Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Prana del Mar perfect for Yogatown retreat

Talking Trails is usually focused on self-propelled travel, the landscapes we explore, the people we meet, the cultures we learn about. [On self-propelled travel: At present I fly to far-flung places, yet I dream of getting to them on foot under my own steam ... how long does it take to walk/bike/boat to Patagonia I wonder?]

The yoga retreat we were just on does merit a little diversion - not exactly to the interior life, but rather 'off-trail'. This post is about Prana del Mar and the amazing experience Yogatown here in Ottawa created for us there. (To view images larger, just click on them.)
Early morning flocking. This is the largest number
of living beings I ever saw on our 2 km long beach.

My entry into expansion in thought and action, having connections in this world that are both strong and independent comes from being outside. On mountains and in deserts, where limits are at times not only redefined, but discarded; where I challenge my capacities and learn skills, gain experience in self-sufficiency. That is where my spirit soars, where I am at my best. This retreat experience offered that by combining the leadership of a trusted Yogatown team (yeah to Paula, Tracy, Jenna and Michelle), a deepening yoga practice and the exquisite Prana del Mar in its wild Baja peninsula surroundings.
Roof top solar panels. Looking toward the entrance gate.
This garden like all else at the retreat is about
gorgeous design, details that delight.

Located in a semi-arid desert, Prana del Mar operates off-the-grid, but in truth it is simply self-sufficient: powered by solar panels and with its own water treatment. There is a wireless internet hub (via satellite), even though its downloads are limited on a daily basis. The retreat exudes a quiet luxury, with simple and beautiful design carried through in every detail and with comfortable, airy spaces everywhere.

The yoga studios are beautiful, the grounds creatively kept with little surprises appearing in the sand each day. Beach access is direct out the back gate. Most days, our group had the 2 km long beach to ourselves. There were just a few horseback riding groups and some dune buggy excursions. Swimming is not possible here due to the strength of the waves and currents, but this makes for impressive pictures ... and some fine frolicking at the edge of the surf.

There is a lovely salt water pool, hot tub, tanning area by the main building. Daily spa treatments were available with excellent reviews of Anna Maria's work.
The moon studio - great for yoga nidra ...

The chef and his kitchen crew created delicious meals each day. Unique breakfast smoothies and egg dishes (non egg options available), followed hot soups for lunch and dinners featured a variety of options from salads and vegetables to quinoa and fish. Pre-yoga fruit and coffee was always at the ready, too. Various dietary preferences, food allergies and such were easily accommodated.
New yoga ... :)
The main yoga studio with windows on all sides is infused
with the outside world.
The guest quarters from the main building's roof top. We had
the corner unit closest to the beach.

People are essential to creating the kind of perfect week we had. Our group of 23 gelled quickly and settled into a fine rhythm. Excursions and meal time conversations were filled with stories and view points. And at the heart of it all was an exquisitely led yoga practice twice daily - and our special delivery morning mail, which we all looked forward to.
Night view from our porch toward the beach.

Many staff members speak English very well. The Cabo San Lucas area at large has come to cater to American and Canadian tourists, so that we found that guides also usually spoke English, if they weren't, in fact, ex-pats themselves. This aspect is not what I would seek out: I prefer to participate in local culture and language but in the scheme of things that is a small quibble. Mexicans were surprised when I told them that I learned Spanish at UNAM. After all, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México is not only one of the most highly regarded in all of Latin America; more personally, I am appointed to its Advisory Board for its extensions school here in Canada. In that sense, it is about time I finally spent some time in Mexico!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Baja California coastal hikes and yoga

Mid-March. Warm, sunny days. Whales breach in clear view of where we enjoy a late lunch at Prana del Mar.

We came to this private resort for a week-long retreat with our local studio, Yogatown. As the resort is small our group of 23 were the only guests.

Whale watching was amazing.
Some boats did get pretty close. Whales seemed to not
mind much though.
Off-the-beaten path and entirely self-sufficiently run off-the-grid, Prana del Mar satisfied our usual desire for remote or at least out of the way. (There is not even a sign advertising its dirt road turn-off.) The resort's backyard is a 2 km long beach, followed by more beach up both sides of the coast. In contrast to the tourist-haven of Cabo San Lucas, located 25 minutes to the South, these long, gorgeous beaches see hardly any visitors at all. A few dune buggy excursions and some tourists on horseback. Mostly, though, this stretch of awesome is just used by our group.

Eric, the owner who built this retreat a few years ago, made sure that every detail was accounted for, from setting up daily excursion options (e.g. surfing, snorkeling, whale watching), to car service to get to town for those who wanted to do some shopping, to having an amazingly attentive and caring staff. In that sense, pure luxury. 

