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A Trip To Cuba

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Don and I just had a delightful jaunt to Cienfuegos, Cuba and it appears many of you are interested in the details of our journey. Let me start by saying it was easy and a wonderful experience!

 

IMG_4640If you have never been, or it was been more then 3 years since you have been to Cuba get ready to step into a place where time melds, and you see both past and future in any one moment. Someone’s Desoto from the 1950s, refinished beautifully, refitted to use diesel, and Apple computer logos on the window.   A horse drawn cart, used for commuting in and out of the city, full of people dressed in outfits of today with someone talking on a cell phone. Buildings, some renovated to their former beauty from the 1800s with flat screen TVs in the living room or music blasting from big sound speakers, while others are crumbling down just next door.

 

Cuba is such a feminine island to me. She is magical, mysterious, enticing, and calls to your heart to feel her energy and see her beauty. She is full of contrast, and highly spiritual. As Americans we have all been taught to fear her politically and been restricted in being able to visit her for over 50 years. But she now awaits your visit with an open heart and welcomes you with a warm embrace.IMG_4548

 

The Cuban people have great pride in their country, and well they should as they have survived years of conflict, isolation, hardship, and restrictions, and yet they survive. Although the former travel ban for US citizens has restricted many Americans from visiting Cuba, remember tourists from all over the world have been going for years. They take great pride in being a safe country as there is zero tolerance of possession of guns and drugs, which seems to keep the crime rate low.

 

Restrictions in their way of living have been lifted since I was there in 2009. They can own their homes and businesses. We stayed in a home, we booked through AIRBNB using our credit card online, and our hosts explained they own 2 homes one in each of their names (they are restricted to owning only 1 house per person.) They own the business as well. That is new since my last visit. There were more storefronts in the buildings I passed by during this visit from children’s toys to everyday clothing or sundries, and of course art, music and souvenirs. Capitialism is expanding in Cuba, and of course with that comes the good and the bad, as I saw more prosperity and more waste. It was interesting to see that perspective.

 

One of the things that Don and I both enjoyed seeing alive and well in Cuba was equality that was across so many of the divisions we still experience in the US. The people were so very integrated in their relationships; race and gender seemed a non-issue. They have a great spirit of comradery and collaboration. Time and time again we saw people helping one another, and with great warmth.
Now of course you want to know the details of how we booked the trip on our own. I had been to Ci
enfuegos on my last trip and really loved it. It is smaller then Havana and easy to explore which fit the bill for going it alone for Don and me. I then discovered that American Airlines has a direct flight from Miami once a day to Cienfuegos. I then got online and found a plethora of options for “casa particulares” on Airbnb.

 

Our hosts Mabe and Jose

Our hosts Mabe and Jose

They can only rent you a room in their homes, unlike other countries where you can rent a whole house, but that turned into one of our greatest blessings as we loved living with Mabel and Jose (as well as the other guests from Corsica and Italy.) Our choice was Mabe’s Hostal, which was only a 6 blocks from the Plaza Marti, 3 blocks from Prado Blvd (the main street) and close to restaurants. Jose speaks English very well, and Mabel speaks it a little bit. They were warm and helpful in giving suggestions of places to go to eat or for excursions, and answered many of our questions about their country. The cost of 4 nights stay for both of us – $135.00.

 

Guava, Papaya, Pineapple!

Guava, Papaya, Pineapple!

Breakfast each morning was on the rooftop terrace, where we would sit and converse with the other guests while eating fresh fruit, toast, tea, eggs (meat was an option) juice and some days a little pastry. Please note that there is plenty of fresh food, but the choices may seem limited from our perspective, as they are mostly a self-sustaining country. The cost of breakfast is not included but is only 5 cucs per person (1 cuc = about $1).

 

Next we went online to book our tickets through American Airlines. The ticket includes both your exit fee and medical insurance that covers you while in Cuba. It does not include the cost of your visa. Once we booked the ticket we received a call from Cuba Travel Services that explained everything we needed to know about getting the visa (they sent an email with the link) and checking in at the Cuba Ready desk at the airport (more on that in a minute.)

 

Once I received the link I went online to get our visas as we had enough time to do it by mail. You fill out all of the information and check a box that covers your reason for traveling to Cuba. The current list of reasons that you can get a visa for includes one that seemed to fit our reason perfectly –“support for the Cuban people.” Yes, in and among reasons like Education, Cultural Exchange or Religious activity there is this one that seemed to include our reasons to go. At no time were we questioned about this. The fee was $80.00 and they mailed our visas to us within 5 days. Note: they arrive blank, so take your time in filling them out as there is an added fee if you make mistakes.

