Uncategorized

252 Days

252 days ago I got on an airplane to explore this wonderfully wild world, and it's not hard to believe that the time has gone by so quickly, as the saying goes, "time flies when you're having fun". It was fun, it was probably the most fun I've ever had, but it was also scary and frustrating, transformational and spiritual. Eye-opening, to say the least. It took years to save the money, it took hours upon hours of planning. I come home with no house, no car, and very little money in my bank account. Experiences like these, however, outweigh the uncountable amount of sacrifices you have to endure. I'm emotional as I reflect back on the past 252 days of my life, from shiny skyscrapers of Dubai to slums of Nairobi. To the bush of Serengeti and to the top of Kilimanjaro. To beaches and Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka. To my home of India. To hiking through Nepal in hopes to see Everest. Followed by elephants and Thai Massage in Thailand, and my yogic journey in Bali. I'm grateful for Tanzania, as it showed me wildlife in its truest, most wild form. I'm grateful for my struggles with altitude climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and all that I learned about my own personal strength. And it goes without mentioning that catching up with my friend, Kristy, was high on the list of "amazing things".

I'm grateful for Kenya. I think back to that second day at FreMo Birthing Center, where I assisted a woman through delivery for the very first time. I was so scared, so unprepared. Where was the doctor?! My time volunteering there allowed me to grow as a doula, learning how to support women whose cultural beliefs are different from my own. As if it was only yesterday, I remember holding that unwanted baby girl the first twenty minutes of her life because Mom didn't want her. I remember how terrified I was when another mama was in labor for over thirty hours and her baby stopped breathing. The terror and complete devastation I felt and the breath of relief when I finally heard that baby wail.

I'm grateful for Sri Lanka for sharing its beautiful landscapes, ancient temples, and kind community.

I'm grateful for India and Kashmir for always guiding me back to my soul's home, for being so wonderfully wild and crazy and for teaching me ways to look outside the box, to teach me about patience, and for giving me the time and space in the majestic Himalayas for personal insight and growth.

I'm grateful for Nepal for providing such an amazing trail to hike and for the generous community of people who welcomed Justin and I into their homes for Yak Momos and rice wine.

I'm grateful for Thailand for its beautiful islands in the Andaman Sea and for all that I learned in Chang Mai during my Thai Massage training. I'm thrilled to keep practicing and look forward to seeing how I can incorporate these techniques with my laboring mothers. I'm grateful for the elephants, whose gentleness and kindness have persuaded my way of thought and showed me how to share love.

I'm grateful for Indonesia for its ceremonies, beautiful volcanos, radiant smiles, and for allowing me to dive deeper in my own spirituality. I consider myself blessed for having the opportunity to work at Bumi Sehat and provide women with the prenatal support they deserve. I'd say I found my voice, my voice as a yoga instructor, my voice as a healer. Bumi Sehat taught me ways to accommodate any situation, even when it is challenging and scary. I was nervous and was unsure of my worth, but the warm hugs and smiles as I said my goodbyes to the pregnant women and staff showed me how much they did appreciate me, leaving me tearful and happy. Words couldn't ever express the gratitude I hold for The Yoga Barn. I spent most hours in the day, everyday, deepening my yoga practice, deepening my spirituality, and being inspired by the incredible teachers they have. It truly was the best way to end this incredible journey.

Now I'm on to the next big adventure, the adventure of coming back home and integrating all I have learned into my every-day routines. I'm nervous and excited at the same time and look forward to finding out how everything will unfold. I'm excited for hot showers, for being able to flush toilet paper, for brushing my teeth with faucet water, for DRINKING faucet water, for the Oregon TREES, and (most of all) to catch up with my friends and family!!!

Thanks so much for the love and support you shared with me during my journey. Love you so very much!

Yoga in Paradise

IMG_20150819_142547There's a truth that we all hold deep within our being, a story of where we came from, a reality more intricate than our human minds are capable of understanding. The yogis and sages throughout history have tapped into these realities and have shared these lessons through many different lineages. Now, we are in the age of Aquarius, an era of conscious evolution, technology, universal peace, activism, and spirituality. This is different from the era before us, the age of Pisces, where the concept of religion was segregated and guilt infused. Do this, or else. My time in Ubud has been fulfilled with circumstances under the Aquarian mindset, opportunities to unearth the answers for myself through embodiment, intuition, and self-study. I'm grateful for my upbringing in Christianity, as it has been the foundation for my spiritual endeavors over the years. The truth is, I am Christian, I am Buddhist, I am Hindu, I am Jewish, I am a culmination of religions because in all reality, they are all teaching the exact same thing, so why segregate? I spend my days in Ubud exploring my spirituality at a place called The Yoga Barn, only a few minutes' walk from my house. I've been challenging my body with Vinyasa classes and Power yoga, I've been relaxing into Sacred Geometry Meditation and Tibetan Bowl Music, I've been making friends while I awkwardly stumble through Acro Yoga, and have been engaging my brain through Community Health Talks and Astrology courses. I didn't know how deep I was getting myself when I attended my first Shamanic Breathwork course but have completely transcended from my experiences there. DSCN3256The Yoga Barn is a collection of bungalows situated within a lush jungle of trees, with an organic garden that supplies all the food for their juice bar and small cafe. It has a very strong Burning Man vibe to the whole place, even with little Burning Man archetypes etched into the railing of the upstairs classroom. There are over seventy-five classes each week, allowing me to venture into so many untapped realms of physical, mental, and spiritual exercise. There are a total of four classrooms, only two of which I tend to use most frequently. One upstairs is an open-air studio that rests at the height of all the trees in the surroundings. It holds up to seventy students, with dark wood floors and vaulted ceilings, and with statues and paintings of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, in the front and back of the classroom. DSCN3269I love this studio on rainy days, where we can watch the rainfall as we move through our practice, or when the sun sets during our afternoon Vinyasa class, getting to feel the shift from day to night. The classroom downstairs is just as peaceful, with the front of the studio having floor to ceiling windows that look out onto a pond with koi fish DSCN3275swimming and a beautiful garden in the center of it. When the sun hits the water just right we get an amazing reflection of the water on the ceiling, and I lay in savasana mesmerized by the peacefulness and sacredness this center holds.  It's amazing doing yoga with such a large community of people too. We come together, from places all over the globe, with our own individual practice, but in one collective consciousness. With classes this large, it makes the group chanting and group Om's incredibly powerful.

The teachers and staff are amazing beyond description. The front desk ladiesDSCN3258 all knew my name by the second or third day of attending, although perhaps it could be because I've basically been living there since I purchased my unlimited pass. Bex, one of the many teachers at the barn,  fills her classes with poetry and lessons that leave me pondering life for the rest of the day. Murni, who maintains a little more edge and MAKES ME SWEAT in her classes, will walk right up to you, "Why are you doing that? You're going to fuck up your shoulder if you keep doing it that way!" Then there's Les, who has a background of drug abuse is now world-famous and an incredibly inspiring yoga instructor. "Two Lives, One Lifetime," he'll say. He even wrote a book about it. Like I mentioned before, the Shamanic Breathwork classes that Levi teaches have opened a whole new world to me. Levi was actually born and raised in Eugene, OR so it's nice to have an essence of home when I'm so far away. He teaches the breathwork classes, along with Astrology, Pranayama, and Yoga asana. I feel like I spend most of my time trying to articulate what exactly happens during those Shamanic experiences. My friend, Annette, and I spend days emailing back and forth after each session, analyzing each and every piece of the journey. The visuals and physical sensations that occur during Shamanic Breathwork are unexplainable. These teachers I've listed are only a few. They have all been an inspiration and have all made my muscles and brain ache and expand in their own unique ways!

DSCN3248~2And then, of course, there's Bumi Sehat, the focal reason I chose to spend so much time in Ubud.  Bumi Sehat is a local non-profit birthing center, opened in 1995 by an inspirational woman, Robin Lim. She actually won CNN's Hero of the Year Award in 2011, allowing the world to hear her story and learn about the support that's necessary throughout pregnancy. I was a little star-struck meeting her for the first time, knowing what a great impact she has made in the birthing community. I love that I have been accepted in the space and able to offer prenatal massage and teach prenatal yoga two days a week. Because the center is already so full of helpful hands, it required me to be rather persistent to find my place there. I was hoping I could play the role of a doula, and although that has yet to happen, teaching and offering massage has been a wonderful way for me explore my talents in the birthing community. I have to admit that I was quite nervous teaching yoga here. Most of the women don't speak english and the first class that I taught felt like a disaster. I was timid to go back but chose to step into my fears instead of running away from them and, in turn, was confirmed that anything is possible. It was quite a learning curve to figure out an appropriate way to demonstrate the practice without verbal communication, but the class was at maximum capacity and each and every woman left the class sharing their gratitude through hugs and smiles, without many words ever exchanged. I feel good about what I'm doing here, and feel good that I can support these women, even if only on a small-scale. I'm grateful for these experiences that have allowed me to grow into the doula and healer that I'm trying to be.

I'm emotional to say that my time is almost up, this adventure is almost over and a new one is about to begin. It's going to be REALLY hard for me to leave Bali, really hard for me to leave this lifestyle, but I look forward to going home, to seeing friends and family, and getting back into the comforts of my life in Oregon. I have only two weeks left so will be continuing this self exploration through yoga, volunteer work, and of course, hiking up some of these breathtakingly beautiful volcanos. I'm hoping to make my final days here really count for something, whatever that may be, and trust the universe will provide me with what is exactly appropriate.

Visitors in Indonesia!

DSCN3051~2There are certain people who come into your life that have a greater impact on your being than what could have ever been expected. These people tend to become like family, as they support you, inspire you, and are a part of lasting memories that will forever be cherished. Dick and Annette, who I like to refer to as my *soul family*, are just those people, and to say that it was a blessing for them to visit hardly recognizes the deep appreciation I have for the experiences we were able to share. We spent nine days  exploring the islands of Bali and Java, and catching up on each other's lives. In some ways it felt as if it had been forever and that we had so much to catch up on, yet in other ways it felt like more of a continuance from where we left off. DSCN3017These two crazy kids (both of whom are in their 70's) have traveled the world, but still share so much enthusiasm for what they have yet to see. Dick, for example, has been to 123 countries and over 400 airports. Annette has traveled a portion of those, sometimes with Dick, and other times on her own. Even with all their experience, however, their excitement for travel and new culture is admirable. Dick is an amazing photographer, especially with portrait photography, and he runs around with his camera, getting up-close-and-personal with the locals to capture their essence. (You should really see his work!) Annette amazes me too, with her eagerness to explore, MOVE, and learn!! To be honest, certain days I had a hard time keeping up with the two of them!

DSCN2833~2Our first day venturing out, we spent the day visiting small villages around Ubud, each of which had their own local handicraft. One village, for example, was the woodworking village of Mas. Another was a silversmith village. We spent the day admiring the unique craftsmanship of each place, enjoying the spicy flavors of local foods, and embracing the company of our new friends, Agung (the best driver in Bali) and Wendy (a wonderfully educated friend who was willing to show us some of the island).

DSCN2914Days following their arrival, we visited Buddhist and Hindu temples tucked away in thick jungles, we explored panoramic views of some of the local volcanos, and we admired the hard work of farmers spending their days in rice paddies. DSCN2957~2One afternoon we were graciously invited to a traditional Balinese wedding and were astonished at the family's eagerness to make us feel accepted and welcomed into their home! Both the bride and groom were adorned in golden headdresses and exquisite attire, all the men wore traditional sarong, while all the women wore laced blouses colored appropriately for the occasion. The altar was decorated with brightly colored baskets and traditional weaving, the buffet table was full, and a giant pig was tied up and ready to roast over a fire! They invited us for food, pictures, and conversation, so willing to educate us on their culture. That was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience we were all amazed to share!

DSCN2825In the evenings, after long days of exploration, we often sat in the garden, surrounding our hotel swimming pool, sharing appetizers and drinking martinis. We got to reflect on our experiences for the day and I got to continue to learn from some admirable people. We discussed anything from relationships, to family, to travel and culture, to my future business plans and anything in between.

DSCN3044~2We ventured to the island Java for a quick trip with the main attraction being Borobudur. We were a little nervous of flight delays, considering there was a volcano that had been spurting smoke for several days and many flights were canceled, but we made it with ease. We found a nice home-stay in the center of Historic Yogyakarta and really got to feel the influences of the island. It was surprising how different the two islands are. Java felt more like India to me, than what I had experienced of Indonesia through Bali. The streets were busy and chaotic, there were bicycle and horse rickshaws weaving through traffic, the air was polluted, and there was so much more chaos than what you experience in Bali. I loved it. We all loved it. It was exciting to get such a different taste of Indonesia in such a short time. RSCN3135The morning we went to Borobudur, we woke at 4am for our 5am pickup from our taxi driver. We wanted to catch the early morning at the temple, knowing its great significance in Buddhism, and we were eager to learn more. Borobudur was amazing, there are no other words to describe it, really. It was built with the dimensions of a traditional Buddhist Mandala and had multiple levels of Buddha statues, and stupas. Tourists from many different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs gather together to admire this impressive, ancient architecture. It was honestly more impressive than I ever would've imagined. Following Borobudur, we ventured to explore Mt. Merapi. It's a well-known volcano on the island, for its devestating rumbles in years past. We drove through some of the surroundingDSCN3154 villages that were devastates by the eruption in 2010 and it really put into perspective how powerful this Earth really is. We ended the day visiting a famous Hindu temple called Prambanan. It had a very similar feel as Borobudur, but Hindu Gods and Goddesses in replacement of the Buddhist mudras. Our whole time in Java, we were on the tail-end of Ramadan, a religious fasting holiday for Muslims. Being in a Muslim country, during Ramadan, visiting Buddhist and Hindu temples was my idea of church. Peace within all religions. It was really a blessed experience.

