Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Stunningly Beautiful South Africa :)

Stunningly Beautiful South Africa

I love South Africa. I loved it last time I was here in 2010 but I love it even more this time. I felt like I had come home the moment I landed into Cape Town. What a fantastic energy this place has! Such happy and positive people :)

My reason for coming to Cape Town was for the wedding of one of my closest friends in Bermuda - MP and Bevis. MP and Bevis met through our various weaves and layers of friendships and chance encounters that took place during our many years in Bermuda. And so it leads to a beautiful wedding, in a beautiful country surrounded by beautiful people from the place that I so lovingly called home for 4.5 years until January this year.

I had been both looking forward to this part of my trip and extremely nervous about it at the same time. Looking forward to seeing everyone again, my friends, my memories of happy and amazing days living in Bermuda. Nervous for two reason - 1) because I just didn't know how I would feel being back integrated into a world that I so devestatingly left earlier this year, surrounded by people who lived in a world I had long left behind and would I feel overwhelming homesick and want to cut and run once I met them again and heard all about my wonderful island that I will always refer to as home. Then 2) because I was well aware just how much I have grown and evolved and changed in myself since January. Would I still belong to the group, would I want to belong to the group in the sense that maybe the things that mattered to me before wouldn't be so important right now. Maybe they would see through me, or see the changes and I wouldn't connect in the same way.

I didn't need to worry really, because as soon as everyone arrived in Cape Town it was literally as if I had never been apart from them. Later I will tell you how I felt and how much it hit me unexpectedly when they all left and I was left alone in Cape Town...

As soon as Allison and Mike arrived, I went straight back to a place of missing my track and training sessions! It did make me laugh, as I had forgotten how competitive we all were in Bermuda, most of our days revolved around training for running races, or triathlons or watching and supporting other people doing them. So it really shouldn't have surprised me when Alli announced ok so the book says it takes 1:30-2 hours to climb to the top of Table Mountain, so we are aiming for an hour right? I looked at Phil and was like WTF? Haha! Too funny! I love that girl so much :) So much energy all the time! Awesome girl.  And it so it began, our flight to the top of the mountain... Somewhere along the journey there was talk of running part of it, which we quickly realised was not possible lol but as soon as we got to the top the girls did tag away from the boys (again in true Bermuda style...) and sprinted to the very edge of the mountain so that "technically" we could say we had run to the top of Table Mountain ;) The boys of course just shook their heads at us and watched us race off. I quickly realised that yoga fit is different to climbing a mountain at speed fit. Wow. My legs need some miles in them to keep up with these energizer bunnies! It was boiling hot walking up the mountain, yet as soon as we got to the top it was FREEZING and super windy. We threw on our various layers and set off exploring the edges and taking photos. I was so excited to do my handstand up there at the top, and even more so when the girls decided they were going to join me while the boys waited patiently (or not so..) in the background.

It was such a beautiful view up there, we got very lucky with the weather that day. The whole trip actually. You could see for miles, and it was so amazing. The climb down was less so, and reminded me of climbing down the Annapurna Circuit (minus the snow) after reaching the Thorong-La Pass at 5416m and having to watch every single step you made in case you fell down. We drove around Cape Town for the rest of the day and took pictures of Table Mountain from a different angle, and found a really beautiful cafe along Camps Bay where we stopped and took lunch together. It was so fun to be back amongst everyone again and catching up on all the gossip.

So nice to temporarily step away from backpacking too! The hotel we were staying in - Atlantic House - was amazingly priced (for non backpackers..) and just beautiful. The view was over Camps Bay and they had beautiful sunset views. The rooms were enormous and the breakfast was fantastic, and when it was cold the ladies made us wood fires, and we would spend many an evening sitting by the fire drinking red wine and catching up. I would continue that theme on my own once they all left too - copious amounts of coffee and red wine lol!

So nice to see MP again after so long. Bevis too. Poor things were running around like lunatics keeping their family and friends entertained right up until the wedding!

