Japan’s stairway to heaven

IMG_4242The Kumano Kudo is a mountainous ancient holy ground of Japan in the southern part of the Kii peninsula that pilgrims have been trekking for a thousand years. It’s been under the radar keeping a low profile until 11 STAT pilgrims arrived.  Designated a UNESCO world heritage site, the Kumano has been “twinned” with the better known Camino De Santiago in Spain which I have walked twice with my STAT girls. So being rewarded with Dual pilgrimage status was deeply spiritual and full circle for me. IMG_0617 After bowing twice, clapping twice, then bowing once again, we all made a silent prayer at the start in Koyasan that insured our trek will go well.  Indeed,  this 8-day walk through old growth forests of maple, cypress, cedar and bamboo trees latticed with roots looking like steps carpeted in slippery moss exceeded all of our expectations.  So it wasn’t cherry blossom season but it was the most colorful fall foliage they ever had at this time of the year. IMG_3784No crowds, just familiar faces like the Brit Katherine tried to ask directions in Japanese to which he replied “I have no idea what you’re saying”.

No switchbacks, just 80 degree Uphills or Downhills! And no whining because after all, ancient pilgrims were supposed to suffer to achieve purification.

This was a challenging mountaineering experience from Shinto shrines to Buddhist temples that my girls embraced like rock stars.  Even Peter, our faithful guide who played favorites, was pleasantly surprised by our hiking ability. One foot in front of the other was our mantra knowing that a warm Japanese bath (onsen) was waiting for us at the end of each long day on the trail.  Imagine us being naked together in a steaming communal pool with only a modesty towel balancing on our heads. IMG_0586 The extraordinary richness of our surroundings inspired so many group pictures than ever before.  We bonded even as we expressed individuality through our stories that our parts tell together.  An interesting common sighting was Jizo, a bodhisattva who evidently was declined entry to paradise in order to help the rest of us get there is represented in dozens of shrines along the path often wearing red bibs.

He protects travelers like us but especially dead infants whom he shepherds on to their next lives. Sure wish Jizo could have protected Sonia from her hives!  Another noted Japanese custom that is everywhere in this land of preserved, refined essences is that every 20 years along the Isuzu River where these sacred shrines live, priests and townspeople gather to tear down the all-wooden Ise Jingu shrines only to reconstruct it

IMG_0592right next to the original.  As I understand it, ” to know that you can demolish and improve, that the essence of what you love might even be refined by change.”  Profound yet totally inspirational.  Or as Shannon would say, Captain Obvious!

Which brings me to the incredible humor we had on this journey.  Laughing is medicine. But on a STAT trip, it’s imperative that you belly laugh which I did every night before naked bathing and after dinner wearing matching yukatas (kimonos)

on the floor eating local unfamiliar food shabu-shabu style…boiled broth in a pot with slices of beef, tofu, veggies, udon noodles, and sauces.  It was yummy but we were hungry.  Absolutely no California or rainbow rolls in sight not even in our Kumano bento lunch box that held rice balls wrapped in pickled mustard leaves with a variety of sides.

The best lunch though was on a roadside that you choose your entree from a picture and pay for it in a vending machine. Ramen, not your average cup of noodles is an obsession in Japan and didn’t disappoint.  We, on the other hand, were obsessed with our pilgrim pamphlets collecting the requisite stamps along the trail and our “good luck” calligraphy books signed at every important shrine.

They both will sit close to my altar at home to remind me of this extraordinary journey and the incredible hospitality we received at each ryokan we stayed along the way even the dreaded School house. IMG_3891 Sleeping on the floor slightly elevated with a thin mat was surprisingly comfortable or we were all very tired after a full day of strenuous hiking. It makes me giggle out loud remembering our first night stay at the magical monastery crawling into bed by 7 then opening the adjoining doors to make sure we didn’t go to sleep before at least 8!

Turned out to be our best slumber on the trip waking only to the sounds of the gentle monks praying and chanting while preparing and performing a fire ritual ceremony.  Magical would be an understatement here as it would be for this entire journey.  As we approached the fitting end to our last 8 hour hike in the misty rain arriving at Nachi-no-Otaki

waterfall, Japan’s highest cascade at 133 meters,  I could only feel gratitude for nature’s power that lies so beyond our control.   Such an awareness is the longest- lasting gift we will all take home from this trip to Japan.  But the friendships and memories we’ve collectively nurtured and created for 25 years on these STAT trips is the real winner.IMG_3854

Summer of Love

IMG_2971I’m a true seasonal person. More than anything, I love the changing of the seasons.  Probably because I was born and raised in Florida without seasons.  I love the fact that there’s a certainty, a progress to the year that you can count on like nothing else in the world because the seasons will change no matter what happens in our small lives or the planet we live on. It’s puts things in perspective.  And the Summer for me has always been about the culmination of all the seasons up until this point.  In order to have an outrageously successful summer, you must make sure you were present in preceding seasons.  And only then can you luxuriate in the glory of the ‘coming out’ season of Summer. For this I am grateful that I did my work because this summer was a sweet one.

IMG_0102Nothing better than Kicking off my summer of love in Africa on safari with friends. It  was dreamy.  And the best was hiking with those gorgeous gorillas in Rwanda thanks to Mark Homann’s extraordinary efforts everywhere and who made sure we got those coveted permits.