IRSCN3023t felt good to get back to Bali after a couple of days on Java. The people of Bali are perhaps the kindest tribe of people I've ever met, their smiles so wide, and their hearts so large. There were only a couple of days left before Dick and Annette had to return to the states, so we stayed busy visiting some beaches one day and, the next day, we headed to the mountain town of Munduk to enjoy cool weather, delicious food, and beautiful, mountainous scenery. The morning before they left, Aguung took the three of us to look at some living options for myself. We viewed three or four different home-stays, discussing prices and location, giving me an idea of where to move, and giving Dick and Annette an opportunity to know where I may be living for the remainder of my trip. Following a little "house-hunting" Aguung invited us to join his family at temple for morning prayer. It was so great to meet his daughter, wife, and father, and was the perfect send-off before we said our goodbyes. Although I was excited to move forward into the birthing center and into my yoga studies, I was still certainly tearful saying my goodbyes to those two. What amazing travel companions and what great friends! We had so much fun together and I look forward to swapping photos and watching the footage from Annette's video-camera that I tend to be incredibly awkward in front of.

So, yes, I did find a place to call home, I am loving the Yoga Barn and learning so much. I'm aware of every muscle in my body as I ease deeper into my Vinyasa Practice, I'm stimulating my consciousness through meditation and shamanic breath work classes, I'm being entertained with knowledge on astrology, detoxification, and a myriad of other health and spiritual courses. As far as the birthing center goes, it's been a little slow to start. I'm teaching prenatal yoga and offering prenatal massage and Reiki but, like I said, not too much has manifested just yet. It's just an honor to be in the presence of Robin Lim and her team of amazing midwives and healers, but we'll save this conversation for the next blog though!

Healing and Hippies in Thailand

DSCN2464I thought I was leaving paradise when I left the islands to head up north, but learned that Chang Mai is a paradise all of its own. Really, it's a healer's paradise, a yogi's play-land, a massage therapist's dream, and a music lover's never-ending concert, so anyone that knows me knows that Chiang Mai is my interpretation of heaven on earth. I have been touched and inspired by this city. I have learned and grown as an individual here, but even more so as a healer, a yogi, a massage therapist. I spent over two weeks in Chiang Mai, my days furthering my massage skills at the Sunshine Massage School, my evenings furthering my yoga practice, and my weekends experiencing the beauty of this country. The city is full of western comforts and foods to accommodate all the western travelers and I certainly indulged in many things that I have been deprived of for the past six months. (Sushi, cheeses, sandwiches, live blues and rock and roll). DSCN2469Before coming to Chiang Mai, I was initially turned off by the idea of how touristy it is, but came to the understanding that instead of implying a negative connotation with "touristy", I can now claim the culture of the travelers as an incredible one, and there's a pure, true to the core, reason that people choose to come here. I love sitting in cafes and hearing the rolling boil of expats explaining their lives, getting to hear about who they are, what they do back home, and then get to see who this person is as a traveler - an essence, or perhaps a totality, of their true being.

imageSunshine Massage School was a professional setting for learning, with experienced teachers and a friendly staff. The students that attended the school all came from different backgrounds. Some of us, massage therapists, others, yoga instructors - all bodyworkers of some sort with different levels of experience. Each day, it took me almost 45 minutes to walk to school, so I woke up extra early to leisurely walk through the city and enjoy the realities of life in Thailand. My walk was a beautiful one as I passed many Buddhist temples, walked along a canal that surrounded old city, and walked along the riverside to cross into the other side of town, but the sunshine certainly left me hot and sun-scorched by the time I arrived each day. After a sacred ritual of washing our feet as we arrived, we started class with a prayer to the doctor of medicine, asking for his grace and guidance in our healings, followed by chanting Om's to heighten the vibration of the classroom each day. We covered energy lines, astrology, the zodiac calendar, and about eighty different assisted yoga stretches for us to perform on our clients, to create a two-and-a-half- hour massage sequence. The work was hard, partially just getting back into the rhythm of responsibility, but also the physicality of the massage, lifting legs, twisting spines, opening hips, and a number of movements that not only require physical strength, but also proper body mechanics to keep our own bodies in good health. My teacher understood my fascination with using these techniques on my laboring mothers, so she often shifted the lesson a bit to guide me in the proper direction. After two full weeks of practice, I received my certificate, only wishing I had more time to do a longer course! There's so much more for me to learn!

5721nWHUEKKeJF2ktvDvov4Ie9-SLYe6QEMydKIBhD8My first weekend in Chiang Mai was spent at an Inversions Workshop at the yoga studio I had been attending. It was a six-hour workshop, split between Saturday and Sunday and covered many aspects of yoga inversions (forearm balances, handstands, headstands). It was about breaking fear, building strength, finding balance and flexibility, and taught us yoga teachers a great way of supporting our own students through their inversion struggles. The teacher was incredibly educated on kinesiology and explained everything in a very specific way, making us bodyworkers cheese out on anatomy! IMG_20150628_223222As I have continued to struggle with handstand in my own yoga practice, I feel like I took a lot from this course, and I'm excited to find that balance and strength that I need. Beyond this workshop, I spent about half my time in Chiang Mai at the Wild Rose Yoga studio. The teachers were different everyday and had so much to offer. I was beyond impressed with the comfort, love, and support within those studio walls and through the collection of courses, I felt inspired and touched to be a greater yogi within my own practice and a greater teacher as well.

DSCN2635~2My second weekend in Chiang Mai, we went to an Elephant Sanctuary in the jungle not far outside of the city. I was touched by the opportunity to interact with the elephants and hear their story. A Thai woman, daughter of a Shaman, started the sanctuary fifteen years ago to help keep the elephants of Thailand off the streets and out of the care of abusive handlers. There stories were devastating. One elephant was a breeding elephant. She lived with a chain around her hind leg to keep her contained and while she was in labor, she broke her hip from the constraints. Another elephant was forced to work as a logger, hauling tree trunks up mountainsides. She delivered her baby while working one day, however the baby elephant didn't make it because of the laborious work. The mother refused to work while she was grieving the loss of her baby, and her owner stabbed her in the eye, blinding her. There was a total of 49 elephants that had a history of stories like these, and the sanctuary actually purchased them from their abusive owners to give them a safe place to live on the three-hundred acre sanctuary grounds. We spent the day feeding them, washing in the river with them, and sharing love that these gentle giants deserve. These creatures are amazing beings and spending time with them influenced my own perspectives of how to live life. Their kindness and gentleness spread across the sanctuary, even after years of abuse and injury.

DSCN2457Although I was tired from school, I managed to make it out with Hannah some evenings to catch live music at a Blues Bar on the edge of Old City, to walk the miles of night markets where artisans of all sorts sold their goods, we went to a Tiger Kingdom (which was actually a terrible tourist trap that we fell for and I don't support at all), and we visited some amazing Buddhist Temples. Once school was over, however, it was time to move on and squeeze in one more small adventure before my Visa ran out, and that's how I ended my trip...in Pai.

Pai is a little hippie town in the mountains of Thailand, with tye-dye clothing, dreadlocks, joints, and classic rock in every corner. You can spend your day times, doing yoga, taking workshops of fermentation, drinking Kombucha, or sitting in silence at a local mediation center. You can spend your evenings dancing under a disco ball, drinking a literal bucket of cocktail (or a psychedelic mushroom smoothie, if that's more your style), and dancing to anything from classic rock to electronic. I tended to find a balance in the middle, drinking mango mojitos and enjoying my book, while I sat and watched the chaos that transpired once the sun went down. The whole town is like shakedown street at any festival I've been to, local vendors selling food or crystal wraps, dream catchers, or, tye-dye clothing. It was a great place for me to relax at the end of school and at the end of my Thailand experience.

Now on my way to Indonesia, where my soul has been drawn to for quite some time. I look forward to discovering what it is, exactly, that my soul is looking for...I'll keep ya posted!

 

Our prayer to Shivago:

We invite the spirit of our founder, the father doctor Shivago, who comes to us through his saintly life. Please bring us the knowledge of all Nature, that this prayer will show us the true medicine of the universe. In the name of this mantra, we respect your help and pray that through our bodies you will bring us wholeness and health to the body of our client. The Goddess of healing dwells in the heavens high, while humankind dwells in the world below. In the name of the founder may the heavens be reflected in the world below so this healing medicine may encircle the world.We pray for the ones we though, that they will be happy and illness will release from them.

Om namo Shivago Silasa ahang karuniko sapasatanang ostaha tipa-mantanag papaso suriya-jantang gomalapato paka-sesi wantami bantito smethaso Alokha sumana homi. piyo-tewa manussanang Piyo-proma namuttamo Piyo-nakha supananang Pinisiang nama-mihang namo-puttaya navon-navien. Nasatit-nasatien Ehi-mama Navien-nawe Napai-tang vien. Navein-mahaaku Ehi mama Pyong-mama NAmo puttaya. Na-a Na-wa Lokha Payatii Vina-santi.

Life of a Budget Traveler

DSCN2384After ten weeks in India, my time in Thailand feels even more so like vacation, and while Hannah's boyfriend is here visiting her, I've been able to enjoy the journey of traveling alone. This trip was originally planned as a solo trip, so getting some alone time is beyond wonderful, however I do look forward to having my travel partner back. I really didn't have time to do any kind of research for Thailand, with the exception of asking a few friends for recommendations. I trusted that no matter where I went, it would be perfect. I arrived to Bangkok just as the sun was rising and, exhausted from the journey from India, I collected my bag, exchanged my US dollars to Thai Baht, and searched for the tourist information center in the airport. I asked the friendly Thai man how to get somewhere really pretty for really cheap and, shortly after, I was on my way to paradise. $112 purchased a shuttle to a nearby airport, my flight to Surat Thani, an overnight stay in a beautiful bungalow tucked away in the jungle, plus a ferry ride to Koh Phangan. After being in dirty, broken hotel rooms in India for the past ten weeks, I was amazed at the bungalow I was provided. Back porch right on the river, air conditioning, mini fridge, a flushing toilet and real shower, and the softest sheets I have laid on since I left home in December. (The little things, ya know?!) I felt I could have stayed their forever, but the next morning I caught my ferry to Koh Phangan and was ready to lounge on the beach.

DSCN2380

Arriving to the port of the island, I was overwhelmed by the locals offering me handbills to parties, discounts for yoga courses, and a plethora of options for budget accommodations. The island is famous for their full moon parties, and since the full moon had just happened, it was a ghost town. I found a bed in a hostel for only $3 a night, and since the island was quiet, I ended up getting the entire dorm room to myself. I spent only two days in Koh Phangan, doing yoga in the sand, reading my book, and researching for further travels through Thailand. I found that everything in Thailand is quite expensive, so I planned out my meals and my spending, so I could avoid going over my budget. I limited myself to purchasing only one meal per day and filling up on the local produce purchased from the market instead, I avoided the desire to drink Changs and fancy cocktails on the beach, and made sure that if I wanted to do anything I walked, instead of taking a tuk tuk or taxi.

DSCN2400~2 From Koh Phangan, I moved to Krabi and very quickly realized that the Andaman side of Thailand is far superior in beauty from the gulf side. The beaches and islands were filled with jungled mountains, crazy rock formations, and exotic trails for nature-enthusiasts such as myself. After a lot of research, I was happy to find a cheap bungalow to stay at for $4 a night and as I was pulling into Krabi town, I got online to check for directions to the spot. It was just as a major thunderstorm rolled in that I realized I had to take a long tail boat from Ao Nang beach to Tonsai, where I would find my bungalow, so when the bus driver dropped me off at the boat dock, I purchased a ticket, unsure of what I was getting myself into. It was pouring rain and I stood on the sandy beach realizing that I had to wade through the ocean to get to the boat. Everything I own, including my electronics, were strapped to back as I watched the other passengers wading through waste deep water with ocean waves knocking them into the stormy sea. Fuck this, I thought, and turned right around to find somewhere cheap to stay on the mainland! I was drenched from the storm, but quickly found a very lovely place to call home for the day. Krabi was a very funky, very beautiful beach town, filled with restaurants, massage salons, beach shops, and live music on every street corner. I took small excursions to some close islands to admire the bluest waters, the greenest jungles, and some really astounding karst sceneries.

Knowing that I only had a short time to spare for the island life, I quickly ventured to Ko Phi Phi, whichDSCN2409 undoubtedly had the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The monsoon rains were consistent in my time on the islands, with breaks for sunshine in the afternoons, and I loved it! Lightening filled the skies at night, and made for quiet, wet mornings. I spent my days weaving through the alleyways filled with shops and bars. During the day, most of the bars repetitively played Bob Marley, and at night, depending on the atmosphere, it switched to early 90s music, like Tony Braxton, or else electronic music for the kids that were there solely for the party. It was quite humorous to watch, really. My beach-bum days were pretty non-existent in Ko Phi Phi, as I trekked that island for hours each day until it was too dark and too rainy for me to do anything besides reside to the hostel. One morning, I walked through the twists and turns of the streets, through lavish resorts, along simple bungalows, and to quaint villages. DSCN2424~2I started following this sign that read, "view-point" and trekked through the muddy roads, with no one around except myself and a jungle of mosquitos. I was sometimes thigh deep in the jungle brush, slipping and sliding in the fresh mud, but stumbled upon a view-point that seemed only possible on the cover of a travel magazine. What is this magical place?! There were tourists everywhere, taking photos and sappin' in the beauty. Very quickly I noticed the lovely paved path that was a direct route from the main part of town. (Yes, I took that way down, but enjoyed the adventure of getting there - with the exception of the bug bites!).

There were a lot of islands left unexplored based off my lack of time, and my eagerness to get north and get more involved in my trainings. I came to Thailand for the massage and yoga courses and I was eager to get back to work! Of course I took the cheapest route to get from the islands in the south to the mountains in the north, so this required a ferry, to a taxi, to a shared van, to another taxi, to a bus, to a taxi, to a flight, to a taxi, to walking lost, to finally finding my guesthouse in Chaing Mai. Now these taxis that I speak of aren't the yellow cabs with the lights on the roof. The taxis are pickup trucks with two bucket seats lining the opposite sides of the truck bed, loaded with travelers, all going in very different directions. In one of the many rides that evening, a Swiss girl realized that she had left her cell phone at the previous taxi stand. We banged on the back window to get our driver to pull over...and he did...but he was pissed. He initially refused to turn around and go back the MILE that he drove, but we begged enough that he was willing to turn around. We couldn't have expected what would happen, but as he got back into the driver's seat, he turned on his engine a screeched out of his parking spot, tossing the four of us all over the truck. He drove so fast, we were all sure he was going to kill us. We toppled over each other as he slammed on his breaks to throw us towards the front, then set full force on the gas pedal to throw us to the back, and turned the corners so sharp, it's amazing that no one flew out of that bed. She finally retrieved her phone, and he drove erratically back to where we would catch our bus. I really don't think I've ever been so terrified in a car in my entire life...and I tend to be pretty paranoid in vehicles as it is!

