Love Nomadic Yoga Retreat - Colombia
Ella Maillart once said that “You do not travel if you are afraid of the unknown, you travel for the unknown, that reveals you within yourself.”
I have come to discover that it is precisely this unknowing which makes a Love Nomadic yoga retreat so compelling. At least for me.
While I might know some of the people coming on retreat personally, I do not know them as a collective group. Dynamic is a major factor for a group experience but it’s something that is difficult to plan for, and yet one of the most important things for a successful retreat.
I can’t say for sure that I have a formula for getting it right, other than creating space for expression to unfold freely, but I’ve been fortunate – and have felt lucky - on all my retreats with the dynamic that exists and this most recent one, my first in Colombia, was no exception.
But I wasn’t to know that until we all got together.
I flew in to Cartagena 3 days before the group, mostly to assimilate and get my bearings. I spent the 3 days walking this gorgeous colonial city, gathering tips and information to help with the group’s arrival and deflating my day to day, north east USA mind and inflating my laid back, Caribbean one. A lot of fresh coconut water from street vendors help.
The girls arrived on Saturday afternoon and, shortly after they arrived, we all walked into the walled city for lunch. A fairly standard tourist place was on the agenda for its ease and convenience but I think, next time, I’ll have a better place set up. After lunch a quick caffeine stop into Le Baron cocktail and café bar and then a stroll along the historic wall at dusk to watch the sunset get us walking and talking in a foreign city.
Our first dinner together was at La Cocina De Pepina. It was local, fresh and delicious. Not to mention two handsome brothers serving us. Ok, we might have mentioned the handsome brothers a lot over dinner! But, seriously, Pepina is a restaurant worth putting on your must visit list. After dinner it was a night of salsa dancing at the famous Café Havana. A packed, sweaty, dimly lit shrine to all the great legends of Caribbean and salsa traditions with a live band every night playing sexy Cuban salsa.
The following day we all met at Allure Chocolat, where some of the girls were staying, to meet our private transport that would take us to Gitana Del Mar.
Let me digress for a moment. Six women plus me – the organizer – Seven women. Most of whom have had some encounter with each other in our yoga community, one or two who have deep friendships but one who doesn’t really know the group at all. Either way, regardless of who knew who and how well they certainly had never spent this much time together as a group. And, this group was diverse.
One is a 40 something hard-working, diligent and disciplined graphic designer with her own business and is a self-confessed, die-hard introvert. Another a late 40 something intelligent, well-travelled, well-read administrative assistant who is somewhat quiet natured, apologizes when she speaks but loves a good time and a good, deep conversation. There is the early 30’s party girl who spends her working days in corporate America, loves beer and rap music and wears trucker caps along with mala beads. The single mother of two who is back in college getting her masters, juggling two children on her own and a life that requires planning, safety and certainty while still trying to honor a bohemian, free spirited desire and sensibility. There was the late 30’s local yoga teacher with a wild and colorful history of epic partying in NYC and a propensity toward pop-culture, self-development and witty one liners. And then there was the renegade. The loud talking, highly opinionated fitness instructor with no social filter (what you see is what you get), a love of conversation around bodily functions & sex and who can twerk like the best of them.
The Dalai Lama one said that “sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant impression by remaining silent.” I had plugged in my phone to DJ some soulful tunes for 4.5hour ride up to Gitana Del Mar. I changed it out to give someone else a chance to listen to their music and when the play button was hit & House of Pain’s “Jump” kicked out of the stereo I knew that our dynamic impression was going to be loud.
And it was; from singing “Bust a Move” and “Baby Got Back” out loud in the bus, laughing hysterically at the bus driver getting down with us ( He really liked those songs), to crass statements, witty one liners, bug protection, card games, charades and other ridiculous antics, this past week was full, expressive and very much alive.
Each morning we met in the outdoor kitchen and over fresh Colombian coffee and tea, these women wrote their creative hearts out. We then made our way to the Yoga Rancho by the sea to meditate and practice yoga. The yoga practice deepened each day, along with our connection and compassion and interest in each other. The different personalities; who probably wouldn’t mix in the everyday world, had the opportunity of putting love and compassion in the space rather than opinion and distance.