 

IMG_4501That was it for our setup. The day of travel flowed very easy. Once we arrived at the airport in Key West we hit a bit of a slow down, as it appeared we were one of the first that the staff at AA was checking in to go to Cuba. After a few minutes 3 of them had figured out the correct codes, etc. and we were checked in. We flew to Miami where we then were instructed to look for a Cuba Ready desk. It turned out to be a small kiosk right at our gate. We walked up with no wait, he checked our passports, paper boarding passes and visas, stamped them and we were ready to go. VERY SIMPLE! Only 20 of us boarded our Airbus 319 and in about one hour from takeoff to landing we were in Cienfuegos! (Please note AA may downsize the planes as they are getting less bookings then anticipated.)IMG_4502

 

Cienfuegos is a very small airport (only 2 flights a day go in and out of it commercially – AA and Jetblue) and the crew for debarkation was greater than the number of passengers. 3 steps and forms were used for clearing immigration and customs. 1. Passports and visas checked 2. Man with white coat (maybe a Dr) takes your medical form saying you are healthy and not exposed to recent illness 3. Bags go through a metal detector like we do checking in for a flight. They are serious about no guns/weapons! Once cleared, we exchanged our Euros for CUCs (the exchange for Euros is much better then US dollars) and we were picked up by a taxi driver sent by Mabel to pick us up. 15 CUCs.

 

IMG_4588We found walking around easy, there are also plenty of car taxis, horse drawn taxis and bicycle taxis if you get tired and all are very reasonable. Meals cost between 10 -20 CUCs, but keep in mind we only drank water (bottled of course with no ice). We found we could easily get by with about 100 CUCs for the 2 of us per day. That included some of our travel, ferry ride to the Jagua castle (2 cucs round trip) and a 53 Chevy that took us to the beach and back for only 25 CUCs and of course I got to sail a Hobie cat (20 cucs).

 

I hope this encourages you to go and answers some of your questions. Travel consciously, bring with you kindness and respect, and leave with new friendships!IMG_4582

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Articles, Travels | 4 Comments »

Croatia, you stole our hearts!

Monday, July 4th, 2016

IMG_2860“Why Croatia?”, was a question we were often asked as we marketed Dalliance at Sea – a yoga passage through Croatia.   To be honest I can’t remember how Croatia came to be in our sphere of choices, but once it was, there was no turning back. It seems like many Americans have no idea where it is, let alone why we wanted to go there. For us it had the appeal of a small, not over-visited country with thousands of islands, diverse landscape, activities to enjoy and history to uncover. What we found was so much more.

 

From the big cities, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik, to the small villages, Korchula, Trisnik, Bol, we discovered the charm of its people, history and food. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. They seemed to enjoy one another and there was an easy flow to the day to day commuting about the city or town. Every meal was delicious! The history of the city and country is so rich and complex, with all of the civilizations that contributed to its current culture.

 

IMG_2881We discovered the country side with its rolling hills, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and miles of shoreline. Flower, fauna and colors galore were the eye candy of this trip, with each area we traveled through giving us an array of nature’s magic! Plvitice National Park is a must see, and our day was made special with rain to add to the watery magic

 

IMG_3159There is something very special here that we are missing in the US. Self-responsibility is predominant and I found it so refreshing. This is one of the things I love about traveling; the discovery of new perspectives and Croatia gave me the awareness of how much living in a litigiousness society has created restrictions. We say we have freedom, but I came to discover how limited that sense of freedom is in light of the ways of Croatia. I truly enjoyed a sense of freedom in Croatia that I haven’t felt for many years.

 

Thank you to our wonderful group of adventurers who added laughter, spirit, friendship and warmth to this marvelous trip! To our new friends who we said goodbye to in Croatia, we shall be back! Stay tuned for our next adventure!13432169_10210154019397638_7541739182952320263_n

 

 

Posted in Articles, Inspirations from Class, Retreats, Travels | 1 Comment »

Firsts

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Firsts, they happen so often when we are younger, and seemingly dwindle away as we get older.  They delight us, surprise us, and often take us to the edge of awakening a multitude of senses and emotions.   A life affirming sense of awe is inspired in us each time we take that step across the threshold of “firsts.”

