A Travellerspoint blog

An unexpected yet delightful month in Mexico


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I wasn't expecting to come to Mexico at all on this particular voyage of mine but life has a funny way of working out sometimes...

You always get a different perspective when you actually stay with someone that lives in a place than you do when you stay in a hostel. Says she with SO much travelling experience! In fact I've still only stayed at one hostel and that was the same one that I stayed at last year in San Franscisco - not what you would call a wealth of experience! but I have already stayed with 4 people adding up to 5 weeks of my travelling time. So maybe I can speak with more authority on that particular topic. The rest of the time has been split between sleeping on buses, camping and the Ashram.

I stayed with a guy from the first Green Tortoise bus for a week just south of San Franscisco and that was pretty interesting as I got to check out Californians in their natural habitat. I went to hippie parties, authentic relating nights (maybe I'll tell that story some day - I think Saskia may have already been privy to that one!) evenings spent discussing the relative (lack of) merits of a certain president, thinly disguised as a book club, eating in fine restaurants and sipping fine wines, or rather organic home-pressed elderflower juice..

Next I stayed at the friend of one of my yoga buddies, also in SF after being too tired to be bothered to walk back to my hostel. We had been doing the most ordinary of things - watching a DVD. You forget what that sort of thing is like! Then it was on to stay with another girl from the first Green Tortoise in the pretty Lake Arrowhead just outside LA where I spent a most interesting evening in the company of a load of, what can only be described as, 'crazy LA kids'....driving in their hummer-style (ok much smaller but just so you get the general idea) cars, watching them down Saki bombs, looking like they'd stepped out of the OC...party life...I did get my best ever bowling score and had a v interesting conversation with one of the guys who'd just come back from serving in Iraq but apart from that I felt very old especially in my straight as a ruler post-Ashram days! Vegetarian, tee-total, non-Caffeine drinkingism...and all that..

but my favourite homestay has definitely been here in Mexico. I booked the flight a few days before and was only meant to be staying for a week but I ended up extending my stay three times...Alaska Airlines must love me! It's been such a relaxing month. The aussie and I have done a lot of yoga, a lot of teaching each other yoga, a lot of reading, some meditation but we've also eaten some great food, seen some stunning scenery and met some interesting people.

So some memories of my time here..

1. Food - always my number one favourite activity. The fresh fish and err shrimp (yes, have been consuming seafood in a non-Western country - the guidebooks would not be impressed!) have been truly delicious, and great veggie food is aplenty. As you can see my form of vegetarianism isn't that strict! Tummy trouble did occur on day 3..however..

2. Discovering magic drops that cure your tummy woes - nutri-biotic drops that make the dream of a solid 'beep' a reality.

3. Hot springs - that's why the UK will always be a bit rubbish..no naturally occuring hot springs like in the US and here and many other places. Oh I suppose we do have Bath.

4. View from the apartment - Breathtaking.

5. Sunsets - a daily visual delight.

6. Fiestas - the village has been celebrating its annual fiesta in honour of the local saint (San Andreas) for the last 10 days. You'd think that would be a good thing and of course the happy partying people are nice to see but by the 10th day being woken up by a brass band at 6am that continues all day, every day and listening to fireworks all through the day (never thought of the concept of listening to fireworks before but you can't of course see them when it's light!) gets a bit warying.

7. Roadkill - lots of dead dogs by the side of the road..very sad...lots of suicidal cows as well!

8. Smog and favellas in Guadalajara - only read about them in Geography classes. Have now seen the reality.

9. Public holidays - Mexicans have at least one day off every three weeks..usually a Friday or a Monday and then they all take to the beach in the back of pick-up trucks - at least 4 or 5 of them clinging for dear life as the driver manically drives at high speed along the less than perfect roads...only a slight exaggeration..

10. Toll roads - outrageously expensive toll roads that unsurprisingly drive (literally) almost all Mexicans to the crapper free roads.

11. The beach - camping on a beach called the 'crying lady' and being the only people on the whole beach. Swimming in the surf, putting up the hammocks and reading, watching the sun set over the Pacific and being bitten by 100 sand flies..

12. Saving baby black turtles - a real highlight! The baby black turtles had become marooned high up the beach where they'd been drawn to the light of our camp lanterns. We picked up around 100 little baby turtles, put them in a bucket and carried them down to the bottom of the beach where they could be washed into the ocean...I hope that's made up for the lamb I accidentally killed in NI.

