Malaga to Home: Oct 29, 2017

After last night’s dancing and merriment we were given the gift of an extra hour of sleep this morning. Europe changed from daylight savings time at midnight. Most participants left before us, but 6 of us were on the 10:30am van to Malaga, a 2 hour scenic drive through low mountains, olive groves and harvested farm land. The driver dropped us off at the train station and we caught a cab to the hotel after a final round of hugs and promises to stay in touch.

One of many abandoned farm houses in Andalucia

Windmills along our route to Malaga

Our home for the night in Malaga

The Hotel Picasso is a charming hotel situated in an upscale neighborhood by the Mediterranean Sea. We have BB to thank for finding it. The location is perfect…only a 10 minute taxi ride to the airport and 15 minutes from the city center. BB and Janis’ room was ready so we parked all our stuff in their room and went for a walk down to the water in search of lunch. We were starving; we had had a light breakfast at 8 am and by now it was 2:30. 

We took the receptionist’s recommendation and had lunch at a fish restaurant on the beach. We ordered several dishes to share and Sangria. We had a leisure lunch, enjoying the ambience of the beach resort. Since it was Sunday there were several large family groups enjoying a casual meal together. 

We shared this Greek salad at lunch

BB and Janis enjoying their Sangria

Along the “boardwalk” by the restaurant

When we got back to the hotel we tried to get our boarding passes for all our flights, and spent a very frustrating 45 minutes  on the internet and phone and still only ended up with boarding passes for Malaga to Paris. Our flight tomorrow leaves st 5:50 am so we have ordered a taxi for 3:30 am. YIKES!

Janis and I took another walk and discovered a nice levee path along the bay. Bikes, pedestrians, horses, walkers and lots of dogs were out for a Sunday stroll. The sun was setting as we were heading back, bathing the hills and sky above the bay in hues of pink and magenta. 

Cruise ship heading out to sea at sunset

Horses and riders at the levee path

One of the houses in our neighborhood

Dinner was a bit of Manchego cheese and a Jamon (Spanish ham) sandwich split between us and some sweet wine Janis had bought but had no room in her suitcase to schlepp home.

It was great to just have some time for the three of us before we all get back to Sacramento. 

Hopefully all will go well tomorrow, especially in Paris. We are all eager to get home.

No more adventures this year! I am ready to be home for a while.

Here is a quote about traveling that all my book-loving family members and friends will appreciate:  “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page…..St. Augustine

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 Savoring Our Last Soul Sister Retreat Day: Oct. 28, 2017

Group photo at the olive factory with “Pretty Boy” as Antonio says!

Today is our last day together. Tomorrow some sisters are leaving for Morocco with Tristina and Alice, some are going elsewhere in Spain, and some are going home.  BB, Janis and I are in that last group. I have savored the time here in Spain with 24 amazing women and now am eager to be home, be reunited with Gary and get back to my more quiet routine but with a heart full of many joyous and poignant memories. I trust that some bonds will hold even after we reenter our diverse and very busy lives.

It was hard to settle down last night after our outing to Ronda. I was still journaling at 1:15am and was glad we were starting yoga a little later this morning. Tristina was kind and started a little slower this morning, but 45 minutes into it my leg muscles were quivering and I was seriously “glowing.”

 

Two of our yoga goddesses at one of the five pools on this this property

Janis, Angela, Melinda and Luise at the castle in Zahara

Toward the end our yoga practice,  she paired us up and had us do some partner work sitting on the floor, first back to back and then facing each other. As we were sitting back to back, we sang , (quite lustily I would add) along with the song “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. I think we all were singing that to our partner and to each soul sister in the room ( and those that didn’t make it to yoga this morning). The lyrics so perfectly express the overarching spirit of the retreat that I wanted to include them here:

Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain,We all have sorrow, But if we are wise, We know that there is always tomorrow

Lean on me when you are not strong and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long ‘Til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride, If I have faith you need to borrow, For no one can fill those of your needs That you can’t let show.

You just call on me SISTER when you need a hand, We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’ll understand, We all need someone to lean on…….

