This site is a window into my life of travel, yoga and life long learning. It's meant to inspire others as I reflect on the awesomeness of our planet, the diversity of humankind and the abundance of beauty all around, if one chooses to pay attention.
Minca the town was always a mystery to me. “Very popular with backpackers”. “Lots of foreigners”. “Instagram influencers’ paradise”. This is what I’d mostly been hearing about Minca.
These are the type of commentaries that make me run fast in the opposite direction! When I travel, I usually prefer a non-touristy, raw and local experience. So needless to say I avoided Minca in my four previous trips to Colombia spanning 4 years.
But this time, firmly planted in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Santa Marta, it was inevitable that I would explore this hillside town.
The 40 minute windy drive up into the hills was nothing special and as I approached the town, I was not overly impressed. My taxi quickly diverted off the main road and headed into some serious off-road territory, it’s undercarriage bouncing on the road along the way. This was symbolic. In Minca you have to leave the road well-trodden to see the stuff worth seeing, as I would soon learn.
After our bumpy ride, I arrived at Sweet Harmony, my home for the night – a cabin with a balcony looking straight into the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. I was in the forest, deep in the forest. The river below was fairly audible and there were a lot of bugs, butterflies and birds everywhere. I spent a good several hours in the hammock and just listened to the mountain sounds. The hills were full of life – and the best part – the sounds weren’t human. You really learn to appreciate Mother Nature and it’s wonderful beings in a setting like this.
I dragged myself out of the hammock and walked down to the river. A fast-flowing river with a few rapids and crystal clear water. I was constantly being bitten by bugs. I had two choices – complain, or appreciate I was in their domain. I did my best with the latter. I also dove into the ice cold water to take refuge – it was cold! But so invigorating. After a day of travel – I was a new man!
After a restful night I was ready for day two. Today I had planned to ride a 32 km circuit (20 miles) around Minca on a mountain bike. The route is called “La Vuelta”. My guide Jian Carlos promptly showed up at 9 am and we were on our way! He was a wiry 16 year old lad who weighed next to nothing. And our route for the day involved lots of climbing. Which meant I had to keep up with this kid. Happy to say it all went well!
The first stop was Pozo Azul a nice little natural pool in the river. Of course I took the obligatory dip. The water was so cold, but it invigorated me for the ride ahead. Our next stop required us to leave the main road and climb to La Victoria – a very old coffee farm with a lot of history. First bought by a British family, it changed hands about 70 years ago and is now owned by a family with German ancestry. They have some unique ways of transporting the beans, literally using water (so the beans are immersed in water for transport and sorting) and eventually dried. This entails the use of some heavy duty machinery that’s more than a 100 years old! Made in San Francisco, New York, London and other places. It was fascinating to see the international roots of this coffee farm in the middle of nowhere.
But we had many more miles to go, and they were all uphill for a good several hours! We left the main road at a junction called El Campano and headed up some serious dirt roads with steep grade to boot! We were granny gearing it up several sections and spinning in mud up a few. The challenge of the ride, oh what a beautiful thing!
After a few hours of steady grinding we were at Los Pinos. It was the highest point on our route today and the views were spectacular. And there were a few namesake pine trees here, dwarfed by the usual tropical foliage of course.
The next stop on our adventure was Hostal Sierra Minca. It involved a little diversion and a lot of climbing. The views were great from this little resort in the hills. I paid 40,000 pesos for a day pass that included lunch and a drink, and use of the pool and hammocks. I was on a mission, so I took a quick dip in the pool, ate my fried fish, drank my Club Colombia and was back on the road!
The good news was that after this point it was mainly a descent! I needed this little break. But alas, it was short lived once again. The last diversion of the day was a climb up to Marinka Falls on a very uneven steep, rutted dirt road! I was so spent, I felt like skipping it. But once at the falls I realized it was all worth it. There are in fact two falls. The lower falls have a great natural pool for swimming and I took a nice dip and felt rejuvenated after this intense day of riding. Rejuvenated enough that I could walk the few hundred steps up to the upper falls. They too were beautiful. This was a nice way to top off a very heavy day of riding with 1200 m of climbing (4,000 ft). We still had the descent back into Minca, but it was smooth sailing all the way down.