13. Great company - spending time with someone you have a lot to say to.

14. Classic movies - have been making up for my cinematic shortcomings be familiarising myself with some of the old greats - The Great Escape, Godfather I and II etc..

15. Thanksgiving - my first ever thanksgiving thanks to a slightly loony American family living here, minus the turkey for obvious reasons. There is a saying in Ajijic that all the expats here are wanted or not wanted. In case you need that explaining, wanted as in wanted criminals, there are actually many real life examples of very bad people hiding out here (or at least so someone told us) or not wanted as in no one particularly liked them back home and they are thought of as equally weird here. Thankfully the aussie guy seems to be universally liked by all! and that wasn't to cast aspersions on the American family, they were very kind just a little bit nuts!

17. Brazilian dancing and drumming - I want to go to Brazil now!

18. Pace of life - I could get used to this stress-free existence.

19. Latin American Spanish - I want to learn it now.

20. Drinking cactus juice - a revitalising and green way to start every morning

21. Speedbumps - back to the road theme..a totally unexpected feature of Mexican roads...

22. Hot stones massage - amazing massages at rock bottom prices that left me slightly delirious..

Well that's enough ramblings for today...until next time..

Posted by Dani girl 15:09 Archived in Mexico Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

It's lucky I bought travel insurance...


sunny 20 °C

30 August - Day zero - Flew in to San Francisco but British Airways left bags in London resulting in 48 hours without any clothes etc...visit to Walgreens to replace necessary items = CLAIM 1

29 September - Day 30 - Mysterious pain in arm and chest as already described under previous blog entry resulting in visit to expensive US healthcare practitioner = CLAIM 2

28 November - Day 90 - Electrics pack up in car taking me to the airport. Taxis in remote Mexican village have to be booked one day in advance and everyone else is asleep at 5:00am resulting in $50 change fee for flight and $30 cancellation fee for hostel booked in Hawaii = CLAIM 3

Early December - Around Day 100 - military coup imminent in Fiji. See http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029390590&a=KCountryAdvice&aid=1013618386703. So I would invalidate my travel insurance by travelling to Fiji (because of the warning the Foreign Office has given) but the travel agent say it is the responsibility of the airline to re-route and the airline say they have not been advised not to fly there and therefore will not re-route and this is despite the Australian and in fact all governments telling travellers not to travel to Fiji and there being a possible evacuation of foreigners already in Fiji. So you can see that I have tried other options but it's looking like this will = CLAIM 4.

STA Travel must hate me.

Posted by Dani girl 06:09 Archived in Mexico Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Greetings from Devika Part II


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At the moment I'm practising Yoga with a lovely Aussie guy from the course at his apartment in Ajijic near Guadalajara in Mexico. Such a tranquil and calming place for Yoga! The front of the apartment is made entirely of glass so I can sit typing at the computer overlooking the beautiful Lake Chapala with mountains in the background. Then when it's time to retire with a good book you can sit out on the balcony in one of the two hammocks. It's really the life!

At the moment I'm on bonus time in Mexico because I was meant to be flying to Hawaii today but such is life...I still haven't finished part II of the yoga tale so here goes..

Well despite all my lengthy previous ramblings I think I actually only made it to day two of the course. The following morning we followed the same routine that we would follow for six days a week for the next four weeks. As you've probably calculated that means we did have one day a week off (Friday). Day off would, however, be somewhat of a misnomer for we would still be risen at 5:30am (by a bell being gonged right outside our cabin). Can you 'be risen'? I don't think that's very good grammar but with not writing that much anymore I've noticed that my ability to spell and generally make grammatical sense has slowly been diminishing over time.

Anyway, we would still have to go to morning Satsang which didn't finish until 8am and then we would still have to go to evening Satsang which started at 8pm and finished at 10pm, so really we only had 12 hours free and in that time we still had to do our karma yoga (more of that later), eat and do the mountains of homework that they gave us every day.

so the daily routine when we didn't have a 'day off'? Rise at 5:30am.

Satsang 6am to 8am
Morning yoga 8am to 10am
Brunch 10am to 10:45am
Karma yoga 10:45am to 11:45am
Bhagavad Gita or chanting class 12pm to 1pm
Break 1pm to 2pm - wahoo!
Philosophy lecture 2pm to 4pm
Afternoon yoga or teaching practice 4pm - 6pm
Dinner 6pm - 7pm
Break 7pm - 8pm
Evening Satsang 8pm - 10pm
Lights out 10:30pm

the breaks would, however, also be a misnomer - mountains of homework and because they were the only time we had to fit in essential activities such as showering (was verboten before morning Satsang) and I was meant to attend the daily headstand workshop for those of us who were more on the crap end of the headstand ability spectrum.