We did a very cool road trip along the start of the Garden Route when we drove to Hermanus for the wedding itself. Everyone was extremely hungover, and tired and decided that we needed to take the slow scenic route. It was super bendy journey but the most beautiful scenery I have seen in such a long time. The coastal road and the mountainous views were just out of this world. I really didn't have any expectations for Cape Town. I had simply only ever thought to myself I am going to Africa for a wedding, and it is meant to be the final destination of my journey around Asia. I didn't even research things to do. Wow I was so happily surprised by what I saw, and just how beautiful Cape Town and the surrounding land was. Everyone just kept saying wow wow wow, and stopping to take photos along the way. It was just stunning.

On arriving in Hermanus, we stopped for lunch in this little cafe where the lady was immediately concerned about how few layers I was wearing. I was concerned about how few layers I owned and how I was planning to keep myself warm in South Africa lol! Bless her, she offered to lend me clothing while I was in town haha!  We managed to turn right into a street with no right turns, and immediately a police officer pulled us over...it was like she had been sitting there waiting. Eventually she went away, I think it was made clear we wouldn't be paying her the bribe she wanted...Interesting I had forgotten that nonsense from Johannesburg days.

Interesting I always seem to make it to South Africa for a wedding. The last time I was in South Africa was for a wedding in 2010, and I made a trip to Mozambique afterwards to dive with giant mantas and whalesharks. This time I was in Hermanus for a wedding and watching whales breach all the way along the coast! The coast was full of whales the whole journey, and once we got to Hermanus itself there were even more. It was beautiful. The morning of the wedding we all donned life jacket and kayaks and took to the ocean for an organised kayak tour to try and get up close and personal with the whales!! So exciting!! And apparently I am not very strong at kayaking and poor Phil ended up doing most of the work :) We did see some in the distance which was very cool indeed!

I was so excited to wear my dress, after sitting with the lovely Danielle in our Rishikesh cafe all those months ago designing how it was going to look. Then those many hours spent in Hoi An, Vietam, with Amarjeet sussing out tailors. Then waiting in anticipation for it to be made :) So much fun!! I was a little bit shy wearing it initially but everyone I had shown along my journey loved it, and as soon as I wore it and walked into the wedding I was overwhelmed with the lovely comments people made about it :) Smiles! Yay to the lovely Danielle for making me the perfect wedding guest dress! The bright colours blended right in with all my colourful Bermuda girls and their beautiful gowns.

The wedding was just fantastic. MP looked stunning, and Bevis wore a smile of a very happy man the entire day! The setting was absolutely fabulous, with the ocean right behind us and an infinity pool, petals everywhere, beautiful people, champagne flowing, fantastic speeches, delicious food. And the DJ was just spectacular. Never before have I been to a wedding where the first song played and everyone literally leapt onto the dance floor and didn't leave until the DJ stopped playing. Just brilliant. So much dancing, so many smiles and so much fun. And one hell of a hangover the next morning....

The next day after a huge breakfast feast and sobering up session, we all went back to the car for another road trip. This time to Greyton, where Bevis' parents live. Their property was beautiful and Greyton itself was so picturesque.  Once everyone arrived we went for a nice long walk through the countryside to explore and clear everyones heads a little. It was perfect, and so pretty. Once we finished we settled into our basic (shock to system after Cape Town room!) hotel room which resembled a horse stable, and then back to the parents house for a beautiful feast to celebrate the wedding and meeting of new and old friends and family. So nice to see everyone.

Bevis dad - telling me I am one of lifes adventurers and to make sure that I never lose that. He told me about his travels and nomadic existence, such an interesting man and I loved how much he loved that I had thrown caution to the wind and left behind my 'normal' existence to explore life and really live the life I love! Yay!

The morning after Phil and I hitched a lift with Bevis' friends back to Cape Town airport to rent a car and go on a short road trip of our own. He had extended his trip by a few days and it was nice to have company as I hadn't planned a thing for after the wedding itself, and had discovered that my own flight out of Cape Town to Dubai was actually 10 days later than I had thought. Under Bevis' recommendation we drove to Stellenbosch, a lovely university town about 50km east of Cape Town, along the banks of the Eerste River. It is the second oldest European settlement in the province, after Cape Town. I loved it immediately and wished we had more time to explore. We stopped for a long boozy lunch and caught up on the months since we had last seen each other, and reminisced on previous years and what the future hold. The restaurant was fantastic, and the food out of this world amazing, as was the wine :) YUM.

