Playas and Pupusas

I’m back home in LA and missing our sweet retreat apartment—complete with bunkbed slumber parties and epic patio views— so much! Our last couple days in El Salvador were when we finally had a chance to kick back and relax. We had really front loaded the trip, because some retreaters were only able to stay for three days or five days, so a few people left on Wednesday after ziplining. Our end of the week was spent hanging by the pool, ordering massages, surfing, and doing yoga some more. I was a little tired for the fourth and final surf lesson, because we had just taken one of Pixie’s Buti Yoga classes. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s this new, tribal dance style of yoga that is really popular among women, especially in the middle of the US. I LOVE it! It’s spreading its way out to the coasts, so if you’re looking to try something wild and new, see if there’s a class near you.

Puro Surf El Salvador

On our last night, we went back into the town of El Tunco to dance at the bar and eat pupusas. If you need one reason above all others to visit El Salvador, this would be it! Pupusas are these little corn tortilla pockets filled with whatever you like—beans, meet, veggies, cheese, etc.—and topped with a yummy tomato salsa and spicy cabbage slaw. Think quesadilla, but even better! They’re about 75 cents a piece in the town, so we had no trouble filling our bellies. 11/10 would recommend!

Pupusas El Tunco

Braving the Sea

I have to admit, of all the activities on the trip, surfing was the one I was looking forward to the least. Growing up, I always wanted to be a surfer chick, back when I was shopping at Pacific Sunwear and wearing puka shell necklaces. Then I got older and actually tried a lesson. Turns out, surfing was way harder than it looked on TV! It wasn’t as easy as snowboarding, which I’d picked up in about a day or two. Surfing hurt. The first lesson I took was on a real fiberglass board, so I ended up with a lot of scratches and bumps from getting tumbled around underwater. Oh well, I’d just have to choose another life path besides surfing.

Another issue: when I was younger, I liked swimming in the ocean. I’d body surf and boogie board without any concerns for safety, but somewhere along the way, I lost that fearlessness and began to prefer staying closer the shore. Sometimes I’ll swim out farther, but I’m usually very cautious to go underneath the waves and, when it’s time to come in, I’ll swim or walk quickly to shore without letting any of them interfere.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

I left for El Salvador feeling excited about the yoga and the waterfall jumping but pretty half-hearted about the prospect of catching waves. I thought might be able to stand up once or twice, but I probably wasn’t going to enjoy it. I was teaching on the retreat, though, so of course I would still join in and set a good example.

Two days later, we were lined up on the beach getting our first lesson from Marcelo, the founder of Puro Surf and the head instructor of their Academy Program. He led us in a breathing and stretching warmup that felt a lot like yoga. He broke down each of the steps in a simple way that we could repeat every time.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

Something about his instruction must have stuck with us, because we all stood up in the water on the first day, and the next, and the next. The ocean was crazy warm, and the waves were small but powerful—perfectly manageable for beginners, which the majority of us were. By day three, I was really getting the hang of it. I noticed that when I was out in the water, I didn’t think about anything else besides reading the wave, feeling it push me, and following the steps to get up onto the board. My mind felt completely clear for the first time in a while. Surfing was a lot like yoga.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

If the weather was sketchy or the waves too big, we would have our instruction in the hotel gym, just to make sure we were prepared for what we would see on the beach. One day, we even learned how to turn by riding skateboards outside the gym. I certainly never expected that at 31 years old I’d be rolling around a skatepark in El Salvador, but I guess there’s a time and a place for everything.

Puro Surf skate park

By the end of the trip, I had fallen in love with surfing. I wasn’t getting tumbled as often as the first two days, but I liked Marcelo’s main message. We were all going to get tumbled by the ocean at some point, so we had two choices. Choice number one: freak out! Choice number two: relax, stay calm, enjoy a little massage, and keep surfing. You can guess which option we all chose.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

Beach Cleanup

Although we were busy enjoying the surf lessons and the ocean view from the yoga studio, we couldn’t forget the third part of the Surf Sweat Serve mission. On Tuesday afternoon, we joined students from the local school and a group of girls from the Medusas surf program to clean up the beach areas around the hotel. We brought our own reusable bags from home and gave a short presentation on how to make more conscious choices about using less plastic, recycling whenever possible, and reducing our overall impact on the environment.