When I first saw them, it made me teary eyed as they were so human and the recognition they had was just beyond words. The gorillas are evidently a symbol of hope, the face with which Rwanda can look at the world again, and return to normal life after the genocide.  They have been held back by their painful history but not anymore.

Everyone we met had a story to tell.   With compassion and love, They spoke with true forgiveness in their heart and with pride for their country.   The most impressive thing I learned as we drove through the capital city of Kigali and elsewhere across this hilly densely populated country is that citizens are required once a month to partake in a giant neighborhood cleaning effort.. including the president!  And they have a zero tolerance policy towards plastic bags.  We should be taking a page out of their playbook.

And then it was family time.

IMG_0003 A first for us taking our sons and their significant others on a trip … just the six of us.  Corsica, a mountainous mediterranean island off the coast of France was the winner.  We stayed at the most unique concept of a “spread out hotel” with 20 shepherds houses located dirt road miles apart on 6000 acres.  Domaine De Murtoli was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  Mother Nature everywhere on this agricultural farm where everything we ate and drank was local and delicious.  We had our own private beach. We had a choice of 3 michelin star restaurants. We played night golf on their 12 hole golf course which by the way … every golf course should be 12 holes!! IMG_3002 We went to a huge disco beach party on our first night and a magnificent opera concert on the same beach our last “full moon” night.   I get chills just thinking about it. But our best night on the property turned out to be when I ordered a catered dinner in our sweet little house’s outside kitchen.  Evidently, there was a communication/language gap as I waited for our chef who never arrived.  A catered dinner meant a drop off of food we were to cook ourselves.

This was curious because after all,  we were on vacation.  But as we got busy drinking and chopping, singing and dancing, the food tasted oh so good.   The only day we ventured off property was to hike part of the famous  GR 20 trail.  A long day but completely worth it. IMG_2982

And then it was off to magical Venice, the romance capital of the world in the Adriatic sea surrounded by ancient waterways and canals with its gorgeous architecture. IMG_0018The last time we were there together was for Sheldon’s Bar Mitzvah in the old Jewish section…not so romantic.  This time, We hit the water running from country represented artist pavilions courtesy of the Biennale to private art installations to the Prada and LVMH foundations and the not to missed Peggy Guggenheim collection.   Together we travelled the streets easily getting lost but finding our way back to San Marco square where we would re-group. IMG_0024 Lunches on the go but Dinners were the celebration of the love in the most romantic city of all.

Cheers and toasts all around.

IMG_3100Summer days are long but not long enough for my Camp Aspen community of friendships.  Like the one root system of an Aspen tree, this could define my friendships here.  My happy place remains true to my soul with friends so dear to my heart.

IMG_2780Between July 4th with my extended family, Wine Crush, Art Crush, JazzAspen, Friday golf games with the girls, hiking, biking,

yoga, dinner parties, birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs and my newest sport…pickle ball, it was truly a summer of love.  And it’s with tremendous joy that I share my love for all the people that made this summer a most memorable one.  As the cycle continues, I can feel the air getting a little crisper here in NYC with the changing of the leaves not far away pressuring life and its basic necessities.  Here’s to Fall and your perfect harvest.IMG_3209



IMG_2110I fell for Puglia in a big way.  This beautiful discovery located at the southernmost “heel” of the Italy boot along the Adriatic Sea is an irresistible secret waiting to tell.  From the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Sassi of Matera known as the city of caves and the fabulous and enchanting trulli’s in Alberobello

all the way down to Lecce for our philanthropic endeavor and back,  my STAT girls and our “anything you want” guide Michela made this journey a complete winner. PHOTO-2019-05-02-05-04-06Everyone brought their best game and together we created the magic on our paths to set our intentions into the universe.  There was no shortage of laughter especially those triplets from Arizona who never stopped! I want what they’re having. IMG_0121 We were sassy in Sassi, truly in Trulli, and just plain cray cray everywhere else.  The hiking was extraordinary on the coast of Salento to Otranto through magnificent nature reserves on the Ionian coast. We took in vistas of dramatic seaside cliffs always looking around the corner for that lighthouse at the end of the world.  We stopped to smell and admire the flowers everywhere.


After all, it was springtime in Italy and we enjoyed the perfect weather I ordered. Loved our bike rides on some of the world’s most ancient olive groves.


With over 50 million olive trees, Puglia is the world’s leading producer of olive oil.  But not just any olive oil… EVOO!  We learned how to tell the difference between extra virgin olive oil and the crap we get at whole foods. This and a lot more were firsts for me on a STAT trip.

Another was an incredible Orecchiette cooking class.

We practiced yoga in amazing scenic unexpected places…some with a real downward dog.

We had so many Dr Doolittles present at our Masserias.

We even had a pussy pot filled with baby kittens.  But the biggest first and the most fun was our dance off after a long hard day of biking, hiking, yoga, eating, drinking and laughing.  I even learned a new song… Let’s have a kiki!  The video is amazing!IMG_2207

In one word, I can sum up this amazing journey.  Bravery. It just kept coming up during our time together in different ways. Bravery to be a woman in today’s world and to live your truth no matter what. As our friend and everyones mentor Oprah would say… follow your own path.

It will be clear if you listen more to your inner voice and things (and people) that come into your space.  Everything happens for a reason but sometimes you need to be patient in order to hear the call.  In this busy world we live in, it’s hard to find the stillness but let’s keep trying together.   This is what a STAT trip is all about.  Puglia was the perfect backdrop for the week.IMG_2123


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.







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



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.



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.