From here we drove to Franschhoek where some of the other wedding guests were staying for a couple of nights.  Franschooek is also known as "French Corner" and it really does have a french feel to it, which was quite appropriate given MP is french canadian and so were many of the wedding guests. It is a small town in the Western Cape Province and one of the oldest towns of the Republic of South Africa. It was about 75km from Cape Town. Had the rain stopped long enough it would have been fun to explore the many vineyards around the area, but it didn't so we didn't explore! Besides, we came to the conclusion that we had drunk plenty of wine over the previous days as a Bermuda group and probably more wine tasting would only slowly kill us...

The wine in South Africa is the best I have ever tasted, honestly, it is super cheap and just amazingly delicious. It was SO nice after 7 months of backpacking to be able to come back to wine and reasonably priced wine, combined with amazing yummy tastes. We booked a restaurant on the bar managers recommendation, and went back to our room with our wine and snacks and just chilled in front of the fire. We decided in the end to abandon the restaurant reservation as the rain was just torrential and so full on and cold outside and we couldn't face the coldness and wetness of it all. It was also our last night before going separate ways, with Phil returning to London before starting his new life in Bermuda later that week, and me...well me working out what the hell I was going to do next as this was meant to also be goodbye to travels for me. So we did what we do well and stayed in and drank wine, ate chips and watched movies in front of the fire until we fell asleep lol!!

The next morning I very badly navigated us back to Cape Town airport. We got there luckily with time to spare and had a final dinner in the airport before saying our goodbyes and Good Lucks. And so then it was just me....in South Africa. Everyone else had either left before or were in different areas and heading in separate directions.

So for the first time in 2 weeks, just me, all alone. Without a plan of what next, having decided that I wouldn't be using my flight from Dubai to London in September after all... To say I felt a bit lost is putting it mildly. I spent the mornings throwing myself into yoga and my practice and the afternoons by the fire in the lounge drinking copious amounts of coffee before turning to the red wine by evening. I let myself have a few days of mourning. I am not entirely sure what I was mourning, or even that I was. I just wasn't myself. The ladies who worked there looked after me so well, and always seemed to know when to come along and pour me coffee!

I had no clue what would come next and frantically tried to make plans, while those who know me best tried to slow down the voices in my head and tell me to just breathe (lol student telling the yoga teacher....) and trust the universe. All I knew was that I would be meeting Theresia to share my birthday together in a small island called Nusa Lembongan, off Bali, where she is working as a dive master. At just the right time, a friend I had met years before diving in Borneo got in touch with me, and was living in Cape Town - Niki! We caught up immediately that evening and it was just what I needed :) Niki took me to a yoga class, and for dinner afterwards and it was just perfect. We talked about life, and ideas, and dreams and she really helped me settle into the unknown and embrace it. Funnily enough she teaches yoga also now. Our lives had gone in separate directions since our diving days, yet brought us back to the same place in the future! Even funnier is that she said to me while you are in Lembongan why you don't you go and check out the Yoga Shack there, and see if they need a yoga teacher. I had spoken to a mutual friend of ours, Jason, just earlier that morning and he had told me to drop his friend a line as he ran the Yoga Shack in Lembongan to see if they needed a teacher. Niki and I decided this was a sign and I should absolutely follow it. So I sent the shack an email that evening and got a reply the very next day saying I should come in for an informal chat when I arrived about possibly teaching some part time classes :) Happy days! So I later left Cape Town with a sense of direction - yay to that!