I was impressed to find that most of the kids were already aware of what they could do to help stop pollution of our oceans and that most had done beach cleanups before . They were eager to get their hands dirty, and seeing their enthusiasm made me want to do more to make the earth a better place for them and future generations.

Beach clean up Surf Sweat Serve

Over the weekend, we celebrated World Ocean’s Day. After our surf lesson, we did a quick, five-minute sweep of the beach, and all 15 or so of us were able to fill our arms with plastic trash, including silverware, bottle caps, and soles of shoes. I couldn’t help but feel depressed looking at our piles of garbage, knowing that it would probably still end up in a landfill just like the massive ones I’d seen in Nicaragua. The only real way to prevent plastic from destroying our environment is to use less of them.

Oftentimes, travel is not only about the fun you have on the trip, but what you can take away from it when you come back home. I am going to be making a more dedicated effort to observe my consumption habits and figure out changes I can make.

Zipline Time

The last time I was in Central America, I skipped ziplining because I was too evolved beyond the lures of zipling (and also poor), then I wrote about how the act of ziplining doesn’t matter and how it’s ok to walk down the hill instead. This time I decided walking down the hill while your friends are ziplining is PRETTY LAME (but still ok, if you’re intentional about it), so on Wednesday, we ziplined.

Zipline Apaneca

After a two hour van drive, we donned our helmets and harnesses and rode in the open-air truck up to the top of a mountain or hillside or whatever it was we would be zipping off of. I love how gung-ho everyone in our group was about activities. Of course everyone would be hitting the cables; there was no doubt about it.

Apaneca

We set off from about 15 different platforms and lines on the way down. The first few were tiny puddle jumpers, but they eventually led up to the longer main events. As we got further down, the clouds broke open into light rain. We had to switch out our leather gloves for waterproof versions, but a little water couldn’t stop us.

Floripondia

It started raining a lot harder once we were back in town. It was no concern to us, since we found a coffee shop/artesian store that served paninis with the greatest chimichurri of all time along with any variation of coffee brewing technique your heart might desire. Who knew a little town in El Salvador would have the latest espresso machines, Chem X, V60, and french presses? I can’t tell the difference, but I can recognize a master barista when I see one.

Cafe Axul Apaneca

To our delight, the rain ceased when we finished our lunch, and we were able to explore the town of Apaneca. I always love getting out of the resort and seeing what the actual country is like. This is one of the best I’ve seen. The people are very welcoming and the little streets have so much character—there were so many adorable paintings on the walls and telephone poles; I couldn’t resist photographing all the bright colors and intricate doorways.

Apaneca El Salvador
Apaneca El Salvador

We could’ve easily spent the whole day here, venturing down side streets and picking up on even more details. I know many countries have their dangers and that we should always be careful when in a new environment, but I truly have not found where all the warning messages about El Salvador come from. We’ve been in a big group with knowledgable guides, but the locals have all been friendly, well-educated, and kind.

Apaneca El Salvador

Getting out into the town makes me feel even more that El Salvador is a gem of a country and should not be missed.

Apaneca El Salvador

Chasing Waterfalls in Tamanique

Although it’s tempting to spend every possible moment basking in the sun and infinity pool at the hotel, we’ve managed to be very active during our time here. On Monday, we drove away from the resort to explore more of the countryside. We were dropped off in the town of Tamanique, and our guide led us down a dirt path to hike to a waterfall.

El Salvador

It’s the end of the rainy season, so the scenery is lush and vibrant. We hiked for about an hour, winding down the hillside and listening to the sounds of the rushing waters below us.

Tamanique waterfalls

Once we got to the waterfall, don’t tell my mom and dad, but we jumped off the 20 ft. cliffs into the waters below. Our group of 12 was finally all together, after a few late arrivals due to varying travel plans and work schedules. There were a few different heights, but everyone ended up jumping off one of the cliffs! It’s been a blast to be with such an adventuresome crew.

Tamanique waterfalls

We could hear the sounds of an afternoon thunderstorm rumbling in the distance, and our guide urged us to get dressed quickly so we’d have time to visit the second, lower waterfall. We hiked a little further down, and jumped in to swim underneath the cascading streams.