We made it alive to our bus and hopped on with a ten hour journey ahead. I slept like shit, so when the bus arrived to Bangkok at 4am and the bus lights flickered on so abruptly, I wasn't pleased with the bus conductor walking down the aisle shoving everyone to wake up and get off the bus. I found a taxi driver relatively easy, which was a blessing as a solo female in downtown Bangkok at four in the morning, but he had more energy than I could handle. He spoke a hundred miles a minute the entire ride to the airport, with myself only being able to understand half of it. "Bangkok crazy. Chaing Mai gooooooooood. You have boyfriend? You look Scandinavian? You get rich boyfriend who treats you gooooooooood. People come to Thailand for party. But you miss party. Party's over. I have four sons. One wife."  My lack of responses didn't slow this man down, all in the mean time I was hoping I could my hands on whatever he took so I could get that kind of energy!! Haggard, I arrived to Don Muang airport and jumped from booth to booth asking for the cheapest and earliest flight to Chaing Mai. I lucked out pretty quickly, finding a flight for $22 that was leaving in forty minutes. I purchased the ticket, went through security, and as I got to my gate, they started boarding the plane! I fell asleep immediately as I sat in my seat, and as if I only blinked my eyes, we had landed in Chaing Mai.

This will be my home-base in Thailand as I take a 60 hour Thai Massage Course, plus continue my yoga trainings, and study postural alignment techniques. It's certainly a hub for healers, such as myself and I'm grateful to be here to advance my skillset and meet other like-minded individuals.

India's Grand Finale!

Because I had a visitor, there was no time to actually write, but here's a quick overview of India's Grand Finale! Justin had a copious amount of difficulties getting to India, involving Visa paperwork not processing fast enough, followed by delays that required him to stay in a seedy hotel in Los Angeles, followed by him having to purchase a whole new ticket and arrive one day later than expected. BUT, he made it!

After his long adventure, he finally made it to Rishikesh. Our hotel sat on the banks of the ganges with an incredible view of the suspension bridge that connected the two sides of the city. He completely embraced India immediately with curiosity, excitement, and total shock. We visited the famous  Maharishi Mahesh's Yogi Ashram, where the Beatle's lived and created many of their songs on the White Album. We went white water rafting in the ganges and in the evenings, we would walk along the river and watch the plethora of ceremonies held in honor of the holy river.

We made a quick trip through Agra to see theTaj Mahal. After, we drank kingfishers and admired the monument from a distance and had a fancy meal with live traditional Indian music at our hotel.The next day before we needed to catch our train, we went to a music shop, where we got a private show and Justin bought a sitar! Wow!

The train ride from Agra to Varanasi was the worst I have ever been on, with over-booked seats and families sleeping on the ground. We literally had to step on people to get through, but about ten hours later, we were in Varanasi.

Varanasi wasSOOOOO hot!! It got up to 115 degrees, actually. We heard reports of hundreds of people dying because of the heat wave, so we were so grateful for the complimentary upgrade we got in our hotel room. I hid in the air-conditioned room during the day while Justin took sitar lessons from a Baba who could barely speak any english. At night, we watched the ceremonythat is  held every evening at sundown and took a boat by the burningghat, where open cremations occur.

We had a nother grueling train ride from Varanasi but finally made it to the mountain town of Darjeeling and acclimated a bit for our trek through the Himalayas. The trek was beautiful as the trail wove us back and forth across the border between Nepal and India. Our evenings were spent in homestays in Nepal, being fed traditional Nepalese food and drinking locally grown tea and during the days we were in a cloud forest, with red pandas, leopards, and bears among us.

Now Justin is back in the states and I am traveling on my own through Thailand. I miss India already but it sure is nice getting somewhere a little quieter, cleaner, and slower paced.

National Geographic - India Edition

DSCN1887~2~2When I was a child my Dad used to collect National Geographic magazines, and I remember flipping through the pages, admiring the photographs of unimaginable landscapes, traditional tribes, and the wild unknown. Now, here I am, inside my own issue of National Geographic, receiving the same indulgences that these photographers once had, discovering for myself a world that I once thought I could only meet in my dreams. The mountain roads between Kashmir and Ladakh were still  not drivable because of the treacherous winters, so we were required to take a forty-five minute flight instead. As I continue to scrape my pennies (rupees), to keep within my ridiculously low-budget for travel, I was disappointed to have to pay for the flight instead of taking the route that the broke pilgrims, such as myself, would take. I realize now that it was actually worth the $116 to fly over the vast range of the Himalayas. I, unquestioningly, have never seen anything so extraordinary in my entire life. Looking out the airplane windows, on either side, the white snowy mountains stretched as far as eyes can see. I was high from the excitement of seeing something so impressive and, when the plane landed, it was like landing ont the moon. The desert of Ladakh provides little to no greenery so the barren mountains look like brown velvet up until the snow line.

Arriving to the town of Leh was like arriving to a ghost town, with little to no shops, DSCN1990restaurants, or even guesthouses open for business. The winters are so harsh that even the locals pack up and head south, without returning until the beginning of June. After settling into one of our only options for budget accommodation, we wandered around the main road. The desolate town could only stimulate my imagination on what it's really like in tourist season, and made me want to plan a future trip to this peaceful Ladakhi shanty. We fulfilled one of our first days by visiting Buddhist monasteries on the outskirts of the city. Some, centuries old, emanated such a distinguishable feeling of profound devotion and love that I imagine even non believers could be taken over by its essence. DSCN1905~2I left my shoes outside the entry door of Hemis Monastary and as my bare feet blissfully walked across the cool stone floor, a faith, an unshakable certainty, took control of my being. These holy places were filled with ancient relics of Buddhist practice, prayer wheels, brass statues, and elegant silks scripted with sacred text and religious scriptures. It was truly an incredible feeling and, without saying, inspired the Buddha in me.

Since the town was so quiet, we ventured to make some trekking plans with three young German girls we had met, and then set off to explore the Himalayan desert. The landscape reminded me somewhat of John Day in Eastern Oregon and Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The only difference was that we were at about 14,000 feet elevation and there were snowy Himalayas in the backdrop. I spent last summer hiking through Utah with two of  my best friends and spent last fall hiking through Eastern Oregon with another one of my favorite people. Being somewhere so far, yet so familiar, made me miss home. On the trail, you have all the tDSCN2019ime in the world to think, and thoughts of my friends and my beautiful home of Oregon couldn't escape my mind. I still have a long stretch before I return home, but the excitement is certainly already here. It was so peaceful, having glimpses of magical memories, with such an awe-inspiring landscape around us. The colorful, velvety hills looked more like oil on canvas than mountains that led up to snowy peaks right before my eyes. As we walked through the mountainous terrain, my progress was slow and demanding and I assumed it was the high altitude, beginning to ponder how perhaps these high altitude hikes aren't meant for me, but by the second day it became apparent that my weakness was something more. I felt feverish with a screaming headache, body-aches, chills, sweats, lack of appetite, the whole package. When we arrived to our homestay in a quaint village far from civilization, I retreated to a place to sleep while the rest of the group dropped their bags and continued exploring the area. I was so nervous about my condition, knowing that there was still a long way to hike, but after about eighteen hours of sleep and some Tylenol that Hannah shared, I was feeling back to normal. The trail was beautiful, as it winded us through the desert, over high mountain passes, and into Buddhist monasteries tucked into the mountainsides. There were prayer flags strewn along the way, and when it came time to rest, we were kindly welcomed into simple home-stays where we were fed and kept warm for the night. It was great having the three German girls with us. Our guide, too, was a sweet Ladakhi man who introduced us to some of his culture, some local Ladakhi beer, and even took care of me while I was sick. At night, the six of us would sit around, playing cards, and make fun of each other's accents while trying to wind down from the day's hike.

Although a week is not nearly enough time to enjoy the peaceful, Buddhist shantis of Ladakh, we are now in beautiful Manali. On my last visit to India, I claimed Manali to be one of my favorite places, so it's so wonderful to re-explore the territory, visit an old friend, and enjoy this spring weather!

Kashmir

DSCN1713 The US Embassy advises American tourists to avoid travel to Kashmir. The media makes you believe that Kashmir is filled with terrorists and destruction. It's a shame that there has been so much fear placed into traveling here, because Kashmir may be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and its people may be the most gentle, welcoming, and kind people I have ever been blessed to encounter. Yes, Kashmir has its problems, with Kashmiri activist groups fighting for segregation, the Indian military trying to take over and control completely, and with fear of Pakistani terrorists hiding in the shadows. The mobs, strikes, and violence, however, have been distant from our surroundings and the common people are eager to live in peace and share their love with us. We have been welcomed into people's homes, we have been greeted with smiles and handshakes, we have seen this beautiful landscape, and we have been unconditionally taken care of, the locals being so grateful for our visit.

Only a couple of days after we arrived to Srinigar, we met a mountain guide while having breakfast at a local Punjabi breakfast joint. I enjoyed my masala dosa with coconut sambal and curry while sipping coffee and discussing with our new friend, Mussah, our options for trekking through the mountains. We all agreed on a trek and he helped us around town to run errands that needed to be ran before we left the next morning for four days of trekking. He was kind enough to invite us to his home for lunch that day so we could meet his family and have a traditional Kashmiri meal, and spending time with his family was absolutely lovely.

We walked into his home to find the women of his family snuggled together on the kitchen floor and they were quick to welcome us with smiles and curiosity. We shared a warm blanket on the kitchen floor with Mussah's mother, three sisters, four nieces, and pregnant wife while we sipped traditional Kashmiri green tea and ate spicy curries and rice for lunch. Because of the language barrier, there weren't many words exchanged, but being in the presence of women in Kashmir is always a blessings, since it's such a male dominated world. Even if we can't communicate through words, the feminine presence creates a sisterhood that we are all so grateful to share.The kitchen walls were lined with shelves, displaying the traditional copper plateware that's customary for every meal and, in the silence, I admired the differences within our homes. His 23-year-old wife was so sweet and could communicate with us the most, although she was very shy at first. She admired us for our travels and, while her husband was in the other room, she explained how life as a Kashmiri wife is like a prison. She used to be a school teacher and loved her job, but once she was married, she had to play the role of "house wife". She giggled and smiled as she explained her situation, understanding that it's just tradition in her culture for it to be that way and I'm positive she spoke for many women in her tribe. We tried to convince her to do the trek with us, to come see the mountains, but her hesitation proved even more what her life is like.

DSCN1788The next morning, we set off for the mountains, picking up some food and last-minute supplies along the way. I laughed when Mussah threw two live chickens in the back of the car, remembering him saying we would be having fresh, local chickens for dinners at night. When we arrived to the tiny mountain village, we met a local man with two horses, who we hired to carry our camping gear and food up the mountain for us. After loading the horses with our gear, I was anxious to explore the Himalayan range.

DSCN1749

The mountain-side was sprinkled with gypsy huts built mostly of wood, mud, and straw. Some are occupied year-round by simple-living families, while others are abandoned during the harsh winters, so we found an abandoned A-frame hut to call our home for the four days we went exploring. We laid out our bedding on the cool, hard dirt and admired what we would call home before we set out for some hikes. IMG_20150425_194217The nights in the hut were cold, but the days were warm and made our treks through the Himalayas comfortable. The snow melt from above was making the terraine a slippery, muddy mess and when we weren't crossing patches of snow, our bodies tensed trying not to slip in the mess. Clumsy as I am, my four days ended pretty dirty. The mountains were incredible. I'm honestly not sure if I've ever seen anything so beautiful in my life. Summiting snowy peaks to get a 360 degree view of these majestic mountains is dream-like and magical.

IMG_20150425_193738

 

DSCN1843A few days after returning from our mountain trek, we were off to a popular ski town northwest of Srinigar. Even though the earthquake in Nepal was very far away, it impacts my spirit greatly, realizing that Hannah and I had originally planned to be there at this exact time. Being safe in the Kashmir Himalayas is a gift from the Divine and I respect and honor Mother Earth while being in these mountains, realizing the impact she could make if she wanted to rumble again. Gulmarg is beautiful and has the world's highest gondola ride.  Although we opted out of skiing, we took the gondola up the 14,000 foot mountain to trek around the top and see mountains shaded in the horizon. It stormed all night that night, with lightening that filled the sky and thunder that shook the windows. Being a Kansas girl at heart, I was thrilled to be in such a storm but have to admit that I got a little nervous as I remembered Nepal and noticed the huge mountain outside our hotel window that if an avalanche occurred, it could easily wipe out anything in its path.

On our last day in Kashmir, we ventured to yet another beautiful mountain town,DSCN1851~2 Sonamarg. We spent the day trekking around the snowy mountains, being reminded once again that it's a little early in the year to do anything substantial. Everyone suggests that we come back in June or July to do longer journeys when the snow has melted more and the weather is more accommodating so of course, I'm already dreaming of my future plans in Kashmir (if anyone would like to join on the next venture). We are off to Ledekh first thing in the morning by airplane, since the mountain roads have not yet opened from the winter's snow. We'll continue our lives in another part of these amazing mountains before we head back south to the heat of India. We are over half-way through this entire journey. It's crazy to think about everything we have already experienced and witnessed, yet we still have so much lying ahead. Said it before, but I'll say it again - feeling extremely blessed.

Oh Travel...