Niki and I caught up several times after this, and did lots of yoga classes together. She works at The Shala in Cape Town and invited me to her colleagues yin yoga class, and then to one of her own, both of which were great! I hadn't attended a taught yoga class since India so it was a nice treat :) On my final day we went to Botanical Gardens for brunch and took a walk through the gardens which were just beautiful. Cape Town really is a dream place. I am so glad I came here and had the opportunity to explore and with such lovely old friends :)

On my way to Dubai my journey took me to Johannesburg where I was lucky enough to catch up with the lovely Tracy. A friend I had made on my last adventure to South Africa for James and Shara's wedding. Shara had put us in touch and she had kindly invited me to stay with her in J/burg during our trip. She has since moved to Pretoria and is now pregnant!! And again she kindly invited me to stay with her. It was so lovely to catch up again with her and Andrew, and see their beautiful new home, and meet their beautiful dogs. We had a lovely girls evening catching up followed by a lovely walk through a large reserve near to their home. I was totally unprepared for the fact the park had game in it and was so super excited to come across zebra and giraffes as we casually walked through the park! Amazing experience! I managed to get some wonderful handstand pics in as well :) Yay to that! That should spice up the #handstand365 portfolio a bit! Was such a rushed trip as my flight changed dates yet again, and I ended up wishing I had more time. But a small visit is better than no visit at all :)

Africa, it has been amazing. As ever! I love this part of the world and really enjoyed the opportunity to see so many of my old friends and catch up on each of our lives. It was so lovely to see MP and Bev get married and explore so many parts of South Africa as a result. It really was the nicest wedding I have been to! So so pretty and the setting was beyond comparison as it was just out of this world!!

So now I walk boldly into a new chapter of my journey. An unexpected extra...for who knows how long. I am excited about what the future holds for me, even about the uncertainty of it all because it is taking me in the direction of something new and wonderful and I will find myself exactly where I am supposed to be.

Watch this space people, good times and gossip ahead xox

OH and I am seriously considering organising a yoga retreat to the guest house that I stayed at in Cape Town....think it would be perfect. So hold that thought ;)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Serenity Yoga - Lembeh Days

Serenity Yoga - Lembeh Days

I returned to Lembeh filled with excitement as I knew that this time I was coming back to teach yoga to the dive customers at the resort I was staying at. It was an experiment to see if people preferred to have the option of yoga after diving or to relax and be quiet. In return it gave me the opportunity to get back into a steady flow of teaching yoga on a full time basis, and bring the experience that I had gained in India earlier this year into play :) For that opportunity I was extremely grateful. I was ridiculously excited to be able to practice and share everything that I was so lucky to learn in Rishikesh from all my wonderful teachers in India.  Ah happy days :)

I offered customers the choice of three different styles of yoga twice a day - a gentle hatha flow, vinyasa flow and yin yoga. I was particularly excited to begin teaching yin yoga - something that I had totally fallen in love with in Rishikesh, and something that I know will feature in my own personal practice for forever and ever < 3 The classes were at 6am and again at 4.30pm in the afternoon.

My days on this paradise island were spent teaching yoga in the morning, sharing breakfast with the customers, then diving with the lovely Theresia and wonderful boys, and then preparing yoga classes and learning more about yoga each afternoon until I taught the afternoon class. I literally breathed yoga and diving for 6 weeks straight and could not have been more calm or happy in myself or my life than I was right there in that moment. I learnt so much about myself during this time.  I was surrounded by a number of positive people who really believed in me and brought out the absolute best in me and I was so grateful to be spending my days and precious teaching time with them. Their kindness, encouragement and support opened up a whole new future to me and for that I will always remember them. People who made me dream big, write down my dreams and turn them into action plans for the future.  I had spent so many months dreaming, and not truly believing but by the time I left Lembeh I was sure of the direction in which my life would turn.

They know who they are ;)

Whenever I had a spare moment you would always find me with my head inside The Yoga Bible trying out some crazy new pose, or pushing myself into some unimaginable position. Usually with Rheyn or Doan next to me trying it out shyly (or not!) and jumping up into it at first attempt as I fell to the floor lol! So many fun memories of experimenting in Lembeh. I didn't realise at the time but the boys who worked there as dive guides were watching what I did in class, and taking it with them into their own homes and practicing like crazy together. It was amazing how the "Yoga Bug" spread so fast!