Day 3 in Minca was also going to special. I chose to stay further up the mountain for my last night in Minca. I took a Moto Taxi up to Nuevo Mundo – a hotel nestled high in the hills.
Mundo Nuevo blew me away. The rustic architecture of the rooms, the many hammocks and the strategically placed gardens and viewing areas. This was a place where I could pass hours in a hammock taking in the breeze, the wildlife and the greenery all around. I took a short 15 minute walk to La Candelaria, another coffee/cacao farm. Instead of opting for the tour I just had a cup of coffee. That evening I enjoyed watching the sun set into the ocean and the noises of the night slowly coming into play. It was magical.
Day 4 – The morning of my last day, I took a hike up to Mirador 360° for a 360° degree view all the way around the coast and the mountains. The hike itself was a bit of an adventure often following single track with a steep drop off. It’s also steep in sections so a bit physically demanding. But once at the top I got to see everything – Santa Marta and Rodadero – and low lying clouds were shrouding the mountains creating an air of mystery.
I am not sure when I will be back in Minca, but the lure is strong and it’s beckoning for sure!
An adventure into the Alta Guajira (High Guajira) of Colombia. Colombia’s treasured coast, and some say forgotten people. Here you abide by different laws – specifically those of the Wayuu. This is their earth, their land and their rules.
I questioned if I should even be out here. This is the kind of place where – if you get lost – you may never be found. The desert rules and it is mighty. Flanked by golden sand dunes that dive into the sea. It’s as raw as it gets.
My doubts were warranted. I found myself somewhat captive for 3 days. In the hands of a very hostile Wayuu driver. He didn’t like me from the get go. He never knew my name. For 3 days, he never knew my name. I will never know where this behavior stemmed from. Never have I ever started a story on a negative note. But you can imagine my mental state. In the Alta Guajira of Colombia in the middle of the desert, 40 miles from the Venezuelan border in the hands of someone who at one point threatened to stick me in the trunk.
My other companions on this trip were quite the opposite. They were form Bogota and it’s outskirts. A very friendly bunch. They adopted this Colombian-looking Bangladeshi gringo into their inner circle and I was well-shielded from my menacing driver.
Together we enjoyed the stark desert scenery, the salt mines of Manaure and the many hidden beaches along the way. Once at Cabo de la Vela, where we would be spending the night, we had a wonderful lunch. I opted for the fried fish. It was delicious. It always is here on the coast. Pargo, Moharra, Lebrancha, Robalo, you name it.
Then we marched onwards to Playa Arcoiris to see the waves crashing into the rocks and hoping to see rainbows. No rainbows were to be seen today, but it was still quite spectacular. Next stop was a hike up a hill to the Pilar de Azucar. With a stunning coastline the likes of which I have never seen before. And of course the requisite statue of Mother Mary.
I didn’t want to leave this heavenly place. But the 20 miles per hour winds and our packed agenda for the day meant that we had to keep marching on! Next stop was Playa Dorada. A beautiful beach nestled between cliffs, one of which is shaped like a Tortoise – La Tortuga. We climbed La Tortuga as well. At Playa Dorada we witnessed pelicans diving for fish with the setting sun as the backdrop. I truly was, in another world. Far from civilization. And thus happy.
We walked up to a Faro – a lighthouse – to watch the sunset. It was a glorious sunset. Clear skies, no clouds nor smog meant a fiery ball of a sunset. Mesmerizing.
Once back at our lodge we settled into our Chinchorros – hammocks – by the ocean. Alas, instead of the sounds of the waves, we were destined to a sleepless night. Our neighbors happened to be partiers and they had brought their Picós with them. Their sound systems. Their speakers. They did not let up until 3:30 am. I used my yoga superpowers as best as I could to block out the nuisance. Chalk this down to a cultural experience. Hey some people enjoy wasting a day in Colombia’s most beautiful coastline, hungover and sleeping in. To each their own.
