Seven was the magic number on this trip to the Garden of Catalonia in Southern Spain. It was a small group of familiar faces and 1 newbie who immediately got the memo as the energy we created together was palpable. From the moment we landed in Barcelona greeted by our friendly Catalan guide, Meritxell who I nicknamed Mary (so yank of me), it was perfect. I didn’t imagine such beauty in the variety of landscapes and the mountainous character of this under-the-radar part of Spain. We started in the Roman ruins of Tarragona overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea to walk off our “plane legs” for a couple hours before proceeding to our destination for the next 2 days in a charming village of Gratallops in the centre of the compact Priorat-Montsant wine producing region. The streets were so narrow that we had to walk our luggage up this giant hill to our hotel (imagine the visual) but as it turned out it was good preparation for our strenuous walks (as the locals call them).
I call them hikes as there were times when we were using all four limbs. Impressive and sacred mountain ranges of Montsant covered in morning clouds was so serene as we made our way to the ancient village of Siurana, known as one of the world’s best climbing destinations…who knew? But here we were on top of the world when we came across a couple doing Acroyoga of all things, my favorite! Thank goodness our wine tastings during the day weren’t excessive but we did indulge in the organic olive oil tastings. We were even “invited” to shake down the olive trees on our big walk across Els Ports National park. We picked up a dog along the way (channelling sydney) who kept us company for the entire 8 hour walk from Horta de Sant Joan to the town of Pauls. It was a tough but rewarding experience as we learned about the cypress trees at the Scaladei monastery…it is a ladder to god and we are
certainly close to the top! If there ever was a down day on a STAT trip, our bike ride along the Greenway would be a contender. This spectacular rail route that was blasted throughout the canyons and over rivers still exists but it has been transformed to accommodate bikers. The landscape is gentle but the scenery is anything but. Loved biking through the dark tunnels with our headlamps on our helmets….a few hairy moments of complete darkness! And just a couple wrong turns but hear to tell the story. The highlight of the day was our visit to the local orange producer, after all we were in Valencia, the smaller province where the most delicious oranges are grown. Some of us couldn’t resist the local custom of downing the liquor made of mandarin oranges.
Good thing we didn’t have to ride our bikes back to Horta where incidentally Picasso lived briefly in a cave at 17 years old where local folklore says he received his inspiration as a young artist. I have to say that the cave wasn’t very impressive but with Picasso’s name attached, it makes for a good story. And this journey was certainly a good story all around. We not only embraced a culture but made a difference in the area we visited by donating to a very important center helping people with disabilities engage in the world.
Travelling for me is inspirational. I love learning and knowing about other cultures and the diversity of people. I learned a lot about the beautiful and friendly Catalan people. They are not from Spain but from Catalonia which is a very distinct region. They are known as the Mediterranean people and they speak Catalan not Spanish. At this particular moment in history, they are fighting for their independence from Spain eager to create a Catalan state. On our last night in Barcelona, I noticed the Catalan flags hanging from the balconies of some of the magnificent architectural buildings urging voters to take control. We, on the other hand, were busy taking control of enjoying the best Paella in town with “Pa amp tomaquet”( bread with tomato).
However, it isn’t exactly that. It’s tomato squeezed and spread on a piece of toast without the actual tomato on top. A little dip in the olive oil and it’s the Catalan Way. This among other things is rarely found in other parts of Spain. I raise my glass and toast to the future of the beautiful and proud Catalan people on their journey to become independent. Cheers.
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It was only on my radar for a minute when I read that a visit to these 2 magical Land Art installations were going to be an auction item at the Aspen Art Museum’s holiday fundraiser. With a nod from our director Heidi and a chat with my husband, we were convinced that this was an experience not to miss and a tough reservation to score through DIA, the organization who owns both installations. So here we were 9 months later in the middle of nowhere but somewhere in New Mexico in a cozy cabin that sleeps 6 (we were 5) looking out into the vastness surrounded by 400 stainless steel poles otherwise known as the Lightning Field inspired by Walter De Maria. I truly expected a visit from Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Evidently, De Maria spent years searching for the perfect spot with a high incidence of storms to dance around these poles but present-day visitors would be very lucky to witness actual lightning. Our night was clear and perfect with the full moon to the east while the sun was setting to the west. What was exceptional was the light reflecting on these javelin looking poles at sunrise and sunset and how they disappeared during the day and night. As I walked the entire perimeter of the install for 2 hours, it was clear that these poles were not placed randomly but with exact measurements in mind. Judging from the high brush, it didn’t seem to be walked very often. But that didn’t stop Heidi and I from doing yoga in unexpected places and getting up before sunrise to meditate in the middle of the Fields. It was magical.