The thing about travel is that it can't always be that amazing, fun, and surreal experience. Part of the adventure is the chaos, confusion, pure terror, and frustration. You have to take these circumstances in stride, not allowing them to effect your mood, and the more you travel the easier this gets. There is one thing, however, that I don't think I will ever get used to...the Indian stares. You can read all about it before you embark on an adventure to India and as it's happening you can remind yourself that it's just a cultural norm that is different from our own, but it's still such an uneasy feeling as you feel completely naked and vulnerable in those dark brown eyes! Our journey to Kashmir was the epitome of the "adventure" aspect of traveling that I speak about. harassment, broke down busses, broke down cars, language barriers, and complete terror, but the beauty and the culture here makes it all worth while. I knew that Kashmir would be a different world, different from India, but it took arriving here to get the full understanding.The people of Kashmir do not consider themselves Indian, they are Kashmiri, people of their own kind. The culture here is much more like what I consider Pakistani than what I see in the rest of India and there's a mix of Arabic, along with some Indian attributes. There's still such political dispute regarding Kashmir between Pakistan and India and with traveling through the border towns, you are reminded of this by the heavy military presence. The people, however, are absolutely wonderful. It's so great being here, but the journey is quite the story...

It was 9:44am (five days ago) when the bus pulled away from the peaceful, quiet town of Dharmasala. It was only four minutes past its scheduled departure time, so I took it as a sign that we were smooth sailing the rest of the day. The bus was crowded and chaotic, with men jumping on board every few bus stops to sell coconuts or cucumbers or spiced garbanzo beans, but this was no problem as I feel immune to the bus chaos in India. Three hours into the trip, however, when we all heard a crash from under the bus, we knew that we were no longer going to be on schedule to arrive at our destination. I think it was the transmission that failed us on this journey and it left us stranded on the side of the road. Not only was it in the heat of the day, but we conveniently crashed near the large piles of trash that seem so very uncontrollable in India. The flies, the heat, the trash. Great. How long is this going to take?? After patiently waiting for about an hour to see if the bus could be fixed, we found that they were sending another bus to transport us all, but that it would be about a two-hour wait, which in India could mean five. We had made friends with an Argentinian hippie, who actually lived in Eugene in the nineties. We talked about Oregon, crystals, traveling, and his life as an Argentinian/Italian man who lives in Mexico but comes to India every year to buy gems from Rajastan. The three of us decided it would be in our best interest to share a taxi the remaining hundred kilometers but couldn't have imagined the ordeal it was going to cause. It's still unclear to me why it took approximately twelve men to determine whether or not the taxi driver would take us  but we bargained with them all, begging for someone to take us the rest of the way. Finally, we shook hands and smiled as we were loading our bags into the car. We were off...or so we thought. It wasn't far up the road that the taxi driver pulled over trying to explain why he couldn't take us to Jammu, but the language barrier made it damn near impossible to get any answers. After the four of us sat in the car having the ultimate communication breakdown, we were informed that he didn't actually have his driver's license with him or the permit he needed to transport us in his taxi, and he was nervous of the multiple police wallas we had to drive through to get to the city. The three of us, eager to get to our destination, were able to persuade him that it would be okay and if any police officers pulled him over, we would tell them that we were friends and weren't actually paying for the taxi ride, to excuse his concerns with the permit. Now we were off! The roads in India are absolutely nuts, with minimal traffic laws, speed limits, or any rhythm whatsoever, so my stomach wasn't settled until we got to Jammu. Seeing the multiple horrific car accidents along the way certainly didn't ease the terror ether. It would be nice if I could say that Jammu was our final destination, but Hannah and I actually had to catch another bus from Jammu to Katra (in order to go to Patnitop, in order to go to Srinigar, our final destination), adding an additional hour to our already eight-hour day.

The bus ride to Katra was the first major scary drive on this Indian adventure, with the driver radically hauling this bus through the narrow mountain roads. I tried my best to keep the image of the bus rolling off the cliff out of my mind, but as the driver accelerated, the breaks screeched and we could feel the loose gravel under the tires. He was actually in such a hurry that when a man tried to get off the bus, he drove off before the man actually set both feet to the ground. It knocked this poor man to the concrete and I let out a loud gasp as I was sure the back tires were going to run him over. The bus never stopped to see if the man was alright, so watching him spring to his feet was certainly a relief. I was surprised when we made it to Katra alive, but immediately wanted to die when we were bombarded by men wanting us to stay at their hotels. There was one man in particular who was incredibly overbearing, shoving his brochure in my face. I exclaimed how 600 rs ($9) was out of our budget for a room, but he followed and continued to harass us anyway with the other men. A sweet old Kashmiri man dressed in white was standing outside his tourist office and pulled us girls inside, understanding that we were overwhelmed by the group of men pulling us every which way. After gathering some information from the man, we assumed we were safe to step back out to the street but as we left his office, the crazy man with the brochure was still outside waiting. He promised us the room for 400rs, so we figured maybe we should check it out, considering it was originally 600rs (meaning much nicer than our usual accommodation). He had us walk far outside the main stretch of town, through some sketchy alleyways, and into his "luxury" hotel. Within the same second that it took me to walk into the room, I was ready to walk out. The sheets and the walls were stained, there were bugs fluttering through the room, and the man himself didn't make us feel all that comfortable either. He chased after us as we left the building, trying to pull us into other hotels, explaining that we weren't going to find anything better or anything cheaper. I finally shouted at him to leave us alone, hoping that it would catch the attention of the other locals but because it seemed no one in Katra spoke much English, the man continued to follow us, harassing us along the way. I told him we were going to the tourist police hub up the road so he better leave us be, but he didn't budge. We finally stepped into a quaint guesthouse, trying to get away from this man, explaining what chaos he has caused us, but no one spoke english. We viewed the rooms and although they were also dirty and expensive, we took one to get away from that man, and as we gave the host our passports and our 500 rupees, he stood outside the hotel window with his arms crossed, glaring at us for not staying at his. To be honest, we never really ended up exploring Katra because of that man and the next morning got into a tourist van with five Indian tourists to Patnitop, which was just another stop along our way to Srinigar. We were told this ride would only be about two hours, but seven hours later we were finally able to settle into a guesthouse for the night. Ahhh India....

Patnitop was beautiful and we knew we would be stuck there for a couple of days before we could continue onward to Srinigar, because they alternate one-way traffic on the mountain roads every other day. Since the traffic was heading north the day we arrived, it would head south the next day. We figured this would give us plenty of time to figure out how to get to Srinigar because, again, the language barrier was extremely challenging. Patnitop was forested with pine trees, with cool weather that reminded me so much of home. It was so peaceful spending a couple days there, exploring the wilderness.  We walked up to a tea stall where we assumed the busses would pass the next day and asked if they could help us. We could only understand about every third word each other was speaking but the brother of the stall explained that he would arrange a van to pick us up the next morning and get us to Srinigar for approximately 300 or 400 ruppes ($5-$7) for the ten-hour ride. The next morning, when the road was opened for north-bound traffic, we headed to the tea stall to catch this van he "arranged". What we very quickly realized is that what he meant by arranging a van was that he was going to hitch-hike for us. He flagged down cars as they drove by to see if there was room for two, and we laughed when a taxi driver told us we could join the van he was driving that was already overcrowded with people. We laughed, but we still agreed to be a part of this Kashmiri can of sardines, and climbed on in. There weren't enough seats, so I was propped on a wooden crate that sat between the driver and passenger seats, bracing my body as we twisted through the mountain passes. The taxi driver spoke more english than anyone we had encountered in a number of days, so I felt at ease with him getting us to where we needed to go. The problem, however, was that his taxi kept breaking down, so every few kilometers we were pulling over to look under the hood of the car. By pulling over, I really mean just blocking traffic because the road was too narrow and the 500 foot cliff on the other side didn't give many other drivers the courage to pass. My time on the wooden crate was only a couple of hours. I suppose I lucked out that the little boy in the back of the van was car sick so him and his Dad needed to sit up front so the boy could puke out the window. We exchanged seats as the car was fixed and we were onward to Srinigar. The drive was long (10 hours) and uncomfortable, but the snowy Himalayas we were winding through was all that I needed to help the time pass.

We made it. We finally made it. It's a completely different world here and I love learning about the history of Kashmir and it's people, and learning their point of view on India and Pakistan. Our new friends here, who treat us as nothing less than family, have been so accommodating and so willing to share their stories. There was a terrible flood here in September last year and we continue to hear of the devastation that it caused, people losing their homes and their family members. We get to see the reconstruction of this town as they try to rebuild their already simple lives from such devastation. It's a blessing to be here and to learn so much of their trials, troubles, culture, and love they share for their homeland. Everyone we have met is so thrilled to share their lives with us. I love it here

Dalai Lama in Dharamsala

DSCN1627Some people have their churches, some have temples, some have mosques. Others have yoga, they have music, they have nature, or a number of other ways to fill their hearts with love, (aka religion). There's this outlet we all need in order to tap into our spirituality, yet an inner temple that houses the Goddess within. Being surrounded again by these Himalayas, in Dharmasala, where the Dalai Lama resides is just that external essence of love, religion, spirituality...whatever you may call it. I am truly blessed. It took approximately twenty-two hours by two buses and one train to move from the desert heat of Rajastan to the cool Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh. Just like DSCN1641~2last time I was here, seeing the Himalayas again for the first time, took my breath away. These mountains are majestic and inspire every essence of my being. It has been fun rediscovering this Tibetan town and being in the Buddhist presence of the Dalai Lama. I'm reminded of three years ago when I shared this experience with my dear friends, Dick and Annette, remembering the gentle aromas of spirituality, the power of the Himalayas, and, well, the delicious momos!! It was quite a shock to the system to transition from the heat we have been experiencing for the past several months to the cold Himalayan climate. The town is filled with yak wool scarves, leggings, and other garments for sale, there are coffee and tea houses lining the streets with comfortable floor pillows, colorful lighting, and anything playing on the speakers from Bob Marley to Eric Clapton to the sound of Tibetan flutes or the Dalai Lama's prayer, "Om mani padme hum". It's cozy and quiet here, with Tibetans flags strewn across the green rolling hills in the foreground and the snow-capped peaks in the background.

In these travels, I've been shuffling through ideas for a tattoo, something that could stamp this incredible experience and something to symbolize what trips such as these do for the soul. Hannah and I stumbled upon a tattoo shop, and I decided to pop  my head in and meet the artist. With all my tattoos, a spirit-to-spirit connection was a must, as well as an artful collaboration, so organically stumbling into this (very clean, hygienic) shop felt completely aligned with what my soul was looking for. The artist is a Tibetan man, who studied traditional Tibetan tanka painting under his father, as it's common for families to pass this artistry down generation to generation. After years of tanka painting, he became bored and wanted to dive deeper into his artistry, which was when he decided to become a tattoo artist. I loved his story, I loved his spirit. I told him my ideas and he shared his, so he told me to come back the next day around noon and he would have some ideas drawn up for me.

The next morning, I woke up early and arrived to my yoga class early enough to sit and meditate. It was fun studying under one of the yoga instructors I studied under last time I was here, but he assumed I had three more years experience (instead of three months minimal practice) so he certainly challenged my body, overexerting me into Hanumanasana and challenging me to be less fearful of Vrischikasana, which I have been trying to master since I studied under him years ago. After a strenuous, yet meditative, yoga practice I took my stroll to the tattoo studio, only about twenty minutes down the windy, forested road. Arriving to his studio, he had a couple of ideas sketched up for me and I fell in love with one of his designs. He carved the stencil while I discussed the symbolism in tattoos with his office partner and mentally prepared myself. The artist placed the stencil on my forearm and it was the perfect fit. I was happy when Hannah walked in, minutes before the needle touched my skin, to confirm my excitement on the placement and design. The tattoo took only a couple of hours to complete, sometimes with my fingers pressed into chin mudra, eyes closed, breathing Reiki into my body. I love this tattoo and all that it represents to me. It's about traveling the world, putting yourself into the unknown, being vulnerable enough for growth to happen.10904290_10204236647530369_726520276_n

11149213_10204236646930354_2100174771_nAfter my "new life partner" was pressed onto my forearm, the next best thing was to walk to the Dalai Lama's residency. We walked through the sacred temples, spun the Tibetan prayer wheels, meditated over the lit candles, and admired the mandalas, Buddhas, and the sacredness of the place. I love that place so much! As if the Dalai Lama wasn't enough to take me to my sacred place, I had another journey in mind...stomping my feet up those Himalayas! Last time I was in Dharmasala I was unable to trek up close enough, so as was thrilled to plan a day-hike up a trail called, "Truind". It's approximately ten miles, and the trail itself was much more challenging than Kilimanjaro (excusing the altitude sickness and the bitter cold conditions), but the views at the top were remarkable. We climbed DSCN1647scraggly rocks up a steep slope, crossing small patches of snow and mud, but for the cool temperatures, the exercise certainly kept us warm. Reaching the summit was absolutely breath-taking, with other hikers also breathless (partially from the steep climb, mostly from those incredible mountains). We rested for a while near other travelers who were playing music and completely setting the mood for this beautiful setting. The hippie in my was overjoyed - music, mountains, hiking!! What more could I need to take me to my sacred place?!11134254_10204236640010181_1551042634_n

DSCN1704The rest of our time in Dharamsala involved visiting hot springs and temple not far from town, fighting a terrible food-born illness, recovering with ginger and mint teas, practicing variations of Hatha and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and writing this blog for you, of course! We are now off to Jammu and Kashmire for some more Himalayan Mountain Adventures!!

AKA "Incredible India"

DSCN1531The pilot's voice came over the speakers of the airplane, "We are now preparing for our descent to Mumbai. For international travelers, welcome to India. For residents, welcome home." My forehead was pressed against the window and I could feel the warmth of the morning sun on my face as the memories of India swelled in my throat, tears starting to stream down my cheeks. To be honest, I cried like a baby, trying to shield myself from the embarrassment of how emotional I was. India does something to me, something powerful, something divine. I had STS9's "Life's sweet breath" playing on my IPOD and it couldn't have been a more appropriate song for my return to this place that I love so much, a place that I somehow consider my home. It had been almost three years since my feet have touched the soil of this holy land and I could feel the energy of it resonate through my whole body upon arrival. I'm happy here. Happiness that I wish I could explain with words, but can only be felt. The buzzing of city streets in Jodhpur

Being here, I'm reminded of the sensory overload that can be chaotic but, even more DSCN1550~2so, magical...the music of rickshaw drivers singing (honking) in the streets, the humming of holy men during evening prayer that blasts so loudly through speakers the entire city can hear, the jingle of women's anklets as they take each step, the smells of fresh curries being prepared for supper, and the sandalwood burning in every store-front. My eyes marvel at the bright colors of women's saris, my skin fights the dry heat of the desert climate but the chilling temperatures of the Himalayas, and my mouth savours the myriad of flavors in every meal. "Incredible India" is really an understatement and there is absolutely nowhere else I'd rather be.

