Guatemala

IMG_0191The cultural and geographic diversity in this small country is mind-boggling.  It is home to everything from ancient Maya temples and Spanish Colonial Cities to cloud-shrouded highland villages and vibrant Caribbean towns not to mention the 3 spewing active volcanoes and untamed jungle areas.  But evidently as we learned, what truly makes this country unique are its indigenous people whose distinctive cultures and centuries old traditions continue to thrive today.

We started off with a bang straight from the airport to visit the studio of Dario Escobar, a distinguished Guatemalan artist living and working in the city.  He welcomed us with open arms as did everyone we met on this trip.

 

The Guatemalans seem to have the friendly gene. Our next stop was Antigua  which used to be the capital city but is now a cosmopolitan destination with a rich colonial past.  Our home for a couple of nights, El Convento,  was as authentic as it gets in the middle of long cobblestone streets lined with colorful stucco houses and crumbling beautiful ruins.  Our welcome dinner at Sobremesa

 

was the perfect combination of local food and color as the owner is an ex pat married to a Guatemalan and again extremely friendly and outrageous…. An artist, a writer, an entertainer, a restaurateur.IMG_0004

And then there’s the yoga studio in town that we stumbled upon that gave us a private class with 15 minutes notice.  Another friendly offering which turned out to be just what we needed before our grumbling, smoke-belching Pacaya volcano spectacle hike.

 

This active volcano is a steep 4 mile hike through a lush pine forest with widening panorama views all the way to El Salvador.  But if that’s not enough, we brought our own Shaman to perform a Maya blessing Ceremony for us on top with views of bright orange magna streaming down at sunset.  As the temps dropped and the winds kicked up,  we hustled to get down as it got cold and dark quick.  But we were blessed and nothing can stop us now.

Utzilaj. Laslrm. Winakirem.  These are Mayan words to describe Goodness. Life. Relationship to the Universe.  Our philanthropic element (ASSADE) on this journey encompasses all as they strive to meet the basic clinical needs of seven villages for simple health care.

 

 

We met the team responsible and enjoyed a typical lunch made by the women from the community that ASSADE supports.  Our donation was well received.

A long bus ride ahead but certainly worth every minute… Lake Atitlan was looming. Encompassed by mountains and volcanoes, our eco-resort immersed within a 100-acre nature reserve in a collapsed volcanic cone filled with water 1,000 feet deep, it is truly a mystical place.  We arrive just in time for a sunset Kayak ride on calm waters.

 

Finally our group is complete with late arrivals so the real adventure begins with another moving emotional ceremony of intentions set out into the universe.

 

Up until this point, our guide Samuel has been spot on but our hike through Lake Atitlan’s 13 villages was anything but flat!

 

Undulating and difficult at times, we hiked from Santa Cruz to San Juan La Laguna with panoramic lake views at every turn.  Towns are filled with Guatemalan richly colored textiles and home to a plethora of local self-taught artists depicting the customs, history and legends of the area.

 

And unfortunately, one of the known legends are bandits with machetes as we came across some on our hike up San Pedro Volcano.  Thankfully, nothing but feelings got hurt since we we were  unable to summit and our guides were so sorry as this obviously reflects negatively on tourism.

 

As I always say, everything happens for a reason because we would have been late for our afternoon yoga on the veranda overlooking the lake.  Perfection followed by more perfection… well deserved massages.

 

Our scenic boat rides across the lake past the three impressive volcanos of Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro were the highlight of our days. IMG_0133 And the incredible Prideful people of Guatemala that love their country and thanked us a million times for visiting.  As we left the country and landed safely back home,  another active volcano erupted killing thousands and evaucating more.  I pray for them. We have left our mark in a very short visit where the people are as colorful and diverse as the country itself.  Cheers to all our new friends as we say bye for now.  We’ll  be back.

 

 

 

 

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MiNNihi

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Welcome to the Edge of Wildness at Nihi Sumba, an island off the coast of Indonesia with 4300 square miles of high plateau, forests and untouched beaches and its own challenging surf break for Minnie’s 50th birthday celebration.

 

I have been dying to experience this love of her paradise for years and it was certainly worth the wait with these sixteen incredible women brought together by invitation only.

 

There are no accidents in life as 16 is a magic number of introspection resonating with wisdom, independence and family.  The essence of this group encompasses it all as we organically bonded together over our love for Minnie and everything she represents.

