Tuesday, April 23, 2013


From Misahualli, Ecuador, Kevin & I hopped on a local bus through the Amazon & back to Tena.  Tena is a relatively larger town, though both are tiny outposts against the jungle growth.  We were reaching the heights of Carnivale so every walk down the street involved being chased by kids with water guns & spray shaving cream.  Wearily, we found our bus for Banos.

Given that we were approaching Banos from the southwest, we wound up riding Ruta de las Cascadas, the famous winding highway of waterfalls.  Many tourists mountain bike down this road & around the mountain tunnels.  I have to say, I was OK taking in the view from bus windows.  

As I approached Ruta de las Cascadas, & then Banos proper, I began to feel walled in by the Andes.  I wasn't claustrophobic nor was this unpleasant.  But the mountains literally seemed to become walls.  Their presence was so all-pervasive.  I felt inhabited by them.  

I'm reading Joan Halifax right now.  She talks about pilgrimages to mountains & how mountains disappear as we draw nearer.  For a time, we approach & see their grandeur from a distance.  As we draw closer, we are absorbed into them.  Spending significant stretches of time in mountains or near them, we start to understand their living dynamism.  Mountains stretch, grow, crumble, and shape those near them.  Their presence looms.

 Banos is known for taffy made from locally harvested sugarcane.  Ecuador grows everything.  There are so many microclimates & so much fertility that even in the temperate mountains I found what has always been to me a tropical crop: sugar cane.  There are obviously plentiful resources nearby!

I wound up purchasing a fair amount of taffy to bring home to friends & loved ones.  I tried some & it tasted like burnt sugar.  It was kind of delicious!  The flavors were all made with local fruits: lemon, watermelon, blackberry, strawberry, & blueberry.
We were still in the throes of Carnivale.  Banos is a popular destination for Ecuadorian tourists!  We had heard that Banos is possibly the most Gringo town.  During Carnivale, it was dominated by Ecuadorians.  Also, most rooms were booked far in advance.  I had heard about a well ranked bed & breakfast called Magic Stone, so we hiked there first.  They were of course, full.  We wound up hiking to nine hotels, hostals, & B & Bs before finally finding a tiny cell in a downtown hostal.  Of course there was a shared bath down the hall with only cold water (& Banos gets COLD at night!).  Kevin loved our tiny cell.  It only fit a desk and a glorified twin bed.  He felt like a monk & sat down to meditate.  I chalked it up to adventure & swallowed at having to pay $20 for this room.  Way, way over-priced.

 Things looked promising in the morning.  We went back to Magic Stone & found they had room for us!  They were cleaning the room so we left our things there & wandered back into town.  The following day was my birthday.  All I really wanted was clean laundry, a good meal, and comfortable night's rest.
 As we were a few days before the presidential election, there were Correia posters everywhere.  The aesthetic kills me.  He looks like a savior!  This poster was hung in the bodega where we left our laundry.
 At night we found $25 hour-long massages with local medicinal herbs.  OK, on my birthday I generally want clean laundry, a good meal, a comfortable night's rest, & a massage.  Check, check, check, & check.
 Our room at Magic Stone was ready.  We were SO happy!  So beautiful!

 Since arriving in Ecuador, but most strongly felt in Banos, I wanted to write.  I wanted to sit at this desk & fall into the flow of creativity.  There was something about that place & especially those mountains.  We only had a little over three weeks in Ecuador.  I thought about staying for a longer period in Banos & surrendering to that creative impulse.  It would have meant experiencing less travel in the country.  Ultimately, I decided to take advantage of my time by experiencing as much as I could and hoping that creative impulse would stay with me as I journeyed back home.

(It did, but it was diluted.  I want to go back.)
 Banos absolutely has the best restaurants in Ecuador.  Our favorite was La Petite Restaurant, a French-North African spot within a hotel.  That avocado salad?  A double portion on my birthday.  The staff came to know me in our three days at Banos because I came & ate that salad twice daily.
 Banos is known for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and para-gliding, good food, & their famous baths. The natural baths are heated & saturated in minerals from underground lava currents.  On my birthday morning we hiked to El Salado, said to be the stronger of the baths.  It was us, the locals, & Ecuadorian tourists.

After rinsing off we hiked back to Magic Stone and came across this sculpture.  Obviously I'm not the only one inspired by the looming Andes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


"One discovers during pilgrimage that there is no place to escape from oneself."  Joan Halifax

Joan Halifax writes that people have always made pilgrimage.  There is ritual in intentional journey.  As we explore our own adaptability, our ability to be in the world, inevitably there is unanticipated discovery.

This has helped me reconceive my annual adventure.  There have been moments in my life where I couldn't stay the urge to move because I wanted to run away.  Things weren't working out, I wanted to start over.  Inevitably, once the excitement of a new place wore off I again felt disconnected & unsettled.  My impulse to migrate hadn't solved anything.