If there is a load you have to bear that you can’t carry, I’m right up the road. I’ll share your load, If you just call me, call me…….

Each of us will process this shared experience differently, but I strongly believe each of us has been changed in some way. Some of us may just be starting on the road to Selfhood, some of us may be making a correction and some of us may be along the path far enough that we can be shine a light on the path. Wherever we are, we all learned from each other over this week in the mountains of Andalucia. 

Recently I learned of a Hebrew catch phrase for healing the earth–Tikkun Olam. The Jewish speaker who shared this concept with us at an interfaith earth justice forum spoke about all of us have a responsibility to be on the path to healing the earth, even if we may not be able to heal the earth in our life time. What is important is to simply be on the path; to always be moving forward incrementally. That concept really resonates with me as being applicable to our personal journeys also.  

One final dinner tonight of vegan pizza, roasted sweet potatoes and eggplant. After dinner we gathered in the yoga shalah for one final gathering…”ecstatic dancing” which sounded a bit scary to me and I was making noises like I was thinking of skipping It, but BB and Janis prevailed. I had no idea what to expect. It is a form of free-flow  individual dancing to middle Eastern music and you allow the rhythm of the music to dictate you movements and the pace. Initially I stayed on the perimeter and just shuffled and swayed a bit, but others really got into their own zone pretty quickly. I marvel at people who can just get out there without being self-conscious or inhibited.

One of our lovely Guernsey/Jersey girls, Lee, started doing funny moves and from that point on, we giggled like grade school girls and were competing who would get the most steps during the  90 minute of dancing. BB joined in too and led our Hawaian warrior dance. Can’t say I ended up in some sort of altered state of awareness, but I laughed a lot and added 6000 more steps to my total count for today, but Lee still had way more steps than me. I have met my fit bit match!

BB in El Gastor today

Janice with El Gastor behind her.

Patricia and Antonio, our wonderful hosts


Experiencing  Hemingway’s Spain: Oct 27, 2017

Sculpture in Ronda

Yoga this morning was awesome! Every day I am stronger and 90 minutes of vinyasa flow yoga is no longer scary. After  breakfast (no porridge for me today)  we gathered in the yoga studio for circle time. One of the exercises we did was to tape a piece of paper to our back (with the help of a soul sister) and then we roamed around the room in gleeful chaos and wrote one word or a phrase on other soul sisters’ papers that captured her essence for me. It was fun but also enlightening to read how others perceive us. Right in the center of my page some one had written “Kick Ass” in big letters. I will think of that and smile for a long time! 

Later three of us walked into El Gastor again. This time we found the road that is not so steep and easily found the little plaza where the church is located. It was close to noon and the air was pungent with the divine smells of frying meat and other delicious cooking scents. We were glad we were eating Paella tonight in Ronda with either chicken or fish. No vegan tonight!

Path to El Gastor

Another view of a white village along the road to El Gastor this morning

This evening we are doing an outing to Ronda, one of Hemingway’s haunts and probably featured in the fictional village of “For Whom the Bells Toll.” We will be attending a Paella dinner and Flamenco dance performance. I ordered the paella with chicken, my first meat of the week!

All decked out for a night on the town!

Ronda has a rich and turbulent history. Like El Gastor, it has remnants of an ancient Neolithic people, but the Celts were the first to establish a permanent settlement in the 6th century BC. They were followed by the Phoenicians and then by the Romans who made it a fortified outpost and was designated a city during the reign of Julius Caesar. 

Ronda is located above a deep gorge (El Tajo). This gorge separates the “new town” (15th century) from the old town dating to the Moorish rule. Today’s population is around 34,000. 

The Romans were followed by the Visigoths who were then driven out by the Berbers in 713AD. The Islamic architectural heritage is still very evident today.

By 1485 it was under Christian control. The inquisition drove many Muslims out of more populated areas and Ronda became a remote mountain refuge for them. Continued persecution of the Muslims led to a revolt in Ronda and elsewhere. The Muslims rousted the Spaniards; consequently Phillip II of Spain ordered the expulsion of Muslims in Ronda.  In the early 19th century the Napoleonic invasion in this area decreased the population from over 15,000 to 5,000.

