Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Synchronicity Part 1

Although things happen serendipitously at home, amazing coincidences bless us even more abundantly when we travel. We catch the only bus, get the last hotel room, show up at a museum on its one (announced) free day of the year, and tour the ruins on the only day it’s not raining.

 Last year, Becky and I were hiking in Greece. The rocky trail was much steeper, longer, and hotter than we had thought. Seeing the next town at a great distance along the jagged coast, we realized we didn’t have enough water or strength to reach it and wondered out loud what to do. We hadn’t seen another hiker for over an hour. Right then a man and woman appeared on the trail walking toward us. They spoke English. They lived nearby. If we turned off the trail just up ahead, we could reach the road through their yard. The bus to our destination stopped across from their house.

It has reached the point where all we do is say, “I wonder what/where/how . . . . “ and the answer materializes. This phenomenon still astounds us, a powerful reminder that we are all part of the morphogenic energy field, all one, all connected, all ways.

Synchronicity Part 2

"The winds of grace are always blowing, but we must raise our sails." Ramakrishna

Three years ago I started violin lessons again in Minneapolis. For 3 months, I tried to find a violin teacher in Mexico, but all my enquiries produced only a possible person in Merida, 6 hours away. I took my violin anyway; at least I could practice on my own.

Our second month on Isla Mujeres, I was taking an Inspiration Day, something I learned from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I set out for Cancun with no plans. On the ferry I ran into our condo administrator and his wife. I had been going to their house every week for Spanish lessons with Cecilia. Joaquin and Ceci were taking their baby for his 4-month check-up and then going shopping. Would I join them?

After an extraordinary hour (yes) with a caring, knowledgeable pediatrician, we took a taxi to a mall. While Ceci went clothes shopping with the baby, Joaquin and I found his favorite hair salon. While waiting my turn, I saw a young woman exchange a few words with one of the stylists and then leave. She was carrying what looked like a violin case.

I got that stylist. The woman was his wife, and she taught violin. In fact, Valeria was a founding member of the Cancun Philharmonic Orchestra, which I didn’t know existed.

Two days later, I began lessons with Valeria. She is the best violin teacher I’ve ever had: strict, inspiring, caring, and funny. Sometimes the lessons extend way beyond my allotted hour. Occasionally her next, more advanced, student arrives and I’m invited to stay and listen to them practice Vivaldi or Mozart. At her urging, I composed my first violin solo: “Sunset on Isla Mujeres,” something I’d never dreamed of doing.

What are the chances of finding any violin teacher, much less an ideal one, in this corner of Mexico? Thanks to an Inspiration Day, good friends, and a synchronous hair cut, it happened.

[Right: Valeria's shot of me during a lesson, with her violin in the foreground. We are in the small condo in Cancun, where she lives with her husband and their two children.]

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cruisin' at 60

A clear day at Glacier Bay Nat'l Park
 Nancy and I joined my sister, Vicki, her husband Ric, and three of their couple friends for a cruise of the inland passage to Alaska.  We left Vancouver August 25 (one day after my 60th birthday) on the Sapphire Princess and sailed up the coast. With three stops--Ketchikan, Juneua, and Skagway--and sightings of whales, harbor seals, puffins, sea otters, mountain goats, grizzly bears, and ice blue glaciers calving into the sea, the cruise was as fabulous as its reputation.
Seven days after leaving Vancouver, we docked at Whittier and took the Alaska train 8 hours north to Denali National Park. Hour after hour we went through the vast tracts of wilderness.

Denali was beyond beautiful as we hit the peak of autumn colors. Russet and burgundy tundra flaunted forrest green stands of spruce and golden quaking aspen, with snow-capped peaks behind them. We understand how people could fall in love with Alaska.

The highlight was taking a small plane to see Mount McKinley/Denali up close in its full glory.

Bull moose in Denali National Park

Observing this huge moose in the wild was a thrill.

What a way to usher in a new decade!!

The Grand Tour in Costa Rica

On lower lot of Angel Valley
We celebrated July 4th in Costa Rica receiving final payment for our house and discharging the contract for deed. We got to meet the other 2 buyers -- Costa Rican sisters who live and work in the States. We introduced our friend Carolyn to several of our favorite sites and people, and of course, did some incredible bird watching.

Gondola with guide at Braulia Carrillo National Park
Braulio Carrillo National Park, northwest of San Jose, is a favorite of many Costa Ricans. While we have passed through it many times on our way to the Caribbean, we had never stopped to hike in it. This time we hiked the mountain trails and rode a gondola through the dense canopy.

On our way to Arenal, we took a chocolate tour at the Tirimbina Biological Center in La Virgen. After a hike through the jungle, we came to a clearing where we saw cacao (cocoa in English) pods growing on cacao tree trucks.
We attended a demonstration on the stages of drying the cocoa beans . . . .
roasting them . . .
and grinding them in a traditional stone metate . . .

to get thick rich chocolate. Stir in Costa Rican tapa dulce (evaporated cane juice) and a pinch of cinnamon. Yummm!!!!

