My First Yoga Retreat

So in the grand tradition of me, I started my zen week by rocking into the yoga retreat with a two day hangover, still wearing last nights’ make up under my sunglasses and hat and arguing with a cab driver who was trying to rip me off. Pretty standard entrance really. They showed me to my room, I got changed and I went to my first session. We started with meditation. My meditation went something like this “Shit! Did I have my ukulele with me in the room….? I don’t remember seeing it. Hmmm…. did I take it off the taxi? Fuck! What have I done with it? If I left it in the taxi then I am never getting it back cause the arsehole has probably sold it now to make up for the fifty baht he tried to extort from me that I wouldn’t pay him. Fuck fuck fuck! Ugh, I want to go check on it now but I have 2 fucking hours of this shit to get through before I can and I think this is going to kill me…..”. Time dragged along…. Anyway, I found my ukulele. I left it on the table with my water bottle that I also couldn’t find. Drunk brain has been hiding things again.

The evening was spent meeting people and going out for a shared dinner of amazing Thai food before heading to bed early. You see, there is sunrise tai chi every morning at 6am and I was getting up for it…. Why am I doing tai chi you ask? Because it is the only way to get fed before 10am if you are only getting up for the 7:30am yoga and I don’t think I can handle two hours of yoga unfed. Tai chi it is.

Morning tai chi

My early morning tai chi was actually pretty awesome. I think it is my favourite part of being here. It is kind of like a martial art form in many ways and takes me back to my days of doing kung fu. In the mean time you have the most amazing sunrise going up over the sheer -cliffed mountain islands in front of you. It is quite incredible. And so we are standing there listening to a speel about how the sun is energy and the sun and the earth create this energetic ‘magnetic’ field around you that shields you from evil things and thoughts and that the more you do tai chi, especially in the mornings, the bigger and greater your magnetic protection shield of energy from the sun becomes. I felt like a kid in class who wanted to put their hand up and say…. “ahhhh, the sun has nothing to do with magnetic fields because it is a giant ball of frickin gas. Gas has no magnetic properties. The earth however has a giant core of iron which has unpaired electrons in its orbitals, thus creating a magnetic field due to the accumulative spin of these unpaired electrons….. Last time I checked a human does not have giant iron cores or currents of electricity running through them with the exception of the small electrical impulses running through nerves but this is not enough to give a person a protective fucking magnetic shield around them from the evils of the planet!” Yeah I was that kid. Deep breath, heed my friend Rachel’s warning about keeping my mouth shut, say nothing, laugh internally, cry internally. Go to first and more vigorous morning yoga sessions.

Koh Yao Noi 071
Sunrise on the beach during morning tai chi

I can say four things from this. 1. My hips are horrible. 2. My balance is horrible. 3. My lack of patience is even more horrible. 4. At least I still have my sense of humour.  At one point we were doing this stretch where you take a wide stance and then put your chest to the floor. You then get your partner to pull your hands through your legs to give you a deeper stretch. So you literally wind up with someone’s arse in your face while you are assisting. And we are all sitting around talking about how it ‘feels’ to do a partner exercise and how you really need to ‘trust’ the partner helping you and it is all about trust. I was thinking ‘like yeah, I am trusting you not to fart in my face. Awesome’.

And so it rolled on as I sat during the day in my hammock jamming on my ukulele, swimming a bit and being all round chilled. I listened to the Australian news, got mad about politics again and before I knew it, it was time to go back to the afternoon yoga session.

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when your instructor is being so introspective that she can’t figure out whether she likes the inhale breath or exhale breath more, but what I did know was that I wanted to find and steal her drug stash. After a myriad of stories about ‘Daddy’ I was about done and happy to retire for the day.

And so my days here continued. Get up, tai chi, two hours of yoga, breakfast, steal left over breakfast and hide it for my lunch, afternoon nap, play ukulele, go for a swim at high tide, more yoga, go out to dinner. I did meet some pretty cool people here, some of them as rational as I am. One friend and I sat there and giggled up the back like naughty school children which is funny because we are both teachers. It is hard not to laugh at times with some of the things they say. So they say ‘it is time to go into plough position (oddly enough lying on your back with your legs all the way over your head). “It is not recommended that menstruating women do this position”. Of course nobody wants to admit to this and we all do it anyway and I am up the back chuckling so hard I can’t stop shaking, “hear that Pat? No ploughing on your period, hahahaha”. Laughing so hard I can’t even plough properly.

last day 015
My favourite yoga position…. apparently meditation. I call it ‘nap time’

There were some moments I wanted to stab my own brain out with a fork it hurt that much. I think one of the worst initial times for this was during “froggy” which I used to do at Crossfit as a hip opener so I knew what was coming. Ten minutes later and we are all still sitting in this excruciating position and I am having subtle suggestions sent my way that yoga is about stillness and I am tapping my feet, tapping my hands, moving my head and being an all round ADHD child. Stillness with circulation issues…? Stillness when my process of dealing with pain is to divert it with movement….? Not happening.