Reflect back on some of those “firsts” that you have experienced in your life.  What did it feel like as you approached it?  How did you feel while you did it?  What feelings did you have as you completed it?

When I think of “firsts” I see a child’s face light up, I feel my heart leap, and I hear the sounds of delight, joy and accomplishment.  As a child so many simple things that we do bring us over the threshold of “firsts.”  We are so often in awe, delight, surprise and in the wonderment of discovery.  What I have found as my life has gone from childhood, to teenager, and into my adult years is that we seem to become numb to “firsts”, or maybe we just settle into the comfort of knowing.

Firsts lead us to the edge of knowing into the possibilities of the unknown.  Query and wonder live on that edge, as we pause to reflect on what it will be like to venture further.  Discovery walks hand and hand with “firsts” as does adventure.

As I write this I’ve been inspired by experiencing a “first” for me, when visiting Santa Fe last week, and seeing Aspens in their full autumnal glory!  I was transported back to child like wonder and excitement, as I am sure my daughter would attest to.  Clapping my hands and squealing with delight as we explored the mountainside by car and foot I was joy filled.  The color of the leaves, the way they shimmer in the wind, the magnificents of the white bark, and the sheer numbers of the trees as we climbed to the altitude of their pleasure all seemed illuminated by my excitement.  It was uplifting and so life affirming.

Equally, I remember my first visit to a Burger King.  Yes, this “aquatarian” used to eat whopper juniors with cheese.  I was a senior in high school visiting a friend in Florida when we stopped at Burger King, which had not found its way to New England yet.  That whopper junior tasted out of this world, and never did I have a better one.  This seems to be a common experience with “firsts,” they seem to intensify the experience, heightening the tastes, colors, smells, etc.

When was the last time you recognized that you were experiencing a “first?”  I highly recommend you notice them, as it is so good for the spirit, soul and well being of your life.  Take a moment to walk across the threshold of a “first”, and be awake to how it feels, shapes your perception, and invigorates your awareness.   Leap through the portal of the usual, and explore the adventure of your next “first.”  I’ll see you there.

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Posted in Articles, Inspirations from Class, Spirit, Travels | 4 Comments »

Key West Wellness Retreat

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I am so excited to be working with Donna Shields and Katie Haley as we collaborate in a new venture, Key West Wellness Retreats.  Our first offering is coming up fast, May 12-15, 2011.

Many of you are familiar with Yoga on the Beach, and our offerings, so let me introduce you to Donna Shields and Katie Haley.  Donna Shields, MS RD LD  is an Integrative nutritionist, cookbook author and radio talk show host of Natural Living.  Katie Haley, BS LMT, is the founder of Cosmicflower, educator, and writer. Together we will be offering an adventurous journey into wellness, while exploring many of the beautiful locations in Key West.

This 3-day program focuses on integrative nutrition and healthy cooking, aromatherapy for wellness and healing, intuitive mediation using essential oils, an organic wine tasting and yoga on the beach. Guests will also blend their own botanical perfumes to take home.

We will be using some of the beautiful gardens in Key West during this retreat that are not typically available to tourists.   As an added bonus, the program is accredited for continuing education hours for Florida registered nurses and massage therapists.

Can’t make this retreat?  Our next retreat is November 10-13, 2011.  Key West Wellness Retreats can also create a retreat for your group or organization depending on your needs and interests.

Did I just hear a sigh of relief?  I hope you’ll be able to join us soon.

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Brazil – My Memoirs

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Arriving Manaus

This traveling Sagittarian got her groove on with this latest trip.  Oh how I love to discover, and going to Brazil gave me lots of opportunity to be “out there” in the vast unknown.  Brazil is the 4th largest country in the world, Portuguese is their language and few speak English with the diversity of land, sea, countryside and cities being tremendous. So we choose to make our trip one that was nature centered and not too strenuous on the travel side of things, and we focused on the Northeast section of the country.

GETTING THERE –  We met up in Miami, 4 great friends and travel lovers, and enjoyed an evening in South Beach.  Early the next morning we boarded our plane for Manaus, and then caught our connection to Forteleza.  I love TAM airlines, as they make the trip very comfortable.  After spending the night at a hotel on the beach in Forteleza (the capital city of the state of Ceara) we were picked up by our driver for the 4 hour trip to our destination, Vila Prea.  3 hours on the highway, with a stop at a small roadside buffet for lunch, and another stop to drop the air pressure in our tires for the off road section of the trip we hit the point on the road that was all sand!