Ronda has played an important role in the development of bull fighting by the Romero family. They introduced such innovations as the use of a cape (muleta) and a special sword designed for killing the bull.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936 also impacted Ronda and again many people left. In Hemingway’s novel “For Whom the Bells Toll” he writes about the brutal killings of Nationalists by the Republicans by throwing them of a cliff. This fictional place probably was modeled on Ronda. He spent many summers here, enchanted by the wildness and beauty of the area and the adrenaline rush of the bull fighting.

Orson Welles was another famous frequent visitor to Ronda as well as one of my favorite German poets, Rainer Maria Rilke,  who wrote “I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams and found it in Ronda.”

It is now past midnight and we are back from our outing to Ronda. I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures of Ronda as we walked enmasse to the restaurant along a very busy pedestrian only street. Ronda was very much alive, with both locals and tourists enjoying a pleasant stroll on a balmy Friday night in Ronda. As we walked I was toward the back and it was so fun to follow behind all these beautiful women dressed in their fineries for a night on the town, chattering and laughing, some arms linked to negotiate the cobblestone streets.

Our restaurant was near the pedestrian zone. It was a small restaurant with a small stage. BB, Janis and I managed to get ring side seats for the Flamenco show. First only the guitar playing was on stage; later joined by an older man and women and a beautiful young Flamenco dancer.

Enjoying Spanish wine and Sangria while waiting for the Flamenco performers

The four performer

The older man and women are Romani (gypsies) and the young dancer is from Costa Rica. The word “flamenco” comes from “flame” or “fire” and comes from the Romani tradition. It is a very high energy and emotional dance style. As the dancer twirled and stomped and clapped, a myriad of emotions crossed her face, triggered by the singing and music–defiance, anger, amazement, joy, coyness, incredulity and passion to name just a few.

Flamenco dancer

After the show we gathered on the stage for a group picture and our lovely Guernsey soul sister Tina graced us with her rendition of the Flamenco. This may be a  second career if she gets bored with being a lawyer! A good or even fabulous time was had by all!

Tina our fledgling Flamenco dancer

Negotiating with dear Tristina for a later start time for next morning’s yoga session on behalf of some soul sister who may have had more than one glass of wine! And yes, we did start 30 minutes later!

Soul Sisters Outing to Zahara De la Sierra 

Today after morning meditation and yoga and a bowl of porridge, we all piled into a little bus for the one hour drive to another “Pueblos Blanco”, Zahara de la Sierra. The sparkling white village is perched on top of a flat spot half up a mountain, watched over by the historic remains of a Moorish fortress.

Zahara was originally a Moorish outpost, located between Ronda and Seville. The village developed in the shadow of  the fortress over the centuries, and today has a population of 1427. It was under Moorish control until 1407. By 1483 it was under the control of the Castilean rulers.

Castle of Zahara De la Sierra

The Zahara -El Gastor Reservoir seen from the top of the castle. The peak on the left is the one we climbed yesterday.

View of Zahara from the castle

View of the reservoir from a castle portal

While the population is about the same as El Gastor, there are more little boutiques and cafes in Zahara. We wandered through the town, enjoying the views of the valleys below and the charming narrow side streets. Janis and I climbed the steep rocky trail to the fortress while BB poked around the shops and joined some of our soul sisters for a cold drink. We had the wrong type of shoes for the trek up the hill, so we proceeded cautiously. Going down was even more treacherous but “we lived to tell.”

The remnants of the fortress were very well preserved and with the aid of our phone flashlight, (which thanks to a new millennial friend I finally mastered even though Gary had shown it to me several times), we were able to negotiate several sets of totally dark and narrow stairs to reach the lookout tower. In all directions we had magnificent views of mountains, olive orchards, a deep blue reservoir and in the distance, other Pueblo Blancos.