 

The days were glorious with beach walks, surfing, yoga, swimming with horses!, hiking to waterfalls, trekking to the spa and preparing for serious theme night dress ups!

 

We were on the #funline but also on the Sumba train where we learned about all the wonderful things the foundation is doing to help alleviate the crushing burdens of poverty in the area with water, health and education projects including reducing Malaria infection rates by 93%.

 

Having this balance of awareness always makes a trip around the world more meaningful and fulfilling when in rock star celebration mode.  We all came together for a dream week-16 Ibus- creating memories and adventures of a lifetime.

May you surf off into the sunset in anticipation of all the fabulous celebrations of life to come.  With gratitude and love for this opportunity to share an extraordinary place called NIHI renamed MiNNihi!image1

Mallorca

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The magic of Mallorca, one of Spain’s Balearic islands in the Mediterranean known for its beaches, amazing landscapes, gorgeous mountains and the freshest of food, can be found everywhere.  But the true magic comes from an incredible group of 14 courageous women and our local amazing guides, chefs, yogis and massage therapists that graced their presence on us for a glorious 6 days of heaven on earth.  Everyone we met along the way passionately loves their Mallorca. They are wonderful at welcoming strangers as its part of their personality being that the island has been invaded by everyone from Phoenicians to Romans to Arabs and now hordes of tourists. Run don’t walk to Mallorca!

The underdeveloped charming city of Valldemossa was the scene of the crime…where our Finca was located 20 minutes up a dirt road where even the taxis got lost.  But Valldemossa was also where George Sand went with her lover Frederic Chopin in 1838 to help him fight TB and where he had a piano sent from Paris to compose in one of the former monastery cell.  Just setting the scene because that’s where the history stops and our crazy fun fueled ladies week begins!  And it never slowed down.  The laughing, the camaraderie, the bonding, the stories, the silliness

were in full bloom from the moment we settled into our rooms with roommates and shared bathrooms with our writer designated to the “out house” which turned out to be perfect!  Our finca was an old farm-house with tons of grounds from sea to shining see all the way to Palma and beyond.

The lemon trees, the lush plantings and flowers running down to the pool area gave us plenty of space to hang and get lost when we had the time between our hiking, biking, yoga, massage, cocktails, dinner and…. dancing with our chefs!  The scenario was epic.

IMG_0027Our first hike was a test (designed by our guides to size up my girls) from the picturesque small village of Orient all uphill towards the ruins of the castle of Alaro with views over the Tramuntana mountains. No surprise, we passed with flying colors.  And from then on, all the hikes were demanding with big long uphills through olive groves, pine and oak woods with rewarding views over the ocean and the mountain range. The same can be said of our bike rides along the pre-Tramuntana inland roads with undulating hills

through wine, olive, almond and carob tree plantations and typical mallorcan villages while enjoying the rural atmosphere of the island.  But the scenery was secondary when our late afternoon lunch time rolled around.  One such place was situated up in the middle of the mountains with mamasita cooking everything herself in the wood burning oven.  Even our picnic lunch hosted by the land organization we donated to protect,

know and love nature brought up by horse in baskets was authentic, typical and delicious. Another memorable late lunch in Deia where we (2 of us)

swam and enjoyed the freshest local fish you could imagine until “the rain in Spain didn’t stay mainly in the plain”!  But all good since we finished our ride dry.

And last but not least of our lunches after the most famous of hikes in Mallorca, the steps of the canyon of Biniaraix, was hosted by our over the top guides wearing chef hats while trying to teach us how to eat like a local.   IMG_0162

Meanwhile back at the finca where our massage therapists and yoga instructor awaits, IMG_8856we scurry on to our afternoon rituals reminding us who we are and cleaning energy so that we can listen and acknowledge the wisdom of deep knowing.  And if that isn’t deep enough and in no time at all, we were dressed, ready and back at the dining table for cocktails and to enjoy another unbelievable meal prepared by chef jeff and/or chef

Diego.  This group loved their food and the food did not disappoint from all local seasonal ingredients to the freshest of fish including sardines.  We were just so happy to be home and together eating, laughing, singing, and dancing… after a full day of activity.

IMG_8972Our one big night out in Deia, we ventured to La Residencia where we were treated to an art tour in the gallery and a dining experience.  It was a party on the party bus but when all is said and done…I truly miss our intimate dinners through the door of the finca where we bonded like no other STAT trip.