We rose early on day 2 of this desert adventure. Most of us got a couple of hours of shuteye, but we were ready for the day. The show must go on. Moving further north and east we were heading towards Punta Gallinas – the northern most tip of not just Colombia, but also South America. On the way in we stopped at Playa Soldado – the most desolate beach I have ever laid eyes on. After the obligatory swim we had a wonderful lunch. I had the option to have Chivo – goat meat. But hey, I couldn’t pass up the fresh fried fish. Call it a habit at this point!
And then we drove through some insane sandy stretches to reach the Dunes of Tarao. These windblown formations drop dead into the sea. I hiked up the dunes and down them to access the ocean for another swim. I could get used to this. The water so clear and soothing. Nothing but sand and sea for miles.
Our last stop for this day was the lighthouse at Punta Gallinas. We were at the top of South of America. A magnificent coastline on either side. The lighthouse was a metallic structure and the light itself driven by solar panels. Not what you picture as a normal lighthouse. But we were far from the ordinary here. This was no man’s land. This was wild. This was a frontier of sorts.
We descended from the light house promontory to find a spot to look westward for our last sunset in this fabled land. And it did not disappoint.
The lodge for our last night was nestled between the river and the ocean. No partiers here tonight. I was able to sleep with my Chinchorro swinging ever so lightly in the wind. Day three would bring us back to civilization, back to the hustle & bustle. These were 3 unforgettable days in the wild wild Northeast of Colombia that will forever be etched in my mind!
After a year of teaching math by zoom and often staring at a bunch of unresponsive black boxes, I was ready for a change. Summer holidays were here. It was time to recharge the batteries and see the world again. One of the perks of being a college professor is the ability to tune out for a few months. And if there was a time for self care, this would be it. One year plus into the pandemic, I needed to keep my travel flame lit.
I arrived in Belize on a Cessna 10 seater. Wow. What a way to start a holiday! From Roatan, Honduras nonetheless. Roatan is a story in itself and stay tuned for a trip report from this amazingly beautiful island. As I walked up the steps into the single engine Cessna, I realized I had to crouch to get in – sitting room only! Tropic Air kept things casual on this bus in the sky! One hour later I landed safely in Belize City. The size of the small airport surprised me. I then caught a 10 minute flight on yet another Tropic Air 10 seater from Belize City to the island of Caye Caulker. Yes you heard it right – it was a 10 minute flight. But over some of the most beautiful coral reefs with crystal blue and turquoise water I had ever seen. After a smooth landing at the airstrip I was picked up in a golf cart by Juan from Colinda Cabanas. And a 3 minute drive took me to this ocean front property looking straight out to the Caribbean. Time moved a little slower in this tiny island paradise. The sound of the ocean waves was omnipresent. The sun was strong. And the people were friendly. I was given a bicycle right away – along with golf carts this was the most convenient mode of transport.
I took the bicycle for a test run – it worked! It even had a little basket, so I stopped in a supermarket for some breakfast food and some Belikin Beer. Nothing like a cold one on these hot summer days.
My room was a stand alone cabin, with a balcony and a hammock. It’s all about the hammock here – lounging around is a popular pastime. This was the perfect place to unwind. Priorities first though – I changed into my swim trunks and dove into the ocean – it was fairly shallow (up to 7 or 8 feet deep) until you get closer to the reef – the world’s second largest coral reef – the Meso American Barrier Reef. Right there in from of my cabana. I didn’t see any fish today, but I almost had a heart attack when I saw a giant sting ray swim by without a care in the world. Just me and the sting ray in the great big expanse! What a welcome!