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano showed her splendor for our three days in La Fortuna. An early morning birding expedition to Puentes Colgantes (Hanging Bridges) provided an unexpected thrill. Not only did we spot the shy white collared manakin, we actually saw it beating its wings to make its odd snapping noise in a courtship ritual.
White collared manakin
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve where we spent a day hiking, has a newly opened reserve next to it called Curi-Canchea Reserve. Alas, we did not see a quetzal on this trip.
We stayed at the eco-friendly Los Pinos, which grows lush hydroponic greens and vegetables for local tables . . . and for guests like us.
All in all, a fabulous trip! We may have sold our house, but we still have the lot (pictured above) below our house. Our love for Costa Rica will draw us back often in the coming years.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Izamal, Center of the Maya World

The yellow walls of Izamal
We spent the month of February in Izamal, the "Yellow City" in the northern Yucatan, that once was a Mayan Mecca. For centuries people traveled great distances to come to this holiest of sites. When the conquistadores arrived, the infamous Spanish priest, Bishop Diego de Landa, thought it would be easier to convert the Mayans to Christianity by snagging folks on pilgrimage rather than his having to travel all over the countryside. Let the people come to him. It worked.

The great temple of Izamal was converted into a Cathedral. The base of the pyramid was so large that the church covers only a section of it, and the rest of the pyramid was leveled into a courtyard that is bigger than any church's in the world, including the Vatican.
Base of Kinich Kak Mo Pyramid
Although Bishop de Landa systematically destroyed the sacred Mayan codices, he lived to regret it. His book, written in 1566, was an attempt to salvage and record the religion, language, culture, and writing system of the indigenous people.
What is amazing about this city of 15,000 today, outside of the enormous cathedral, is the abundance of archeologically significant sites. Kinich Kak Mo, one of the largest pyramids in Mexico, dominates the northern section, and on any number of streets, there are heaps of rubble that were once buildings. Cooking fires where women are making fresh corn tortillas as we stroll by sit cozily next to stones that once were pyramid steps or walls. 
Our casita at Macanche B&B
We rented a cottage at Macanche bed and breakfast. It served as a wonderful base to explore areas of the Yucatan that we had been wanting to see for years. Beverly McFarland joined us for some of these forays, including a morning at Luum Ayni, the amazing biodynamic farm and yoga center of Lisa and Cesar Chavez (see our blog post "A Mayan Dream"; an afternoon at Genesis Retreat, an eco-cultural-resort within walking distance of the Ek Balam archeological site; and a day at a Caribbean beach near Tulum to rest up.
Becky and Beverly on the bus
Buses are cheap and frequent. For example, for about $3.50, we took a comfortable local bus to Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan state, for a few wild days of Mardi Gras, supposedly the largest carnival outside of Brazil. We watched the dazzling parades for hours, walked the streets for miles, ate and drank more than we should have, and stayed up until all hours of the . . . well, until midnight. Splendid.



Deep in a Moroccan Medina

Farida by Marriage Carriages
Our beautiful guide in the medieval section of Fez, Morocco, wore a long black coat and a black and white scarf. Farida is forty, with the unblemished skin of a twenty-year old. She grew up in the medina, got a BA in English literature, married for love, and has 3 sons. One of only a dozen women among the 400 licensed guides in Fez, Farida led us through the narrow lanes, alongside carts and donkeys laden with goods, past hundreds of workshops and stalls where craftsmen and merchants made and sold items their Berber and Arab ancestors sold centuries ago.

Fabric store in the Fez Medina
Farida shops in the medina. Why would she go outside, she asked, where everything is twice as expensive? Her wedding dresses and carriage were made in the medina. She carries her formed loaves to the neighborhood baker, who bakes each family’s bread.

On Sunday morning, her husband takes their older boys to the hammam, the community bathhouse, where in the steam room, they cover themselves with a dark, thick olive oil soap, scrub their entire bodies with a lufa mitt, and emerge 2 hours later squeaky clean. Farida takes their youngest child to the hammam another day, when it is reserved for women. No TV, no video games, no toys, and no distractions. Just two hours of parent/child togetherness every week. In the West, children stop bathing with their parents or each other at a certain age. In Morocco, thanks to community baths, all ages bathe together all their lives.
Produce along a street in Fez
Two days later, Farida came to fetch us at our dar, a house with a fountain in the courtyard, converted into a 4-room hotel at the end of a narrow alley. Safe from male eyes, she asked if we would like to see her hair. She removed her scarf and shook out a luxuriant, wavy black mane. She was movie star gorgeous. And, we realized, she was wearing makeup!

Muslim women may be like Moroccan architecture: nondescript when viewed from the outside, but inside is great beauty. The outer walls of a house don’t matter. Inside may be lush courtyards, gardens, fountains, orange trees, stained glass windows, arches, balconies, and intricately designed and decorated walls, pillars, and ceilings. 
Amy, Nancy, and Becky under rooftop tent

Our Dar Drissi in the heart of the medina boasted all of the above. On its roof, with a tall minaret rising above a nearby mosque visible -- and audible all day long-- we relaxed under a canopy with our dear traveling companions Amy and Terry.

Although we had been warned that people get very lost in the medina, our map of the tangled streets enabled us to navigate. We loved being in the center of the action and within walking distnce of  fabulous restaurants. We even spent an afternoon in a traditional hammam bathhouse where we got a good scrubbing and massage.

After four marvelous days in Fez, we boarded the Marrakesh Express for our next Moroccan adventure.