Cuba is having another “revolucion”, but this time it is Cultural. Everyone is excited about Cuba opening up to Americans but nowhere is this more apparent than in the Art World. So as travel restrictions lift and embargoes soften, 26 invited gringos from the Aspen Art Museum headed to Havana to witness a new era on Cuban soil. We hit the ground running as our Heidi, fearless director/leader, keeps her lemmings very busy from morning til night. The first thing we learned is the F word in Cuba does not mean the same as it does in America. As our guide Lazaro romanticized his country, he emphasized that it’s important to understand Flexibility as the F word here. In fact, we would all be better off if flexibility were our middle names. Just a 40 minute flight from Miami, Havana is a tropical landscape of greenery with astounding architecture and an unfortunately crumbling infrastructure. Our first stop was lunch at Rio Mar paladar, a term the cubans use for family run restaurants. It was a perfect introduction to the country in that the view is of the mouth of the Rio Almendares , the river that separates Vedado from Miramar. We watched the fisherman catch sardines while we ate and drank the first of our Cuban “welcome mojito for gringos” and felt the lay of the land before being inundated with art and culture. After all, we were there for the 12th Havana Biennial and to feel the energy that this event brings to Cuba complete with over 50 installations by local and international artists lining the Malecon oceanfront. There were sites to visit scattered around town with the newest being Fabrica de Arte Cubano in a former cooking oil plant. Evidently, this is the trendy space open from 8p.m. to 3a.m. and I understand it gets pretty wild into the wee hours. I tried to round the group up for some late night partying…HA. Another stand out site we visited was a former bicycle factory with installations that were raw from artists that we were familiar with but certainly needed some explanation from Heidi which always puts things in perspective. Just walking through the streets hearing the sounds of music coming from the storefronts and homes was exciting. You can feel the vibrancy and even the hope that the Cubans have for the future. We visited several art galleries and studios of working artists that seemed to really embrace the culture not only politically but socially. We were “Culture Vultures” enjoying a private concert of the Institute of Superior Art then scurrying across the way for a dance performance by Irene’s flamenco troupe. Watching those flamenco dancers lock eyes reinforce the belief that eyes are windows into the soul. The fun line continued as we celebrated our Katie’s birthday all day with non stop Carlos surprises complete with a caravan of 1950’s Buick convertible rides to dinner. Absolutely thrilling. La Guarida restaurant where they filmed Strawberry and Chocolate (which i must see )was a huge celebration complete with hired dancers on the rooftop…above and beyond. It was crazy fun and a perfect last night in Cuba.
Growing up in Miami Beach 56 years ago, I was close to the Cuban revolution in that I went to school with many friends who we affectionately called Jewbans that defected to Miami to enjoy a better life. But that being said, the Cubans that I met on this journey certainly don’t think life has passed them by…YET! I can’t help but think that they will be resentful when they join a world that has moved on without them. I will leave you with this thought coming from our expert foreign relations speaker on our final morning for those of you who showed up after our night of debauchery…”don’t fight life cause life is more stubborn than you”. And this brings me back to the F word. It is always a privilege to travel with AAM and this particular group of old and new fast-friends was incredibly warm, fun, and flexible! Did I mention that there was no internet or phone service and American credit cards do not work. I actually embraced being disconnected for 4 days. Now is the time to go to Cuba so put it on your bucket list before the tourism business ends that “step back into the ’50s”.
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All Aboard the train…the Marrekech Express. ” Looking at the world through sunset in your eyes, traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies”. Sing it loud (Ali) and dance like no one is watching cause this train was full and rockin with 14 incredible women. And to say we hit the pavement or in this case souk running was an understatement as this group was ready to party even before we arrived trying to change the S in STAT to Shopping instead of Sports. But we managed to find the balance from the luxury of our first indulgent night at La Mamounia to our very last at Riad El Fenn which captured the vibrant style of the sophisticated mix of colorful textiles with an artistic flair. Our drive 110 miles west of Marrakech to Essaouira pronounced es-Sweera, a coastal oasis on the Atlantic coast was a perfect one-nighter to experience our camel ride not to mention camel pose, see the goats in the tree, and taste the local fish from the strip of casual eateries on the pungent port…evidently an unmissable experience! Some of my girls would have preferred to miss that meal! A Unesco World Heritage Site, it’s a town all about the sea known as the “Wind city of Africa” so no doubt it attracts the surfer crowd. Our guided walk in the medina between retail sweats was filled with interesting facts about the town’s history. It was the only arab town that had a majority of a jewish population. In fact, there were as many as 40 synagogues now long gone but there were still several doorways where the Star of David was visible. And let’s not forget our stop to experience making Argan Oil.