Caye Caulker stood out for two very specific reasons and I will talk about both at length. The food and the marine life, particularly the marine life at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
First I’ll address the food. I was given recommendations for places to eat by every other person and I was surprised at the quality of food on the island, at fairly reasonable prices as well. Chef Chu’s and Hibisca were two local eateries with great food that won’t break the bank. The barracuda special I had at Hibisca was one of the best meals I had on this trip. And the fish curry at Chef Juan’s was delectable. Also Chef Kareem’s barbecue was street food at it’s best (and it’s actually on the street). I had the jerk chicken perpared by Chef Kareem himself. There were some chairs right on the beach by his stand, so I just chilled and enjoyed my chicken by the beach. I can go on and on about the other places … but you’ll see for yourself when you visit. This is a gourmet food lover’s paradise.
The Hol Chan Reserve is an amazing protected area in the ocean teeming with marine life. Not your ordinary marine life. I had one of my best snorkel days ever – I got to swim with green sea turtles and a loggerhead turtle. A dream come true! I saw the most beautiful coral reefs all around with so many countless types of colorful fish. Another highlight was spotting and swimming with a manatee. I felt particularly lucky because manatee are very hard to spot, let alone swim with.
Manatee, Loggerhead Turtle and Nurse Sharks
Did I mention the sting ray? Did I mention the nurse sharks? They are all over the reef – the thought of swimming with sharks terrified me. But these sharks are pretty friendly and keep to themselves. So there I was in the water surrounded by sharks. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous. But I would do it again in a heartbeat.
So I hope you get the idea. EAT, SWIM, REPEAT. Interspersed with sips of Belikin! And when it gets too tiring, find a hammock to lounge in.
I also made some new friends on the island. The slow pace here allows you to find your tribe and make those lifelong connections. One of the best reasons to travel is making those human connections.
New Friends Joel and Jessica
Sadly I had to leave Caye Caulker after 4 magnificent days. This time I opted for the water taxi back to Belize City. A 45 minute boat ride was a good way to say goodbye to this island paradise. My next stop was San Ignacio. A two hour drive from Belize City brought me to this sleepy hillside town in the forests of Belize, close to the Guatemalan border. The main attractions here are some of the world’s oldest and grandest Mayan Ruins – most about 3000 years old.
Another attraction is an underground system of limestone caves. Belize was under water millions of years ago and when the water receded, it left a system of underground limestone caves formed by water erosion. I saw the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites.
River crossing near ATM Caves; Rio Frio Caves
The Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves (ATM Caves) I visited were quite amazing. It was an Indiana Jones type experience – we crossed the river 3 times with water up to my neck and navigated countless waterways inside the caves. Thank goodness for the headlamps – without them it’s pitch black inside the caves. One of the highlights is the discovery of remains of Maya, thousands of years old – we saw 5 skeletal remains, some almost completely intact, left alone the way they were found. For good reason cameras are not allowed here – out of respect for the Maya and also to avoid typical tourist shenanigans (apparently someone dropped their camera on a skull and took a piece of it out!).
There are numerous Mayan ruins to explore in Belize, the grandest of them being Caracol – a citadel about a 2 hour drive away from San Ignacio. It was another Indiana Jones type experience. There were hardly any people there on this day and as we approached the citadel through dense jungle, we were greeted by the deafening sound of Cicada and Howler Monkeys. It doesn’t get any more dramatic than that!
The pyramids there were immense – the highest was about 14 stories high. I had the best guide every in Rudy Neil. He went over the history of the region and the differences in architecture representing different Maya from different time periods. He was also very well versed in the flora and fauna. We went through the most amazing Pine Forest to get to Caracol and saw deer, fox and alligator! The lushness off the place is incredible. Rudy plucked cashew fruit for us straight from a tree. Apparently cashews are endemic to Belize.
Guide extraordinaire Rudy; Cashew fruit
To top off the day we checked out Rio Frio Caves – a smaller version of ATM Caves, but more accessible and less restricted (we could take a few pictures of the giant stalagmites and stalactites as there are no skeletal remains here). Rudy’s last surprise was a stop at Big Rock Falls.