BB, Janis and Bobbie in one of the plazas in Zahara with the church and castle in the background

The altar of the church on the plaza

At 12:45pm we regrouped for a 5 minute bus ride to a small family-owned olive oil processing plant. Antonio, our host, had told us we were going to have a guided tour by a “pretty boy” which we thought was quite hilarious when he said that last night. Well, he was right. Juan, the son of the owner , was indeed incredibly handsome–blue eyes, slender, shirt unbuttoned enough to give us a little peek of his manly chest, and a wonderful shy smile, which only endeared him more to us! He didn’t speak English, so Antonio acted as his interpreter. This processing plant is one of only four left in Andalucia that is family-owned. As in the US, most of the olive oil is processed in large commercial factories.

This plant has been owned by the same family since 1755 and processes 100,000 liters of organic olive oil a year–a very small amount of the Spanish olive oil production. There are over 58 varieties of olives in Spain, some of which where brought to this area in 2000BC from Mesopotamia (if I understood this correctly). Olives must be processed within 48 hours of being picked and are harvested and processed during November, December and January. The press is all done manually and is quite complicated. Government agents determine the grade of the olive oil from commercial grade (for soap or lotion) to extra virgin olive oil.

After the tour we were invited to a tasting room to sample their olive oil and fabulous cheese that was similar to blue cheese but covered in olive oil. Delicious! We also got to sample their semi-sweet wine, which was a type of sherry. Then Antonio announced, with a huge smile on his face, that there was s surprise for us and Juan came out with a small bottle of olive oil for each of us. What a fun surprise. They also sold honey, various types of salt, and soap. They did well by our group!

 

At the tasting room of the olive oil processing plant

As the week is unfolding the bonds that have been forming are enabling deep and sometimes painful conversations, mostly serendipitously while walking, riding on the bus or over the dinner table.  I feel like BB, Janis and myself are able to be fully present for our younger soul sisters, because we have walked on their path too and can share our learnings and insights  we have accumulated over a lifetime, but especially from our spiritual work as members of WOW (Women of Wisdom). I feel humbled and honored that I am part of this intergenerational and international gathering of strong and beautiful women. 

Joyful dinner companions, “the Jersey/Guernsey  girls”–left to right: Lee, Jill, Michele, Tina and Alice with Antonio in the back

Finding Intergenerational Sisterhood in Spain: Oct 25, 2017

Every day the name “Soul Sister Retreat” gathers more meaning and poignant moments. We have only been together for 3 days , and yet I have come to deeply care and love my Spanish soul sisters. At each stage of life we experience joy and pain and sharing those stories in an intergenerational safe environment has been a powerful experience. For once I am with women whose tears flow as readily as mine so there is no embarrassment when the moment brings tears to my eyes!

This morning in circle time we spent 10 minutes gazing into a partner’s eyes without speaking. I had done this exercise before but never for 10 minutes. Within a minute of looking deeply into my partner’s beautiful brown eyes and jet black pupils I felt like I was given the privilege to connect with  her very essence ( I think there is truth to the saying ” the eyes are the mirror of the soul). We both welled up with tears that for the remaining time flowed freely down our faces with no hint of embarrassment or discomfort. Afterwards Tristina asked each of us to say one word that described our experience. Mine was “connected”, others said peaceful, vulnerable, open, supported, blessed, calm. The feeling of that moment will stay with me well beyond our time here together.

Yoga this morning was fast paced. Except for 2  poses I was able to keep up comfortably. With just 3 days of daily yoga, I already feel stronger. When I get home I am committed to attending Tristina’s yoga class in Folsom on a regular basis.

After our circle time some women left for Ronda to experience a Hammam, a Turkish bath. BB had some quiet time and Janis and I went on an exploratory walk back to El Gastor  which I had incorrectly identified as “Las Curentas” yesterday.

Instead of walking directly to the village, we took another road that we hoped would bring us into the village from the other side. As we climbed along this wide red clay road,  we started getting beautiful views of El Gastor and the surrounding olive groves. After about a  mile we decided that this road was heading away from El Gastor so we retraced our steps and took the steep cement road into town.