Tamanique waterfalls

I almost didn’t go in on the bottom level, because I’d dried off and didn’t want to get wet again. That would have been a mistake, because it started raining heavily while we were all in the water. The guide rushed us out and warned that the waters could rise quickly. We scrambled to put on our clothes and shoes, then slid over the muddy rocks to pull ourselves out. After a fast and breathless hike up the trail, we were back in the town, soaking wet but smiling. It was a sticky and soggy ride home in the van, but we all made it back safe and sound to Puro Surf to dry off.

Tamanique

Enchanting El Salvador

We’ve been here since Friday, but it already feels like we’ve moved in and might be staying down here forever. The world is feeling peaceful, complete with perfect patio views, enriching connections, and new surroundings. We’ve experienced a few yoga classes, a couple of surf lessons, and a cultural visit into the town of El Tunco.

I can’t say I’ve seen a better yoga studio view in my time as a student or teacher:

Puro Surf yoga

It’s always a little intimidating to teach a new group of people, but I’m glad everyone has been keeping an open mind and showing up for class, whether they’ve done yoga a bunch of times or only once or twice. I’m so appreciative that they’ve created space and trust to have me as an instructor.

Puro Surf surfing lessons

We’ve had two surf lessons so far. The waves right in front of our hotel are too difficult for beginners, so we’ve been driving about 20 minutes away to another beach. We learned and practiced techniques in the sand before heading into the water. I’d had one surfing lesson before coming here, but the lessons here have been a lot more structured and easy to pick up. Everyone stood up on the boards on their first days! The second day waves were more forceful, but we all rode some, and I’m getting more comfortable being tumbled and feeling less afraid of the ocean.

Puro Surf El Salvador

I think the hotel vistas speak for themselves! Puro Surf is a sweet hideaway surrounded by black sand beaches and little hidden caves. They consciously collect rainwater from the thatched roof and use reusable straws/silverware for all of their drinks and dishes. The surf instructors are some of the best (and best-looking :P ) around!

Puro Surf El Salvador

On Sunday night, we went into the nearby town of El Tunco for drinks by the beach and to celebrate one of the retreater’s birthdays. It’s been a treat to get to know everyone who came from as close as LA and as far as Hong Kong and Australia.

We’re having an awesome time and the days are jam-packed and flying by! I’ll be sharing more adventures as the week goes on.

Monkey Lala El Tunco

We made it to El Salvador!

We made it to El Salvador this morning, and things are looking bright! I’m going to be here for the week teaching yoga on a retreat with Surf Sweat Serve. Today we’re finalizing the details of the itinerary, getting settled in, and eating lots of yummy fruit for second breakfast.

I’ve already seen chickens wandering in the road and a mid-day parade featuring fireworks, because what else would one expect in Central America? It’s the perfect mix of sun and clouds, humid (how I like it), and gorgeously green!

Puro Surf El Salvador

i can’t wait to see what surf lessons have in store for me!

Skiing in Squaw Valley

I didn’t think I could enjoy a ski area as much as I’ve enjoyed Mammoth, but, think again, because my dad and I found another outstanding competitor a few weeks ago. Spring skiing in Squaw Valley has made it’s way to the top of the list of best trips ever. I mean, Spring skiing almost anywhere is my favorite kind of skiing—60 degrees, blue skies, and soft ice-free snow—but an early May weekend at Squaw really made me feel spoiled.

Squaw Valley gondola

Ok, this is coming from a mainly Northeastern skiier up until last year, but I was amazed to find that there was still SO MUCH snow! Most of the mountain was open and stayed open until 1pm, when it would get a little too slushy to carry on, but the highest part would remain open until 4pm, i.e. the entire day… in May!

Squaw Valley skiing

The Saturday that we were there was the day before Cinco de Mayo, i.e. Cuatro de Mayo, so there were a lot of other fun happenings going on (like the annual pond skim) and tacos to eat. We were hesitantly ok with calling it quits around 1 o’clock, but it would have been easy to keep going. However, we had to move on to partaking in one of the other benefits of Squaw Valley—its proximity to Lake Tahoe!

Lake Tahoe

Wow, wow, wow! Check out these aprés ski vistas! I’m beginning to think I could consider living in other parts of California besides the southern third.

Lake Tahoe

My Favorite Things About Savannah, GA

  1. My mom lives there

    We just passed Mother’s Day, so this has to be a big one! If Savannah didn’t already have enough to offer, this makes it an easy choice for a favorite city. I missed posting on the actual Mom’s day (has it really been almost a month since the last post? Yikes, sorry about that!), but I spent Easter Weekend in Georgia with my mom... and at the community clubhouse eating all the shrimp cocktail at the brunch buffet.