So Much Magnificents

THE BEACHES:  We spent our first week on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the area of Jericocoara (Jeri) and the village of Prea.  The first 4 nights we spent at Vila Prea, a lovely secluded spot about 45 minutes outside of Jeri.  Our villa had two bedrooms, a sitting area (my bedroom), and outside bathroom with 3 showers, with hammocks swinging on the front porch and the bathroom.   It was a delightful place to chill, and get our vacation energy flowing.  The food was outstanding, fresh, organic and flavorful.

Each morning I would go for an early morning walk, sometimes up to 3 hours, as I got my “Dora the Explorer” on and would venture out to discover the area.  Early morning was the best time, as the sun was not too hot and the wind was down.  By the time I was returning between 8 and 9, the wind was just starting its climb upward to 30 knot.  Let me tell you when it is blowing that hard the sand can really blast against you.  So the rest of the day was chilling on the beach, protected from the wind, lying in hammocks, or riding the big waves!  WAHOO!

Life close to the equator and south of it is a whole different experience.  I loved watching the arch of the sun travel straight up, the heat of the day build, and the shifting wind change the landscape daily.  The stars at night were mostly foreign to me, as I am not familiar with the southern hemisphere.  I slept two nights outside on one of the hammocks just to take it all in!

We spent the next 3 nights “in town” in a sweet pousada called Pousada do Norte.  A simple place on the outskirts of town near the beach, it gave us a little quiet in this town that likes to party.  All the streets are sand, and there are plenty of shops, restaurants/bars to entertain.  Each night people climb the sand dune for sunset, gathering to enjoy, connect and jump the hill at the end.  We got right into it, leaping off the cliff into the soft sand with glee.

Taking the leap together

We explored the town enjoying meals in a number of restaurants including the local Acai and Tapioca.    Tapioca is made like a tortilla, and then used to make both savory and sweet wraps.  YUM! Shannon and I took a dance class one afternoon which was great fun and in Portuguese, but we got it on!  And then we adventured.

Ready for adventure

Adventures – While in the area we took 2 dune buggy rides exploring the beauty and nature that is this region.  The first ride was from Vila Prea to Tatajuba.  Hold onto your hats ladies, this was a ride to be remembered. We flew across the beach, through Jericocoara and then beyond.  The trip took us along the beaches, up and over sand dunes that varied from a few feet to one that was about 50 ft high.

We stopped for a side adventure on a small river and of course all of this was in Portuguese.  None of us understood much but then we realized we were here to see the seahorses.  What a delightful surprise!  That is the thing about traveling in a country when you don’t speak the language, there are so many opportunities to learn and be surprised.

Then it was back on the “road” and the sea, as we drove up to some water that we needed to forge.  The driver drove onto a raft, and then two men poled us across to the other side.  In the morning it was one thing, as the tide was low, the wind was down, and the waves flat.  On our return with a high tide, outgoing current, and the wind blowing about 25 it was quite a feat!

Hammock anyone?

We eventually found our way to Lago Tatajuba, a fresh water lake with hammocks strung in the water, and food vendors waiting to cook you a fresh fish, or make you a drink.  It was an oasis of heaven and we enjoyed it all, including the ride on a swing that flings you into the lake.

Then it was back over the river and through the woods to our home (no grandmothers on this trip.)

Our second buggy ride was from Jeri and to Lago Paradiso, one of the most beautiful lakes I have been on.  The water is the color of the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by white sandy beaches, palm trees and very little development.  On the way we stopped at Lago Azur, and I was so delighted to get to be on a sailboat as there were two that ferried people over to the “hangout” spot.  Well I wasn’t about to miss out on an opportunity to sail, so instead of sitting on the beach I jumped on the first boat, and went back and forth a few times.  By the third time the driver handed me the tiller and allowed me to sail us back.  Thrilled?  You betcha!

I got a second shot at sailing when we arrived at Lago Paradiso, as our driver saw my great pleasure and asked  a friend to bring his boat around.  Gail and I took a 50 minute sail up the lake taking in the view from the water.  Spectacular!  The boats are a simple wooden boat, with no hardware, just wood and sail.  I loved them.

Amazon –  Our next part of the trip took us back to Forteleza for a night and then to Manaus.  Our overnight in Manaus was on a Sunday when most places are closed.  Not being a fan of cities, I was challenged to find my pleasure, but I did in a park near our home that was renovated a few years ago, and the Opera house.

