My Life in Words
Tips, travel, yoga, mentoring, life, and everything in between.
Lavelle Training School
Pompano Beach, Florida
Yoga Bless Jamaica
Long Bay, Portland
Here I am, third day into my volunteering gig here in Jamaica, the Irie nation. Let’s take it back a few days prior to my pit stop in Fort Lauderdale at LTS – Lavelle Training Station. I’ve known Dean for about six years now and he’s one of my dearest friends so it was lovely to catch up with him and his first lady, Katarina, I call her Katness. It was a short trip to LTS, which is just north of Fort Lauderdale in Pompano Beach, I only got to stay a couple days versus a week back in August. Usually every couple of years I go down to hang out, and if I’m heading to the Caribbean, it’s a must do pit stop.
My flight to Kingston was on the 20th and I decided to spend holidays other then home for the first time, so why not at a yoga retreat in Jamaica volunteering my time as a yoga instructor with a dash of zumba/massaging as well. I was a little scared at first, and not to be mistaken for fear of traveling solo, oh no ho hoooo. Apprehensive more like it as it would be the first time I was away from my family during the December holidays and a good portion of them have birthdays in December. However, given the fact I am now 32 years old, I think as an adult I can make a decision to be different and do something different, which I usually do anyway.
I only spent a couple days at LTS relaxing and catching up briefly with Dean, Katness, and a few people other people I’ve met. It was now time to catch a jet plane to Kingston. An hour and half flight to Kingston from Fort Lauderdale, what could go wrong? I landed in Kingston, and the bags never made it.
After waiting around for awhile, I finally made my way to the service counter to report what didn’t come in. I wasn’t too stressed on it, in fact I wasn’t stressed at all about it except the length of time it took to get out of the airport since it was already after 7:00pm and I still had to travel to Long Bay Portland which is another hour and half away to the east. I met the driver, Leon, whom I dubbed, the Legend, so put it all together and it’s Leon the Legend. He pulled over for me on the side of the road for some good ol’ jerk chicken at some spot in a town along the way and it was some of the best chicken I could get my little paws on.
Since the road is a bit dodgy, relatively narrow with some pond holes, along with little to no lighting, it was going to take a little longer getting to Yoga Bless. Noooooo problem mon, I was in no rush mon and I told the Legend we can cruise. I took it all in gazing out into the night sky littered with stardust in the blanket of the infinite illusions and consciousness, the universe. It was as if the stars peered through in omniscient fashion for the world to truly be grateful for. We pulled over for a bit next to the water, it was all too calling of us not to. Prior to pulling over, the Legend (deserves a capital L) gave me the history of Jamaica and how it came to be today being occupied by the Spanish for so long and then the Brits. The legend also told me he’s named one of the best drivers in the Caribbean, before I knew that it seemed Legend was fitting from the get go.
I saw a shooting star circling around popping in and out of the shattered glass of reflection in the night sky, drifting my eyes down the milky way and stoned on the placid constellations. Leon and I hopped back into the car he called the chariot and we continued on with our journey to Long Bay. Once we arrived it was lights out for me, and waiting was a bed on the bottom bunk of two bunk beds with Tracy the caretaker on the fifth bed in the corner, toilet and shower outside, cold water only. Couldn’t see much but hearing the waves crashing against the rocky island just in front of the private beach shared with an American couple who owns the house next door. This is isolated heaven or as I call it, Jamaican house on the prairie.
Following day was mainly for getting acclimated as well as catching up on some sleep I didn’t get too much of the first night. I didn’t realize how tired I was and when the body asks for sleep, I’m inclined to honor that request. I ended up receiving a phone call from Jet Blue letting me know my bags have arrived, in Montego Bay. Not too friendly over the phone and because I had a lock on my bag, they weren’t going to release it nor send it to Kingston which was closer. I had to go to Montego to pick them up, and at first I just thought, ‘Really? Do I really want to make the journey?’ Then, like a blink of an eye, my mind was made up and I was committed. I told myself to suck it up and go on an adventure. So I took a shower, gathered my belongings and set off for a Carmen San Diego adventure of public transport and crossing an island Jamaican style. Maki, the director here at the Bless, she told me it’s pretty easy to get around, so I was ready to take on the day and onto Montego Bay.