Theresia, Imi, Dani, Hanny, Doan, Rein and Markko were regular attendees of my classes, sometimes twice a day as well as practicing their favorite poses in addition to this! I was amazed at their dedication. Imi and Theresia had never done yoga before so they were yoga virgins and very focussed students, wanting to perfect everything I showed them, and fast! Their progress was amazing. Imi for example was 18 years old and couldn't touch her toes when I met her. She agreed to come to my classes on the proviso that I would be able to make her touch her toes within 4 weeks. I agreed to the challenge. Two days later after the afternoon class, I heard a big scream and Imi came running back to the "studio" shouting "OMG OMG I can touch my toes, look, look!!" and yep she could most definitely touch her toes! This was the confidence boost that she needed to stick with her experiment with yoga and the confidence boost that I needed to know that I affected peoples lives with what I did each day in a positive way. I loved how happy she was, and encouraged her enormously! That girl amazed me endlessly! By the end of her time in Lembeh she was doing backbends that yogis who have been practicing for years and years can't even begin to think about getting into!! Just amazing :) So proud <3

Imi encouraged me with my own poses while we played around on the roof of the dive boats in between dive trips :)

Theresia came to every single class, despite her body paining her from lifting tanks, and the sheer level of tiredness that comes with diving. She would sometimes look at me with utter disgust when I asked her to get into certain poses, yet into them she would get...closing her eyes if needed to take her to her happy place until I moved her into the next flow.  Theresia was another huge eye opening lesson for me into how much yoga and the work I do can affect someones world! Over the course of our 6 weeks together in practice on our beautiful island, Theresia's body shape changed so drastically we were both in shock! She developed this amazing leanness, and sculpted appearance to her body, and more strength than I think we both thought was possible so quickly! From someone who struggled to lean over her legs in Dandasana she became able to fly up confidently into headstand, perfect her dancer pose, follow long sequences of standing balances, come up into a full wheel and start to master the handstand! I would often find her at the far end of the beach practicing her various poses in her spare moments :)

And then there was Hanny. Hanny was drawn to yoga through his love of dance. To begin with he would shyly watch our classes through the restaurant door and then asked if he could join in. He got his father to bring him onto the island early to make sure he didn't miss classes, and sometimes spent the nights sleeping at the resort in the laundry room and would ask me to wake him up before class! So cute! I will never forget walking past the cafe area and seeing two legs in the air upside down, and stopping to see who it was and then screaming "Hanny!!!". I was so proud! He had been busy perfecting his handstand before he was brave enough to show us in class! He was so proud of himself, and I showed him some variations that he could practice in his own time. Superstar. Yoga made Hanny happy :)

Markko encouraged me to continue developing my own personal practice. He was able to jump up into poses that I could only dream of doing without warming up, and hold them for a long time. He had been busy training for an ultramarathon with his girlfriend (now fiancĂ©) in Borneo, while working in Indonesia, and we would often wake up early before yoga and either sprint the beach or run the stairs of the Managers accommodation to get our adrenaline pumping through our bodies and build endurance. During his time in Lembeh teaching diving to Theresia and Imi (and me), he would attend each of my yoga classes and push me to push him further into poses. He always had questions about the poses, about how to be stronger, or why we practiced things in a certain way. He pushed me mentally and physically which was such a pleasure as a teacher.  He and Theresia both really encouraged me and fed back to me about the classes, and my style and their enthusiasm and positivity made me realise that I absolutely am exactly where I am supposed to be right now, teaching yoga and shaping my future around this. Very exciting!!

All of the staff in Lembeh are still in touch and practicing yoga still which is so encouraging and inspiring!