For the last decade my life has been about rooting, intentionally.  I've built a home, community, & practice to both sustain myself & create the circumstances for growth.  Part of that growth has been annually being in the world, somewhere new, somewhere to learn.  I'm realizing that there is a lot of intention behind this type of travel.  I don't want to escape from anything but rather gather together resources, ideas, & inspiration to reinvigorate the home I return to.  I feel settled in my skin & my community, therefore I feel more enriched & present when I venture further into the world.

Perhaps this annual practice of travel is something of a pilgrimage back into myself.  It's purposefully setting up a pause, a moment when I re-examine how I'm living & verify that it's in line with my intentions.  It's a moment to step out of the momentum of day-to-day routine & breathe a little more deeply.  Nourish that practice so that I lose it less readily.  Continue to find balance.

It doesn't matter how far I roam.  None of us can escape ourselves.  As I'm learning to draw a little more deeply within myself, I'm reminded of the sweet spot we all work towards.  Gaze inwards to know ourselves, find peace, & stability.  Gaze outwards, be in the world, be engaged.  Not too much in either direction.  Self-involvement can lead to self-indulgence.  Being in the world without self-care can lead to martyrdom.

There is no escape from ourselves but there are the lessons of how to truly be within our own bodies, lives, experiences, & communities.  Pilgrimage can be the ritual of remembering.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Radio Silence

I know, I've been awfully quiet.  I've been awfully busy.  Most of the time you can catch me farming my backyard.  Wanna hear about it?  Follow the adventures here.  

I'm heeding spring-time's call to get dirty.  & I'm happy as a pig in... well, you know.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Oh yeah! I love yoga

Life has been awfully busy recently.  In the last three weeks I've made three trips down to Norfolk & DC.  Two of them got me home at 4 am & 2 am, respectively.  I usually wake up at 4:45 am every morning.  Whew.

Due to the pace & the amount of projects on my plate, my yoga practice has suffered.  Shoot, so has my consistency with running & swimming!  I have gotten physical movement in my days due to epic amounts of planting & garden tending.  However, I have noticed tightness in my upper back & knotted shoulders.

Yesterday I made it back onto the mat for a self-lead practice with my yoga teacher, mentor, & friend, Beth.  I let it be a slightly easier practice, as it was four hours since I'd arrived home from the latest DC jaunt.  It felt like I was coming home to my body again.  I spent a lot of time in backbends opening up all the tension in my shoulders and spine.  I stayed in an extended sirsasana, or headstand, to find balance & a shift in energy.  

I'm starting to feel like myself again.

Kevin told me once that when I don't practice yoga regularly I treat him differently.  He said I'm kinder & more patient with a consistent practice.


Given that some of my work is seasonal, there will be periods like this.  I'm doing my best to at least find a few minutes for pranayama, breath work, and/or meditation each day & especially when I can't commit to a more prolonged asana, or physical yoga practice.  I'm staying present to my intention to grow as a yogini & cultivate health.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


A half hour from Tena, you find the small, sleepy village of Misahualli.  I found it to be the most beautiful town in the region.  Like Tena, there are nearby jungle lodges, some on the river.  There's a soft sand beach along the shore.

We had landed in Tena during Carnivale.  Tons of Ecuadorian families descended into the region to celebrate & enjoy the jungle.  A fair had set up in Tena with rides, sweets, & bright lights.  Children and teenagers had begun the Carnivale practices of spraying one another with shaving cream, spraying water guns, splashing water, & throwing water into open bus windows.  We saw people in a dump truck, camped out, dousing those passing by!

Sergio, the guide who took us hiking into El Gran Canon, told us there were also fun celebrations in Misahualli & that we would be guaranteed to see monkeys if we visit!  I love seeing animals in their natural habitat.  The following morning Sergio met us with his 9-year-old son Rey, his 6-year-old daughter Bindi, and his 2-year-old son, Sergio.
 As soon as we walked into the jungle lining the river we saw masses of monkeys overhead.
 A mother & baby capuchin crossed our path.