It started out in a charter taxi where you hop into a white station wagon, sitting in between every shape and size with stops here and there. Making your way to Port Antonio and loading up into a shuttle bus holding nearly 25 Jamaicans if it can fit them. I sat back row, left corner, earphones on, and I was up in the corner bobbing my head jammin’ out like I was in some shuttle in a 3rd world country driving across country. Wait! I was living the shuttle experience. Yeah mon! Dirt roads, pond holes (bigger then pot holes readers), through the hills coming down into another town, luckily, no one got car sick. When the roads are wet, it’s like Mr. Toads Wild Ride.
We stopped at one small town to switch shuttles, and I was looking for a ride to Ochos Rios when I looked to my left and saw ‘white folk.’ They were Canadian couch surfers, a couple from Montreal coming to spend three weeks in Jamaica. They were cool to talk to and told me of their journeys along with cool apps on the phone to monitor your travels, and the joys of traveling seeing the world. We decided to take a charter taxi to Ochos Rios direct with no stops and had a great conversation along the way. I was meant to meet up with the owner’s husband, Zach as he was there for the day already and from there, I was going to go to Montego Bay airport to collect the bags. If it was just my bag, I’m sure my bag would of made it to Kingston, however I had a massage table with me and customs there like to add on their personal prices based on what they think. Since it was Christmas (mind you, this is heresy from people who live here), allegedly customs agents have a rep of tacking on their prices. I refused to allow them to open my locked bag, they refused to send them to Kingston or have them delivered (JetBlue and customs), so why not I just go to Montego and then file a compliant after? Make it an adventure.
The north side towards the west, the waters are much calmer and you can see some beautiful mansions perched on the seaside mountain hills. Coming into Ochos Rios, you can notice it starts to get more touristy and busy, lots of both locals and foreigners. I was meant to meet Zach at Ochos Rios Jerk Center and so the cab driver dropped me off, I said my good byes to the Canadian couple and went to the bar to order up me some food. Jerk chicken and potato wedges. Zach showed up about an hour later and I told him I needed to get to Montego Bay so we did a few errands and on we went. Going towards Montego are much more solid roads, the pond hole filled 1.5 car nearly 4 seasons in one day road we are on back on the east side clearly would not suffice on this side. The roads are smoooooooth, crossing over beautiful landscape, rolling hills, some all inclusive resorts, more developed then the eastside, but so far the east side seems to be the best side.
It took about an hour to get to Montego Bay and as I sat in the passenger seat talking to Zach, I noticed the sun slowly setting amid the distance and I said to him how grateful I was to get off my butt and take this journey to Montego as I get to see the massive star of fire burn into the distance. When we finally arrived to the airport, he dropped me off assuming it was only going to take maybe twenty minutes to collect my belongings. Nope that didn’t happen. I walk into a room with 30 people, majority Caribbean, and the rest from the states. Turned on my Zen mood tempo at that point with a room full of frustrated perturbed people wanting their luggage, some whom had been there since 1:30pm apparently and it is now 6:00pm roughly. I stood patiently and I mean p-a-t-i-e-n-t-l-y in the back slowly making my way to the window of opportunity to collect my two bags. It took about an hour or so until there was a slit of room to show my claims number from JetBlue to the rep. Finally! I was able to speak to someone, calm and collective, nice and even borderline brown nosing just because I see the ‘authorateé’ (cue Southpark voice now) the customs agents were flexin’.
By this time the room had finally gone empty, people finally got their luggage except for a few who were charged for whatever they had in the luggage. Poor woman had a suitcase full of stuff and they were charging her $280 USD just to get her luggage out. Bullocks! She ended up just leaving it. Anyway, enough about her, I was beginning to smell the roses just waiting patiently to collect my bags. I have to say seeing some islanders get fired up by how customs handles their belongings in front of everyone and have no say back is not fun. I can understand their frustration and for the agents to borderline take the piss out of the passengers, I just kept to myself until my time came after. Having a power trip speaks well for this situation of Jamaican customs. Needless to say, the main dude who was making the calls and documenting everything tells me I have to go pay the cashier who nonchalantly doesn’t know I’m standing in front of the window waiting for her to grace me with a fill out form. Oh that will cost me btw, 250 Jamaican [$2.50 USD] just for the form. Who am I to argue, I just wanted me stuff mon.