So as the Americans say 'Do the Math'...that's basically a 16 hour day so finally I can empathise with you City of London types about long days something which I definitely couldn't do in the Northern Ireland public sector!

Jealous? After the first few days of this I almost felt at breaking point. I was sending my nearest and dearest texts that I didn't think I could make it and that this was the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. Even sending texts was hard. You had to climb up a ridiculously steep hill that was so dusty that you generally slid down the track again on the way down whilst trying to dodge the poison oak...but back to the yoga..It wasn't really the long and tiring routine. I think that just made everything else seem worse. Really it was a) culture shock and b) feeling that I was isolated from everyone else who seemed so into it all and c)finding myself vehemently disagreeing with everything that was being philosophised about really just on a matter of principle of not getting brainwashed! It's actually quite tough to describe how I felt right then but i'll try - a combination of totally freaked out, angry, wondering how I could have wasted $2000 on doing this for a month, lonely, anxious etc..

After the first week I did feel a bit better...mainly because I was a week down with only 3 more weeks to go but also because the group bonding finally kicked in. It turned out that I was pretty wrong about (most of) the people. I think I probably met some of the kindest people I ever have. By then I felt pretty much fine and able to hack the weeks still ahead of us. And then the strangest thing started to happen...people started to spontaneously cry all over the place..it was all very strange and I slightly sniffed at the whole American-style display of public emotion until that was that I succumbed myself. It was totally odd..I just suddenly started sniffling, in the middle of a chanting class for some reason..and then I kept crying for the whole hour and just as suddenly it stopped. I can't say that I had any idea what I was even crying about - the floodgates just opened. But after I was done, I really and truly did feel fine - obviously the catharsis I needed.

I would go so far as to say that I actually then began to really enjoy my time there...don't get me wrong I was pleased and ready to leave in the end but I am so glad that I did it.

Was it a lifechanging event? In short, yes, not because it suddenly converted me to the yogic way of life although there is a lot I agree with there...the five points of yoga are:

1. right exercise - obviously that means yoga asanas (postures)
2. right breathing - pranayama (breathing exercises)
3. right relaxation
4. right diet
5. postive thinking and meditation

Not a huge amount you can really argue with there..or at least I can't! No the real reason I'm so glad I did it was because it really served as a big reminder of the importance of being true to yourself. There were also a few good lessons about being a good person, being humble, acting without any expectation in return etc etc

..enough of the heavy stuff...some other memories from the month at the Ashram:

1. The emu - the emu had just turned up one day at the Ashram and decided to make it its home. It was strangely interested in the yoga. It used to watch us the through the glass door of the yoga barn when we were doing our asanas (see my photos) and even followed us up a steep dirt track to get to the main swami's house (15 min walk) where it joined us for an afternoon lecture on yogic philosophy underneath the shelter of a giant tree.

2. Cabin gossiping - I shared my little wooden cabin with 3 American girls. One from San Francisco, one from LA and one from Chicago. Although we only had 30 mins between evening Satsang and lights out we filled it every day with so many laughs and a regular highlight of the day.

3. Highlight of the day - These wouldn't be funny to anyone who wasn't there..a load of Ashram-style 'in' jokes.

4. Lake Tahoe - on one of the days (12 hours) off a couple of the volunteers drove a few of us (actually me and 4 japanese girls who didn't speak any english - they had a translator) to Lake Tahoe for the day. The couple of yogis with us were making a big deal of swimming in the ice cold lake..saying it was all mind over matter and that kind of thing. And then they totally wimpily jumped out after 30 seconds while I carried on - really wasn't that cold!

5. Swimming in the pond at 1pm - occasionally I would get a chance to dive into the Ashram pond before the afternoon lecture. A pleasant experience in spite of the water rats and reeds that scratched your legs.

6. Siva hill - the hill where you could actually get mobile phone reception and that had stunning views.

7. karma yoga - i spent my hour every day cleaning the toilets - the girls toilets though so they weren't so bad. The toilets were in a little hut so every day I got to clean with the sun on my back and the sounds of woodpeckers chipping away. It may give you an idea of what the rest of the day was like when I say that cleaning toilets was one of my favourite parts of the day!