Without missing a beat, we were off again on our Marrakech express “bus” to the Atlas Mountains where our road bikes were lined up waiting for us at Kasbah Tamadot…Richard Branson’s exquisite resting place on a plateau where we slept in the most magnificent Berber tent you’ve ever seen. We biked for miles across ploughed fields, barren and terraced land to the mountains beyond. Such a glorious backdrop that we almost didn’t notice the heatwave (ha) which made the ride incredibly more challenging as it was truly 102 degrees in the shade. Our guides kept us hydrated of course but with the mix of uphills and downhills, it was up to us to stop and smell the roses, snap a few photos of the simple life of the locals working in the fields and enjoy being hosted for tea in a Berber village. It was a huge day and we earned our cocktails and delicious moroccan dinner on the veranda overlooking the picturesque pool area while looking forward to another hot day in the Atlas mountain range. Mixing it up, we really got the lay of the land on our waterfall hike through traditional Berber villages with Jbel toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, as our backdrop. This was NOT like hiking in Aspen as not only has this region retained a remoteness where the way of life has changed little for centuries, we actually had some shopping opportunities along the trail! Not that my girls were interested in the least! But we were all interested in the wonderful lunch of tangines filled with veggies, lamb, and chicken at kasbah du Toubkal overlooking the waterfall. It was so yummy including the greatest tasting melon ever. Another big day bonding and carrying on together in nature only to be rewarded back at the Kasbah with Hamanns and massages before cleaning up for our last evening together in Branson’s paradise before we head back to kech in the morning on bicycle of course. Anyone can ride the “bus” but my gang took to the open road and decided to arrive in style just in time for lunch at Terrassa des Epices in the middle of the medina with a great view of the souk chomping at the bit for another round of exploring the colorful spices, carpets, jewelry, enamel, copper, brass, cedar and other local treasures. It was like a labyrinth and so damn easy to get lost in. Peacock Pavilions was our early evening plan and our most important of the journey in that it was our philanthropic element. I’ve read about Maryam Montague and the wonderful work she has been doing with women in developing countries and now she has brought it home to her own village giving them access to sport and art…2 of my favorite pastimes. She hosted my STAT girls in her beautiful home on the outskirts of Marrakech set in a tranquil olive grove filled with her gorgeous collections with a contemporary flair. She was as gracious as they come encouraging us to engage with Soar (the name of her non-profit) in order to “take something away with you that is more meaningful than a pair of slippers from the souk”. And thankfully gave us another shopping opportunity at her store Red Thread where all the profits go to Soar. I was moved by her humanitarian spirit and the way she comes by it all so honestly. It was a take a deep breath moment for all of us in the middle of the craziness to have gratitude for our blessings. Staying on theme, we were off to Al Fassia for dinner which is a women’s cooperative with the best tasting tagines and lamb of the trip but I’m partial to women! No trip to Marrekech would be complete without a “fast” walking tour of the city and we did just that for our last full day together. It was keep up or else as we were on a mission to get it all in between our spice tutorial, shopping, lunch at the magnificent Yves Saint Laurent’s Jardin Majorelle, shopping, and having enough time to get ready for our celebratory final evening together. And boy was it a final evening to end all evenings starting with Mohamed collecting us all in horse and carriage! Loved that touch. It was as special as it gets at Mohamed’s Riad Kniza for our 2 “still under 50” May birthday mamas. Everything was meticulously articulated and we were all together including our wonderful guides Samira wearing her trademark red lipstick (a tough-as-shit chick in a muslim country) protected by her handsome brothers Farouq and Saif and our Mohameds…every male’s name by default. A magical night and a most memorable trip for me. And as I hang this talking stick in its final resting place in my office, I am in awe of all our intentions and reminded that it’s not “all about us” but a collective us which is the Universe that has brought us all together on this special Marrakech express to Morocco. And that’s a wrap.