In the past two weeks, I have been reminded of, and Hannah has been introduced to, the confusion and chaos that is India, with late trains, changing airport terminals, language barriers, crazy drivers, uncomfortable stares, pollution, and anything from elephants to camels to monkeys parading around the traffic on the busy roads. I've had a blast playing "tour-guide", taking her to some of my favorite spots and showing her why my heart is so full here. I think she very quickly understood my cardinal rule though - when trying to get any information, you must ask at least six people, otherwise who knows where you'll end up! Wonderfully Wild. It's such a blessing to have a partner in crime to share these experiences with and to explore new and unknown territories for the first time together.

FSCN1390Our first couple weeks were spent in one of my favorite states of India...Rajastan. Our first stop, Jodhpur, also known as "the blue city". This city is represented by the elephant, a symbol of luck and the rolling hills of the city are painted with little blue boxes that people call their homes. We spent three days there, adjusting to the desert heat, getting lost in the maze of narrow streets, and exploring the history of India through temples, castles,  forts, and food. Goodness gracious the food!

After Jodhpur, we headed to one of my most beloved cities of India! Udapiur, "the white city" is represented by the horse, a symbol of power. Udaipur is a city that I DSCN1502stumbled upon during my last visit to India and I was immediately reminded of my love for this beautiful place.  As is typical in India, when we arrived to Udaipur and climbed off the bus, we were bombarded by rickshaw drivers wanting to earn their daily wages. Of course our driver wanted us to stay at his brother's guesthouse, then his uncle's guesthouse, but I was determined to find where I called home three years ago. I didn't remember the name of the hotel, but as we winded through the maze of streets, I knew I could find it. Walking into Nayee Haveli was as exciting as arriving to India. (Wow, this staircase, this view, this room!). DSCN1407~2Hannah and I were literally placed in the exact same room I lived in three years ago. The family of men that run the hotel remembered my face and were so generous to allow us to pay whatever fit in our budget. "We are like family. You came back here. This is your home," the owner announced. We paid half of what the room cost was (so only $8 per night) and my heart was so full re-experiencing my past at Nayee Haveli. The view from our room was phenomenal, looking over Pichola Lake and the part of the city that rested on the other side. I was eager to explore and find those pieces of Udaipur that needed to be shuffled through my memory. We walked out of our hotel to Salim, the tailor who lives next door, reaching out his hand asking me where I was from. We both made the immediate connection that we, too, were family. He remembered me from three years ago, traveling with my friend, Keshiva, and exclaimed how he still has a picture of us in his house. I was home! We drank chai and caught up on each other's lives, getting to introduce Hannah to this place and these people who I love so much. There's magic in India, even in the wind. I would sit on the patio of Nayee Haveli watching the breeze push the surface of the water across the lake, with the lights of the city illuminated by its reflection. The breeze feels as if a thousand spirits are kissing you. DSCN1437~2It's magical and getting to feel that magic again is such a blessing. Hannah and I spent our time shopping at the local spots filled with beautiful stones, jewelry, and Gasnesha, Buddha, and Shiva statues, we visited sacred temples, took the sunset boat ride around the lake, and drank endless amounts of chai and honey lemon ginger teas.  I had a hard time leaving Udaipur, especially after researching the very affordable value of property on Lake Pichola. The things I would do to run a guesthouse in Udaipur, offering massage, Reiki, Vinyasa yoga classes, and provide the comforts of the west with the ambiance of the east. It was time to move forward.

The bus to Pushkar picked us up at 10:30 at night. Luckily for us this ($6) 6 hour bus ride was a double-stacked sleeper bus with private berths for beds. We slept as best as we could on the crazy roads of India until 4am, when we reached Ajmer to catch our final bus to Pushkar. It reminded me of last time I did this trek, when the bus driver dropped me off alone, on the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere, at 3am...only for me to be a little scared and forced into an over-priced rickshaw ride the rest of the way to Ajmer. I wasn't going allow Hannah and I to be tricked in that way this time. We made it safely to Ajmer to catch our bus to Pushkar and, again, staying at the same guesthouse I stayed at last time I was here. It was only after 6am by the time we arrived so, just like last time, they allowed us to sleep on the floor pillows in the roof-top restaurant until a room opened up for us later in the morning. After catching up on some sleep, we went to the lake to have our ceremony. RSCN1631~2It's custom for new-comers (and returning guests) to be guided through a puja, offering rice, coconut flakes, and flowers to the lake to receive good karma from Brahma, Shiva, Kala, Rama, and the many incarnations of the many Gods that India holds in their culture. We prayed for good luck and love for my family with a focused intent on two of my Grandparents that I lost within a week of each other not long ago. It was a blessing to be in Pushkar for the full moon and lunar eclipse, which also happened to land on Hanuman's (the monkey god) birthday. The streets were flooded with people celebrating, and the ghats to the water were filled with worshipers and musicians blessing this sacred time.

After Pushkar, we headed to the crazy city of Jaipur, also known as "the pink city" andDSCN1579 represented by the camel, a symbol of love. Although the city was a wonderful experience, I was relatively eager to move forward on the trip. I was excited to get to the Himalayas, but also didn't have the energy for the chaos of Jaipur. Of course there were forts and palaces to visit, but once you've seen one (or twenty, because India is filled with them), you've seen them all. We made our rounds through the city and visited a holy place called monkey temple. We visited an old fort and also a beautiful palace. What will stand out the most in my memory is our new friend who was the one to take us all over the city. He was such a fun and corky guy with LOTS of jokes to keep us entertained. The energy of this place was profound and being there, being in India again, has reconnected me to a piece of myself that hasn't been present for a while. It's certainly a beautiful process that I'm grateful for.

No words can explain...

There's not much for me to say about Sri Lanka, honestly, because I feel the pictures explain it all. It is breathtakingly beautiful, it's romantic, it's tropical, it's mountainous, it's spiritual. My time in Sri Lanka involved hiking to the top of mountains to immaculate temples, long train rides through the lush countryside, drinking delicious cocktails on the beach; it involved hiking to the "world's end" (as they call it), walking on soft sand beaches with the waves warm as bath water touching my feet, and eating a wide-range of exquisite food. Like I said, the photos explain it all. It is truly a lover's paradise and I would recommend each and every one of you to start saving your pennies now to take your sweetheart there someday. Hannah and I often teased about what a lovely "couple" we were, with our ratty clothes we've been sweating in for three months and our extremely tight budget! I loved the contrast of places throughout Sri Lanka. There are the cool tea-plantation towns tucked high up in the mountains of central Sri Lanka (Ella, Nuwara Elliya, Delhouse), and then the funky and fun-spirited beach towns (Unawatuna, Mirisa, Negombo) to brown your skin with the rays of the sun and loosen your achy, traveling muscles in the warm ocean. The people here are gentle and kind and it was such a blessing to learn and grow from their influences. I'm really at a loss for words, so just enjoy the photos and plan your next trip to Sri Lanka!

Next stop is India, and I'm beside myself with excitement. I've never felt more at home than in India and my soul has been having its own little dance party for days now, knowing that it finally gets to go back home!!! AHHH!! Again, no words! We start in Rajastan on the northwest border of India and spend about ten weeks heading further north and furter east. I'm thrilled to play "tour-guide" and show Hannah some of my favorite spots in north India and even more thrilled to discover new places in the country I consider home. So blessed!

Stairway to Heaven

DSCN1112Okay, okay, how cheesy can I get?! Stairway to heaven?! Really?! We all know it's a good song, but we also know it has been a tad bit overplayed...since before I was even born! My stairway to heaven consisted of 5,400 steps to the top of Adam's Peak, also known as Sri Pada, in Delhouse, Sri Lanka. Our alarm was set for 2am, knowing that we only had until 5:30 to get to the temple on top of this pyramid-shaped peak. The time wasn't a concern for our own abilities to get to the top, but the fact that this is a major pilgrimage site for hundreds and hundreds of people per day and a narrow stairway could be quite time-consuming if stuck behind, say, a Grandmother, or a small child, or one of the hundreds of Buddhists that were reaching summit with their meditative walking (one step every minute or so). Sri Pada is known for the footprint that Buddha left while on his third visit to Sri Lanka. The Hindus, however, believe that the footprint is that of Shiva's, and the Christians believe it's where Adam first set foot as he was exiled from the Garden of Eden suggesting that Sri Lanka was the original Eden.  With that being said, you can see the importance of this holy mountain for many religions and the unity of them all was quite indescribable.

DSCN1122The walk to the top was crowded (yet nothing compared to what we heard the night before was like), but it's filled with tea houses, snack shops, places to rest, and temples with Buddha or Ganesha statues. When you enter any of the temples, they tie a string around your wrist giving you a blessing and now I sit writing this blog, looking at the three colorful bands I have as a reminder of my experience, but also of the blessings that the monks shared with me in the wee hours of the morning. You could feel the energy of the main temple before even realizing it was only a few steps further, and on arrival we took off our shoes (as is customary for visiting all temples) and weaved through the crowds to find a good spot to rest. It was only 4:30am, the air was crisp and, like everyone else at the top, we were shivering from the cold and anxiously awaiting for the sun to rise over the horizon. DSCN1133By 5:30, everyone started to swarm to the east side of the temple watching the sky shift colors from dark navy blue, to oranges, pinks, and purples. By around 6:30, a group of holy men started drumming a sacred prayer to the sun as it started to peak itself over the mountains. It was crowded and chaotic, so nothing like the serenity of sitting on your rooftop or on DSCN1150a beach somewhere with someone you love but, somehow, it was still one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. For the first time, we got to see the rolling mountains in the landscape that we could only imagine their existence as we climbed the steps in complete darkness. Like so many sunrises/sunsets I have shared with friends and family back home, this one certainly will be one of the beauties I hold in my memory. As the sun rises, everyone is advised to move to the west side of the temple to look at the mirage of a pyramid that is created from the shadow of Mount Adam's with the sun on its east side.

DSCN1171This pyramid was so distinguishable in the mist and fit so perfectly in the landscape. After admiring the new day, we all sat through sacred chanting until we could visit the footprint. Once the gates were open, people swarmed in to share their blessings and see this sacred site. It was my turn in front of the shrine, I gave my puja (offering) and bowed with my hands at my forehead and then my heart. I do have to admit,  however, that I was a bit disappointed with the "footprint". Everything I have ever researched showed the footprint, covered by a pane of glass that you could actually see. Unfortunately, the shrine was filled with fabrics, pillows, flowers, and decor but the footprint was covered. I realized that this is common among a few of the temples in Sri Lanka, only revealing the sacred piece at a certain time in the day, or only a certain month of the year. This is true for a temple in Kandy that has one of Buddha's teeth, but it's kept in a locked box and is only shown in the month of August. I'm unsure of the reasoning behind this but, either way, with or without the footprint, it was still a lovely and spiritual experience.DSCN1193~2

As we left, I stopped through a final temple to have a holy man dot my forehead with KumKum (a powder made from turmeric or saffron, the traditional bindi) as I folded my hands in prayer over my heart chakra and bowed to him and the Gods represented at the altar. A new day, a new life, aaaaaaaaand 5,400 steps to go DOWN!!

Simple Livin' in Sri Lanka

DSCN0865~2Sri Lanka is, well, perfect in every way. Just like India, it feels like home to me and I can't help but feel like Dorothy clicking her red sequenced shoes and finally making it home after potentially lifetimes of being away. The landscape is beauty beyond words, the locals are gentle and kind, and spirituality vibrates throughout this mystically jungled island. Our adventure started in Colombo after the most terrifying plane ride I have ever been on. The turbulence had us in literal free-fall at times and there were a number of us meditating on surviving this flight. I sat next to a sweet Sri Lankan man who insisted on sharing all his food and teaching me Singhalese along the way and once we hit solid ground (safely) the entire plane clapped in rejoice for survival! Not being much of a "city girl", Colombo still managed to impress me. We strolled through Buddhist temples, beautiful parks, and went to crystal and gem shops to admire sapphires and rubies but, really, relaxed around the hostel and prepared for our journey to the mountains! The five hour train ride to Dambulla was so serene and peaceful. As you know, of course I had my favorite music playing in my ears and because perhaps I tend to be a little over-emotional, or sensitive rather, I had tears filling my eyes due to the overwhelming sensations and emotions that were spilling out of my body. So excited! DSCN0958Our time in Dambulla was short, with monsoon-like thunder storms, transcendental cave temples with ancient history of Buddhist practices and hiked up Sigiriya rock, an ancient pilgrimage and world heritage site. From the top, we had a 360 degree view of the surrounding lands with large Buddha statues peaking through the hills.

With only one month in Sri Lanka, it was time to move to the next destination so we hopped on an over-crowded, hot, broken bus to our destination 2.5 hours away. The trip cost us about 19 cents each and we were so thrilled for the drastic price change compared to our travel expenses through Africa! We arrived to our hostel in Kandy late in the afternoon to a house full of other expats around our age. We spent the first evening drinking local beers and whiskeys with the other housemates. It was a well-deserved opportunity to let loose for a while after being so responsible for the past month at the hospital. We all talked about travel plans, exchanged information to meet again in other countries, played card games, and went to a ridiculous party with terrible electronic dance music. Kandy is the home of "Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom" or it's where it was filmed at least, so I look forward to watching the movie again when I get home to see all the places we explored in our time there. It really is a wonderful mountain town. We stayed at the hostel for four nights and then moved to a quiet "mom and pop" guesthouse where two of the sweetest hosts took such good care of us. They were in there late 70's, perhaps early 80's. We talked about his life in the military and his wife was so sweet to offer us tea and delicious meals. It was nice to get a change of scenery and move to their home that they so graciously opened up for us.