 

Antarctica

IMG_0103It’s like nowhere else on earth.  While the breathtaking landscape and wildlife are certainly well photographed by National Geographic and familiar in films like Shackleton, just being there immersed in it all, went well beyond my imagination. I’ve been manifesting this journey for 10 years and I can tell you that it was well worth the wait.  As I researched many outfitters to find the best way to experience this place, I couldn’t imagine a better outcome with a more perfect curated fun group of explorers. It was a magical dynamic.

5 couples on a small vessel in Antarctica for 8 days never having travelled together before.  Now that was trusting the universe!  The first great decision we made was to avoid the 36-hour crossing of the Drake Passage, the notorious mariners’ graveyard where wind gales can whip up waves so treacherous that Dramamine would not suffice. An old mariners’ expression about these winds is “below 40 degrees south, there is no law and below 50 degrees south, there is no God.” Whatever that means.. ourDSC_9197 Captain has inscribed on his wheel “There is always hope”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  All outfitted up in our muck boots and winter gear even though it was summer in Antartica, we met in Punta Arenas and chartered a flight to King George where our Hanse Explorer

equipped with 5 equal cabins and 17 in crew were waiting for us to set sail.  It was exciting from the get go especially being totally out there with no cell service or internet for a week… Challenging for some!  There were no towns, villages or bars except for the odd research base we visited, Vernadsky.    Our route took us across the Bransfield Strait into smaller channels through the Orleans strait, Gerlache strait and back to King George. We scarcely saw another ship for the entire voyage. DSC_9702 Time and space eluded us while we motored past sapphire-blue icebergs and glaciers (glac-ciers as our head guide Richard would say) whipped by wind and water into fantastical shapes, arches and grottos.

 

The colors! We were surrounded by a topaz and aquamarine dreamlike setting with an almost spiritual serenity.  Our very first encounter on our Zodiac was with killer whales so close you could pet them if you dare with humpbacks in close proximity with their

magnificent tails emerging so close you could see their barnacled head and blowholes. Everyday, we would go out on our zodiac to be greeted by different species of penguins in huge colonies that practically ignored us but hard for us to ignore the oder omitting from all the krill they eat.

They were very busy, noisy and smelly as the young ones were beginning to moult but oh so cute!  Slobbering elephant seals with those gorgeous giant eyes lazed on the shore also indifferent to our presence while I tried to get close to a sleeping leopard seal.  You would think he noticed me in my pink get up.

Setting foot on the Antarctic Peninsula for the first time was a highlight as was the second time!DSC_0271 It was the most exercise we got in a week save for the tabata routine we did together in the owners suite. Sure wish I had a picture of that! And did I mention we had no internet? It was refreshing not seeing people staring at their phones during meals but instead engaged in stimulating conversation (politics aside). After lunches, we digested while we watched many classic movies including Pulp fiction, Scarface, and the 1914-17 Endurance expedition, Shackleton’s attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent.   It was surreal watching this harrowing feat of endurance while looking out

at the exact same scenery but warm and toasty in our comfortable living room. Then it was time for the Polar Plunge!  It was one gorgeous sunny day but the waters were the same 32 degrees F. Exhilarating to say the least…but a back flip?!

Evenings were filled with music and laughter as we celebrated a birthday and we had our very own DJ and sexy dancer extraordinaire who played up to his song selections.

We had plenty of poles to dance/ hang on to but my immediate takeaway is I need to upgrade my party music.

While the impact of climate change across Antarctica is still not completely understood, it is definitely contributing to instability on this continent’s west side.  While kayaking close and in between glaciers that broke off from multiple icebergs, I felt and saw them breathing and moving away.

And there are signs that these changes could be affecting the wild and marine life.  More research and expeditions come to this area than any other to study and they play a valuable role in the conservation of this great wilderness.

I am forever grateful to them for allowing us to play in their playground as a tourist although I do feel as though we were on an expedition.  Our crew and how they perfectly provisioned the food and more importantly the drink was spectacular. This was a trip of a lifetime for me as other-worldly as you get.  Next on the agenda…the MOON.

Tasmanian Devils

12 devilish ladies in the bush is just like it sounds and more.  It was absolute perfection. Although we didn’t see any actual Tasmanian devils, we do know they exist in extinction since 2008 because of a facial tumor disease that has taken the population down…good to know.

