Little Trouble in Big China

I have a more rebellious take on life. This comes from many years of practice. Not always following tradition, rules or codes. I follow my heart and internal guidance, which seems to steer me in the direction I need to go. My inner intellect knows, you could call it good intuition. China is no exception. To some this may sound foolish, to me, well, it pushes my envelope.

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HONG KONG:

The flight from Tokyo was a breeze in comparison to the flight to Japan. I’ve met some memorable people in my life on planes, trains and automobiles. Surprisingly it seems to comfortably in an awkward yet social way, help one to open up. I’ve found that these connections on PT&A are brilliant and ones that somehow create new destined paths.

Here’s what I did with two and half days in Hong Kong:

Kowloon:

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The side of Hong Kong I was staying in at the Hyatt, which was so luxurious. Needless to say, a little exploring goes a long way. The Kowloon side is busy and the roads criss cross a lot in a non linear fashion, making it easy to get lost. Never fear, there’s always a map, dear. Use one. I have learned to always have one handy. It’s easy to get lost meandering in and out of stores from jewelry to shoes to herbs to food. Especially when directionally challenged as I sometimes am. There’s always a way to get back though, that’s sometimes the fun of getting lost, is it not?

Hong Kong Island:

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Taking the ferry to the other side it’s visibly more busy, modern, think Wall Street with some of the lovely British charm still intact. I visited pubs while also eating dumplings and Chinese. Even though in a big city, the hills give it a cozy feeling. Hong Kong is quite international and most people speak english well. If I was to compare this to an American city, I think San Francisco would be the easiest comparison. Hong Kong is much smaller than Tokyo.

Ladies Market:

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Visiting the ladies market. It’s worth it to see this market at night, to get lost in the rows after rows of cheap knock offs, clothes, little gadgets and some amazingly good finds. “Here, you like this?” is asked at almost every stall stopped in. If you’re not prepared to say no, then you may spend a lot more than you bargained for. I give less than half of what they’re asking and then see. It’s ok to walk away if you don’t like what you hear.

Tian Tan Buddha:

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I was hesitant to see another Buddha since my time was so short in Hong Kong. Yet I am always allured by the spiritual principles of any practice and religion. I find truths within all of them that connect to the core of being human. The trip to Lantau Island is definitely worth it. Even after an hour and a half wait to go through luscious mountains by cable car. This twenty-five minute cable car ride is stunningly beautiful, once over several mountain tops you can see the Buddha from many kilometers away, it is a sight to behold, in an illusory way. Once there, walking through the shops to embark upon a staircase of hundreds of steps. Walking up the Buddha is larger than life, before him are the six devas, each with their offerings of flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Symbolic of the six perfections which include generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom, all necessary for enlightenment.

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Indonesian 1968:

I met with friends I met on the plane and had dinner at Indonesian1968, which also has a Michelin star. Our scrumptious dinner of tasty satay was mouthwatering and savory with different sauces to entice the palate. Along with a bowl of yummy rice and curry with the spicy, warming and distinct flavors. What an incredible ambience this authentic Indonesian restaurant has, the owner came to our table and explained how his parents started the restaurant in 1968, now it’s quite epic.

After eating, why not go party a bit and see what the nightlife has to offer in Hong Kong?  Playing pool, posh lounges, watching craziness ensue in Lan Kwai Fong and Wyndham St area of Hong Kong. Fun, wild why not? I’m on a trip.

Thanksgiving:

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I wanted to experience the North American traditional holiday overseas and I was impressively inspired with my day of thanks. Before eating I went strolling and shopping in the local boutiques. Stopping to peek in at local art galleries. For this special dinner I chose Lily and Bloom, after reading article below. Lily and Bloom caters to those wanting to experience this western holiday as authentically as possible. I was treated with exceptional friendliness by the staff, noting it was the holiday and I was alone, which I purposely liked to experience a new sensation of breaking out of my comfort zone. The chef there hails from Chicago and prepares the menu and holiday meal in a meticulously, well-thought out manner. Everything was locally sourced. The flavors were extraordinary. Turkey perfectly moist, stuffing just right. Mashed potatoes and gravy with a unique twist of herbs and distinct flavorings. I even had pumpkin pie! It felt oh so homey.

I wish I would’ve had a bit more time to spend in Hong Kong, especially to have seen Victoria’s Peak which I didn’t make the time to do. Alas, the two days I was there were amazingly packed with juicy experiences that I’m super happy about. My impression of Hong Kong: Magnetizing.

 

SHANGHAI

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Shanghai immediately felt much different than Hong Kong. Busier, faster. Like NY if I had to compare it to an American city. Staying at the Marriott City center. Comfortable, business, international with a an array of a buffet that suited my every taste. The cab there from the airport was about 50 dollars. Around the city, cabs are relatively cheap.