Below: the olive groves of El Gastor 

El Gastor

El Gastor is also called ” the balcony of the White Villages” and is well known for its dolmens (Megalithic burial places) and 2 large caves. It is called Balcony of the White Villages because you can see other white villages from the two mountain peaks adjacent to the village, El Algarin and Las Grajas. The population is close to 2000; elevation is 1720 ft.

There is an inviting little square in the center with a cafe, a beautiful white church and a municipal building. We ran into Kelley and Kourtney, two of our Spanish soul sisters who were also charmed by the ambience of this pristine little village. 

The village square in El Gastor

Janis, Courtney and Kelly. Courtney and Kelly have been good friends since school days and now both are practicing law in Sacramento. 

A small shrine to Mary in the village plaza

Before we headed back we stopped at the grocery store and bought a bottle of white wine , cheese and chips–and the bill came to a little over 7 Euros, a far cry from what we paid in Switzerland! 

We had planned to spend more time in El Gastor but needed to get back for lunch at 1:30. We will have another chance to explore it a bit more later in the week.

 A Mountain Top Experience: Oct 24, 2017

Yoga this morning was really challenging, especially since I barely slept last night.  Both yoga instructors are wonderful and provide good instructions for modifying a difficult pose. I am in awe of the strong young women who are able to move gracefully into body twisting positions without a single grunt or groan.

After another morning of vegan porridge 18 of the participants headed out for a hike to the top of a nearby mountain. It was billed as mostly level with a few steep parts. The reverse was actually reality…mostly steep with a small level area. Along the way we stopped to inspect a bronze age burial mound. Unfortunately looters discovered it first and took all the artifacts. There are several of these in the area, including one here on the resort property.

Below: we have stopped to inspect the bronze age burial site

The three Amigas starting out on our hike–Janis, Bobbie and BB

At one of our catch-your-breath stops, Antonio our host, told about three different types of pigs and quality of pork based on what they ate. I only recall the black pig who is fed only acorns as being the top “porker” and the white pig being the lowest quality piggie because he gets to eat whatever he can forage. There is a middle quality…would that be a pink pig???

I always love learning about the history of a place I visit. It makes me feel more connected to the land and the people.

Andalusia is the southernmost region of Spain with borders along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It also shares a border with Portugal. Its capital is Seville. According to the online Encyclopedia Brittanica, it possesses the most varied terrain and vegetation in all of Spain, ranging from alpine mountains to arid deserts and rich irrigated plains that grow a host of subtropical fruits. 

The history of this area shows evidence of complex agricultural societies beginning around 4000 BCE. Phonecians arrived in the 9th century BCE , followed by the Carthaginians and Greeks.  While the Romans had a very short presence in this area, they were driven out by the Visigoths and Vandals in the 5th century AD. The next invaders, the Moors, ruled for the next 8 centuries and left a strong influence on the architecture, art, agriculture,  and culture of the region . Crops such as almonds and apricots were introduced by the Moors, who also built extensive irrigation systems still used today. By 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella’s army drove out the last Moorish rulers and all of Andalusia became part of the Catholic kingdom of Castile. Today it is a “autonomous community” headed by a president and a unicameral parliament. 

Our hiking destination today was a nearby rocky peak that provides 360 degree views of the beautiful pine covered mountains, a large reservoir and distant white villages shimmering in the bright sunlight. We will be visiting one tomorrow and tour an olive oil processing facility. Andalusia is a huge olive growing region.

View from the trail toward one of the “white villages”

I was particularly fascinated by that little dome peak in the center of the picture. The terraces on the right are natural formations.
The hike was close to 9 miles with a very steep scramble to the top of the peak, along an edge with a big drop off. We all were pretty quiet as we picked our way carefully to the top to be rewarded by a magnificent panoramic view.

At the top…very windy!

Janis (center)  celebrating at the top

We returned for a late lunch of salad, guacamole, garbanzo beans and bread. No lack of fiber in this diet!

On the trail with Janis and Tristina, one of our retreat leaders and yoga instructor.

