, art and tradition that we stayed on the square for our last evening together. It is considered the oldest hotel in the world and still greeting pilgrims today. A special shout out to our guide Mike, who made our journey look effortless while sharing his immense knowledge and British sense of humor with 14 crazy ladies. I will remember this journey forever and will call upon these cherished memories to bring a smile to my face with gratitude to all of you for a Buen Camino.
As an alumni of Columbia University’s Teacher’s College a thousand years ago, I was asked to participate in their 125 year anniversary with a day long celebration of learning and reconnecting. Ok maybe it wasn’t a thousand years ago but 26 years ago seems like that to me. You Can Get There From Here: Pathways to Wellness was the title of my concurrent session which along with my fellow panelists, we explored a variety of approaches to physical and emotional well-being and the implications of emerging research in movement science.
Wellness is not linear so the part of my wellness I shared and brought to the table is spirituality, which means something different to everyone. For me, it means that there is something greater than the concrete world we live in. Life is a challenge and we all have to deal with and overcome adversity in some form or another. STAT trips challenge you physically to hike to the top of macchu Picchu in Peru or Pico Duarte in the Dominican or Mont Ventoux in France. These physical challenges serve as a metaphor for obstacles we face in life. We practice yoga to go inward (or else it’s just gym) and it teaches us that life is repetitive and has pattern like the seasons.
Participating on this panel provided an opportunity to reflect on these past 18 years of leading adventurous trips for women and how the journeys impacted their lives. My talking stick ceremony where we sit in a circle together and share our thoughts and feelings is a powerful and unifying practice whose origins stem from the very beginning of human time. It’s a profound and simple way of talking and listening and bonding the group together for an esoteric experience because the benefits or the lessons usually appear or are revealed in retrospect when you return to your home life. Dreams have the potential to become reality when you put it out into the Universe. I give women an opportunity to come out and play sometimes out of their comfort zone, go to incredible sacred places around the world, bond with other amazing women, create ever-lasting friendships and memories but also to exercise and challenge themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually, all the while encouraging them to be themselves. But more importantly, encouraging them to be the best self they can be. And therein lies the gratitude, with a heightened sense of awareness, they return home to family, friends, even employers in the life they chose. Gratitude is the benchmark for life…taking time out to be grateful for the life we have and everyone in it. NAMASTE.
St. Bart’s, Saint Barth, St Barthelemy. However you spell it, the entire 8 mile island (tattooed on this surfers back) in the Caribbean is paradise. And if you’re lucky enough to have friends that live there hidden on top of a hill overlooking crystal clear waters surrounded by lush fruit and palm trees for shade, its your own magical paradise. It’s a wellness retreat even for the turtles with their very own house on the property. As Christophe, the most intuitive massage therapist says, it’s the first Ashram on St Barth. Now that made Nevine smile with delight and her beauteous blue eyes twinkle. Maybe even more delighted was Steven holding his perfect cup of java in the morning. The beaches are among the prettiest in the world and best of all, it’s clothing optional… so perfectly French. Gustavia, the capital of the island, and its quaint harbour is a peaceful place to be and be seen other than of course during Christmas-New Year when the swarms of paparazzi are in town celebrity spotting. See the island from the water like we did on our snorkeling adventure. What a treat to get up close and personal with the reefs full of colorful fish to admire. Did I mention the good French food at Maya and Santa Fe with views of gorgeous Grosvenor Beach. It’s a perfect blend of scenery, food and drink, yoga, laughter and good friends. As I learn to delve deeper into my yoga practice with magic squares to enlightenment, I understand the Universe is Perfect. Certainly, it is in St Barth and for Nevine and Steven’s magical place.