At this point, it’s 7:30pm and I’m texting Zach I’m nearly ready to walk out, oh but wait there’s more. Based on the head honchos observation of the invoice and what he thinks should be paid to the VAT or whatever equivalent to, I had to go back to the cashier after he sipped on coffee and read the newspaper while documenting my pick up claim. (Totally sarcastic he wasn’t sipping coffee or reading the newspaper but you get the idea). Now, back to the cashier to pay the VAT which was $100. Luckily the owner gave me some cash knowing this may happen and I tried to pay cash. Nope, only Jamaican money or credit card for it, so I slapped my credit card down and said, ‘Listen woman…’ no I actually didn’t. I just smiled and used my manners. Finally after 45 minutes of borderline negotiating, my bags were free to go. As soon as that window opened, I grabbed it and dashed to my chariot awaiting my presence in arrivals. We were at this point, ready to skeet skeet back to Portland, only 3.5 hours away.
I told Zach I’m not falling asleep on this journey back, we were in this together, my eyes on the road as much as his. Since he didn’t have a radio in the car, I grabbed my laptop aka ghetto blaster and ran that battery to 0% just 1 minute before we got back to Yoga Bless sometime around midnight. Quite the adventure, no high beams on the car, 97% of the trip back has no street lights, little to no suspension, cruising Jamaican style. As soon as we got back, I thought it was all worth the trip today to get my bags despite the inconvenience. I got to travel local style, eat some chicken in Ochos, meet some Canooks, saw a rad sunset over Montego, and a drive back under a blanket of stars on roads of Jamaica, back to the east side.
The next morning I was perky and content, my stuff is in my possession and I was ready to really enjoy my volunteering holiday teaching yoga and giving massages. There were only a few of us at the retreat and after our morning session of 30 minute zumba followed by 30 yoga then breakfast after. Shortly after breakfast, we packed our bags and headed to Reach Waterfalls where the man who walks on water is from. Byron is the guide who grew up on these falls so he knows the ins and outs of spider climbing this beautiful set of falls. I call him the guy who walks on water, because where he puts his feet on rocks, it just looks like he walks on water. That guy will hold three cellphones, two pairs of sunglasses and whatever else he can possibly manly handle with ease doing the Reach Falls Ballet, he’s the star. The guy is a great guide I just have to say so kudos to that man who can walk on water, Byron.
The following day I went with the New Yorkers, Irina and Vanessa to Boston Beach just after breakfast. I just showered, I wasn’t intending to go anywhere, but Maki (the director) said I should go for a couple hours to check it out. When we got there, the two had already made friends with the locals and took me to Charlie’s one stop shop, surf lessons, surf rental, souvenirs, marijuana, snorkel, home, etc.. I just had a nice shower and washed my hair for the first time in a couple days, so I opted not to go in the water because I wanted to relish in being 100% cleansed for a day. I told the girls I’d video tape them and of course everyone is hustling. Dem hustle, me catch quick. (Patois). I ended up leaving a bit earlier then they did back to the retreat to have some lunch, followed by some personal practice before I were to teach the 5:30 session and dinner to follow for Christmas Eve. The nights are mellow and I was happy to be at a small house on the prairie in Jamaica while the family back home were happy, sad, Merry, and reminiscent.
One year ago, my nana passed away Christmas Eve morning up in Riverside from a stroke. Christmas Eve is also my aunt’s birthday so I’m sure it was bitter sweet in my mom and my auntis household. I checked in with my mom to make sure she was in good spirits, and sent a message to my aunti to wish her Happy Birthday and support as it still affects them. One of the New Yorkers left back to city that evening (Wednesday night) and while Christmas day was uneventful, the mellow environment already was just a gift and blessing in itself. The next day I got to explore Long Bay that Friday after Christmas for a little bit on the cliff side while others went to the waterfalls and Irina was back at Boston Beach. I called my parents and wished them a Merry Christmas, read up on some Christmas wishes but had a quiet day on the Cliffside. More people were starting to show up after Christmas on Saturday as two were heading out followed by a few more until the first of January.