DSCN1041

My favorite part about my time in Kandy, is that we scurried away on a three-day backpacking trip, covering over thirty miles of the Knuckles Mountain Range. We passed through miles and miles of tea plantations and some the most unusual "jungle-forests" I have ever seen, where Palm Trees and Pine Trees grow side by side, you can find pineapples, coconuts, grapefruit, avocado, pepper trees, clove, cardamom, and a number of other delicious edibles. We weaved up and down through the mountains, crossed rivers, and lounged by refreshing waterfalls, finding small villages every few miles. These people live a simple, but happy life. They have everything they need with their tea plantations, rice fields, and the communal gardens they share. Just like most of the Sri Lankan citizens I have encountered, they were a bit shy at first but once you flash a smile their way, a beautiful crescent moon spreads across their face showing their pearly whites, well sometimes not so pearly whites. Either way their smiles radiate through their eyes and they display true happiness. There isn't the desperation that I've seen among the "poor" in other countries. They have little, but they have everything that they need and it is a lesson that I'm continuing to absorb myself.

We are now in a beautiful town called Delhauise and found an adorable guesthouse where our room sits right next to the river, a back patio to soak it all in, breakfast and dinner included, and the jolliest house host I've ever met....all for $17 a night! As the  bus drove us into this quiet, holy town, with the bluest lakes and rivers and rolling mountains in the backdrop, we couldn't help but repeat our awe in its beauty. We will hike Adam's Peak, a sacred pilgrimage site, and then continue our journey to a couple more mountain towns. From there, we soak up the sun on the beaches along the Indian Ocean. This world is so amazingly majestic and mystical!!! So ecstatic to be exploring it!!

Leaving Africa

The past two months in East Africa have been life changing, exciting, scary, beautiful, dirty, and a myriad of things that words can't explain. Safaris, living in the slums, delivering babies, hiking Kilimanjaro, getting robbed, getting lost, along with meeting amazing people and mentors! The collection of events and the emotions surrounding those events are things that will certainly be a continuous process in my mind. The good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly...it has all changed me, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to see first hand all the cultural influences and differences from my own.  As excited as I am to head to Sri Lanka, I'm still so saddened to leave the communities here. Two months were not enough. I want to go to Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Madagascar, South Africa, and Ghana. I want to stay here at FreMo hospital and continue to work with women and their babies, continue to work with the staff on making a difference in the world. I want to learn traditional medicine from the bushmen tribes. I just want to continue this dance "under African skies". Of course I miss home. I love Oregon. I love Kansas. I love all the homes and families that I have created. There are foods that I miss and comforts that I crave. Hannah and I have endless conversations about cheese, sushi, sandwiches with crispy lettuce and organic breads. We ponder how to make cocktails cold, since there is no ice, and laugh at our seriousness of pouring peppermint schnapps over chocolate ice cream. We talk about how much we miss the bourbon gingers at Meiji in my old neighborhood. We want to sip on a delicious Pacific Northest microbrew. I dream of the herbal medicines that grow in Oregon as I pick through the stems and seeds of the dirt weed I'm only able to find. My achy muscles need massaged, my stomach needs more nutrients than ugali, my mouth craves fresh Oregon water, and my skin can't take anymore bug bites, bruises, scrapes, or sunburns. My curls need combed and my soul needs live music to dance to...even a couple more shirts and a couple more bottoms would be nice, if only they fit in my backpack. I suppose you would call it "sacrifices" but I would make a million more to be where I am and to do what I'm doing. It's all so very worth it.

After the daily chaos of the rough life in the slums, I often lay in bed at night with my favorite music playing through my headphones and it takes me home every time. With every chord I get lost, sometimes my mind clear and completely lost in the music, other times I get lost in the spiritual processes that cannot be ignored. I sit and analyze every interaction that day, everything I saw, everyone I meant. What is significant about these lessons? How can I grow from this? What difference can I make in the situation? My mind wanders and I feel blessed for the growth that is taking place and I invision the plans I have for myself in the future. How will this trip mold me into the person I want to be?! It's very empowering for me and, with my favorite music playing in my headphones, I fall asleep with an undescribable, blissful feeling.

I'm going to miss Africa but I trust I will be back, especially to Kenya. I want to see this hospital grow and I want to be a part of their difference. Sri Lanka is next with backpacking trips, yoga ashrams, and lounging on the beach in store. I'm very much looking forward to the next step of this journey. I've said it before, and I'll say it again... This is exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Sending so much love from Africa. "Nakupenda, my rifikis" (I love you, my friends). I really enjoy writing to not only share my experience with you but to get a greater understanding of the experiences myself. Thanks for riding along.

Frustrations in the Birthing World...

Anger. Frustration. Confusion. Fear. There's an overabundance of emotions as I try to contemplate what I witnessed yesterday, and what I know has been a world-wide issue that needs to be transformed. We need to protect our women and their children. We need to protect all humans in the health-care system and, I suppose, little by little this is what we are trying to do, "little by little" being the key words there. I'm unsure of my words to write, unsure of where to begin, so I suppose the very beginning is the best place... I'm still working at FreMo in Nairobi, Kenya, a humble hospital with barely enough supplies to run efficiently but a friendly, welcoming, and educated staff that makes up for their lack of supplies. These past couple of weeks have been filled with shadowing the midwives, offering my services to laboring women, and I've been blessed with the opportunities of presenting babies to their mothers for the very first time. We've hosted a "Mothers Day", which is an event for new mothers to come together as a community and share their birth stories, I've taught yoga and offered prenatal massage. We've also been working on the making of a documentary to help raise $100,000 for the center to buy their own land, build a conscious and sustainable hospital, and provide women with the care they deserve. I'm learning and growing, as an individual and within my career, and I couldn't feel happier. I do realize, however, that I'm living in this sweet, comfortable little bubble and that the majority of large medical institutions offer an entirely different (negative) story. Yesterday, I saw first-hand exactly what this meant.

We had a  laboring mother come in around midnight and when I woke at 7am I ate breakfast and immediately started asking the midwife questions about her status and if I could assist in any way. As I entered the room, I was thrilled to see who it was - a woman who I assisted during her prenatal visit and got to offer her some massage. We had already established a relationship and she was an absolute delight, so I spent the entire day with her, breathing with her, massaging her, and reminding her that each contraction was the necessary shift of her uterus to bring her sweet little baby to the world. She was fully dilated with the urge to push around lunch time, and I was sure this baby was coming at any moment. 4pm rolled around, she had been in labor for 17 hours and pushing for several, but still no baby. The baby ended up passing meconium and it was then that the pressure of getting the baby out became crucial. We did everything we could to allow this woman to stay at our center by encouraging her to push, but still no descent. The doctors on staff knew it was time to take her to the nearest hospital that would have the medical supplies necessary to induce labor and keep mom and her baby safe.

We quickly loaded up our "ambulance", which is actually just a SUV that the center uses as their school bus, their ambulance, and a taxi to pick up laboring mothers or anyone in need. We raced through traffic with our hazard lights blinking, hoping this would inform other drivers to get out of the way, the mother in total discomfort, leaking fluids, and worried for the safety of her baby. I looked into her eyes at any moment that I could, intuitively telling her that everything is okay, rubbing her leg to let her know that we were in this together...not knowing how out-of-our-control the situation would end up being.

We arrived to the hospital and the midwife ran inside to get assistance while I sat with the mother. Once she came outside, we both knew something was wrong. She was arguing with the staff and there was no one coming to assist the mother out of the car. When the mother asked me what was happening, I promised her I would go to find out. It's quite challenging to find out what's happening, when everyone is arguing in a mix of Swahili and English, so I stood there frustrated, fuming to find out answers. I wanted to stomp my feet and yell, "what the hell is going on and why is no one helping this mother?!", but there was already so much chaos and confusion, there was little I could do. Basically the hospital was refusing to take her because they said they didn't have enough staff. We had called on our way, and they gave us the go to come, but on arrival they said, "No, she's not our problem. She belongs to your institution. You are putting her life in danger by not taking her to another hospital!" (What?! Really?! We are here at a hospital, in an emergency, you are refusing to take her, and WE are putting her life in danger?!). We jumped back in the car and rushed her to the next nearest hospital. Pulling up through the emergency drive through, I was shocked that no doctors or paramedics came out to assist, so Magdaline, the midwife, ran inside to find her own wheel chair to get this mother to the labor ward. The wheelchair was pathetic, with a tire missing on the right wheel and both foot pedals missing, only a white piece of fabric tied to either end for us to maneuver the mother's feet onto so they didn't drag on the floor. We raced through the waiting room, which was filled with about 20 people lying ill or injured on stretchers, some with IVs, others with family members crowded around. As we ran through the hospital maze to the maternity ward, I feared this chair breaking at any moment, having mom fall to the floor. It seemed where we needed to be was the furthest unit away. My arms were filled with her clothes, along with a bucket of emergency supplies in case we had to deliver this baby in the car...or in the hospital because we couldn't seem to get any assistance. My stomach was filled with fear. We continued to run past several doctors who didn't pay any mind to the emergency, who didn't offer any assistance whatsoever. Upon arrival to the unit, they refused her service until we registered her, and the nurses made it known that we were an inconvenience to them. I noticed three staff members sitting at their desk laughing together at a YouTube video, and I was furious. Someone please help this mother. She deserves better than this. We finally walked her into her room, which was actually an open room for all women in the second and third stages of labor. I couldn't imagine being in labor, lying next to a woman screaming during delivery. There's no privacy, about 5 women in their own discomforts of labor, and here we come rushing into the room in need of an immediate delivery. I was absolutely appalled. There was no privacy for the women, their dignity completely wiped away as they strive through their own personal battles of delivering their babies. How can an institution put women in a situation like this?!

The happy ending to the story is that the mother delivered a healthy baby boy, but I'm disgusted by the events that transpired in those hospitals. There was another birth story yesterday, that I was not a part of, but was taking place in our center and soon to the hospital. It's ending did not end up to be so happy. We had a laboring woman arrive to FreMo in the early morning. She had eclampsia and a still-healing scar from a cesarean she received only a year prior. Because FreMo is a low-risk hospital and we do not have the supplies necessary for interventions, she was not a candidate to have a safe delivery here. The staff supported her by taking her to the nearby hospital and waited with her to receive care. Of course, the hospital would not handle the emergency, until the insurance passed. They would not care for a laboring, eclamptic woman and because of their lack of concern, she waited...and waited...and waited, up until the point that her baby died. This should not be happening! How can a hospital turn away an emergency? How can we arrive to a hospital and receive little to no assistance? ....and the biggest question of all .... How can we change this?! What power do we have to change this system? I know this is not just Kenya. I've heard stories similar to this from women all over the world. I spent most of my day today talking to the doctor, the midwife, and the administrator of FreMo. They informed me even more of the corruption in the hospitals here. I was taken back to hear stories like how the main governmental hospital of Kenya will keep four babies in one incubator. There is only one oxygen tube for all four of these babies, and the nurse will sit there passing the tube from baby to baby for five minutes at a time. Babies are dying, babies are ending up with cerebral palsey for lack of oxygen. THIS IS THE GOVERNMENTAL HOSPITAL!! This is just one of many discouraging stories I was told, and I can't help but feel absolutely helpless.

Birthing your child is the most sacred and spiritual moment for a mother and how can we establish the education necessary to provide her with the physical and emotional comforts as well as the medical support that she deserves? How can we change the institutions that have been running their systems so backwards for so many years? My mind races as I try to consider change. I dream of building my own birthing center, a sacred and safe place for women, with soft lighting, comfortable pillows, birthing pools, and educated midwives and doctors to provide women with the support that they deserve. So many things to consider, so many institutions at fault, so much passion to create change. Us advocates for proper birthing procedures, we cry together, wishing for change. Is this something that we can see in our lifetime?!

Helping FreMo Help Others...

DSCN0675 My experience at FreMo has been as unpredictable as pregnancy itself. I realize that every moment holds infinite possibilities and where I am in that moment is a culmination of every decision, every choice, and every thought of my entire life, and this moment is exactly how it was meant to be. As I'm working with women here, and being a part of their birth story, I almost feel as if I'm creating my own. There's the birth story of the new person I will forever be because of my time here, but there is also the birth story and growth of a world-wide movement bringing care and support to women, their children (our future) and, really, all those who we come in contact with.

It was only on my second day of volunteering that a mother came into the clinic, already in second stage of labor. Abraham, the doctor on duty, was excited to invite me into the birthing room to sit with the mother and offer my services, while he ran around the hospital tending to his other duties. She didn't have anyone with her, as this is sometimes the preferred choice of Kenyan women, so I sat with her, sometimes assisting her to walk through the room during contractions, reminding her of her breath, and ensuring her that I was available for anything she may need. She's my age with a husband and two girls, another child on the way...at any moment. It's a cultural norm for male babies to be preferred among certain tribes in Kenya and she felt she had already disappointed her husband with the two other girls. She was praying for a boy but her contractions became more intense and the sensations of labor pulsed down her thighs. I knew she was in transition. She moved to her hands and knees on the floor where we had a cushioned pad set up for delivery. My left hand firmly gripped hers to ensure her how strong she was and that I was there for her til the end. My other hand stroked her back until the moment that she started pushing. (Oh my god, where is the doctor?!) It was in that instant that every page of every book, every word from my mentors, every lesson I have ever learned in birthing raced through my brain in time for me to help her deliver this baby. How could I be so lucky to be the very first person in the whole world to see and touch this infant?! I called for the doctor as soon as this beautiful baby girl was brought into the world; my body physically trembling in shock of what happened...I'm sure hers too. DSCN0678 When Abraham arrived into the room, he laughed and smiled as he assisted me with the next steps. Mom was worried...another girl. She didn't want another girl, and my heart broke. Abraham guided me through clamping and cutting the cord, and how to assist the mother with birthing the placenta, and once he left the room, the mother and I talked. As her baby laid swaddled on the bed, she didn't want to see or hold her baby. She explained how her husband had already found a second wife (another cultural norm among certain tribes) who gave him a son, and she was worried what would happen once he found out that she provided him with another daughter. The other wife abused her, criticizing her for being unable to have a baby boy. I held that baby so snug in my arms, looking at her beautiful eyes, her dark chocolate skin. She was perfect and a blessing in every way and my heart mourned for this mother and her child. I was lost. This was not what I had anticipated for the beiginning of my doula career. That night, I didn't sleep, and when I did I dreamt of that delivery, of that mother, of the cultural differences. The next day, seeing the mother for the first time, she came and squeezed my hand. She may never know the impact she, her baby, and her birth story will have on me, and in that simple squeeze I trusted that she fell in love with her baby girl, no matter what the circumstances may bring to her home.