By day 6 I was on the brink. I had been rock climbing the day before and my body hurt. I was tired as I hadn’t slept properly in days, constantly having bad dreams and waking multiple times through the night (apparently the yoga is spiritually stirring something up in me emotionally… hmmm… how about frustration as an emotion?) I was also hungry. And then hungry turns to angry for me. ‘Hangry’ as I like to call it. As I am sitting in this circular meditation and I think everyone could see on my face that I was done that morning. I did not want to listen anymore about how my head has a satellite dish on top of it that is channelling ‘spiritual Google’. I did not want to ponder what the self is and how to reach enlightenment. Instead of all the ramblings about “checking in”, I was “checking out”. I just wanted to go to Nepal and hike a goddamn mountain. I was done here.  And yet I was not done. I still had four more sessions and 8 more hours of yoga left to go before my departure and as shitty as I was, stubborn me was determined to see it through because I had paid for it already and because I knew that physically it was still strengthening my body for my upcoming adventure.

Koh Yao Noi 041
Rock climbing on Koh Yao Noi

On day 7 I started to be a little more relaxed. The instructor for the day would challenge us to think about the morals of stories from Greek mythology or stories from Rumi and it was way more interesting than most of the other sessions as it worked my brain in a way that didn’t make it want to die from the silence. I realised that over the space of the week I was challenging whether you can be non-spiritual and still manage to incorporate some these techniques into your life, especially when everybody has different interpretations.

On my last day I got up and watched the sun rise over my last tai chi session. I had my last session of yoga for the morning and was happy to be up the back with the girls hunched over in forward fold laughing ridiculously at the instructor who told us to ‘start to feel places on your body that haven’t been touched for a while’. It was the most unmotivated session I had had all week but I guess that happens when you can smell the end.

And so I survived. I have three days now until I get to Nepal. And what I take with me is expanded lungs, stronger knees, ankles and back, and a whole bunch of new friends who kept me sane for the week. Not anywhere near as bad as I had suspected, but I am pretty sure I won’t be checking back into a yoga retreat any time in the near future. I think I will stick with punching things and lifting weights.

Why Yoga and I Hate Each Other

“The head is the general and the body are the soldiers.” – Gezrat, My first boxing coach.

Everybody goes on and on and on about yoga and how amazing it is for you and how it is the thing to be doing if you are a zen and awesome human. Truth be told, I wouldn’t know zen if it bit me on the butt. The last yoga class I attended was hot yoga. I was in a bad mood after receiving some bad news, the instructor was brazen and rude to me, I swore I would never go back because I don’t need to be bored and offended all at the same time and so I haven’t.

It is an odd thing. People think that because I travel and am somewhat reflective that yoga would be right down my alleyway. Even my ex, after I ditched his cheating arse, figured I would make my way to a yoga retreat to ‘heal’ and ‘find myself’. Where I did ‘find myself’ instead was singing karaoke whilst dancing on a bar top shotting tequila and getting showered with cans of whipped cream in San Pedro La Laguna.  Even I wonder sometimes how it is that I cannot manage to come to peace with such an activity. I love other physical activity. I box, I enjoy CrossFit, I really love hiking. And people tell me that they guess this is my way of ‘meditating’. I ‘meditate’ so hard sometimes when I am training that by the time I am done I want to puke into a bucket and that is what I define as ‘exercise’. Any form of exercise that I do not find hard is not defined as exercise in my book, especially when I am not even breaking a sweat.

So I finally figured out why this whole yoga thing is such an issue for me. I was born a fighter. I have spent my entire life arguing and screaming at my family members. It is in my second nature to be passionate, feisty and aggressive. It is why these activities such as boxing, CrossFit and hiking are among the things I love. They are a war between the head and the body. The brain being the general gets to tell the body what to do. No matter how much it hurts, no matter how much you think you can’t, you do because that is what you have to do. There is no time to be bored when you are engaging in something so difficult that you need to place all of your focus and mind power into keeping on going.