They say that yogis learn from their teacher, which I agree with. But I absolutely believe that the teacher learns far more from their students. In fact there have been many articles around this recently which I will try and find and share with you. I learnt SO much about teaching, about life, about my students and most notably about myself. The learning curve in 6 short weeks for me was enormous. I will always be eternally grateful for the opportunity to have taught in Lembeh, Indonesia. A very, very special time for me in my travels. Testing, and challenging at times but hey don't they say "if it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you". And change me this experience did :)

My customers were just amazing. I learnt something new about myself and them every single day. I had total beginners, experienced and strong yogis, boyfriends who didn't have a choice but to attend, and so much more.  I watched people grow before my eyes, and it was fascinating to me to watch this! I now understand so much more about my teacher, Michael, the yogi who watched me attend his yoga classes in the aquarium in Bermuda incredibly infrequently, always with an ache or pain from running, always with a reason why I hadn't practiced more... He must have seen the same transformation as he watched me and my fellow YTT 200 yogis in Bermuda peel away the layers of our own personal onion :) They say you never realize just how much you learn until after the occasion and I can now vouch for this. During my 6 weeks in Lembeh I realized just how much I had learnt in India and through my teaching experience and learning times in Bermuda.  Such a lucky girl to have learned so, so much and have these wonderful customers bring it to my attention so easily.

I had a man attend yoga who literally couldn't hold onto the ladder of the dive boat and reach his foot to take his own fin off because his back and hips were so tight.  His buoyancy in the water was shocking and his air consumption less than ideal. Within a week of religiously coming to my gentle hatha yoga and yin yoga classes he was able to take his own fins off, had completely chilled out underwater and was comfortable taking my advice on how to breathe more efficiently and calmly underwater and we saw huge changes. His whole shift in body language and nervous energy was incredible, everyone commented on it including other customers. I had an older gentleman who used to be a gymnastics teacher and was very able in his yoga practice despite not trying for quite some time. He pushed himself as much as he could and was always keen to continue his personal challenge in his practice. I had a lovely girl from Estonia attend the very first week of my classes, every single class. She was such positive energy and I am so pleased that we will remain in touch on facebook! She had never done yoga before but found that her body was so receptive to it, and she loved how she felt after practice so just kept coming back. The calmest most lovely girl ever! She has emailed me several times since leaving Lembeh to tell me she continues to practice and asks my advice on certain poses, and tells me how she is getting on with her personal goals in her practice. That stuff makes me so, so happy.

I should have mentioned Catrin and Didi in my previous blog, but perhaps they fit better under this one because of their remarkable energy and spark for life. They are who I want to be when I grow up. Their passion and energy was incredible! They taught me so many things about life, love and being happy! They also added to my bucket list in terms of places I want to visit when I get the opportunity lol!!

And how could I forget the lovely Pepper "yogipup" who faithfully came to each and every one of my yoga classes, choosing to do savasana on my yoga mat and watch everyone work out. In between of course she would give everyone wonderful wet kisses, and celebrate with cuddles afterwards! Adorable!! I always seem to have wonderful animals in my world throughout my travels!

Before I forget here is the number 100 handstand photo! With help from the lovely Markko I managed to climb up onto a small fishing floating village in the middle of the ocean and do a one handed handstand against the small shack without collapsing or injuring myself! So much fun :)

I mentioned already that I would spend my spare moments practicing yoga or advancing my knowledge. I also got to spend some time on the SUP board that the dive shop owned and managed to try out SUP yoga which is out of this world fun!! Loved it, every second I was on that board, on the water paddle boarding or practicing some crazy poses I was smiling. The perfect combo for me - water and yoga! How could it fail to make me smile :) Love love love <3

Teaching yoga is so so so satisfying to me, I just adore it. The pleasure I get from seeing people grow and evolve on their yoga mats, and taking that into their personal lives and daily routine is incredible. I have just found this whole adventure to be so wonderful :)

My life is so awesome. My life is diving and yoga and I realize for the first time in my life that this is just about all that I need in order to be happy. Because I am happy in myself now, happier than I have been in so many years. It doesn't get much better than this moment, right now. I am a lucky girl. Very happy days.

Check out the stunning sunsets we would race to watch after yin yoga classes! Just beautiful :)

As an old friend used to say to me - Peace & Smiles and very Happy Days xox