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Nosara is a village and district in the Nicoya canton province of Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast with a population of 5800 people…mostly surfers, yogis, and those lucky enough to be living and working off the fruits of the land. It seems from the 21/2 hour drive from Liberia airport, it’s the last of the large areas of unpaved roads. When I told my sister I was flying into Liberia…she was a little taken aback and said this time I’ve gone too far. I had to assure her it was not Africa or Ebola territory. Nosara, unlike Tamarindo on the northern coast of Costa Rica, lacks nearly any development directly on the beach and they are working hard to keep it that way. It’s known as a surfing mecca “playa guiiones” because it has the most consistent waves in the world with over 330 days per year of rideable conditions. With that statistic, even the dogs surf. So of course, I had to ride those waves even though I’m not a surfer. I did manage to impress my teacher Tanello a handful of times by following his 7 step process of ready-set-stand. Cowabunga! It’s a good thing I do yoga cause balance and concentration are key elements to mastering this sport. Yoga is aplenty in this town since 1994 when Nosara Yoga Institute put Nosara on the map as they train teachers from all over the world. The place has a magnificent Perch high up in the hills along with the Bodhi tree where I took a sunset yoga class overlooking the breathtaking views of the ocean listening to the sounds howler monkeys coming from the jungle below. It was Music to my ears. I love monkeys! But the best yoga I found on the island was Mark’s class at Tica Massage across the street from where I was staying at the beautiful but basic Harmony Hotel. He was the Aaron King of Nosara who is my favorite yogi in Aspen. His music was inspiring, thought-provoking and soulful. I even managed to get some of his playlist (after stalking him) and now trying to figure out how to download it. The small yoga room was mat to mat as he seems to have quite a following. His style is peaceful warrior and he totally practices what he preaches…living off the land, driving an electric golf cart, vegan, no drink, and no drug! As he says, your body is your temple and i treat it as such with hyper-local ingredient food and sustainable sourcing here on Nosara. Pretty impressive for a San Diego boy. Well, I certainly got the vibe of the place during my 4 day stint. As I sit writing this blog in my office watching the rain pour outside my window, I can only dream about those long walks on the beach every morning followed by a healthy juice, yoga, surfing, and biking to get my coconut water fix. Also wondering, Is a coconut a fruit or a vegetable? Yes Nosara, I will be seeing you again and those the insane sunsets on the beach. Adios for now.
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Thousands of years before European pioneers trekked into the American Southwest, Native Americans were thriving in this arid land in Southern Utah. And they continue to thrive in the region today. Amangiri which means peaceful mountain is situated right smack in the middle of the Colorado Plateau which has the highest concentration of National Parks in the United States. All Aman resorts try to have minimal impact on the environments they occupy, but this one particularly blends most magnificently into the dramatic landscape of these deep canyons and towering plateaus while tucked into a protected valley with sweeping views of the Escalante Grand Staircase, a Unesco World Heritage site. The Sunrises and Sunsets were extraordinary. It’s a very powerful spot indeed and certainly one reason we chose to have our “partner strategy boondoggle” here in the wild and wind carved sandstone desert with very little cell service. We started off with a bang as our guide Kyle swept us up along with the views to the famous Hoodoo Via Ferrata which in Italian means iron road. He instructed us how to put on our harness while explaining that he’s had a 6-year-old and a 70-year-old climb this impressive peak and it’s no big deal. For some of us it was no big deal (guess who) but not all have no fear. It was challenging to say the least but in a good way as we laughed and cried our way to rappelling safety before crossing a ridiculous suspension bridge over a 600 foot deep gorge…think Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The next day, our guide Yermo picked us up in a hummer and told us we were going on a surprise hike into Escalante called Yermo’s canyon….he had quite an ego! He said that he has never taken anyone here and in fact it’s so secretive that he’s never seen anyone in the area before. Comforting. Was he ever pissed when we ran into 3 other hikers well into our “3 hour tour”! He was a character with stories galore about this living laboratory in the desert that we couldn’t stop humming “king of the road” by Roger Miller (we had to goggle it). Again, there were a few hairy moments as we had to shimmy up a slot canyon and scramble through a bevy of rocks en route out of there but I am here to tell the story! Our last day we decided we were done with life threatening adventures so we hired Captain Legacy to take us out on Lake Powell with almost 2000 miles of shoreline, pristine water, over 90 picturesque side canyons and secluded bays with sandy beaches where our kayaks awaited. Mr Powell sure must be proud to have this reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Utah and Arizona welcoming 2 millions visitors a year named after him. We just experienced a snippet of this lake but I could really feel its magic even though the water was too cold to swim. That being said, I couldn’t wait to get back to another magical experience in Amangiri’s huge flotation tank filled with 2 feet of very warm water and buoyant dead sea salts. Loved the de-stress meditative time spent floating in space and enjoying the indoor/outdoor spa area. The oh so many in staff were attentive and the food as varied and fresh. It was a perfect 3 nights spent with our loving partners in crime. Go West my friends, this is a do not miss bucket list kind of place especially if you like to be pampered.