Yoga on the other hand requires the body and the brain to work together in some kind of harmony that I am unfamiliar with. One must work with the other to find this inner peace that people talk about. I am so engaged and used to the internal war that I love winning (because who doesn’t love winning, right?) that I haven’t yet figured out how to win the war by shutting the fight down. And so this becomes my next challenge. To those of you who laugh at me and tell me it cannot be done, my next challenge is to quiet myself. To fight the inner struggle of boredom and excessive thought. To let the mind be the general, still in control of the soldiers that are to stand at ease and do nothing. Let the games begin….. and shall I not die of boredom, yell at someone and tell them where to go or have a total mental breakdown from my own rapid and erratic thought processes during the week I am interred. Peace out! Namaste!

To see how I deal with my first ever yoga retreat, check out next weeks post!




The Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

Undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited is the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park in Indonesia. I arrived on the shuttle bus late after driving through the dark hills around the bends up towards the township of Cemero Lawang. I checked into the Cemara Indah Hotel and got an early night as the trekking was to start at 3am the following morning.

As I woke up, dressed and headed out into the ‘chilly by Indonesian standards’ weather, I was greeted by some locals outside selling hats and transport. They were trying to convince me that five kilometers was too far to walk up the hill to see the sunrise and as such I needed to take a jeep. They were also trying to convince me that despite my layering in gear I am taking to Nepal for my basecamp hiking, that I was going to be waaaaayyy too cold and needed to buy another jacket, a scarf and a hat from them. I laughed, told them no and that I would be fine and started my way along the road in the dark alone towards the top of Mount Pananjakan with my head torch.

About half way up the hill I met two guys, Roland, a 60 year old from Italy and Ciaran, from England. While we bonded over cup noodle breakfast and their horrendous coffee, we decided that we would all go walking together for the sunrise.

bromo taman nasional 014
The beginnings of sunrise over Bromo. Excited, but still can’t see her yet!

And so up the hill we went. We arrived at the View Point 1 eventually after taking a bush trail up from the road and sat to watch the amazing sun rise over what was to be my first glimpse of the mountains since I had arrived. They weren’t to disappoint. The view was crystal clear and as far as the eye could see across the valley. Batok stood out right in the centre as the near perfect conical shape with ripples down its sides. Bromo to the left chugged with its smoke up into the atmosphere. The stunning Semeru sat in the far background casting an eye over all of the rest of the mountains with its tall chuffing summit. We took pictures for a long while before heading up to the summit of Pananjakan after all of the jeeps with the tourist brigade had left to go down into the valley. It meant that we had the entire summit to ourselves and it was blissful as you could see the entire way around the area as Pananjakan is the tallest mountain in that vicinity besides Semeru.

bromo taman nasional 035
And there she was….. Batok in front, Bromo off to the left side and Semeru in the distance peeking over the back

We made the rookie error of underestimating how far we would have to walk before entering down into the valley. The hill just kept on going and going and going and eventually a jeep stopped and offered us a free lift down to the base of Mt Bromo on the valley floor. We jumped in and drove a couple of kilometers the rest of the way down before walking out of the valley to go and get breakfast. The day was still young, it was only 9am and there was still plenty more adventuring to be had.

bromo taman nasional 081
From the valley floor, Batok going up to the right, and Mount Bromo straight ahead with its blown out crater

I don’t think I had eaten that much in ages as I chewed down two bowls of rice, a bowl of noodles, a stack of fruit and two cups of tea. Then it was back out again into the crater.

The first mission was to get up to the crater rim of Mount Bromo. Along the way we met some locals who wanted to take pictures with us so after that we walked with them up to the top. Bromo was spewing a whole bunch of smoke out and it was a beautiful reminder of our insignificance on this Earth. It is so much more powerful than you or I and has the ability to destroy rapidly what we have spent generations achieving. I never fail to be in awe.

bromo taman nasional 140
Giant hole to middle earth… just wow!

After we trotted down the side of Bromo there was debate about whether we should try and climb Batok also. It is the steepest and hardest climb of the three mountains but we decided to go part of the way and see how it was. Of course part of the way turns into massive rock climbing and “well we have come this far so screw it we are going to the top!”

bromo taman nasional 118
Mount Batok with the Hindu temple in front.

I am incredibly glad that we did as the views from here were just spectacular. The summit was a giant plateau that you could walk around and it gave you 360 degree views of the entire valley floor if you walked around the top. We stayed here until the sun was about set before scampering down to the bottom and then back along the valley floor to the hotel at about 4:30pm.

bromo taman nasional 195
The other side of the valley as seen from the top of Mount Batok

Our day was nearly 14 hours long, 3 mountain summits and about 20 kilometers of walking later. But as stuffed as I was from all of the hiking, I was also super excited and relaxed. It was one of the most incredible days of hiking that I have ever done. It is hard to not be impressed by the stunning views that this area has to offer.