Colombia is a country on the move. And I can certainly attest to that as we were on the fast track from the moment we landed in the sweet cobbled streets of Cartagena, home to the literary maestro Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to our very last evening partying hard at the infamous Andres Carne de Res in Bogotá. But it’s what happened in between those 2 bustling cities that will be the talk at plenty of dinner parties in years to come. It’s called the Lost City or Cuidad Perdida to the locals. When I first read about this particular hike in South America, I was determined to get there sooner rather than later because it reminded me of the Inca Trail in Peru and the staggering beauty of Machu Picchu before all the tourists got there. Interestingly, Ciudad Perdida took them 200 years to construct and is 600 years older than Machu Picchu. But this site in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Colombia was abandoned in the 1600s when trade routes were cut with the arrival of the Spanish. It was re-discovered in 1970s by grave robbers and became widely known after ancient urns and other treasures (which we actually saw at the gold museum in Bogotá) started to show up on the black market. Local tribes visited and called it Teyuna after the Tayrona people. Now, the indigenous people living there as they have 500 years ago are the Koguis, descendants of the Tayrona. We had the honor of meeting a Mamo who is a spiritual leader (shaman) of the Kogui people with his cheek full of coca leaves holding his makeshift gourd smashing seashells which makes the chemical reaction needed to get high. Don’t ask…I think you had to be there for this one. But I brought one home as a souvenir. The isolation of this area being that there are no roads and is hidden between mountains gives the city a mysterious air that makes it unique and an experience of a lifetime. But only once in your lifetime will you attempt this hike. Surrounded by dense jungle, the only way to get there is through a 4 day trek and a climb of 1200 slippery moss stone steps. Sounded easy enough…HA. We started the hike in the afternoon after a 3 hour drive from Santa Marta and we were only about an hour in when the first of many challenging moments occurred. Can you say Flash Flood? Crossing the beautiful Buritaca River as we would many times over the next 4 days became pretty much impossible and we had to wait out the deluge of water for 2 hours in the rain while one my girls waited on the other side! I should have known then how difficult it was going to get when we had to hike for 2 hours in the dark with our headlamps on in the rain and mud to our first camp as we would repeat that exercise again on the 4th day well into darkness. Did I mention rain and mud without the mule shit? We all had our moments of despair and this arduous hike while sleeping in a hammock was certainly an exercise in gratitude. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. At some point in our lives, we will face adversity. And the difference between success or failure is not chance but choice of how we react to what happens. Some chose to ride down on donkeys! I am so proud of us for enduring 10 plus hour hiking days in the mud, rain and dark! The beauty of the landscape with a morning mist in the mountains dotted with fragrant pines and Quindio wax palms, the symbolic tree of Colombia, will forever be etched in my mind. And our most incredible guides “ALI ALI ALI” with his beautiful wife “no way Jose” and dearest “so good” Juan were treasures that we will keep and keep.
Once the scariest drug capital on the planet, Colombia is ready for its close up as a tourist destination. With its new president, the cities are thriving and safe. The music scene is insane and the people are happy to dance the nights away with seemingly not a care in sight. I love that. And I’ll be back soon.
Welcome Home… the first words anyone says to you when you arrive at the gates and if you’re a first-timer as we were, they make you roll on the ground in the dust. And then they tell you to have a good burn. It’s been a week since my re-entry back from Burning Man as the playa dust has finally cleared out of my body while staying forever etched in my mind. Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been or even heard of it is like trying to explain a color to a blind person. However, I will do my best here because to understand this event, you must participate. And I did that to an extent!
Burning Man takes place in the beautiful, remote, and inhospitable Black Rock Desert of Nevada which is a temporary metropolis referred to a Black Rock City. For one week, people (more than 60,000 this year) come from all over the world to experience the radical self-expression and self-reliance of this leave no trace community. This was the 26th year. Volunteers spend countless hours to make this event extraordinary and incredibly organized amidst what looks like chaos. There are no rules to how you behave or express yourself. It is truly a poo-poo platter (pardon the expression) and this year’s theme was fertility which contemplates the tendency of any being or living system to create abundant life. Everyone is welcome, no pre-requisites…to engage and reproduce as this year suggests. It’s a place to suspend reality and never go sleep although I needed my sleep. It’s a place for girls to go topless and boys to go bottomless with a cape of course. In fact, I had my breasts nicely painted for the Critical Tits Parade, aka boobs on bikes, but never made it to the parade…don’t ask. For weeks before coming to