The salt water pool at Prana del Mar at night.
Along the coast there are trails leading along beaches, up onto cliffs and into the hills. We headed out on a  post-morning-yoga jaunt three beaches over on perhaps the hottest day of our stay. We had organized additional vessels for water, and took about 7 litres in total, plus sun screen, hats and I had a long sleeved top as well; that was genius. We wanted to be back for the afternoon yoga class, so we had a 5-hour window.

Obligatory sunset over the Pacific.
We headed North along our local beach, then over trails past an untouched cove, then over to an even longer, even whiter, even emptier beach. We hiked about 8 km one way, taking photos along the way, marveling at huge insects that seemingly had no purpose (we were told later that they eat tarantulas) and hydrating frequently. The sun's heat was formidable. We replenished sunscreen along the way and I was happy I could put on long sleeves after a couple of hours. Our turn around point was a beautiful rocky outcrop pounded by the rising Pacific.

Proof: I am standing on a surf board! (First time ever).
Jan got up first try out!
This hike left us wanting so much more... and it made us want to hike in the cooler hours of the day. Between the two of us, we downed about 5 litres of water and some fruit and nuts in about 4 hours of hiking. Jan in particular was happy to get out of the sun when we got back to the resort. And we did make our afternoon yoga class easily, too.

Pre-sun rise overlooking Prana del Mar from the beach.
While we undertook many activities - and especially some we had never done (snorkel, surf, sea kayak with whales) - the twice daily yoga practices were my highlight. Awesome teachers (thank you, Paula and Tracy!), lots of hands-on adjusting and body awareness raising in class, with a group that quickly gelled, all in perfect surroundings made for a perfect week. (To view photos larger, click on one)

Sunrise on the beach. Waves and currents are such
that swimming is not possible along most of the
Pacific side of the Baja peninsula.

And a few minutes later as the sky lightens bit by bit.
Looking South.
Sunrise over the mountains.
Hiking along the coast only to discover ever more beach.

Powerful Pacific pounds the coast.

One of the coves along the way. Untouched.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Balsa floats, monkeys and papagayos

Day 2 and 3 of our time at Mashaquipe eco-lodge were filled with a long walk to look for animals, a float down the river (who knew it takes only 15 minutes to put a few logs together and get floating?), monkeys and more monkeys - all with the benefit of Eber's vast knowledge and know-how. There's nothing quite like a local guide to get to know more about a place, its culture, customs and evolution.

Best to let the pictures do the talking!

Howler monkey family
Eber took this pic with our camera - he had far more steady hand than I to make up for the lack of a powerful zoom :)
Tree filled with papagayos. We didn't get any good photos of them in flight, but they did put on a great show!
Day 3 we explored the other side of the river and say many more monkeys. Amazingly, Eber seems to be seeing a path here. Anyways, we got to the rendez-vous spot with our boat at 12:59 pm and the boat showed up at 1:02 pm. Folks are pretty punctual in the jungle.
We also saw these much rarer papagayos on day 3. Pretty cool!

As for that balsa tree trunk float, that was an awesome way to send a day filled with walking, seeing, admiring and, finally, relaxing.
Eber makes our float. Balsa is a local tree, a very buoyant tree.
On our just assembled balsa float. That was such fun! And, yes, you do get a bit wet, but the water is warm so who cares.
We even saw a caiman - a very large crocodile - sunning itself on the river bank as we motored by on the way back to Rurrenabaque. Impressive and fast to get into the muddy water as we approached for a somewhat closer look.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The place where ants live: Madidi

We learned that Madidi has an incredible diversity of ants and very many of each. We certainly saw many different kinds.

But the kind that goes and harvests leaves from trees and bring it back to massive ant hills, no... colonies with its subterranean city state, are a sight to behold. So this video is worth a look to see the path-creating action of hundreds of thousands of little tiny ant feet.

Also, look out for the lazy ones that catch a ride on a leaf ... carried by another busy ant ... too funny.


Madidi National Park: First encounters

I don't know what we expected, but the roads in the jungle are mostly rivers! So, from the Mashaquipe office in Rurrenabaque, we headed to the river bank to board "a very comfortable boat".
Jan's loving the 2+ hour boat ride. Here we are parked at the Madidi park entrance. While in operation, it really is best to sit down.

A visit with a local family on their jungle farm. Operated by our boat/guide crew, with the owner capably observing the action. This sugar cane press is commercially operated by horses as it's actually quite hard work.

Limes. Really big limes.

About an hour in, we had a break to meet a local family and their sugar cane operation. It's kind of cool to harvest a few stalks and then see the process unfold. The family was very nice and we got to drink the freshly pressed cane juice with plenty of lime out of coconut shells. We also tried the honey that they distill from it, as well as the most awesome deserts: dried honey and milk bars or with peanuts - or pure. All I can say is: wow.