Turning Dirty Thirty

OK, so I survived. After waking up in the morning to the phone buzzing off the hook I did the standard birthday checks. Any more wrinkles? Not that I am aware of. Have I become more sensible? Clearly not given my mothers’ Facebook plea to come home one day. Do I have any idea what I am doing? No. Quarter life crisis averted. I am clearly still in one.

Early morning birthday wrinkle check.

It is one of those things that I have watched friends go through. Some ignore it, some have festivals that last for an entire month in aid of their birthdays because it is a grand excuse for a party, some freak out and do something extreme. I prefer option A. I always have done. There is something that makes me uncomfortable about people making a fuss over me for my mere existence. In fact I tried to rename the whole day after my mother because I believe she deserves more credit for pushing me out and dealing with the last thirty years of my shit than I do for my mere existence.

So anyway, discomfort about birthdays and people making a fuss aside, I decided to go and visit the elephant park in the morning and hang out with the elephants. I got to go and sit on one in the river and bathe her and I also go to go for a ride on another one later too. I also got to feed her some bananas and she slobbered all over my arm affectionately as her trunk kept grasping for more and more bananas to contribute to the 400kg of food a day she needs to eat so live. Despite adoring elephants, they are my favourite animal, the whole activity made me really sad. The animals despite being seemingly well cared for have this really sad and sorrowful look in their eyes. They had no spirit or want for play that I expected they would have or remembered the elephants that I was with five years ago had. I stood staring into the eye of my elephant for quite a long time. She stared back at me sadly. We had a moment of understanding. But I can’t do anything to help her. So I told her I was sorry and I left. I don’t think I will ever go back again. I feel too guilty about how sad she seemed. She would have been happier in the wild.

ele 022
My 55 year old elephant. If I make it to 55 I am retiring… again… poor and yet beautiful creature

After arriving back into town I went to get a Thai massage. I normally cry through these, but today I slept through it as my phone started buzzing at 4:30am and woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was super tired by early afternoon. My massage was proceeded with a Thai red curry for dinner at 4 o’clock followed up with a banana roti pancake and then rushing back to put my laundry on and watch the latest released episode of Arrow. (Yes, even those living a life of luxury can’t avoid laundry).

Who couldn't use a banana roti pancake?
Who couldn’t use a banana roti pancake?

Despite my phone being off the hook constantly, I still feel like it is just another ordinary day on the road. There has been nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary and certainly no freak outs about age…. oh except for that minor melt down I had about governments globally telling me I am in my last year to get working holiday visas and so I am freaking about timelines for that. Once that ends I am going to have to do a serious life evaluation. But otherwise. Still the same old me. And not much of ridiculous debauchery and party times to report…. hell maybe I am getting old…… 😛

My 25th Birthday in Hue, Vietnam

So tomorrow I turn 30. Whatever. People tell me this is a huge deal but for the most part I tend to negate any thought processes of the day whatsoever. I find myself spending my 30th in Asia. The exact same way I did five years ago on my 25th birthday…… Oh the 0’s and the 5’s. Somebody just take them away please!

Today was up and about and downstairs for  breakfast where there was a string of happy birthdays. I don’t know why, but I hate it. I hate having a fuss made about me and I don’t know how to deal with it graciously. Instead I deny that it is my birthday and get on with the day’s proceedings. They firstly consisted of a motorbike tour.

My driver spoke very little English and I was a little disappointed because some of the others had some real characters driving them around. Harriet’s driver would bounce her up and down on the bike when they were stationary, and Kat’s tried to hit on  her despite being married already.

My polite, lovely and sensible motorbike driver

So they drove us through all of the back streets of Hue and through all of the rice fields watching the locals pick the rice and work on the harvest. There were also locals washing clothes in the river and fishing. The first stop was to see how the rice is processed to what we see it  as in the supermarket.

Driving beside the rice paddy fields

When we arrived there were a whole bunch of kids on bikes and they were hanging around being really cheeky. They were being pains in the arses really and the old lady and the tour guide yelled at them and told them to leave. They didn’t though. So we watched her sift off all of the husks from around the rice grain, and then we watched her ground it up to make rice flour. It was really cool.

Local Vietnamese woman demonstrating the processing of the rice to rice flour

On the way back to the motorcycles, I met Lieu, a 75 year old local woman famous around the regions for her palm readings. I wanted to just sit and chat to her but she convinced me in the end to read my palm. What she told me was quite interesting, although I would hazard a guess to say that they were more based on her personal experiences and with what she saw of me than what my palm said.