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2. It’s green everywhere

Savannah is known for its lush garden squares and Spanish moss hanging from all the trees. It’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brought to life; a little spooky and mysterious at night, but perfectly enchanting during the day. I haven’t taken a ghost tour yet, but it’s sure to be on the list someday.

Savannah GA

3. Food in all forms

Since my mom and stepdad started living down here, over ten years ago, the food scene seems to have evolved a bit. Of course, we can and do still find our favorites—southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes at the Pink House, classic sandwiches from Zunzi’s (though I miss the old food truck), or mini chocolate chip cookies from Byrd. This time, we added some new kids on the block. Grilled cheese with curried tomato soup served in a Warhol-esque Campbell’s can at Atlantic—they were playing Dark Side of the Moon to accompany Wizard of Oz on a projector screen. Very hip; very youthful! Aussie fare from Collin’s Quarters that took me back to two months earlier at Bondi Beach. And one of the tastiest vegan restaurants I’ve tried yet. In the middle of Georgia! Can you believe it?! I guess it’s not that surprising when you consider the fact that Savannah’s also home to SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design), one of the country’s best art schools, which brings me to #4…

4. The arts

It turns out, Savannah is not only a city for brunching, drinking, visiting my mom, and walking around fancy squares, though you could occupy quite a bit of your time with all of that. It also has a very fulfilling cultural scene and a continuous supply of youthful energy from incoming college students. Every year, there’s the huge Savannah Music Festival and the Savannah Book Festival featuring well-known artists and authors from all around. In day-to-day life, there is an impressive amount of museums, galleries, and artsy shops to keep you inspired and your creative well full.

5. Nature

Believe it or not, some of my wildest natural sightings have occurred while visiting my mom in Savannah. There’s usually an alligator or two sunning themselves along the banks of the ponds or the edges of golf courses. And there are often cute little turtles basking on the rocks nearby. I’ve seen a few owls up in the trees while out on my trail runs. One time, I even saw the biggest snake of my life sneaking around the outside of the house! My mom lives a bit outside of downtown, so I never know what to expect.

Can’t wait for the next visit back down here.

Birthdays

I turned 31 this month. I know, can you believe it?! Life is always rushing past at full speed, and I’m doing what I can to make the most of all these moments. Since a birthday is really a reason to go BIG if there every was one, I decided to do a very SoCal particular thing and try to ski and visit the beach in the same day. Of course it’s possible, the mountains and the beaches are a little under 3 hours apart, but in reality with LA traffic, you can never be too sure. I had to test it out for myself.

On April 9th, I rose before the sun, tucked my skis into the trunk of my car, and drove up into the mountains. Well, actually drove an hour on the highway and then a steep and windy hour and a half to Big Bear. One of the most important reasons for attempting this feat was that Big Bear Mountain offers a free lift ticket on your birthday. I had a birthday that blissfully coincided with a day off work, so I HAD. TO. GO.

I made it onto the mountain by about 9:30am, minus a brief stop for second breakfast since I’d donated blood for the first time the day before and was feeling a little woozy. There was not a tremendous amount of snow left this late in the season, but there was certainly enough to ski on. I’ve definitely seen less snow on other ski trips in my life.

Big Bear spring skiing
Big Bear Spring skiing

This was my first time going skiing by myself, but iPhone & headphones were there for me, and it was a truly excellent morning. At around 11:30, the snow was getting pretty slushy, so I decided it was an appropriate time to make for the beach.

I stopped for lunch (an egg salad bagel, naturally) from what used to be my favorite bagel place but is now my second favorite bagel place since this one opened a few weeks ago. It’s really kind of unfortunate because the new one is way closer to my house and my bagel intake plus my waistline have probably both quadrupled or more. Anyhow, egg salad in tow I carried on my way.

One of my friends is a high school teacher who had a half-day field trip, so she kindly agreed to meet in Venice to make the day extra special. We grabbed a beer and scurried to the sand as fast as we could. It was still kind of breezy for LA spring, but that didn’t stop us from dunking in the water. I always try to get in the ocean as much as I can whenever I’m near the beach, even if it’s chilly, just so I don’t take it for granted.