BM, I joked about frolicking in the group sex tent or even in the circle jerk (yup, just like it sounds) but when faced with the reality it didn’t appeal to me. So the saying goes, the truth will set you free but first it will piss you off. The stimulation on the playa is overwhelming whether you choose to be inebriated or sober. I chose a little of both and it was perfect. We went to a wedding and bar mitzvah on the same day in the gorgeous latticed temple they built for a week. The guest list was endless. And it’s all about gifting. No money is exchanged so it’s good to figure out what you can offer before you arrive in order to have barter control in an emergency (ha). We went to a slave auction where we bid on a slave (a 2 hour massage) for liquor and food which is what we had to offer. Our camp was “feed the artists” and that was our gift. We also had a shower in our air-conditioned RV which is VERY desirable in the dust bowl. The days and nights felt like two separate events with the sunsets bearing magnificent purple/pink skies. Bonus, we got to witness the full/blue moon. It was HOT during the day (we were in the desert after all) and anyone who was up with the sun were on their bikes with big brims minus clothes. I don’t know how they were riding those bikes naked. My seat was so uncomfortable but luckily there were bike mechanics. Even a makeshift medical center where we had to go one day when Paul fell off our Candyland art car. You gotta have an Art Car…thanks to our fearless leaders, Neil and Lesley! It’s especially beautiful at night when can’t see where you are going listening and dancing to the loud techno music while maneuvering back to camp. But we had our landmarks and a great driver! At the end of the week, to experience the journey to the flame not only to watch the MAN burn but all the Art destroyed is quite a sight. You can see the fires of burning art twinkle all around like stars in the sky. In a world where media and society glorifies material objects, they take perverse pleasure in creating all these labor of loves and then watch them being destroyed. So the Burning of the Man (a 40 foot wooden effigy) represents a spontaneous act of radical self-expression. And boy did those occupiers cheer when Wall Street (pictured) burned. Gotta love that. Everyone wants to be free and happy, avoid hurting others, find good friends and true love, and wish to leave the playa and the world a better place. I’m a burner now.
The distance from Aspen to Crested Butte is 24 miles as the crow flies…we are not crows! If you’re in a hurry, the flight from Aspen to Crested Butte is 11 minutes. But if you’re interested in a mother/son/dog bonding experience with some spectacular scenery and an awesome workout, there’s nothing like a 12 hour hike to Crested Butte and back with an overnight in this quaint, low-key town far from the hustle and bustle of Aspen, especially timed with the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in town. They were dancing in the streets and some characters even came in costume. We took the West Maroon Pass which is the most popular route through the Elk Mountain Range. It’s best to start early before 9am which we did in order to give us enough time to scurry over the highest pass (Schofield) at 11,800 feet before the usual afternoon thunderstorms roll in. Although it’s never a sure thing in the mountains as we got plenty wet at one point. Sydney was not a happy camper in the rain but she was styling in her camouflage backpack carrying her own food, water, and snacks. The pure beauty of the mountains and wildflower-saturated valleys that separates these towns is justification enough to spend more time on trail than in town. And you meet the nicest people on the trail. I somehow dropped my sunglasses (loved them) on the way and I mentioned it to a passer-by who took my # just in case. Well, she delivered them to The Ginger Cafe, the cute little Thai restaurant we ate dinner on the one main street in town. There is a god. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful hikes anywhere and a challenge to most. At one point on the way back to Aspen, Lance Armstrong zipped by us at the highest pass while we were enjoying a leisurely lunch. We found out later that he ran the grueling 4-Pass Loop, 27 miles and 8.000 vertical feet in 5 hours 40. He was chasing Rickey Gates who completed the loop in record time of 4 hours 35. And just to think for us mere mortals it takes 6 hours to do the 11 miles from Crested Butte. I cherish this memory with my son. He will no doubt do this hike many times in the future but he will have to say he did CB and back for the first time with his mother.
Yogi’s Unite for a donation-based exhilarating and inspiring class taught by my 2 favorite people and teachers in Aspen… Aaron King and Ashley Turner. A glorious morning sun fueled the energy of this amazing community spirit to honor the work of Off the Mat Into the World, Cambodian Children’s Fund and AREDAY (American Renewal Energy Day). It was the first day in weeks that the Colorado fires from the west were not present in the rocky mountainous skies. Breathing the fresh air and opening our heart to the universe with synergy, DJ drumming and live music all contributed to bringing in the love. It challenges us to come together and practice to support causes to make the world a better place. As quoted by Richard Branson, ”It’s unacceptable to accept things that are unacceptable in this world.” So today we helped eradicate sex slavery throughout the world by moving and breathing as one. Let’s continue to make a difference.