Onward and Upward, Robert, our DIA representative and driver collected us bright and early to take us back to thriving Springerville to catch our flight to see Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” in the Great Salt Lake. With Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” playing loud in the car, we shifted gears quickly as we heard this was the perfect accompaniment for mood altering travel. And so it was. A quick trip over to Utah brought us to Jeff, a curator from Brigham Young University full of knowledge and insights pertaining to this corkscrewing sculpture of 6,000 tons of volcanic rocks once submerged into the Great Salt Lake. Mr Smithson who has since died in a plane crash looking for another installation site created this land art in 1970 in 2 weeks time during an unusual low water level. When the water level rose, the “Spiral Jetty” went under and for 25 years disappeared. Even now, the Spiral Jetty is not always visible but we got lucky. It was an amazing landscape covered with salt crystals and colors ranging from pink to blue. We walked out to the distance feeling so removed from the world yet so connected to the earth. Jeff told us to look out for the naked guy that likes to hang out on the rocks but he must have taken the day off…it was Sunday. After 2 days of travel to see and experience these extraordinary installations, I have a desire to see more of this kind of work and what actually inspired them to create such works that not a lot of people will see. Coincidently, there is a new documentary just released on the story of Land Art and it seems both Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson were known as “troublemakers”. Well, they were certainly out-of-the-box thinkers as one historian articulated “these were radical people using the skin of the earth as a canvas”. How inspiring.
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A celebration of Life is an understatement on this unforgettable journey to a remote corner of Nevada beneath endless skies with 23 incredible women and over 500 wild Mustang horses roaming free in the distance. It was a full on LoveFest. Well… not right away! The Magic of Mustang Monument, a long 2 and 1/2 hour drive in our comfy stretch hummer, a far cry from our predecessors who came on horseback and covered wagon, from Salt Lake City was an acquired taste from the moment we arrived on this untamed frontier as we became more and more comfortable on our “home on the range”. Yes, it was out of the box for all of us especially when we heard we would have no cell or internet service. We were off the grid and I must say it was very refreshing. A perfect STAT scenario. Everyone was present without the need to check our devices. The resort (yes i would call it that) is intimate and like no other for sure. It is owned and operated by animal activist and philanthropist Madeleine Pickens who sadly couldn’t be there to greet us but as i heard later that may have been a blessing in disguise. Evidently, she doesn’t like guests getting crazy and dancing on tables. Hmmm…not us. We did have our prerequisite cowboys Tommy and Tucker and our token navy seal Niks on hand to make sure we didn’t get “out of hand”. Our days began and ended appropriately at the saloon where in the mornings it was turned into a yoga studio where we practiced our asanas that
opened our hearts. During the evenings…it was a different story. But the biggest out of the box experience for most of us was sleeping in these hand-painted perfectly appointed Tepees without electricity and a short walk to the bathroom. After all, this was the Wild West! And our Nancy B was born to be Wild. And so the adventure was off and running. Our first full day was surreal from watching Clay who could easily be a movie star playing a real life cowboy, saddle up 23 wild horses for our ride up to Spruce Mountain. You would have thought we were all experienced riders. An up-hill ride with stunning landscape through derelict gold mining shafts and abandoned pioneer towns only to arrive and be greeted by a sumptuous gourmet lunch complete with NB’s afternoon libation! Leaving the horses to roam, we hiked back to the ranch in preparation for our opening ceremony. It was a first for some and certainly a first for me sitting in a beautiful sacred Tepee surrounded by 22 powerful women celebrating a 60th birthday and honoring themselves by sharing intentions for living. It was a humanizing and bonding experience. Our second day hiking with Niks was a hot one with challenging desert-like temps in the high 80’s in the middle of the day so we opted to get back early for some competitive archery. It definitely brought back the camp days for all of us as we got in the spirit big time. Ali managed to get a bull’s-eye while no one was looking…really? It was the fun line and the laughs were unstoppable rolling right into the evening festivities of toasting and roasting our Nancy B to the tune of “look at me I’m Sandra D”. Hysterical! This was when the urge to dance on tables were irresistible well into the wee hours of the night. Blurred Lines was the song of the night when the DJ’s were agreeable. Again, the cowboys and our Navy Seal kept us in line as much as possible but morning yoga was not pretty. Our last day together on the ranch was the absolute clincher. Not only did we play canasta and other board games which never happens on a STAT trip but who knew Joan would be in her element driving like Evel Knievel as we piled into the ATV’s on property for a late afternoon spin up to boulder valley for our last incredible vista. Beyond fun! Completely dusty and dirty, we cleaned up nicely for our last evening meal together in a cozy candle-lit tepee. The food as usual was absolutely fresh and delicious as it was every feeding. Kudos to Chef Dave. After all is said and done, a STAT trip is nothing without the magnificent women in attendance. Everyone brought their best selves and we continued to shine. This journey was a group effort as we came together collectively and created some unforgettable memories that we will be able to draw upon in our life whenever we need the strength to smile amidst adversity. My mission is to take women out of their comfort zone away from busy lives into another world to experience nature, cultivate gratitude, contribute to local philanthropic projects, and most importantly to a place we can laugh, cry, and bond. This particular trip was a testament to our birthday girl. Some have been in her life for a long time and some are relatively new soul mates. But her ability to manifest everyone’s place in her heart is a gift and we all felt it. I’m honored to have been chosen to lead such a courageous group of women. We created a bond that will be remembered forever.
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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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