Venice beach
Venice boardwalk

My view had changed from snow to sand in a matter of hours. Unreal! Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that I seriously live here. I wouldn’t say the ski & sea voyage is completely reasonable for a regular day, unless you feel like LA driving for 6 hours, but for a special occasion with plenty of free time it was perfectly doable.

Ben & Jerry’s must have known it was my birthday, because on the walk back to our cars to try to beat the wild rush hour traffic, they were giving out free ice cream cones for no reason at all!

Ben & Jerrys Venice Beach

What a sweet ending to a perfect day! It was followed by a night of loungey cocktails with lovely friends and then a very satisfying sleep.

Penguin Parade

I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of animal sightings, even after our Sydney zoo tour featuring the koala breakfast, so I rallied Mike for another one-day bus tour, and we took a voyage down to Phillip Island to see the parade of penguins. Every night (I think) at this point about 2 hours from Melbourne, a number of tiny penguins waddle in from the sea and make their way up to their wooden nest boxes on the coast to sleep or feed their kids or mate (very noisy) or whatever else penguins do in their nests. I was told there would be hundreds of penguins to view, so it sounded like a sight worth seeing. Count us in.

But first, we needed to find more kangaroos, so we were taken to a stop at an animal sanctuary where they had koalas, emus, and a dingo for viewing and a bunch of kangaroos for feeding.

sleeping koala
emu

The kangaroos were very relaxed and open to being fed, but the whole feeding event really was a testament to the ridiculousness of human behavior when new animals are present. Everyone was crowding, poking, and generally bothering the very calm kangaroos, so it was a little disheartening.

Maru animal sanctuary

After the sanctuary, we visited the beach and ordered iced coffee, which is actually either coffee with ice cream or with a whole bunch of sugar. I should’ve just gotten a Golden Gaytime like everyone else was doing.

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We stayed in our habit of not listening to the time we were supposed to be back on the bus and then arriving to find we were the last ones on the bus. Then it was time for a stop at a place called the Nobbies, which held excellent seascape views and the Seal Rocks where, unfortunately, the seals are too far away for the naked eye to see.

The Nobbies

Finally, onto the much awaited final destination. We arrived at the penguin march around 7 and entertained ourselves with a light dinner and sunset vistas while waiting for the penguin migration.

Phillip Island

They started coming in around eight o’clock and, I must say, there were far fewer penguins than we were expecting. Like, we saw 8 when we were expecting hundreds. Still cool to see I suppose, but also a bit anticlimactic after all the hype of waiting. However, when we turned around to walk back to the van, we did see at least tens, if not hundreds of the tiny birds. The trip was saved, either by the viewing of the penguins or by the hot chocolate that was waiting for us when we got back.

Fairy Floss

During the trip, I overhead someone say that a visitor to Australia will take one of two sides: you’ll either decide that you’re a Sydney person or a Melbourne person. I had heard cool things about the art, music, and culture coming out of Melbourne, so Mike and I decided to make a weekend out of it and flew on the budget Tiger airline to check it out. I’ve also heard that Sydney is more like the west coast of the US and Melbourne is more like the NYC area. So, you can probably figure out which one I prefer as I sit here writing this from my sunny SoCal apartment with lots of grass in the backyard.

Melbourne botanical gardens

I didn’t dislike Melbourne at all, I was just surprised to find it so similar to big cities that I’ve seen a lot of before. Hip bars, delicious restaurants, but overall not much newness. Well, there was one new thing… Melbourne is well-known for its coffee, and we were promised some of the best cups of coffee in the world. However, I hadn’t been that huge of a fan of Australian coffee at that point. I don’t like to add cream, so I found the long and short blacks all too bitter and the lattes much too milky (even though they sometimes came with adorable koala designs!) I (and Mike, too) missed the good old fashioned drip, which, while it might not be the fanciest or highest quality, felt familiarly like a satisfying cup of home.

Melbourne coffee

On our first day in Melbourne, we were off to try this famed coffee, but I decided to mix it up and sample something new based some intriguing Yelp reviews. Enter, fairy floss. What was this? It looked like a cloud in a cup and appeared to be more about novelty than actual taste. I can be into that, especially in the midst of an impromptu vacation down under. I ordered what looked like (and was like) plain cotton candy and selected the matcha to pour over top. There was also a hot chocolate option, but when I tried to order a coffee version, the waitress looked at me like I was crazy (which was a lot coming from someone who seemed like they had inserted an IV drip of caffeine for her entire shift), suggested the matcha, then brought me an extra shot of espresso just in case I wanted to try it.