8. Decapitated squirrel - generously left on my karma yoga turf by one of the 5 resident cats. The poor squirrel had been horrible mutilated - A severed head was perfectly positioned on one side of the floor with the two feet on the other side, with the large intestine and another unidentifiable internal organ in the centre..oh and I wouldn't be completing the picture unless I mentioned the blood everywhere and the fur scattered all around! Because the remains were a) on a concrete floor and b) lying in the sun the job of cleaning wasn't very easy. It involved rubber gloves, a dustpan, lots of scraping and scrubbing and bleaching. Although, of course it was eco-friendly bleach so I'm not sure what good it did! Anyway, vedanta (yogic) philosophy believes in the idea of karma (every action had a reaction) and reincaration. Basically I must have done something bad in a past life to have been faced with that horror scene!

9. Mealtimes - my very favourite part of the day!!! Really the only chance we got to chat and the food was truly superb. I could have eaten it for ever more. Not everyone felt this way - I suppose Quinoa and rice milk aren't for everyone! Pete - it would have been antithesis of good food for you for example!

10. Warm milk before bed - after evening Satsang which did sometimes finish around 9:30pm. It was actually as much of a social occasion as having a beer at closing time is in the normal world. Ok it wasn't the same but we had been living on an Ashram for a month after all - what do you expect?

11. Teaching practice - we all taught each other in groups of 5. My group consisted of the aussie guy I'm staying with, two lovely hawaiian ladies and an interesting canadian girl! It's what we were all there to learn after all!

12. Talent shows - total cheesemeister but the act was stolen by a middle-aged American lady how gave us a comic alternative to what yoga was. First time in ages I've laughed so hard that my stomach was in pain.

13. Compliments - Being told by three different people at separate times that I was the most normal person there. Being voted by the guys as being the most easy going girl and being told by an American girl that her first impressions of me was that I was really pure!

14. Yosemite NP - not strictly speaking part of my yoga month but I went camping there with three people from the yoga as part of a post-Ashram decompression for the two days immediately following the yoga. It was there that I had my first encounter with a bear and I confess that I wasn't very brave. On seeing the bear but 30 metres away (on its hind legs trying to swipe food from a picnic table) I dived into the car and cowered while the other three laughed at me!

Right that's enough - there were many other eventful moments but I didn't keep a journal so I can't remember them right now...Bis bald x

Posted by Dani girl 18:44 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Greetings from Devika!


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So I have only been away for two months and already I have changed my name to Devika, my new spiritual name. Isn't it nice? One month of living on an Ashram has changed my life. In the words of The Charlatans, 'I was blind, now I can see...' Not that I listen to that rajasic music anymore. Rajasic means overly stimulating the senses! I only listen to sattvic (spiritual) music now (Hindu chanting, 'Om namah sivaya, om namah sivaya'... Finally, I've found the inner peace and calm that I've craved my whole life...

Ok if you believed that then a) you're a bit gullible and b) i'm offended that you don't know me well enough to have faith in my strong and stubborn mind! Having said that I really do have a spiritual name and an accompanying mantra!!! I thought it would be cool..it's amazing what you think is cool when you've been living in a monastry (yes monastry - more of that in a minute!) for a month! When the Swami (monk - more of her later!) gave it to me she told me it meant 'Goddess'...so obviously I was delighted! I found out later that it actually meant 'little Goddess' which almost everyone at the camp found hysterically funny and source of contuining amusement for the rest of our time there..

So ok backtracking for a few moments here. So I had mentioned to quite a few of you that I was going to be doing a Yoga teacher training course at a yoga farm in the middle of nowhere in California for a month and I'd also mentioned to quite a few of you that it looked pretty tough going (only two veggie meals a day, getting up at 5:30am every day etc) and some of you were even faintly envious (Kathy-although not of the food I recall!!) But nothing, I mean NOTHING prepared me for what I was going to face over the month...

So actually the veggie meals turned out to be enormous and filling and there was no time to feel hungry anyway so that turned out to be the least of my worries!! I was initially relieved on meeting my fellow trainees who all seemed normal! I was actually further relieved when I saw the Yoga farm for the first time. The farm has an unbelievably scenic setting in rolling countryside in Northern California, with beautiful wooden huts and cabins and a lovely lake and fountain in the centre of the grounds. It seemed like the most calming and tranquil place ever!