As I sit here writing this, it is now Monday the 29th and yesterday was relatively uneventful apart from having a full house with Zachs family in town from London. The farm is full and the room I’m staying in holds 5 so we are all bunking up Hostel style. One of the guests, Lioni from Paraguay who is actually Indo/Dutch is on a fast diet so she only drinks lemon/cayenne water and I think a couple other concoctions, while the rest of us are eating vegetarian. Today half went to the waterfall while a couple others went into Port Antonio. I opted to stay back today to finish writing this blog, taking in on having the place to myself apart from Inez cleaning, the two pups, Shiva and Rinding, and a beautiful sea with crashing waves in front of me. I took in the time to walk around and bask in the post rainfall crisp air, prancing around like I was the only girl in the world, but the innocence of solitude brings a sheer calmness within and heightens your reasoning to smile at yourself.
Yoga Bless – Long Bay Jamaica
Yoga Bless is a small retreat, it holds 10 people maximum and all foods are vegetarian, hand picked, hand made, home grown, exotic, combined and portioned accordingly to what is right for your body to appreciate. Maki the director is from Czech Rep but married to Zach, who is Jamaican and the rest of his family live in London. Apparently this was an Eco Tourism Resort prior to becoming Yoga Bless and Maki has spent the past few years traveling throughout Central America, Caribbean and other parts of the world gathering information to share as well as turning to Mr. Google for more information. We recently had a workshop talking about how to make your own facemasks, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. Every meal is eaten at the table with everyone gathered around, we pray before every meal and don’t expect any dairy, breads, or anything processed. She makes all the coconut milk for our morning breakfast, we eat nothing but fruit on some mornings, and have a coconut every time. Lots of exotic Jamaican dishes, but it’s portioned so you have to be able to adapt to it, right food combinations. You will notice the difference.
Maki is passionate about eating right and breaking bad habits to turn them into newer effective habits to take back with you where ever you come from. She emphasizes as well that it’s not what she says, everyone makes their own choice, she encourages people to do their own research as well apart from what she explains during the meals. I noticed a bit of change in my energy levels, the amount of food I needed, minimal water, etc.. Yoga Bless shows you what it’s like to live as simple as you could without too many qualms about it. It’s a transition and you have to be prepared for it or easily learn to adapt. Maki has deep eyes, easy going demeanor. I admire her way of life, living by the sea with her two dog, Shiva and Rinding, Zach her hubby, and a little yoga retreat.
I came knowing I was to teach a couple sessions a day and do massage. Since we had a few new people arriving, my schedule was 7:30 am yoga (either Maki or I) followed by 8:45-9:00am breakfast. Then you have a couple hours and usually I get an hour to digest my food and then I’m doing a massage just before lunchtime if there are no activities planned. Then, there is lunch around 1:00-2:00pm, followed by an hour to digest, maybe a little siesta and then massage before 5:00pm yoga session. After yoga we eat dinner around 6:30-7:00pm and depending what people are doing, there is a video to watch or I just practice. Irina and I would practice after dinner a few times, and last night when everyone went to bed, I went out on the platform and did an hour of practice from 10:00pm until 11:00pm and then took a cold shower before going to sleep at 11:30pm. I had the place to myself at night, por que no? Tomorrow the majority of us are going to go on a field trip to the Blue Lagoon and I’ll probably head into Port Antonio to check out souvenirs after. I was set to leave the 5th of January but since I’m on a buddy pass, the flights look better on the 1st rather then the 5th so I’ll be going back to San Diego a few days earlier, better make the most of the next few days now.
As I begin to close this blog out, I have to say it is quite a blessing to be here and have a little piece of paradise all to your self with just a few other souls gathered from all over the world to go on a little retreat to practice. If you’re looking for a little getaway on an island, come down here and check it out. Long Bay is suppose to be the best area all of Portland but there are some many cool spots here on the island, Long Bay has beautiful rentals on the beach, desolate roads and small towns. Until next blog, stay Irie mon and Happy New Year!