Matcha fairy floss

The pouring experience was quite a treat, and it was the best matcha I’ve ever had. No joke! Our caffeine choices gave us the energy to continue on explorations of the botanical gardens, figure out the public transportation system (some free, some not free, some trolleys), and eat the most incredible Italian dinner from this unbelievable restaurant, which you should go to and tell me seriously, how is it all vegan??

While I might label myself a Sydney person, I enjoyed the rest of our stay in Melbourne, playing hipster Guess Who?, drinking craft beers, and checking out the local music scene. I would certainly go back for more of any of what Australia has to offer.

Basking in the Blue Mountains

Towards the end of my time in Sydney, I was able to make a little excursion to a place I had heard a lot of wonderful things about—the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters rock formation. I joined a bus tour, though I found out later it would’ve been just as easy to take the train, but I was happy to have company and a guide. We started the day with a lovely waterfall hike, where we saw some beautiful nature and some not-so-beautiful homes of the famed Australian spiders that will all quickly kill you.

Blue Mountains
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Then it was off to scope out the breathtaking landscapes around the Three Sisters. There wasn’t much hiking here, just a hop off the bus and take pictures sort of situation, but the views were certainly worth the trip.

Three Sisters

Afterwards, we went off to search for kangaroos IN THE WILD!!! And we were handsomely rewarded with three sightings. Two of them were moms carrying joeys in their pouches! The babies were actually pretty big, and I’m still not sure how they fit into the pouches. I also learned during this trip that kangaroos have two uteruses and can be perpetually pregnant. Yeesh.

Kangaroos

The day ended with a stop at a swimming hole, which was really nice, but would have been even nicer had I known that “wet clothes” is Australian for bring your bathing suit. Whoops!

Steps through Sydney

After our week in Bondi, I was back on my own to wheel my giant suitcase through the buses, trains, and city streets until finding my way to Redfern to stay with Mike, one of my bff’s from college. Redfern appears to be the Brooklyn of Sydney; it’s hip, featuring cute parks and coffee shops, and less crowded than the central business district. Mike has a very sweet and very adult real-life apartment there, and he was gracious enough to accommodate me on the couch-bed for the week.

Redfern, Sydney

Mike was working during the days, so I had some time to explore more of actual Sydney, which I hadn’t seen much of yet since I’d spent most of the first weeks in Manly and Bondi. I walked and walked, and sometimes took the metro. I visited the Royal Botanical Gardens and sought out fancy donuts that my friend had seen on Instagram.

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney
Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

I did more yoga (at an amazing studio) and afterwards indulged in the famed Australian meat pies (mine was chicken; it was just okay).

Yoga Moves Sydney
Australian meat pie

When Mike got out of work, we visited pubs and found fish & chips, among other foods. I was grateful to have some extra time to explore Sydney, and glad that my visit took me to three very different parts of the city so I could get a feel for it all.

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Best of Bondi

Much to our dismay, our coveted beach week in Bondi, which started out looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Ended up, by the third day, and for the rest of our time, looking like this:

Bondi Beach

Oh no!

We ventured out on a scattered showers day for our Bondi to Coogee trek, but most mornings we were resigned to stay inside.

Bondi to Coogee walk

Although we had to content ourselves with the yoga and the sampling of Bondi’s outstanding places to eat and drink, we were able to make the most of it. For heaven’s sake, The Nine even made me this koala latte while I worked inside on a stormy day:

Koala latte The nine

Some of our other favorites were:

  • Bad Mama: We stumbled in here on a night when we were planning to go into Sydney, but the rain kept us home. We hadn’t made a reservation and Bondi restaurants can get crowded, so we weren’t expecting too much when this cocktail bar had open tables and seated us right away. We weren’t even sure they served food. How wrong we were! Everything was mind-blowing and we would happily come back for more.

  • Bangkok Bites: Incredible Thai food! Super crowded, but super excellent and fast service!

  • Bondi’s Best: Yummy seafood. We tried to come here without a reservation and ended up having to make one for later in the week.

  • BondiTony’s: The BEST burgers! Grass-fed, organic stuff, craft beers, healthy-ish options, and vegan milkshakes. We came here twice during our stay.

  • Fonda: Our first stop after the first day of practice. Of course you should drink multiple margaritas and much Mexican food after three hours of yoga, who’s to say you shouldn’t?