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Uruguay is my new favorite place. Particularly its eastern coast and the small fishing village of Jose Ingacio. Skip Punta del Este and head straight to this cool bohemian yet sophisticated town 20 miles down the coast. Think Montauk and the drive out to the Hamptons and you can envision the scenery. But its more than meets the eye and I found this rural stretch of coastline and the understated glamour of Jose Ignacio charming as hell. We stayed at one of the Vik properties called the Estancia set on a seemingly endless landscape of Africa-evoking plains. It’s the brainchild of a half Norwegian, half Uruguayan billionaire with incredible taste. Each of the 12 suites have been designed and decorated by a local artist and very contemporary in design. It was a perfect backdrop for a family vacation except maybe the horses on property that my son is highly allergic to. The Beach was only a 10 minute drive but we had our own bikes to ride to and fro. After all, we needed the exercise to counteract all the gorgeous food we consumed. The restaurants are insane as the best nightlife options revolve around food. It’s a foodies delight. At the edge of the dunes on the main beach in an inconspicuous bungalow, Parador La Huella is the best place to be and be seen so we tended to frequent there. It was also very close to THE yoga studio as Isabella, a teacher from BridgeHampton just opened her adorable place for the season. Our bike rides were a highlight as the landscape is so beautiful from larger than average sand dunes and picturesque cow fields to serene horses in the distance. One evening we ventured 40 minutes to a charming town founded in 1892 called Garzon where we dined at Mallman’s Michelin star restaurant in the middle of nowhere. He’s known as a seedbed of gastronomic talent…who knew? It’s such a low-key, laid-back, rustic-chic scene now but I fear that the word is out and it will be a changing. The locals have tried to keep Jose Ignacio a little under the radar but I hear that an international art fair is on the agenda! We had the pleasure of visiting one of Uruguay’s most famous artist Pablo Atchugarry at his nonprofit arts center run by his 27-year-old son Piero. They were so gracious showing us his intricately shaped abstract sculptures carved out of marble that we are actually contemplating a commission. I feel blessed to have been able to spend a little less than a week here with my boys sans significant others. It’s only a matter of time when things change in our nucleus and I will embrace that as well. As Diego Sanchez, a local energy healer, says “Uruguay is maybe the most undramatic place imaginable, but people get here and they find themselves hanging around”. Well, we did just that and I would go back in a second to Playa NICE. This chalkboard says it best as I felt like this as soon as I entered the country.
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“People go to Florida to die but they come to SMA to live” goes an old often repeated saying amongst locals in this colorful Mexican town just 2 1/2 hours or 166 miles northwest of Mexico City with year-round eternal spring climate. Well, it is supposed to take 2 1/2 hours but not on a friday afternoon on a holiday weekend. Who knew they decided to celebrate Black Friday weeks before thanksgiving and an American holiday yet. But once you do arrive in this quaint mountain town, it is totally worth the long commute as we were greeted by our charming Casa de Sierra Nevada as mi casa su casa. It’s no wonder this pretty as a picture town attracted so many ex-pat retirees, artists, entrepreneurs, and just plain old good-life seekers like us STAT trippers (11 of us ladies) looking for adventure…our first one just getting used to walking in high heels on the narrow cobblestone streets to dinner in the dark AND back after a few margaritas! Comparatively, hiking and biking seemed like a breeze so we thought. Jorge, our wonderful guide for the long weekend, was perfection on all fronts. Gina couldn’t even rattle his feathers when she nonchalantly asked him if he minded if we were all “naked” in the closing ceremonial sweat lodge…more on that later. We started our mornings with a nice brisk walk to the local yoga studio where we enjoyed a wonderful preparatory stretch for our daily activities. Our first “3 hour tour” (think castaways) started straight away from our casa in town to a nature reserve called El Charco del Ingenio where we enjoyed a major hike down and out a relatively small canyon. It was quite challenging and required some bouldering skills which we quickly acquired. Ok, so some of us had some verticality issues but persevered while others were clearly out of their box. Love that! Did I forget to mention that SMA is 6,100 feet above sea level? It may explain some shortness of breath but the challenges kept coming the next day as we biked right out-of-town through San Miguel Viego on dirt roads