I've heard other stories, similar to this one, with husbands threatening divorce if their wife doesn't provide a baby boy, husbands who find second or third wives because their other wives are "incapable". As the shock of these stories start to dwindle, my mind races for solutions to provide these mothers with the emotional support they need. This is a problem that FreMo deals with on a regular basis and the staff try their absolute best to offer the love that these women deserve. Beyond this, many of the women that come to this center are poor, physically or emotionally abused, perhaps shamed from the female genital mutation that still (illegally) happens among some tribes. FreMo brings light to those who need it to shine the brightest. Their education in health care, along with their compassionate hearts are providing care, changing their community, and making a positive imprint on the entire world. They, too, struggle, just like the mothers. The hospital is located in the slums of Nairobi with barely enough money to afford the supplies and medicines necessary to run a hospital and too compassionate to turn those away who can't afford their services. Their fees are low, perhaps the lowest in the entire city, yet they still try to offer the highest service to their community.

My time here has been spent learning so much from the staff. However, it has been an honor for them to ask me to teach them what I know. Some mornings I teach the staff yoga for self-care, other mornings I teach them prenatal yoga to share with their patients, and we even cover a little prenatal massage. I've been able to work with the women prenatally as well, offering them massage therapy and creating specific yoga sequences for their prenatal needs. The lead midwife takes me to the homes of the new mothers where we check vitals, talk about their birth story, and make sure mom and baby are healthy and happy.

RSCN0672

And as if they don't already do enough, last year FreMo established a school not far from the hospital. Working with the kids at the school is where Hannah really shines. Me - the mama and the babies. Hannah - the youth. I was so proud of my friend as I watched her teach the children anything from reading, to games, to social studies. My niche with the kids involves races on the playground with bald tires, and that's about it! Many of these children come from broken homes, impoverished, domestic violence, hunger, and so forth, but their spirit is so high and they love us mzungus. On the very first day of us meeting them, a little girl grabbed my hand, looked up at me, and said, "I love you so much." My heart melted. Such compassion, such unconditional love that these children share. Sometimes we take them on outings to allow them to learn and grow creatively with hands-on interactions. The first one was to a farm outside of the city. It was an opportunity for these children to interact with some animals and the farmer was so proud to teach them all about bio-fuel and clean energy. By the end of the day, the children were shouting "Clean Energy! Clean Energy!". With so much pollution in this side of the world I was thrilled these children were learning the importance of taking care of our Earth. We finished the day by filling their hands with fresh honey from the five hives the farmer has. The natural sugars got them so wound up and they ran all around the farm while one of the teachers combed my hair, in disbelief that it was real. ha! Our next outing was to the Giraffe center, where we got to feed and interact with giraffes, and learn more about this amazing creature. It's fun getting to be a part of the adventures and to create a relationship with these children.

I know my remaining two weeks in Nairobi are going to be transformative for all of us. The giraffe has the largest heart of any other mammal, so I use this animal as a mantra to guide my decisions through this process. Everything is so unpredictable, maybe overwhelming and challenging at times, but with a big heart guiding the way, anything feels possible.

Please let me know if you are interested in supporting FreMo in any way. Contributions are greatly appreciated. Please stay tuned for Crowd Funding.

Kilimanjaro

I read the guide books, talked to so many people, and had months to mentally and physically prepare to climb that mountain yet, even still, there was nothing that could have prepared me for summit day....climbing Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. People climb the mountain for a variety of reasons and there's a constant buzz in the air about getting the photo at the top but for me hiking Kili was many things. It was putting my body to the ultimate challenge, it was being out in nature - taking me to that sacred place that only nature and music know the way, it was setting my mind to something and accomplishing that goal, and yes...it was even getting that photo at the top. January 15th, 2015 is when it all began, when a van full of porters, guides, and a cook came to pick us up from our hotel. I had my hiking boots laced tight, my sunscreen slathered on my freckled skin, my belly filled with delicious mangos, papayas, and bananas, and I was ready. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people there, knowing that they were all hired for me. I'm used to backpacking in the states, where it's my responsibility to carry my own weight - my tent, my clothes, my food, my everything. Being too proud and too stubborn, I had a hard time having such a large crew involved in taking me up this mountain...but by the end of the trip I was grateful they were with me, every step of the way. I jumped in the van, where my guide immediately handed me bottled water and encouraged my water intake as we drove to the entrance gate. We met other trekkers there, from all over the world, and at the time didn't realize the community we were going to create over the next seven days. We chatted at the campgrounds each night, we passed them along the trail, we encouraged each other to the summit, and shared stories of our success or sickness on our way down.

Each day we would wake to one of our porters, Amani, gently shaking our tent and unzipping it to offer us hot tea as we came out of our slumber. The mornings were cold and it was a great way to start the day, still snuggled in my 0 degree sleeping bag sipping hot tea and preparing for the day. Shortly after, he would bring large bowls of hot water for washing, and breakfast was followed after that. We always ate with one of our guides, and discussed the day's plan for the trek, while they checked in with our state of health. I decided to withhold from taking my altitude pills until absolutely necessary, wanting my body to adapt on its own. Even from the first day, however, the altitude gave me headaches and insomnia, so each morning we discussed the level of pain to determine when I may need to start taking the pills. Each day the trails were simple and our guides would insist on us going "pole pole" (slow) but certain days we even beat our porters to the campground! Each campground was beautiful and unique in its own way, gradually working our way higher and higher in elevation. My time on the mountain allowed me to reflect on life, friends, my career, and anything the intricate mind can touch upon. It was freeing. I thought of my friends at the String Cheese Incident shows that I was missing back home. Gosh, I wanted to be there, but how could I complain when I had such beauty all around me. Francis and Pasaat, our guides, were so sweet and shot candid photos all along the way. We talked about their culture, we made jokes about silly mzungus (white people), we learned some Swahili, and were introduced to the many plants and wildlife indigenous to the mountain. Nights were the hardest for me, with skull-shattering headaches, my mind wandering as I could not sleep. On the fourth night, I surrendered. I got up, and left my tent. I knew I wouldn't sleep....had tried for days, but the altitude kept me active. Although the air was chilling as I sat on a rock, my body hugged by the damp clouds lingering on land, I looked up into the beautiful African sky. The stars were mesmerizing and it took me back to a time I had in India, staring up at the same stars, knowing that being a part of this experience, I would be forever changed. On the fifth day, we made it to base camp (over 15,000 feet). I hadn't slept in days, my appetite started to diminish, and the headaches still present. Just as we did every night at dinner, we had meetings about the seriousness of this trek, the importance of water, the terrain for the upcoming day, and Francis checked our vitals ensuring we were still healthy and prepared for the summit.

It was 11pm when Amani unzipped our tent offering us tea. I hadn't slept a wink, but felt prepared for the long, strenuous hike to summit for sunrise. I layered my body with warm thermals, covered those with fleece, an insulating layer, and then a waterproof layer. I tied up my shoes, strapped my headlamp around my head, grabbed my trekking poles, and was ready to go. After eating a couple cookies, we started our trek shortly after midnight. The trail almost immediately diminished and we started scrambling up the rock face. The air was thin and cold and my breath was weak and couldn't satisfy my lungs. Already in the first half hour, it was more challenging than any of the hiking we had done in the previous five days and in that moment I came to the realization that the next several hours were going to be really fucking hard, so I turned the volume up on my IPOD to blast Phish a little louder and I took a couple layers of clothes off. Even in the bitter chill around me, my body heat from the strentuous climb felt enough to warm an entire household. My friend, Laurel, had given me a small notebook with the illustration of a woman on it. It said "FEARLESS" under her picture, and I used this image as my mantra to continue onward. By 2am, and probably about 16,500 feet, I was sure my skull was going to shatter. I had never experienced such a headache but was scared to tell my guides, as I was sure if they knew how badly I felt, they would make me turn around. I finally spoke up and he asked on a pain scale of one to ten, where I was at. My brain screamed 12!!!.....but I only told him 7. We decided it was time for me to take an altitude pill. The pills don't mask the pain but, more importantly, help prevent cerebral and pulmonary edema. I took the pill but as we continued our climb, I was in total misery. The exhaustion from not sleeping for six days had finally caught up to me...of course, on the most important day of the whole trip. I was exhausted, struggling to even keep my eyes open. I became dizzy, nauseous, and lost faith that I would even survive at this point. One of my guides, Francis, was walking in front of me. I kept my body no more than a couple of feet from his and held an intense stare at his feet, trying to mimic every step. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. If I broke my stare from this, my entire world would spin and knowing that it was a steep and long fall down, I kept my focus, my brain pounding, and my mind in a trance. I looked for rocks for me to sit on to take a break, or larger rocks for me to crawl under and freeze to death. (This wasn't worth it! What the hell was I thinking?!) As I started to sway and stumble, Hannah and my guides knew I wasn't in any good shape. I pleaded for time to rest, falling onto a rock trying to rest my body. Pasaat started shaking my body with force, "Wake up! Wake up!", he would yell to give me the encouragement to keep going...and I did, needing to stop a couple times along the way to try to vomit. The problem was my lack of appetite for a couple days left me with nothing to throw up, my lack of sleep left me miserably exhausted, and the altitude made my head ache unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I was a mess, but too proud to turn around. I HAD to make it to the top. We reached Stella Point, 18,800ft, at 4:58am. I gasped for air, partially out of excitement, but mostly TRYING to feed my lungs with oxygen. I was emotional and wanting to cry. We had less than a thousand feet to the highest point in Africa. My body ill and overwhelmed with emotion, I sat on a rock, trying with everything I had to catch my breath and explaining to everyone my misery on the way. Pasaat and Francis had hot ginger tea and a plastic Tupperware full of snickers bars and vanilla cake. We celebrated and relaxed, knowing that we could only spend so much time at such a high elevation before we needed to descend. After a little sugar, we continued to Uhuru peak. It was a series of three more steep climbs and I had an extra boost of motivation, excited to reach that point. The temperatures dropped drastically, the winds started to blow stronger, and the snowfall became heavier. We finally reached Uhuru peak at 5:52am, just to see the sky start to fill with purple, orange, and pink hues and the four of us danced and sang in the heavens. After a short celebration, it was time to descend. It was cold, so incredibly cold, and I couldn't get our photos fast enough. My fingers were frozen and I knew I needed to start my climb downward. We were hoping to wait for the sun to rise for our photos but it was just too long of a wait. My fingers hurt and I was starting to get scared. The headache was gone, my breathing was relatively regular, but my fingers hurt. I shook my hands and squeezed my hands trying to bring them warmth. Francis realized the discomfort I was in and ran to catch up to me. He took my hands into his and vigorously rubbed them to diminish the pain. As we connected with Pasaat, Francis took off my gloves and I tried to hold back my tears seeing the black rim on my nail beds and seeing my swollen fingers with shades of black, blue, white, and purple. I was sure my massage carreer was over. Pasaat quickly unzipped his jacket, grabbing my hands, and placed them under his armpits. I paid no mind to the fact he hadn't showered in at least six days or that my ice cold hands were on this poor man's body. It was warm and eventually the pain dissipated and I started to get my feeling back. I was able to put my gloves back on and we all continued our way down the mountain. We passed people along the way, who looked in much worse shape than what I was in, and my heart poured for them. I understood their complete misery and wished them well travels the rest of their way to summit. We ran down the mountain, knowing that we needed to get to a lower elevation. I was still absolutely exhausted, my knees aching, and with no energy to continue. We descended the 4,000 feet to base camp where I immediately snuggled back into my tent and passed out hard for the hour and a half they allowed us to sleep. We still had a lot more elevation to lose to get us back to safety and they insisted we continue down. The trail down was rough, steep, and the rain and hail didn't ease the circumstance. Hours later, we arrived to our camp where we slept that night. We had descended around 11,000 feet from summit, and I waddled in pain, meeting up with the other travelers that I had met along the way. Most of them did not reach summit. Some, comfortable with not reaching their goal, others with strong hatred for the mountain and her beastly ways. A man I had befriended from Holland offered me a salve for my knees. As I pulled up my pant legs to apply to cream, I saw what shape I was in. My knees looked like large, purple apples and I showed my guide to try to persuade him to feel a little sorry for me and my discomfort....I got no pity. I slept harder that night than I have in months and when 6:30am rolled around for us to continue our trek to the entrance gate, I was not ready to keep hiking. We continued to fall another several thousand feet to have our car waiting for us at the gate. We signed out of the national park, used the first clean restroom we had seen in days, and celebrated with our guides, porters, and cook. We drank Kilimanjaro Beer and toasted with delicious champagne before we drove back into town.

Like I said, I couldn't have anticipated the alititude and even though it was a struggle, I think that was an essence of the journey that I was supposed to experience. It was a struggle but with a few mantras, a couple altitude pills, and a strong crew to help me along my way, I'm thrilled I made it to the top. It's an average 45% success rate for all trekkers doing all trails to make it to summit, so I shine at the accomplishment, and I possibly attained a bit more, much needed, self confidence.

The trek was hard and now Hannah and I sit in the warm breeze of Zanzibar, with fresh seafood to fill our bellies, delicious Mojitos to fill our spirits, and warm water oceans to releax our achy bones...

Until next time, thanks for following along. It's so fun for me to get to share. You're in my heart, always. Cheers!

Safari

I'm sitting here at my computer, with the keyboard under my fingertips and it's difficult to find the words to describe the last four days of my life. I couldn't have imagined Safari to be better than it was and, looking back, it's still hard to believe that it wasn't all just a dream. The freedom you feel on Safari is a wonderful thing, standinng up in the car, feeling the wind blow, and seeing so many amazing creatures out in the wild. We were in their territory, respectful of their space, yet still getting up-close-and-personal with animals I have only encountered in zoos. It was wildly therapeutic being in the "African bush", as they call it, and after being in the loud, boisterous city, it was exactly what I needed. Day 1: Tarangire National Park - home of the elephants.