I was lucky on my final morning at the beach, when my mates had departed, that the sun finally came our for a few AM hours and I go to do Yoga by the Sea. It was a much appreciated way to wrap up a rainy week.

Yoga by the Sea

Koala Brekkie

Just to confirm that Australia is every bit as amazing as you’ve always imagined it to be, here are some photos of our brekkie with at the zoo with the koalas.

Koalas

Yup, they do call it brekkie in the Aussie way of shortening everything to make it sound 100 times cuter and more fun.

Tasmanian Devil

We saw all of the Big 5 (kangaroos, a crocodile, wombats, platypus, and the aforementioned koalas).

Wallaby
Koala selfie

The Anti-Plan

Usually, when I go on a trip, I’m at the forefront of the planning process. I want to see and do everything, so I fill up every second of the day with activities and places to go. I love being able to experience all that a city has to offer, and I don’t want to waste any time.

Because this trip to Australia was a recent surprise, I didn’t take many of the usual steps in scheduling out an itinerary for every day. I made sure I had places to stay and friends to visit, and there was the yoga training, but beyond that, I left the schedule pretty open. Much to my delight, the results of the non-plan have been incredibly positive so far!

On my second day here, I decided to walk down to the beach while Amanda was at work. As I strolled along the sand, I looked over to my left and noticed a tall, sporty blonde woman stretching about 20 feet away. “Is that Kerri Walsh??” I asked myself. I creepily walked a little closer and then noticed the nets and setup for an obvious volleyball tournament that was going on behind her. Pretty certain it had to be her, I circled around to the top sidewalk to find out which teams were playing in the tournament. I perched on the wall and checked the schedule on my phone. It was her! And the US team would be playing next on the court that I was now sitting on the wall right above! I played volleyball for about 15 years, and I definitely didn’t think I would ever have a front row seat to watch the USA women’s team play, so this was a Pretty Big Deal. I settled in to watch the match, and they won! It was definitely a point for leaving a day unplanned, since I wouldn’t have been wandering around the beach if I’d scheduled a snorkeling appointment or a tour.

USA Womens Volleyball

Lucky for me, the ladies I was traveling with in week two did have a plan, and I was able to join in for some key experiences. On one of our first nights in Bondi Beach, we went to a show at the Sydney Opera House. I hadn’t even thought it would be possible for a normal person like me to go to a concert inside the building I’ve seen in so many images from afar! It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience (or many times in a lifetime when I sell all my belongings and move down under) that we had to seize, and if you’re ever coming here, I recommend checking the schedule because you may find something you like.

Sydney Opera House night
Sydney Opera House inside

And finally, a top reason I’m glad I opened my planning palms and left my vacation fate in the hands of others on this trip was the KOALA BREAKFAST! Yes, you read that correctly, and in Sydney at the zoo, you can eat breakfast on a patio in full view of about 6 koalas. After you finish your eggs and Vegemite toast and weak instant coffee, you may enter the koala enclosure and have many many pictures of yourself taken with koalas. And the staff members are actually very patient and don’t even rush you through the whole koala photography experience. And the koalas are sleepy, so they don’t seem to care what you’re doing either way. What a treat!

Koala

So I’m here this month supporting the non-planning process. When you’re booking your next adventure, consider leaving some time open to see what kind of magic takes hold.

Manly to Bondi

I’ve gotten used to managing my way up and down public transportation stairs wielding my backpack and giant suitcase, that’s for sure. After Amanda and I finished doing yoga on grassy hilltops and taking coastal walks to swimming holes, it was time to trek to Bondi Beach for the yoga workshop.

On a Monday morning, I took my favorite and the most exciting form of Australian city transport, the ferry! Like, this is the view that people are getting when they take their regular commute to their regular jobs (or wherever else they happen to be going that day):

Sydney Opera House

Wow!

The ferry brought me to the train, which brought me to the bus, which brought me to Bondi Beach where I would meet Colleen, Katie, and Laura and where we would spend the seven days.