So the very first day rapidly deteriorated into the biggest culture shock of my life (yes, Davey P I know I haven't been to any third world countries yet, so it's not much of a comparison). We got given our uniform (white shapeless trousers and an unflattering long yellow t-shirt - colours of purity and learning!) and got trundled into our first Satsang. We'd already been woken up by a loud bell at 5:30am and had to throw on some clothes before walking hungrily through the dark to the meditation building.

OK I confess I had seen the word Satsang on the programme they sent us before the course but I didn't actually bother to look it up - i figured it had something to do with learning Yoga. So anyway, I soon discovered what Satsang was when I walked into a room with a huge alter filled with different hindu Gods - Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, the three-eyed God and a huge doll of Krisha, an incarnation of the creator and one third of the holy Hindu trinity (I know I'm good but we had to learn this all for our final exam!) The thought running through my mind at that point was 'hmm this is a bit more religious than I expected..' or maybe the words were a bit more dramatic than that at the time..

So we had half an hour of communal silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the floor in the dark, during which time my legs went dead (four times) and my back ached more than ever before (that includes carrying my enormous backpack - Mum!) Then the lights went on and the chanting of 'Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha Pahiman, Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha Rakhshaman' started and then seemed to carry on for what seemed like forever. Then we were treated to a lecture from the main swami (a large vietnamese women with an awful lot of presence and a strict, focused face - not what I was expecting either!) on the nature of the mind! Some reciting of mantras began and we all had to plod up one by one and bow to the alter and the swamis and have some coloured powders smeared on our faces. The most terrifying part of Satsang then occured when we all had to stand up and say why we wanted to do the course. I was one of the first to be called up and I muttered something about it being a great form of exercise and 'one I had actually stuck at'...hohoho...not the right answer I soon realised....no, everyone else was coming to 'find inner peace' or 'to spread yoga to all the beautiful people' or to put some discipline into their wayward lives...that's when the overwhelming sense of panic and wanting to escape as quickly as humanly possible set in...the people who seemed normal did not seem quite so normal after all....

To be continued...

Posted by Dani girl 10:39 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Doctors: USA-style


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The chronological nature of this blog has already broken down - ah well what you gonna do...Sarah W this is definitely one for you!

Well anyway, I'd had this very mysterious pain that started in my arm at the end of last week and it moved around strangely before moving to my chest. Being me I went into denial about it all for a few days whilst secretly cr***ng myself but Des Dos Mona (the little bro!) bullied me (on his birthday as well!) to go and see a doctor and I promised him so I had to!

Well persuading the travel insurance company was surprisingly easy...in fact i would go so far as to say I was impressed by the experience. They even called me the following day to check I was ok! Anyway, all I had to do was tap in the zip code into their website and choose the nearest doctor.

Well I rang up this morning at 11:30 and was offered an appointment at 14:30 (already very non-NHS). Then when I arrived I was confronted with water features and lots of nice plants around a courtyard and with not having to wait at all. A nurse then took my blood pressure and weighed me and then the doctor immediately arrived. The doctor then asked me questions for a whole 20 minutes and checked my arms and legs from every single angle before referring me for an X-ray and ECG! That's when my heart totally sank because I wanted to go straight to the Yoga tomorrow and I wouldn't be able to if I had to wait around for tests and stuff..but oh no what she actually meant was 'please go to downstairs and we will do the your tests immediately one after the other without you having to wait at all and then come back upstairs and see me to immediately discuss your results'...and that's exactly what happened!

Well the upshot was that she told me very earnestly that I had not had a heart attack..she conceded that it wasn't very likely I would have had one being 27 but she did add that 'bad things do happen to good people'. She seemed disappointed that it wasn't EVEN arthritis (glad those were my two options!) and she finally settled on it being a pulled muscle in my arm and the chest pain being psychosomatic...very likely!

So now that I know my arm pain is causing me no immediate threat, I'm happy again and my travel insurance, which cost 260 pounds has already paid for itself! So I would have to give USA doctors 10 out of 10 all round! I guess my praise shouldn't be too glowing considering the millions of Americans who get no healthcare at all...ooh my first political comment (see Ben the decline has begun already!)..but let's not dwell on that...all I know is that it worked for me!

So anyway, I've gone from a life in data protection to opting to happily tell the whole wide world about my medical conditions...as the Americans say, 'what is with that?'

Posted by Dani girl 17:02 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

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