 On the river banks I taught Rey & Bindi some yoga.  Bindi held my hand as we wandered through the maze of vendors, shaving cream, sprayed water & into the jungle.
From Misahualli we boarded a bus back to Tena.  We found a direct bus to Banos and began to once more ascent the Andes.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Welcome to the Jungle.
From Otavalo we took a two hour bus back to Quito.  We grabbed lunch in the Mariskal neighborhood before heading to the bus depot at the far south of the city.  We purchased two tickets to Tena, doorway to the Amazon.
Though the ride was said to take 5-6 hours, we arrived 9 hours after departing.  Our driver was happy to make additional stops.
Tena isn't much of a town, but after being in the jungle I'm such it could feel like the height of civilization.  There are a few backpacker hostals, but nothing stood out.  There are jungle lodges outside of town that seem lovely.  Ever independent, we booked in the hostal & decided to create our own tours.
We found a guide, Sergio Delfin, to take us to El Gran Canon & the caves of Jumandy.
The following morning Sergio met us with his 9-year-old son, Rey.  We drove out of Tena on a non-descript highway.  The driver took us down a gravel road lined by Quechua farms.  Eventually, he stopped, and we walked through the high grasses into the jungle.
Sergio pointed out this leaf.  There is medicine throughout these jungles.  This leaf is said to help regulate menstruation.  He explained that many Quechua women work very hard, physically.  Many farm in addition to child-rearing.  Often this physical labor can cause irregular menstruation.  After drinking tea brewed from this leaf, under supervision of a healer, many women experience renewed health.

What excited me most about this lesson was Rey's attentiveness.  I wish I'd learned how to pay attention to my environment at his age.
I began to understand why the Amazon is characterized as a rainforest.  In Tena, I was consistently damp from the intermittent rain.  However, once in the dense foliage of the jungle I was often dry despite downpour.  I'd never seen such thick vegetation.

As we crossed this bridge, Kevin started hopping from foot to foot!  I looked down to see tons of big ants crawling in and out of his sandal.  Sergio came over & helped Kevin take his shoes off.  He brushed all the ants off Kevin's feet and out of the sandals.  Kevin's feet were chewed up!  He said they throbbed for awhile after the incident.

Sergio took one ant & held it carefully.  He picked up a bit of Rey's sleeve & held it away from his arm.  He put the ant on the sleeve & watched as its pinchers sealed around a tiny bit of fabric.  Sergio explained that Quechua people use these ants as sutures.  If someone cuts themselves with a machete or has an open wound of any sort, they gather these ants to pull the skin back together & close the wound.
In this private lagoon, the boys dove in.  They swam into a cave where prior visitors had left a ladder.  How friendly.
Kevin & Sergio ascended past the rushing falls.  This brought them to a small wooden platform about 30 feet over the deep lagoon.  Swifts circled overhead.  The sound made Kevin & I originally misidentify them as bats.  Any movement and tons of birds would sing and rush past your head.

Kevin & Sergio got their nerve.
& jumped!
Sergio explained that often these type of grasses emerged in the areas bordering farm & jungle.
We had lunch at his friend's farm.

Those tendrils dripping from the tree?  Birds nests.  Birds swooped in & out, feeding their young, resting, & flying off.
Sergio prepared traditional Quechua-style salt-rubbed Tilapia.  Slow roasted over charcoal.  Kevin & I played with Rey & two of the resident's children.  The other adults were tilling the soil.
Sergio made a salad, boiled yucca, & made guacamole for the vegetarian.  Guacamole drenched boiled yucca is DELICIOUS.  This was my best meal since arriving in Ecuador.

Those banana leaves?  Picked fresh during our hike.
Our lagoon has a name.
As we wandered from the farms to the highway, we came across this border of coleus along the edge of a farm.  See it in better detail on the Rooted Blog.

We waited for a bus to take us 4 miles down the highway to the Jumandy caves.  Tons of Ecuadorian families had come into town for Carnivale.  Every passing bus was full!  I didn't realize how close the caves were-- we could have walked!  Sergio walked across the street to ask a store owner if he would give us a ride on his motorcycle.  The man agreed.  Before I knew it, Rey had hopped behind the store owner & was waiting for me to hop on behind him.  I got on before I could change my mind.  I hugged the store owner while trying not to crush Rey.  The motorcycle took off, racing down slick, steep Andean highway.  I began to giggle.  It was fun!  Then we crested a hill & I saw the approaching descent.  It occurred to me that the store owner had a helmet-- & Rey & I did not.  We approached a switchback & whizzed along.  The motorcycle dipped so far into the turn I thought my shoulder would get road-burn.  That's when I closed my eyes.

My prayers were answered and we reached the Jumandy caves.  Rey & I waited at a bus stop while the store owner went back up the highway to collect Sergio & Kevin.  Now my prayers turned to their safety.  When I saw them approach I audibly sighed.  Kevin enjoyed it, but he had struggled to stay on a bike with two other fully grown men.

We entered the Jumandy Caves.  A mini-park has been built around them that was packed with vacationing families.  A cave-fed pool was filled with playing kids.  The muddy water is said to be medicinal.  We put our things in lockers and waited in line to enter the caves.  Twelve people are admitted at a time.  We received headlamps and began sliding through the pitch black.  Soon we were swimming.  And rubbing the medicinal mud on our faces and bodies.  Kevin bravely dipped into a 12 ft deep tunnel.  Refreshed, tired, and content, we emerged from the caves and rode a bus back to Tena.

Where we got dessert.