Bondi Beach



Mysore Practice: Day Three

We're three days deep into Ashtanga yoga training. I still have mostly no idea what I'm doing, but I've managed to memorize the primary series up to Bhuja Pidasana, which is the one where you bend over, put your hands on the ground, shimmy your thighs way up high on your shoulders, then sit your butt on your triceps and cross your feet in front of you. Are you getting the picture? Intermittently, I stop to peek around the room just to see what everyone else is up to and make sure I'm keeping good track of time. I see legs folded into lotus posture, guys doing backwards somersaults, and women rocking themselves around the mat in a shape that looks like somewhere between a pretzel and a long-legged turtle that got turned on its back. What nonsense have I been wasting my time with for the past ten years?

Ganesha

If yoga is a metaphor for life, I am thankful for my ability to keep going when the view of progress is clouded and still laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. My friends who told me about this training share stories from their Mysore classes, which are famous for not using blocks or other props. “Your suffering is a prop!” one of their teachers screamed at them. “Don't flex your muscles,” cued our leader today, “Use the muscles to support the bones!!!” I'm hysterical and exhausted and she's teaching me to lift myself up on my hands and float my feet back, and I'm rolling my eyes at her because that is just not going to happen today.

It's all such a silly mind game. We feel the frustrations of not being able to unlock certain poses. We celebrate successes only to be knocked down by our areas of weakness. We eat burgers after class because we're not real dedicated Ashtangis so maybe that's why I'm not able to lift my hips/butt/feet into the air, then we rinse and repeat the next day. Something has kept us coming back. I see the beauty, too. I've been doing this practice for so long and it's never ceased to be amazingly interesting to me. I am grateful for the flow, the repetition, the finesse, and the way I've felt led to certain teachers or how a pose that I once found overwhelmingly challenging comes easily to me at the right time.

Yoga is “to attain what was previously unattainable”, says Desikachar, son of Krishnamacharya, in the book I'm reading at the moment. I hope that that's true, I think, as I look around at everyone folded flat in Paschimottanasana or with their legs tucked neatly behind their heads. But outside of this room and this training that I was, perhaps, not wholly prepared for, I know that it is. Yoga has carried me across many state lines, transformed me from an atheist (or very agnostic at best) to a spiritual believer, and convinced me to do many things I was previously very afraid of doing. I've laughed, cried, sweated, struggled, but have never given up on the mat. I'm still here.

Mysore Practice: Day One

How did I end up here? I'm wondering as we're doing the 100th jump back of this afternoon's class. I feel like a kindergartener in a fifth grade classroom. I also feel like I shouldn't have eaten so many french fries during the first few days of this trip. I look around the room, and it seems like everyone is able to hold themselves up with their hips off the ground in a cross-legged seat. I'm hot and humbled. My hips are firmly rooted on the mat.

Body Mind Life Bondi Beach

One of the main reasons I came to Sydney was to participate in an Ashtanga Mysore yoga intensive. It was an interesting choice considering I've hardly taken any Ashtanga classes in my ten year stint as a yogi. I've checked it out a few times, but never really got hooked or felt like I could figure out what I was doing enough to feel comfortable. I've recently become more curious and have been feeling like my usual practice could benefit from the consistency and discipline of the Ashtanga method.

If you're reading this saying, “What the heck is Mysore/Ashtanga and how is that different from any 'normal' yoga class?” I would say that Ashtanga yoga is a very traditional sequence of postures and the practice can be pretty intense. There are three series or levels of poses, so you always start and end with the same opening and closing sequence, but what you do in between depends on your level of ability. Mysore means that you're basically conducting your own solo practice in a community room, and the teacher will come around to offer one-on-one advice. Usually, you won't add variations or more difficult poses until you 've mastered the ones earlier in the series. The style of yoga that I practice is more varied, flowing, and (I think) forgiving. But it can be easier to develop bad alignment habits when you're not getting the same strict level of individualized attention. In Ashtanga, I'm learning that there can be a bit of an ego check when you realize you can't just fake it and slip through the cracks, even though, like in any yoga class, you're meant to be accountable only to yourself.

I was relieved to hear that the first day of class would be led by our teacher, Maty, the famed instructor I've heard so much about. That didn't make practicing any easier, but at least it wasn't so apparent that I don't know the correct order of the sequence. I've realized that by only attending classes with familiar teachers and in teaching my own classes, I've managed to avoid a lot of the poses that are hard for me or that I don't like. I realize this while I'm attempting to hold my leg out in front of me and, impossibly, trying to reach my forehead towards my shin. I try to find the silver lining in the struggle. A new experience with an amazing teacher! I'd better get some sleep so I can survive the rest of this thing.