through La Press on a combination of road and dirt to Atotonilco where we ditched the bikes for a walk through the 250-year-old Santuario de Atontonilco where nearly every inch of wall and ceiling space is filled with detailed biblical scenes and passages, which is why the church is known as Mexico’s Sistine Chapel and why is was named a Unesco World Heritage site. It was a full day of exploration as we were not quite back in time for scheduled massages but certainly in time to clean up and get ready for cocktails at the Rose Bar with the other gringos before our most authentic mexican meal in town…no street food for us! Town square was hopping with taco stands, street musicians, and burros but the most amazing sight is the Parroquira which is a parrish church regarded as the symbol of San Miguel in all pastel pink and orange… especially gorgeous at night. We really got the lay of the land on our last big hike together as we started at the top of the city and hiked on private reserve property all around the north side of the mountains that form the San Miguel valley. The views were spectacular from all sides as was our healthy picnic lunch Jorge prepared for us from his day at the local market. What a treat…he even carried his own salad bowl. But that was just the beginning of the special treats for the day. In the afternoon, we had the honor of visiting our philanthropic element of the trip and because SMA is such a big retirement community, 80% of the people here grow old and need assisted living facilities. So, my STAT girls and I went to visit ALMA, one such retirement home that is particularly in need of donations. It warmed our hearts to meet 92-year-old Lisa who referred to us as her “fellow comrades”as she proceeded to explain that she has no idea how she ended up here in Mexico but is happy she did. And we were happy to help make her stay more comfortable. Feeling good about our visit and giving back to the community, we were off to participate in yet another local endeavor with the beautiful Dayana Paz. One of Mexico’s most honored and oldest rituals is the temazcal, a sweat lodge healing ceremony to purify the body and mind and perhaps experience a spiritual rebirth or at least a deeper sense of peace and reflection. It was an intense experience for some of us as we chanted and received the indigenous blessings and prayers that were offered. It’s always a moment of gratitude for me to be able to take part in such spiritual rituals. A big “wow wow wow” as Dayana would affectionately say every time a new volcanic rock was brought into the lodge. Serious gratitude for this closing ceremony of a beautifully articulated and special journey with amazing women. The icing with the cherry on top was all of us actually rallying for an early morning departure to see the Teotihuacan Pyramids, just north of Mexico City on the way to the airport. As we stood as a group at the pyramid of the moon staring out towards the sun in this mystical place, the journey for me took on a life of its own. We were able to be in the present moment yet reflective and futuristic. A perfect way to live our life. All my relations. Ho.
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The Netherlands. At once quaint and edgy, famously tolerant, and tremendously likable, Amsterdam is like no other European city except maybe Venice with even more canals. While the Dutch capital may lack the grandeur of Paris or Rome, it more than compensates with its charm, beauty, art museums, food and flower markets as we walked for hours around this city surrounded by water. And as you walk around the canals, you can’t help but notice the multitude of row houses looming and leaning so forward with big hooks visible at the top. Neal (aka google) explains that’s the way they used to get goods in the house…by hoisting up the outside! Of course, you wouldn’t want to chance your goods getting soaked in the basement being on these canals. Amsterdammers seem like a laid-back bunch as I caught 4 young men enjoying happy hour outside their shop. Our weekend visit felt like we were joining the city-wide party in the most glorious fall weather. What a treat staying at the Conservatorium, a new stylish property directly across from the haunting portraits, landscapes and still-lives at the Van Gogh, the Calders surrounding the Rijksmuseum, and the solo “dark” Marlene Dumas exhibition at the newly reopened Stedelijk dedicated to modern and contemporary art. We were culture vultures even catching a production of Sweeney Todd at the Carre theater. We splurged on a meal at De Kas, serving homegrown food in a greenhouse setting and rented and rode bikes with the locals around Vondelpark. But most importantly, we slipped into prayer for Yom Kippur services at a Portuguese synagogue in the old jewish section of town to atone for our sins. John Green sums it up best “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
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