Gitana del mar is somewhat secluded and tucked away from the rest of the world and the only escaping one could do was to a hammock and into a book. In order to survive a week with people you don’t know you just have to understand and compromise, which doesn’t end up taking anything away but instead gives you more than you could ever have imagined.
Love Nomadic yoga retreats are all about creative revelation through travel, yoga, meditation and the medium of writing. These practices naturally incite reflection and contemplation and honesty. I start the retreat with a protective meditation, meant to energetically keep us aligned as a collective but also as a way of making sacred agreements. When we agree to protect one another, we do, no matter the differences.
For all the differences in lifestyle and personality that arrived on this retreat it was evident from the start that a kind of sisterhood was going to be born, an agreement to make sure each woman was well looked after creatively, emotionally and logistically.
The area around the Sierra Nevada region of Colombia is rich with natural diversity. The jungle is lush with life; rare birds, tropical fruit and unique animals. The Caribbean culture is alive with music and color and flair; making the days feel laid back and the people relaxed. Gitana Del Mar is an hour out of the small coastal town of Santa Marta and on our second day, Tuesday, we decided to make the 2 hour return journey into town to explore the small city. A hot and sultry few hours wandering this cute, concrete enclave by the sea. It’s a sweet town with a small historic area and downtown that spanned a few blocks and comprised of some very hip looking bars and restaurants. But, not a whole lot more going on outside of that besides residential life.
Wednesday was river tubing down Rio Don Diego, a mostly shallow and medium sized river which runs into the sea. ‘Where the river meets the sea’ as the guide book will tell you. It was a sweaty hour hike with our tubes to the launching spot on the river, where we passed native, medicinal trees and spiraled, succulent plants that looked like something Disney would have made for one of their rides. We walked over an army of ants carrying bits of bright green leaf up the hill while the empty handed ants marched down hill to collect the bits of leaf. We floated past a sleeping baby crocodile and witnessed a small collection of birds spread their wings to reveal hot pink feathers behind their white coats; a bird species native to Brazil which only appears in these parts for 5 days a year.
On the day before we left, we hiked in Tayrona National park to the one of the beautiful beaches. The 3 hour hike lead us the through a variety of natural environments. At first we entered the jungle of tall, muscular trees whose trunks looked as thick as an iron man’s strained neck and its roots outstretched above ground creating little walls we had to walk over. We passed two indigenous children in oversized clothing brandishing a machete and hacking into coconuts that they sold to tourists, the kids were about 5 and 7. As we walked we left the enchanted forest of tall, muscular trees and entered a low lying canopy of webbed trees that created shelter from the blistering sun until we left that forest as the path led us into hell; or an unprotected desert like landscape where everything was bleach white from the sun and dusty and the heat was sharp, no foliage could survive. But, again, shortly after that part of the jungle we were led to lush, green protection.
It honestly could have been the metaphor for most of my relationships; never really knowing what the f*@k was around the corner! Eventually, our three hour hike landed us at the beach we were hoping for; a scalloped enclave in the rocks with white sand and azure colored waters. We were happy for the dip in salty sea.
The majority of the group didn’t fancy the hot and dusty walk back so we rented horses and let them lead the way back home. And, lead the way they did – probably having trekked this route a thousand times up and down – the locals still bring food in and out of the park via horseback.
Our week long jungle adventure in Colombia turned out to be a great success and I’m happy to be able to say that Love Nomadic will continue hosting creative retreats here, along with our one in Goa, India.
On the last day, during our departing gathering, it became evident to me – as it always does at the end of each retreat – that these experiences are not really about the country we visit, or the things we see; it’s always about the friendships we make and the laughter that’s shared. From now on, no matter where all these women are in the world, or whether they keep in touch with each other, all these women have to do is mention a shared one liner to each other or a silly experience and the bond is sparked again. That feeling of being connected and alive returns.
It’s the sexiest, most stylish feeling of all.
Colombia welcomed us wholeheartedly and we gladly return. A whole hearted, deep bow to these women and all the retreat participants so far.