DSCN0095Our guide picked us up at 7am sharp and we were heading out, picking up our private chef along the way. Almost immediately upon entering this 2,850 square kilometer park we saw families of elephants...so many of them. The babies were suckling their mother's milk, and as I continue to expand my career in the natural birthing field, it was incredible to see this in nature! We spent the whole day in Tarangire, seeing elephants, giraffes, lions, turtles, impalas, and other wild animals. This was supposed to be a camping safari, however our guide ended up treating us to an evening at Panorama View, a little village with pods to sleep in and a "panorama view" of the Manyara Valley. That evening, as the chef prepared our dinner, Stephen, our guide, took us down the hill to a local hangout spot. He was so educated on anything from wildlife, to culture, to landscape, and everything in between, so we were able to pick his brain about all of our African fascinations. The next morning I woke at 6am, to have some peace as the sun rose over the mountains and shone it's light over the Manyara Valley. It was so serene, getting some alone time to do my meditations and yoga practice.

Day 2: Ngorogoro Crater

We drove around the 250 mile rim of the crater, where the rolling hills were so soothing. There were two major parts of this day, for me. One thrilling and exciting, the other so astounding and breath-taking. We came upon a cheetah on a hunt. She was scoping two gazelles  in the distance, shrinking low to the ground, so skinny and so hungry, hoping to catch her prey. We watched from a distance, not wanting to disturb her hunt, yet even still, the gazelles got away. Once we knew the hunt was over, we drove closer, coming to realize that she had three cheetah cubs. storage_emulated_0_Nikon_WU_Card_D01122015_001_100NIKON_DSCN0279_1She nursed them with her eyes still peeled for some food for herself. Her body was weak and if she didn't hunt in the next few days, she would die. We were so close, getting to look them in the eyes and be a part of their world. As we departed, we drove only about a quarter mile to find another cheetah and her two cubs. They won their hunt and were ripping away at a gazelle, filling their bellies, and we sat and watched in awe.storage_emulated_0_Nikon_WU_Card_D01122015_001_101NIKON_DSCN0297 The Great Migration had moved south, so as we drove across the flat plains, we saw thousands and thousands of wildebeast and gazelle, along with hundreds of zebras on the same journey. The plains allowed us to see for hundereds of miles and in any direction we looked, their was an incountable amount of animals. It was breathtaking, reminding me of Kansas, home, with the open skies and the many miles of grassland. No photo can display and no words can describe the feeling of being a part of this migration. We also were thrilled to visit a Maasai Village, whose people live in the hills, on their own land, living a very simple life. There's one husband per village with many wives. He may have 26 wives and about 80 children and the people of the village are sometimes called "the jumpers" because of their ceremonial dance to show their strength. Although many of these villages have become so touristy, it was still fascinating to see how these people live. When we were on our way to Serengeti to sleep for the night, their was a bus stuck in the mud and all it's passengers were sitting out in the grass, hoping they could continue onward. As we drove past, we noticed a pride of lions watching from only 200-300 feet away....hopefully everyone got away safely. That evening  was a restless night, with hyenas laughing around our tents all night keeping everyone up, but we still woke at 5:30 in the morning for our third day game drive.

Day 3: Serengeti National Park

I was excited to visit this park because it was the one that I was most familiar with, but in all actuality it was my least favorite. We drove for hours, seeing many animals, but nothing like the previous days. The truth is, the action didn't happen until we got to camp. The campground was filled with about thirty other travelers on different safaris and as we were setting up our tents, we all noticed a giant elephant walking through! He came right through our camp, putting his trunk in our water well and drinking some of our supply. He casually walked through and continued through the forest, reminding us all that we were on their land and we were truly out in the wild. Dinner was delicious, as it had been everyday prior but so very filling, so Hannah and I decided to take a stroll around the perimeter of the campground to help digest. We were chatting about the weather and our previous day's safari when we noticed some twinkling. Initially, we didn't pay any mind to it, assuming it was some light from the houses off in the hills. storage_emulated_0_Nikon_WU_Card_D01122015_001_101NIKON_DSCN0303It was in an instant that we realized, "OH SHIT", the twinkling was the eyes of at least five lions staring at us, no more than twenty feet away. Immediately my heart sank to my belly and the adrenaline started to kick in. I grabbed Hannah's arm and, knowing that we shouldn't run, started backing up, hoping the lights from our headlamps would blind them enough to not be able to attack. We didn't run, but were still quickly heading back towards the other campers, when all of a sudden Hannah tripped and fell to the ground. It was straight out of a horror movie, (you know, you see the killer and, of course, someone has to fall, being the most ideal moment for attack). I still had hold of Hannah's arm, waiting for her to come to her feet so we could continue our get-away! Although we weren't far from the shelter where everyone was eating, it seemed like an eternity to get to safety. Our hearts pounding, we ran to the ranger, who held a large gun for instances such as this, explaining what had just happened. He simply exclaimed, "Oh yeah, don't walk in the dark. There are lions." Considering we almost pissed ourselves from the terror, we used the toilets and headed to our tents to laugh about the whole situation as the adrenaline started to wear off.  The next morning when we told our guide, he laughed and laughed as we reinacted the whole situation. One hell of a story, for sure, but holy shit, one of us was almost dinner for that pride!

Day 4: Inside the Ngorogoro Crater

It was our last day of Safari and we were exhausted from the restless nights, the intense searching of animals, and the long car rides, but going into the crater was still amazing. Inside the crater is the home of the very few black rhinos left in the world, and this is what I was most excited to see. Unfortunately, there were no black rhinos in sight, as the crater is 19miles acrosss and still a lot of ground to cover but we were able to see three other rhinos! We got to see so many hippos and their babies, more lions (as if we hadn't seen enough already!), zebras, wildebeast, wild birds, elephants, and so much more. The shock factor of it all had died because we had seen it all already, but going into the crater alone was still exciting, with a 360 degree view of the rim. We picknicked near a lake with hippos soaking in the cool water, zebras walking around the hills, and birds trying to steal our lunches. After lunch, safari was over and it was time to head back to Arusha, which was about two hours away.

Like I mentioned before, it's challenging to find the words to explain safari. It was an expensive tour for the budget traveler but definitely worth every shilling! Hannah and I relax for the next day and on Thursday morning, we start our ascent up Kilimanjaro. It will take seven days to reach the summit at 19,340 feet, and only one day to get down. The acclimization to altitude is the most challenging aspect of this trek, but we have faith we'll make it to the top without complications!!

Kenya & Tanzania

A couple of years ago, I met a woman that wore a pendant of Africa wrapped around her neck. She told me, "my body was born in America, but my heart belongs to Africa". I coud relate, because I felt the same way about India, yet after a couple weeks of being here, I completely understand how Africa stole her heart.Hannah and I arrived to Nairobi, Kenya in the evening of the 27th after meeting a lovely woman on couchsurfers who opened up her home and welcomed us with open arms. Because of the high security in Kenya right now due to the Al Shabaab terrorist attacks, she happily met us at the airport in a taxi to ensure us a comfortable arrival and to get us to her home safely. It was dark, the road was bumpy, and I knew the long-waited adventure was finally here.  Her home was modest, on the third floor of an apartment building, a small living room with floor pillows and a table; her kitchen without a refrigerator or oven, a bathroom, and her bedroom with a mosquito net covering her bed. She lived so simply and it amazed me she shared her tiny space with complete strangers during our stay.  There's a farmers market across the street, where the locals set up everyday to make their wages selling mangos, bananas, potatoes, and sugarcane. Sanora worked during the days as Hannah and I explored the city of Nairobi, being happily greeted by the locals. "Jambo!" (hello!) or "Mzungu!" (white person!) or "Karibu!" (welcome!) as they greeted conversation to learn about eachother's cultures. Every single person we encountered was so welcoming and interested in our journey to their country. We discussed anything from their families being run out of their homes, to saafari tours and things to do around the city, and answered their questions about whether or not racism and slavery was still prevalent in modern day America. After a couple days of exploring the very westernized city, and knowing that I would be back there to work at the birthing center, we decided to take a nine-hour bus to Mombasa for the New Year. The bus was long, hot, uncomfortable, and crowded - even the breeze that came through the windows seemed to scorch my skin, but once we arrived, I knew I was EXACTLY where I was supposed to be. Just like many things in life, Spirit guided me there to find Backpacker's Nirvana Hostel and the synchronisities cannot be ignored. The hostel host is a Shamanic woman from thee UK who has been running Backpacker's Nirvana in Mombasa for the past five years. We had a deep connection, getting to talk to eachother about healing, nutrition, and how Mombasa has rapidly and drastically changed over the past year into a Muslim run community because of the people of Somalia taking over Kenya. Although the stay was only $13 a night, I was able to trade a couple night's free stay to give Lesley, the host, a Reiki Session. The treatment was profound and she explained how a session has not shifted her like this one did in at least three years. Her body convulsed, she laughed, she cried, and we released some imbalances that had been present for lifetimes. It was a remarkably intense sesssion and I was grateful for the deep levels of healing that took place.

New Year's Eve was spent partying with my new friends from the hostel. The entire house, filled with expats from all over the world, shared an evening filled with stories, cultural diversities, and travel experiences. I wish my travel mate, Hannah, wouldn't have been so sick so she could've shared the experience with us too. We walked to the beach close to midnight to watch fireworks that a nearby hotel was firing and toast the new year. My feet in the beautiful ocean, sharing hugs and glasses of champagne as we brought in 2015...KNOWING that this is going to be an incredible year. My new friend, and bunk mate in the hostel, woke me at 6am  so we could watch the sunrise on the first day of the new year and we tiredly scurried to the beach. It was surreal, being in the beautiful country of Kenya, watching the sunrise over the Indian ocean. My entire being beamed as I gazed at this magnificent body of water, filled with colors of emerald, tanzanite, and aquamarine. Her and I went back to the hostel where the rest of the house was starting to stir and I provided some massage to help others bring in their new year and to help me finance my travels. After 4 nights in Mombasa, it was time to start planning for my next destination, Arusha, Tanzania, to visit my dear friend, Kristy.

It was another long, hot, and bumpy ride with a little chaos as we crossed the border into Tanzania. Without having any guidance of what to expect as we crossed the border, it was a bit intimidating. We were let off the bus on the Kenya side, to go to the border control office and show them our passports and as we were inside, the bus left us to cross into Tanzania. Not knowing that it was only heading over to park, my heart began to sputter as I came to the realization that we may have been left behind. Luckily, this was not the case but we were not sure until we walked across the border, in the blistering sun, to find the bus near the offices of the Tanzania border control. Although everyone else only paid $50 for their Visa, once they saw mine and Hannah's US Passports, they charged us $100...and, of course, we weren't prepared for this. They don't take credit cards and we only had 5,000 Kenyan shillings ($50) to pay. We panicked as we realized we may be stuck in Kenya without enough money to cross but I then remembered that I had stashed some American dollars in my backpack. We rushed to our bus to have the driver unload everyone's luggage that was stored under the bus so I could rip through my bag finding what cash may (or may not) remain. I found $200 to cover our overpriced Visa for being American (because ALL Americans are rich, ya know?!), and we were on our way. I'm sure everyone on the bus was annoyed that these American "mzungus" were holding them up on their trip, but eventually we were on our way. Although the bus rides were so uncomfortable, they were beautiful, seeing giraffes, elephants, camels, and ostrich along the way.

Arriving to Arusha, we waited a bit for Kristy to get off work to pick us up and take us to her home. The wonderful thing about friends, sisters, is how you can go for years without staying in touch (or go years living on opposite sides of the world), and pick up right where you left off. We've been spending time with her and her friends, having backyard parties, going to the local hotspots for live music and drinks, and lounging by the pool. Her friends are amazing and proved to me what a small world it really is. Her friend, Andy, grew up in Lake Quivera, a neighborhood only minutes from the neighborhood where I grew up in Kansas. Another friend, born and raised in Eugene, where I have been living for the past eight years. While Kristy and her roomate, AB, go to work, we've been exploring the chaos of Arusha, that is absolute perfection in my eyes. We've taken dala dalas (van taxis) that should fit about 12 people, but tend to carry closer to 18 people, we've chased ATM's around the city...most of them out of cash, we've met the locals, and laughed with children who only know how to say, "How are you?" so they chase us down the streets waving and yelling this repeatedly with smiles on their faces. "Mzungu!" "Mzungu!" The local farmer's market is filled with farmers, artists, and (unfortunately) thieves. It's an amazing city, and I'm trying my best to learn Swahili. I listen attentively as their language rolls off their tongue, picking up the key words, like pole (sorry), asante (thank you), jambo (hello), mambo (what's up), poa (it's cool), and a few others. I admire the women in their katenge, brightly colored fabric with bold patterns, that they wrap around their bodies for dress, tie up their hair with, and use to sling their babies over their shoulders. They sweetly smile, saying "Karibu, sister"(welcome, sister); or when they notice we may be a little stressed from the unfamiliarity, they say, "Hakuna Matata" (no worries). It's a lovely place and I'm blessed to be submerged in it all.

Tomorrow we start our 4 day camping safari, exploring 3 national parks, a traditional Maasai Village, and finding some Tanzanite. Next Thursday, we start our ascent up the tallest free standing mountain in the world. My experiences thus far have livened my spirit, touching pieces of it that have not yet been explored, and has already changed my life and perspective in the most profound ways. Sending you all so much love and gratitude for your support through this trip.

 

 

Here's some information to consider for YOUR next big adventure -

*Many American doctors would recommend anti-malarials for trips to places like Africa or Asia. After doing research and realizing the terrible effects these pills have on your body, I have decided to use Neem Leaf tinctures instead. I take 7 drops of neem leaf 3 times a day and it has the same effects on malaria as does the EXPENSIVE and unhealthy pills your doctor may prescribe. Not only does Neem Leaf work as an anti-malarial, but it is also very healthy for your liver and skin, it is anti bacterial, anti fungal, works as a topical treatment for sunburn or bug bites, and has about 49 issues that it covers naturally. I used this my entire time through India and will be using this through my journey. After talking to some locals in East Africa, this is what they choose to use as well.