A beautiful little waterfall with natural pools. I jumped 10 feet into the water – always thrilling! It was an unforgettable day with Rudy Neil of Tukan Travel Belize!
San Ignacio also allowed me to connect with some amazing people. I met two new friends visiting from Reno, Nevada on the ATM Caves Tour. Besides drinking lots of Belikin together, we visited Xunantuntich another elaborate Mayan Citadel.
With Harris & Matthew, Xunantunich
I tagged along in their rental car. It was an unforgettable day with like-minded people. We did not have a tour guide today, but it was beautiful in it’s own way. We just took in the elaborate architecture and beauty of the place along with the 360 degree views all around (and towards Guatemala to the west).
Belize was full of surprises. I was expecting an overly tourist place, but it wasn’t. It still had right amount of infrastructure with just the right amount of novelty. I will undoubtedly visit again! Thanks Belize for the good times!
Two classes into Yogamatique’s inauguration we’ve had sign ups from:
San Francisco, California Fremont, California Seattle, Washington Buenos Aires, Argentina Corrientes, Argentina Cali, Colombia Bogota, Colombia Santiago, Chile London, UK Milan, Italy Severodvinsk, Russia
The idea was to have a safe, quality environment providing yoga for all.
Connecting the World has been an added bonus.
If you haven’t signed up for a class yet, let us sweeten the experience:
I cannot help but preface this article by saying that these events happened almost exactly one year ago. How the world has changed and what an awakening of sorts. Read through this to see what my last couple weeks of August 2019 were like. Will they ever be the same?
August 20th, 2019
After an amazing two weeks in Cali, Colombia, still feeling giddy from the effects of the music festival Petronio, I boarded a flight back to cold wintry Buenos Aires. Why would I do such a thing? If you love a place enough, it doesn’t matter what season it is. If you love a people as much, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like. Winter has it’s own charm and we don’t have that kind of winter where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it’s nice to be able to stroll the city in winter garb and smell the crisp winter air.
I arrived early in the morning at 5:00 am on August 21st and I had already made lunch plans with my friend Luciano. We met up in an amazing “Parilla” in Palermo and had the best meal of Bife Chorize and some great Malbec to go with it. I was back in Buenos Aires with a bang.
I had just ten more days in my favorite city south of the equator, and I would be making the most of it. As luck would have it, they were to be my ten busiest days ever in Buenos Aires.
I was free-lancing and teaching my own yoga classes. I had a student of mine from Fremont, California coming for my Urban Yoga Retreat and I was gradually planning the next stage of my travels which would be in Europe for seven weeks. I was a bit concerned about the yoga classes. I had just left the studio I used to teach at and was now venturing out on my own.
I wondered if I would be able to gather enough students and have successful classes. Much to my delight I had about a dozen students attend every class I taught! The studio I had left wasn’t even bringing in that many on a daily basis, so I was quite happy. I do owe a lot of my success to my amazing circle of friends in the city whose relentless marketing worked wonders!
In this short amount of time I also pulled off my first yoga retreat! One of my students flew all the way from California for a six day yoga retreat with me. I provided all the logistics, provided her yoga everyday and I guided her through the city with the help of my friend Julian, an experienced Spanish teacher and guide.
We roamed the streets of La Boca, entered many a museum, visited the Recoleta Cementary where Eva Peron (Evita) among many others, is buried. And one of my all time favorites – we toured the Market of San Telmo on Sunday. The cobblestoned street of Defensa is closed to traffic and lined with vendors selling art, leather products, clothes, you name it. And the actual market is a food lover’s heaven with many little stalls serving everything form empanadas to fancy French food (Merci is my favorite little corner, and it’s not that fancy really, but the food is delectable).
These last few days in Buenos Aires were special. Being able to host a yoga retreat, that too my first ever, was so satisfying. And I was able to see the city through the eyes of a yoga student, a first time visitor to the city of “Buena Onda” loosely translated meaning “good vibes”.