She told me that I was 25 (good guess) and that I have a very beautiful mother (looking at me, quite an educated guess… but then maybe not in my disheveled ways….) and that I have trouble for a father (what can I say? Another very good guess). She told me that I would live until I was 85 (most likely a guess, have no idea, won’t find out for 60 more years). She said that I would marry when I was 28 (I now know to be a false estimate… I will be lucky to be married by 38 at this rate) and have 3 children (hahahahaha), two boys and one girl. The first child would be born at 29 (hahahahahahaha yep, pretty sure that didn’t happen without me noticing) and the next one’s would come ten years later. I will marry an American (she later tells me that she married an American) and that he will love me very much but he will be working so often that I will turn to the drink (cause I am totally addicted to the drink) and other men (who knew I was capable of having an affair?). Apparently I will have boyfriends when I am married (cause I have a whole bunch now when I am single…). A nice young one to go with my workaholic husband(???). Sweet. I laughed my arse off when I left, asked to have my picture taken with her when I left and she agreed. I wonder if it was written in my palm that I was only interested in having a picture with her?

Getting my fortune told with Lieu

So anyway, after that heartwarming little conversation, I hopped back on the bike and headed towards Thuy’s house. Thuy was deformed from birth and only has one hand. With her stumpy arm and her other hand, she makes the most amazing conical hats. She showed us how to make one when  we got there. Her hats are special too because they have shadows of a pair of lovers, the towers and the bridge in Hue as well as her name. She does this by inserting a layer of newspaper in between the straw that she ironed out and placed around the ribs of the hat. It was pretty cool really. Kat bought a hat and  has been wearing it all day.

Pressing the straw to make the conical hats

From here it was off to the place where they make the incense sticks. They mix together a  large proportion of sawdust, glue, sandalwood powder and fragrances and then make a big ball of goop. They roll he goop over the bamboo sticks and then in some more sawdust so that they don’t stick  and then they lay them out in the sun to dry. There were incense sticks everywhere lined up along the road. It was unbelievable. One woman can crack out about five thousand of those things a day.

My friend rolling and incense stick

Afterwards we headed to the pagoda to check out what was going on there. We saw the large tower built at the front of the grounds and the car that the monk drove all the way to Saigon to set himself on fire in protest of the poor treatment of the Buddhists. After seeing this we got on the motorbikes and got dropped back at the supermarket down the road from the hotel to do some shopping for food and to have some lunch. It disgraced me that for the first time since leaving home, I ate KFC westerner food shit fried chips. I am in Vietnam, I should be enjoying traditional food, however the others all wanted fast food so I tagged along. I just don’t get it. I never did, I don’t know if I ever will.

After about an hour wait at the hotel, we took the bus to the train station where we waited for another two hours because our train was delayed. Not bad, sleep in tomorrow morning. So when we finally got on I found my cabin and threw my stuff  on the top bunk. I got up and sorted my stuff out and then started to read. Then all the questions came about birthdays. Why do I hate celebrating mine and is it OK for the others to make a fuss. I said whatever and next thing that you know there is a group of people filing into my room and sitting on the bottom bunks and they started to sing happy birthday. I covered my face with my book mostly so that they couldn’t see that I was on the verge of tears. They just kept getting louder and louder and I wanted them  to stop. So when they were finally done, I was graced with presents. I got a 4-pack of Tassie Devil yoghurt, a calendar with all of the pictures from the man’s restaurant that we were at last night and a purse made out of black silk. Kat also organised a card for me that everybody signed. It was kind of cool, and I behaved graciously, I was thankful that they went to the effort. I honestly would have been happier forgetting all about the day really because I don’t know how to be gracious in the face of people making a fuss of me.

And so we forgot quickly with the coming around of the cabin trivia. There were some really challenging questions and Flo, Alex and I cheated by using our guide books and the book that Flo is reading about Turkey. We came a tied first place and I think that they want to have a showdown tomorrow sometime. Again, I am not really fussed. But it would be interesting to see what happens when people are not  allowed to cheat. We will most likely lose terribly.

It is pretty quiet on the sleeper train at the moment, Natalie the guide, is reading and I am typing here in my fleece jacket because the air conditioning is freezing in these cabins. I am pretty tired so I will most likely just go to sleep soon. Not much else to do on the sleeper trains, and plenty of time to kill.

And so in the grand tradition of birthdays I shall hide somewhere and not tell anyone. Last year I sat at my friends house in London and ate a wheel of brie while watching the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate on Creationism vs Evolution. An amazing day for me! The original plan for the 30th was to be on a 16-day trek somewhere in Nepal so I would really not have to deal with it. But, if anything exciting does happen, I will be sure to let you know all about it.