Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Walking on Water in the Rain Forest

I'm a big fan of rain forests. I love the lush terrain and the creatures that flit in the trees, lurk on the ground and splash in the water. Rain forests are synonymous with adventure and I'm always up for that. So when I learned that we had to traverse Panama's rain forest to reach the remote Embera Indian village, I was excited. Hiking and climbing through a jungle of greenery is my idea of great exercise. I've done it lots of times, in many places. Except, not typically in a maxi dress and sandals. I knew I'd have trouble when our guide gazed at my getup and shot me an incredulous stare. Not a,  "oh my, that's a pretty dress and it might get dirty look" but a "mujer, esta una probelema," look. I don't know what I was thinking, except that it was really, really, hot and maxi dresses are cool. Only, when rains flood areas of the rain forest that used to be dry land, and you need to walk over them, then it's not so cool.  The only way across the expanse of heavy mud and rain, was to walk across a fallen tree. Did I mention that balance and grace have never been my strong suits? I have been known to trip over perfectly even, flat surfaces so this would definitely be a challenge. I watched as every member of my group glided over the trunk, lightly stepping over the rough wood. When it was my turn, I  envisioned  falling into the muddy morass so I kicked off my shoes and requested guidance across that rickety tree. It was a slow, unsteady journey but I made it. I never thought I'd try walking on water but it's funny what you can accomplish when your options are limited. What challenges have you taken on during your travels?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Gorgeous Gaspe'

The beauty of Quebec's maritime region, the Gaspe' Peninsula, which wraps around the shore of the St. Lawrence River, is quite famous. You hear people rave about it every time the region is mentioned but I still wasn't prepared. Canada is a beautiful, sprawling country in general so I figured the experience would be similar to the other Canadian provinces that I visited. It's not. Gaspe' which means "lands end" in the Mic Mac language, is literally another land, a whole world apart from the other. I was constantly catching my breath at the sheer wonder of the landscape, to the point that I think I stopped breathing many times.

Traveling around Gaspe's five provinces was like meeting individual members of a stunning family. Each one more gorgeous than the other. But it wasn't just the beauty, the purity and tranquility of the land seeps through the sea breezes.

The people of Gaspe' have lived in the area for generations and the respect and care that they offer to their environment is reflected in the spotless, raw landscape.

Such was the perfection of the landscape that yoga master Corrine Trang plopped down and meditated on the beach in the middle of our tour. It's that kind of place.

It's hard not to connect with nature at some point in the Gaspe', whether it's hiking through the mountains,sitting in the middle of a field or actually hugging a tree.

The spirit of the Gaspe' really  touched me and I'll always remember the sensation of roaming through this extraordinary destination. Have you traveled to a place that touched you in an unexpected way?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tatting Up In Panama

Deep in the Panamanian rain forest, on the shores of the Chagres River, an Embera Indian Village welcomes visitors interested in learning about their centuries-old traditions. We had traveled in a hand-carved canoe,  and scaled makeshift bridges to reach the village. Before I entered into the village's circle of thatched roof huts and glimpsed the laughing children and heard the flute trills of their instruments, I knew that I wanted to connect with the Embera.

After a demonstration of cooking, plant medicine and weaving techniques, I requested a traditional tattoo. A village's elder was enlisted to do the honor for me. The Embera paint their bodies with the juice of the jagua plant. The black etchings are semi-permanent tattoos that last up to 3 weeks. The elder wiped the sunscreen off my arm and pressed sharply into my skin with the tip of a bamboo stick. He slowly created my design, scrawling the lines carefully.

Each symbol has a specific meaning and I was startled to learn that mine represented a house or home. At that point, I had been displaced from my home by a fire and was struggling to adjust to the moves and changes that would last for eight months. My tattoo remained on my arm for a full month, reminding me of  Panama's proud traditions and that I would eventually return to my home.