I had a quiet afternoon and continue to be in awe of the special group of women who are sharing this adventure with us.

Hi SOUL SISTER RETREAT IN SPAIN: Oct 21–Oct 30, 2017

This special adventure began months ago when 3 of of us (Janis, BB and I) from our Women of Wisdom circle decided to join Tristina, a wonderful joga .instructor and friend, for an all women yoga and meditation retreat in Andalusia, Spain.  The retreat facility is located in the Sierra Dr Grazalema Natural Park, 90 minutes from the coastal city of Malaga.

It  was a long and tiring trip to get here, but fortunately without any major glitches once we were enroute. We left Sacramento on a 6:40am flight to Minneapolis, a 4.5 hour layover and then on to Paris. We had upgraded to economy plus so the 8 hour flight was much more civilized than the standard squeezed-like-sardines economy seats. At some point I tried to sleep, but as usual, sleep eluded me on a transatlantic flight.

We got to DeGaulle airport around 7:30am and it truly required the resources of all 3 of us to negotiate getting to the next leg of our trip. The airport is huge and quite confusing, plus we had to go through security again to get from one concourse to the next, even though we never left the secure area and were not going to a different terminal. Once we had located our gate we found a little cafe and had a beautiful croissant and a cafe au lait.

In Malaga we were met  by a driver from the resort (Casa Rurales Los Algarrobales). Most of the participants arrived around the same time so we started to get to know each other on the drive to the resort.

Once we left the city the countryside became rugged hills with low shrubs and scattered trees. BB and I both commented that it reminded us of northern Arizona around Flagstaff. There were many olive groves along our route. Andalusia is a major olive growing area in Spain.

views from the bus reroute to our retreat center

Rock outcroppings along the road

By 4:30pm we arrived at the resort. The property was a farm at one time with several smaller homes that now house guests. Our home for the week is “El Rancho” formerly a horse stable and still sports a couple of horse hitching rings inside the house. It’s the perfect setup for the 3 of us. There are 2 bedrooms on either side of the house with a large living area and small kitchen in between. We have a lovely patio area and a pool with beautiful views of the mountains in the distance and a unobstructed view of a huge cliff that towers over the property. I have been watching the vultures riding the thermals high above the cliff and listening to the wind in the pines as I write. What a peaceful and restorative location far from the fray. We feel grateful to be here!

Our home for a week–El Rancho

There are 20 women gathered here for this retreat, all of us from either the US or the United Kingdom. Those from the US are  students and friends of Tristina’s yoga classes and those who are British are connected to Alice, the other yoga teacher and facilitator. It is especially fun to have with us 3 women from the isles of Guernsey and Jersey, and yes, that’s where the Guernsey and Jersey milk cows came from. 

This is truly an international and intergenerational group of women, primarily women in their 30s and 40s. I am the oldest. I am excited to spend a week with those of younger generations and look forward to learning from them. Many professions are represented: professional photographer, ER physician, lawyers, scientists, entrepreneurs, yoga instructors, etc. As the week unfolds I look forward to hearing their stories and being surrounded by this strong female energy. We have already shared tears and laughter in our first circle time this morning.

Our typical schedule is starting at 7am, a half hour of meditation, followed by 90 minutes of yoga, then breakfast ( all meals are vegan) , circle time and some free time before lunch at 1:30, followed either by free time or an outing. Then another yoga session at 6pm and dinner at 7:30pm followed by casual social time or a structured program. 

Today in our free time , Janis and I set out to find the little village of Las Curentas. We made a wrong turn and walked about an hour in the wrong direction, but eventually did find it. It is a lovely little mountain village all whitewashed houses like so many of the towns in this area. We bought some cheese, instant coffee and snacks and hustled back, knowing we would be late for lunch. We were 30 minutes late, but our hosts were very gracious.

Janis In the village of El Gastor

After lunch I sat outside enjoying the quiet, only  an occasional bird call. The 90 minute restorative yoga class this afternoon was good. In restorative yoga you hold each pose much longer and it’s primarily mat work.

The cliffs we Will hike to tomorrow.