The Opera house in Manaus was built over a 15 year period in the late 1800, to help Manaus become one of the leading cities in the world.  It is now a world class Opera house, and the site for film and theatre festivals.  We lucked out and there was a festival going on while we were there, so we jumped in and got tickets for a show that night.  It was a musical comedy, all in Portuguese, held in the road on the stage.  We had a blast, laughing at the physical comedy and enjoying the beauty that surrounded us in the marble, chandeliers and magnificence of the theatre.

Hot tubs aboard the Premier

Next morning we were picked up by our driver and brought to the check point for our Amazon cruise.  There we were greeted and told that for the first 3 nights we would be upgraded on the Premier, their luxury boat.  It is bigger than the boat we booked, holding up to 30 rather than 18 people, with more amenities.  Thank you, we said and boarded our new home.

The first leg of our trip was down the Rio Negro (and yes the water looks black), to the Meetings of the Waters.  This is where the Solimoes River meets the Rio Negro to form the Amazon River.  It is an amazing natural phenomenon.

Meeting of the Waters

Because of the difference between the speed, temperature and ph balance of the two rivers when they meet

they do not mix for almost 100 kilometers. It is like looking at black coffee meeting a café con leche.  They swirl around one another like oil and water.

Then we headed up the Solimoes where the river is plentiful with its ph balance, and fast flow nature abounds in and around it.  We were all surprised at how much humanity sits on the side of this river, in the form of farm land and electric light at night.  It is a fertile home to many, as we discovered on our first night excursion.  We sat in large motorized canoes with our guide, who would use a searchlight sporadically to check out for traffic on the water, and wildlife around us.  The reflect eyes of nature would shine back at us announcing a Cayman (the local crocodile), birds or mammals along the water.  We saw plenty!  Then it was off to bed.

Each day was spent with an early morning canoe adventure, breakfast, another outing, lunch and then some rest time.  We would go out again around 4, and sometimes out after dinner.  I loved the sunset tour, as we got to see the light change and the bats come out.  With the ph in the water so balanced it is a great home for mosquitoes, and happily the bats help to keep the population down.

Shannon with her Piranha

We fished one morning, catching lots of piranha.  I caught a catfish, and a trout as well.  Our guide Hugo and one of the passengers got bit as they tried to unhook their piranha.  They have very sharp and plentiful teeth!  We encouraged them to drip some blood into the river to help attract more fish, which seemed to work.

Wednesday was hump day, and we headed back to Manaus to switch boats and directions.  We boarded the Amazon Clipper and were delighted to be on this smaller, more intimate ship.  Our new home was simple, and although the cabins were a bit smaller we all seemed happier to be aboard her.  We hung up the hammocks that Shannon and Jill bought on the top deck and settled in for our adventures up the Rio Negro.  Goodbye mosquitoes as the ph in this river does not allow for as much life to thrive, which excluded mosquito breeding.   YEAH!  We still say plenty of wildlife in the jungle, river and sky including the famous pink and grey dolphin.  They are beautiful but tricky to get a photo of, so I would just sit back and enjoy the show. One morning I stayed back from the fishing expedition, as the dolphins played around our boat for almost 5 hours.  It was sweet.

Amazon Clipper

Our new tour guide was Wayne, a very knowledgeable and humorous local.  He took us out on night ventures, walked through the Amazon jungle sharing knowledge of the vegetation and wildlife, and touring through some villages.

Giant Water Lilies

His years of being a tour and river guide show as he was so comfortable with all of the nationalities on board, and shared many funny stories of his many adventures since being a young man as a canoe driver.

Girls in Jeri

THE PEOPLE – We did a few trips into villages along both rivers.  They are beautiful, hard working, friendly people, who live close to nature and her rhythm.  Along the river the shore changes almost 30 ft, rising during rainy season to the tree tops, and dropping in the dry season to expose 20 – 30 feet of its bottom.  That’s what we saw, with many of the tributary rivers completely dried up or just a trickle.  Adaptability seems to be a strength of these people as they move their homes, and travel the river for their livelihood.  The sense of community was strong in each of the villages we visited, and I loved seeing the children our playing together, with such warmth about them. 

Even in small villages we saw recycling!

So much more to share, but for now I’ll say how happy I am to have had this opportunity to jump into humanity, explore Mother Earth on a new continent and bath in the abundance of Nature!
Oh the places we shall go….

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