*Update - January 1st, 2015*
The time flew at Yoga Bless, and I'm currently on a plane back to San Diego 36,000 ft in the air. Today is a new day with new beginnings. The last couple days, the group slowly became smaller but it was great none the less. The day before yesterday on Tuesday our group decided to take a field trip to the world famous Blue Lagoon which was only 15 minutes from where we were. I've been in the same room with the other four girls and we had Art, a 73 year music conductor along with us. He was a good sport seeing that all of us were in our early thirties laughing and giggling, he seemed to have a good time too with us. We walked to the nearest fuel station to catch a taxi wagon to the Lagoon, five in the back like sardines and Art in the front with the driver, no problem mon. What I notice when meeting the Jamaicans is they all ask, "How's your stay in Jamaica? Are you having a good time? Enjoy yourself here." Happy taxi driver seems to be the norm. He drove our posse down to the Blue Lagoon and I somehow became pack leader negotiating prices and getting things moving. When we unloaded the clown car, we opt for the bamboo raft and human motor to take us around the lagoon, and what a breathtaking serene piece of god's pie. The colors were vivid with a handful of majestic blues.
People can really just go to the dock and jump in, but collectively we all thought it would be a nice touch to get a raft and pretend we're Brooke Shields, a bit more authentic to some degree. We probably spent a good hour or so lounging around taking in the surroundings before walking up the small road to catch a taxi into Port Antonio for some lunch and shopping. We walked through the local markets before walking up to a rooftop bar/restaurant overlooking the town, and keep in mind it's not a huge town. Our meals were lovely, the coffees maybe a little too sweet but great afternoon togetherness as one big happy family with five ladies from one room and good ol' Art, mellow as can be, he made us look good vs. us making him look good. After lunch we cruised around for some shopping and the hustling is staple in Jamaica, nice people but things aren't cheap so don't go down thinking your dollar goes along way, only in a taxi it does. Overall it was a great day exploring around before heading back to Longbay for evening yoga.
So yesterday was New Years Eve and it was pretty uneventful. We celebrated by writing down what we wanted to let go of 2014, resolutions, forgiveness, affirmations, etc to write down and throw into a big bonfire on the seaside cliff, looking at the stars, eating peanuts, oranges, and drinking watermelon juice, total sober sallies to some degree. Art left us in the am to head to Kingston so it was down to the five of us plus Maki, Zach. Now I know Zach is an artist and has a huge following in Africa and Europe, but when he started playing guitar and freestyling a song solely for us underneath the stars, it was captivating. There was no where else we all wanted to be, other then sitting next to a fire under a bed of stars listening to a beautiful voice serenading us with his Rastafarian gift. Then he sang Stir It Up and it was simply a cherry on top followed by all of us doing Brahmari breathing for an extended period of time. Needless to say, we rang in the New Year as yogis or yogis in training sitting by the fire, border line sober sallies. :-) But, after the countdown and a bit of fire dance wiggling, we all went to bed not too long after. Keep in mind, we're usually in bed by 10:00pm on the usual as we rise around 6:30 am every morning.
Today I spent the day traveling from Kingston to Miami, Miami to Houston, and now Houston en route to San Diego. I was suppose to stay until Monday the 5th, but had to head back as the flights were quite full the next few days. I'm on a buddy pass on American thankfully, and when the option is to leave earlier rather then way later, got to do it. This weekend I'll be back to teaching at Reach and back on the grind taking home the fond memories, experiences, and the newfound kindred friendships I made with everyone. I have to say as person with some ups and some downs, I couldn't be more thankful to have experience the last ten days with great people, seeing transformations with a few beings as their practice progressed, seeing emotional releases, laughter, tears, and personal discoveries. Moments and experiences like these inspire me to keep moving forward in yoga and continue to strive every time of new discovery, making connections, seeing new places and planting seeds along the way. I hope these people were inspired as much as I was.
Here's to bringing in the new year.