We arrived at the beautiful eco-lodge, nestled just up a steep, short climb from the river in time for lunch. Then after a short nap in the hammocks, we went of on a long walk until dusk. It wasn't that long in distance, but huge in experiences over those 4 hours. The pics say it all. So here it goes.

Ahhhhh... life is good! Also, note, my long sleeves: our first day in the jungle was not the usual hot experience, but cool and overcast. Nice!

Many beautiful butterflies live here. Getting a picture with the wings open is actually not that easy.
See the love birds? The blue one is the male, busy wooing. The one that blends in more on the right side middle in between the two tree trunks is the rather aloof female. I guess life can be pretty hard on some out here.
We got a taste of our guide, Eber's, amazing ability to see things on this first walk. Like this awesome creature that was on the underside of the leaves. 
Travelling with a machete, to clear trails as needed. Eber grew up here and lives here still with his family. It was amazing to see his ease and  his skills suited to life in the jungle. 
We also got to eat things. Here, Eber is peeling away on a downed palm tree to eventually reveal the heart of palm, which we ate and loved. Heart of palm has never been this tasty!
Day 1 ended with a buffet dinner; a chat with our guide and some of the other folks - staff, guides and guests - around; a decision to go for a very long hike the next day and come back to the lodge, so that on our final day we could head to the other side of the river for more exploring. Then off to bed in our comfy hut.
Our duplex in the jungle.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jungle fun

We had an amazing time in the jungle in Madidi National Park, in the north of Bolivia. Mashaquipe, the etno-ecolodge we visited was perfect: rustic, great food (thanks again Wilson), an excellent local guide (the ever knowledgeable Eber), a very good manager who made sure all was in fine order. We got to see monkeys, papagayos, kolibri and many other birds, wild boar, turtles and even a cayman (a supersized crocodile) in their natural habitat. And we got to walk a lot to do so, which was also pretty perfect.  We took some great pics along the way which we will post later.

Rurrenbanaque, the small gateway town to the jungle or the pampas, is laid back, well equipped for tourism, and friendly.

Right now we are at the La Paz airport awaiting our lengthy flight itinerary home. We have booked a 3 hour Panama City tour - the kind tailored to "in transit" tourists, as a from/to airport, to see the Panama Canal and some of the city, too. Jorge, our guide/driver will await us after we clear customs with one of those little signs with our names on them. The adventure continues - even if we will be seriously sleep deprived.

Monday, September 23, 2013


We spent Thursday to Sunday working our way up Illimani, Bolivia´s second highest mountain.
Here is Jan on Thursday, in front of the massive ridge to get from  base camp to Niedo de Condores, the high camp,  1,000m up at the very top of that rock ridge. The summit is another 1,000m higher.
Base camp at about 4,500m had us living above the clouds. 

Our awesome North Face Summit Series tent at high camp - aptly named Condors´ Nest. 
2 am - I love Jan´s camera for its night photography options! - just as Jan got up to  embark on her attempt at summitting 1,000m higher. The night sky was clear and the clouds just seemed to move in  - 20 minutes later, the entire route was in clouds and it turned out, the 2 groups that summitted saw exactly nothing on the way to the top, at the top and on the way back down. But they did feel that amazing sense of accomplishment of a hard effort. 
2:30 am: Jan and Eduardo are ready to  get on to the glacier. I have already decided this is not my time and I am taking pictures instead ;)
Jan contemplates - at basecamp. After 3 hours of hard effort, exhaustion meant  no summit today. She did reach about 5,800m - a significant high point, if you have ever been there you´ll know. Proud.
The whole of Illimani - the main summit is the peak straigth up from that single tree. The rock ridge is easy to identify.

More than merely achieving summits, we love being in - really in - the mountains. The culture, the people we meet, the experiences of this raw mountain power appeals. It is simple. We walk among giants.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Glacier excursion: Huayna Potosi

After yesterday´s super long day out there, we wished for an easier day out. So ice climbing we went. Of course, the car ride in good traffic is an hour, the hike in another hour. So, we ended up getting back to town around 4:00pm anyways.

Eduardo is an extraordinary mountain guide and climber. It is a pleasure to see him in action and to see him excel at mountain crafts. And he loves to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with eager students like us : )

Jan free solos the first pitch with Eduardo by her side. She totally nailed that!
Real glacier, real crevaces, including that one 2 feet to our left.
Jan steps across to get to picth 2 - this time on top rope.

Nice form! Awesome scenery!
Eduardo makes for a very relaxed belayer.
My turn. 
Despite a tiny bit of intimidation - ahem crevace anyone? -  I made it up there, too :)
For good measure Eduardo had me downclimb that first pitch to end the day, on a very loose belay. Just to get into that confident mindset thing. 
All around a fine day, without actual epic moments. Tomorrow we hope to head off to attempt Illimani. If conditions are good, ie not too much soft snow to contend with and good weather and no sickness ... well, the stars might just align for this spring equinox.