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Tassie, as I now affectionately refer to this isolated island off Australia’s south coast known for its vast, rugged wilderness areas protected within parks and reserves surrounded by mountains and shimmering waters from the wineries outside of Launceston

 

 

to the capital city of Hobart’s MONA Museum all the way to Freycinet’s “friendly beaches”!  It was a non stop party as off the grid as you can be these days.  And with no cell service comes presence.  My girls were rock stars carrying 30 pound backpacks (felt like 50) hiking 7 hours a day completely immersed in the spectacular views (specie 360) from every vantage point practicing

 

 

yoga in unexpected places. The iconic overland track never saw the likes of this group of “topless in tassie” bush wacking ladies. IMG_7130 The walks were long rather steep and strenuous with exposed plateaus but the trails were immaculately cared for which made for smooth hiking but don’t look up for long! Leeches, Lizards and Snakes…OH MY!

 

 

With an occasional Wallaby hopping by.  From peaceful meditative solo walking to grueling stairways to heaven’s wineglass bay , we were “record smashers” if there was such a thing in sport hiking.

 

 

Serious challenging climb from Cook’s Beach to the top of Mt Graham with views of the Hazards pink rock outcrops through eucalyptus tree forests and southern grasses.  I heard the weather in Tassie can be pretty tough so luckily I called in for 10 day perfect temps.  The huts were warm and comfy and the perfect stage set for belly laughs.

 

 

I don’t think I laughed that much since the last STAT trip! While 4 days at Cradle took me out of my comfort zone with my heavy pack (never want to see anything in it again), the last 3 days in Freycinet National Park and Peninsula cemented my love for this place on the Tasman Sea. In between hikes luxuriating at Quamby Estates to regroup with some fine local hospitality and massage our well worked bods was a treat before we were on the road again for some culture this time.  The Museum of Old and New (MONA) is a must see!  It’s the baby of philanthropist David Walsh who is celebrated in Hobart as a visionary.  The $75 million museum is still expanding with art installations of ancient antiques showcased next to contemporary works that are sexy (77 cunts), provocative (bit.fall), disturbing (77 cunts),  and deeply engaging (James Turell).

 

 

Dining and Staying on premise in the beautifully articulated artist/architectural pavilions was the way to go. And an absolutely perfect Segway as we headed to the most beautiful beaches in the world where the laughter got even louder.  Some of us fished for dinner while flirting with Captain Obvious,

 

 

some swam in the freezing waters while others took their tops off for the universe to ponder.  Did I mention that we were off the grid? No cell service and even limited charging capability.  This in itself created the space and the energy for this group of ladies to come together like no other.  It was magical and moving the way we interacted and bonded from the get go.  It takes my breath away thinking of our last night at appropriately named “friendly beaches” how in preparation for our thanksgiving holiday, we gave thanks for each other and everything good and bad in our life for that moment and beyond.

 

 

Tears were plenty for this time we shared  in this magnificent place en route back to reality.  Oh the freedom to be out of touch in an untouched world as Tasmania.

A special shout out to our youthful guides Michelle, Gemma and Andy in the Cradle mountains and Sharna, Zoe, Hannah and sweet Danny in Freycinet’s Friendly Beaches.

 

 

I’m sure we’ve made you laugh louder and cringe harder than any other group in your time. Your Tassie spirit, prep and cooking skills were over the top.

 

 

 

Dilly Dilly!  IMG_7200

The Greek Way

IMG_0172My Ode to Greece begins here with its sapphire-blue waters, green-grassy hills with  cyprus trees, olive groves and vineyards right along side ancient ruins and charming ports filled with boats and even octopus drying in the sun.  My last visit to Greece was 40 years ago and I certainly don’t remember the beauty of this “cradle of Western civilization” that it is today.  But to be fair, I was on Junior year abroad and on a budget that only allowed me to stay in youth hostels.  So fast forward to a very different Greek holiday experience on a private chartered Yacht with 2 other couples and six in help…Anotonio, Konstantinos, Babis, Nikos, Eva, and George! IMG_0290 We couldn’t have done it without you.  Our amazing / changeable itinerary offered a little bit of everything in the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea and not enough of some things.  Hello Santorini, Goodbye Santorini was the beginning of our active journey with its world-famous sunsets which we saw, whitewashed buildings perched high on cliffs which we walked, and those spectacular panoramic vistas which we missed!