I was truly surprised how my yoga classes transformed into a community with a sense of togetherness. Yoga, after all, means “union”. After every class the students and I would enjoy some sort of activity.
Sometimes we would hang out at one of my favorite coffee joints in the neighborhood of Palermo – Full City Coffee. They serve great meals as well. And after an evening class, we might wander somewhere for a drink, followed by a visit to a language meetup hosted by Mundo Lingo, where we would meet people from all over. A great way to practice Spanish, or any other language for that matter.
What draws me to this special place? Year after year. “La Gente”, the people. Argentina is an immensely rich land in terms of culture, heritage and even natural resources, but time and time again it faces political and economic turmoil, like no other. Even through all this suffering, people keep resilient, they keep their pride and they find a way of enjoying life, whether it be with their craziness over “Futbol”, their love of life’s simple pleasures – good food and wine, or love of tango and much more. It’s a vibrant country with passionate people. Their good vibes – Buena Onda – keep me coming back.
My last night in Buenos Aires I hosted a dinner party at my apartment. It was a great send off. Little did I know it would be the last time I would be in Buenos Aires for at least a year. You see, I was supposed to be back in March. And then you know what happened.
I cherish those memories of chatting into the wee hours of the night, listening to good music, eating good food, drinking good Malbec, having great conversations. Who would have thought that all way south of the equator in this far away land I would have found this sense of community, this sense of belonging.
Isn’t this what this fragmented world needs right now? As we live through these most isolating of times, as we see turmoil, revolution and irreversible change to the planet, I dream of community. I dream of togetherness.
Most of all, I am dreaming of landing in Buenos Aires once more …
I’ve uploaded a 1 hour Yoga session to my YouTube channel “Yogamatique”.
It’s a well rounded one hour, that focuses on the legs and knees. With the amount of sitting we are all doing these days, whether in front of the monitor, the cell phone or TV screen, we are definitely tightening our legs and stiffening those knee joints.
Of course you will work out the entire body in this session. It is also a bit slower – so it allows you to focus and work on the task at hand with mindfulness. The mind is a powerful thing. When you “will” something to happen with focus – you can achieve it!
Some of our every day yoga poses, if done correctly can keep your legs in shape & your knees healthy. For example the classics such as Prasarita Padottansana, Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2) and their variations work wonders. And a simple Hero’s Pose achieves so much hitting the knees, ankles and a bit of the quads.
Blocks are used generously, allowing you to moderate all poses and be careful to avoid overdoing.
Here you can find the link to the video and my YouTube channel Yogamatique. Don’t forget to subscribe to never miss a video 😀.
100 plus days into lockdown, quarantine, limited movement, working from home, sitting a lot. Has it started taking a toll, not just emotionally but also physically?
Back pain and back injuries are some of the most common maladies among the entire population. Current conditions may be acerbating these.
Whether you work at a computer all day, do heavy lifting or are an avid athlete, the back is usually victim number 1!
Everyone has a differently shaped spine and everyone has a different back problem. Some might be aggravated by forward folds, some by back bends. And even twisting may be someone’s limitation.
Today I needed some back maintenance and I present to you 40 minutes of general yoga that involved mild forward folds, back bends and some strengthening and twisting.
Alleviating the back does not mean that it is just the back that should be contorted and focused on. Tight hamstrings, tight hip flexors, shoulder irregularities, tight adductors, are just some of the target areas to alleviate back issues.
So you will see such poses as Warrior 2, Parsvakonasa, Prasarita Padottanasana, Cresecent Pose, Warrior 1, Warrior 3, Humble Warrior, Malasana, Bakasana and more. These are mostly standing poses that are very active in nature. And a whole bunch of seated poses such as Baddha Konasana, Janu Sirsasana, Matsyendrasana should give you some relief. And I threw in one Yin pose Dragonfly Side Bend, because it really opens up the QL (Quadratus Lumborum) and feels so good on the side body.