But not before a delicious lunch at Sunset by paraskevas and a refreshing swim off the boat in the cool water before sailing off to the hilly island of  IOS for some cocktail ambiance.  I adore Greek food and couldn’t get enough of those fresh salads of feta, tomato, and olives at every meal. YUM… the moussaka, souvlaki… so fresh that it didn’t feel heavy like it does in the States.

We were always on the move which I loved from anchoring in secluded coves with our water toys to docking at lesser known islands like Naxos, Paros, and Delos before arriving at the bustling paradise of Mykonos, a shopping mecca with winding, narrow streets adorned with geraniums and Bougainvillea known to the locals as Chora, which means “the town” in Greek.  It was the perfect backdrop for Ali’s birthday IMG_0223extravaganza.  And where better to celebrate than Nammos, the crazy party scene on Psarou beach where the beautiful people congregate to dance on tables and drink to oblivion. When in Greece….

And then there were 4.

Tracy and Glenn had to leave early but not before making incredible memories with Ali and David and Paul and I.  It was the perfect storm complete with the perfect red wine splatter on our charter’s perfect white carpet.  Always leaving our mark with no ruffled feathers. And true to form,  the word that everyone uses to describe Greek culture is Philovenia which is about warmth and kindness to strangers.  We certainly experienced all of this on the islands and truly felt the generosity of spirit that is surprising to some but utterly expected in Greek culture.  Who takes full bottles of wine home after dinner?

Slide1Our last stop on our Greek Island hopping adventure complete with dramatic beach landscapes, rustic charming architecture with an international vibe was the rich history of Hydra combined with the close proximity of Athens.  The port of Hydra was a small horseshoe and after walking around the perimeter, it felt like a labyrinth of steep steps and slender streets.  The best part of this place was the fact there were no cars or even bicycles to get around but donkeys were aplenty waiting patiently to carry suitcases or even groceries up to the hotels. It was such a cute little island complete with somewhat sophisticated  art galleries and shows.  In fact, Kara Walker was having a show at the slaughterhouse/ Deste project space on a towering cliffside owned by billionaire art collector Dakis.  I tried to go but they were closed for an afternoon siesta. Oh those Europeons!  At dinner the night before on the waterfront, our server told us that Leonard Cohen used to eat there nightly when he was in town as he lived there on and off since the 1960’s. I’m thinking that this place would have inspired him to write Hallelujah.  Fabulous friends in paradise combined with fantastic food and lusious libations in luxury accomadations makes me want to sing Hallelujah.  Greece beckons me to return again with its laid-back, simple way of life and rich history.  See ya next year.IMG_0299

 

 

 

 

Blackberry Farm

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http://www.calm was the perfect domain from the moment we showed up at the airport to hours and hours of delays for our short flight to Tennessee in celebration of our Wende’s Wild “birthday” Weekend.  The mood was always upbeat no matter how many times they changed the departure time…as long as the bar was open and the food was free.

Ten years ago, Wende had it all as we celebrated “40” in Mallorca.  And we still have it all but what a difference a decade makes.

Surrounded by sweeping mountain vistas and deep green forests on 4,200 acres,  “the Berry” with its genuine Southern hospitality,  is the scene of the love festival we created for our Wende.  Yes, this place brews a rare and powerful connection with nature in the pastoral foothills of the great smokey mountains of Tennessee. But this incredibly powerful group of 15 had enough female energy to create their own smokin’ hot blend of relaxation and rejuvenation.  We laughed til we cried every day all day as we managed to eat, drink and be merry.  Loud and happy is a good thing but not for some of the guests at “the berry”.  Dancing on tables is our norm but musical chairs? And a poolside ruckus over lounge chairs?

There’s a first for everything on a STAT trip. All in good fun was our mantra as we practiced yoga and even hit the hiking trails.

Spa time was essential with this bevy of beauties because who knew this was going to be one big slumber party complete with damn sexy lingerie showcasing and performing gyrating midnight yoga poses.

I don’t think we laughed hard enough and I don’t know where we are going to celebrate the next decade but you can be sure it’s going to be FUF (fun,undeniably,fabulous)…because our very own tarot card reader said so! She has assured us all that the spirit of Wende will live in our hearts forever and we will reflect upon this weekend with great admiration for the friends and memories we created together.

Everybody has a story and we all wear different hats and/or masks on the road we call life.  But we all came together to celebrate a very special lady.  Everyone knows its Wende! And Wende has stormy eyes that flash at the sound of lies. And Wende has wings to fly. Above the clouds…Above the clouds!IMG_0106