Walking through Shanghai it’s like a glittery, colorful wonderland. Stimulation overload, very modern, futuristic almost. Someone said perfectly it’s like back to the future. In mainland China, be prepared to not use Google, including Gmail, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Unless you have access to a separate server, which I wasn’t able to finagle in the short time I was there. At first it was disconcerting. Then it felt like a break so my mind could be present to the trip.

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The pollution is obvious. This isn’t just Shanghai, it’s happening to major cities all over the world. It has hit hazardous levels in Delhi according to the BBC. I had a vision while in Shanghai of these little drone type like machines, like street sweepers. Maybe something like that could be invented? Ones that are filled with filtration and go around and clean the air? Just an idea. It really made me think about our reliance on fossil fuels and how it affects us. The monopoly on it is advantageous to those who win (money? really?) from it, but at the cost of earth and earthlings? To that I say F off and let the minds that create new technologies be allowed to create their masterpieces on our planet. Hong Kong has major stimulus if people buy electric. Fantastic. How about The Venus Project and several others who are in the (healthy) futuristic agenda? Why don’t we hear more about these types of ideas? For us all to then decide upon. Why isn’t there more collaboration happening on a global scale for a more sustainable resource based future? Why is there not more talk about this in our upcoming elections in America? It’s all of our future and planet. Do you think that’s fair? To all of us? To our planet?

I think the Paris Agreement is a start.

We have time to remedy it, I hope. Sorry to go off topic, just pondering.

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What I did with a few days in Shanghai:

Silk Museum

For many millennia, China has been known for it silk production and the silk museum highlights that. Fascinating little stop to see how silk is made. The lady who showed us was so nice and she briefly touch on the history of how silk came about, going so far as to show the silk worms in their cocoons and how the fibers are created. It’s so very silky.

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Unico to Le Chapeau (Mansion)

I went From Unico, a more upscale high energy club to the mysterious Mansion, which isn’t that easy to find. Once inside it’s like a maze of people and different rooms and crazy, unique spaces that have music ranging from EDM, minimal to trance and all the in betweens. It was packed and felt like a head spin going up and down the spiral stairs where each room had a different vibe, music, decor and it’s own element of eclectic debauchery. A very international and local group of people. If you can find it, and like to dance and take in an eccentric space, I’d highly recommend it.

Ziajiajiang

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Again firing off my navigating skills, I headed on the trains out of the city by myself, to visit a water town on the outskirts. It took about an hour and 10 minutes to get out to this preserved old city. Once there it is busy, occupied with people moving in little alleyways with ducks hanging, meats cooking, veggies boiling, selling and bartering in all the little shops one can go in. There are gardens and waterways with gondolas. It has a historically preserved history amongst the modern buildup of more industrialized Shanghai. Beautiful in an authentic Chinese way. It was tranquil and peaceful walking through the gardens.

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KTV

A trip to Asia would not be complete without trying KTV. Otherwise known as Karaoke. It’s very popular. In Shanghai I finally got a taste with a group of European friends I met. The bedazzled hallways, with mirrors and carpet makes one marvel, it’s almost decadent in a fun way. There are separate rooms that groups rent out to sing in. We sang many, many songs, most of them 90’s to now. I was belting out to Oasis. By the time I was done I felt like a superstar. Even though I probably sounded like a dying cat, it was still a blast.

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My take on Shanghai: Busy and fun, cool and weird all in one.

On that note,

I like to think of myself as adaptable, my roots aren’t always grounded in a  particular tradition, label or convention. I strive to enjoy the culture of anywhere I visit. Letting normal dispositions dissipate as I venture, to integrate and understand what is around me.

Traveling isn’t always easy and sometimes pushes me out of my comfort zone. It challenges my perceptions by expanding my horizons.Which I love.

I’m grateful to have traveled so far in my life. I know that what lies next is just a new now version of life intricately overlaying itself with mind blowing experiences.

I no longer believe in the old cliche Too good to be true, for I believe the best comes to those who are true to themselves.

xo,

Nicole

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/1882088/lets-talk-turkey-eight-places-go-hong-kong-thanksgiving-feast

Adventures in Japan

As soon as I arrived I heard, why Japan? From a local.

Well, because there is such a graceful elegance to the culture. A politeness in efficiency that makes navigating easy and there is so much to experience from the food, to the sights, to the culture, lots of shrines and Sake. 😉

All in all my flight from LA to Tokyo to Hong Kong and back was 750 dollars. A price comparable to what I’ve paid traveling to the midwest or east coast from LA. Good job Kayak.

After getting off the plane, my friend, who I’ve known since I was 15 met me in the terminal as she came in from Chicago.

Ah, the train systems. Yes.

Where the F do we go? It felt like a video game. Ding ding ding. At first it was like a puzzle in disarray, then all the pieces fit into place.

 

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DAY 1: TOKYO

We stayed at the Prince Park tower for a relatively good rate. Little did we know it was a holiday and were wondering why everyone was dressed so snazzy. 7-5-3  is a traditional rite of passage and festival day for three- and seven-year-old girls and three- and five-year-old boys, to celebrate the growth and well-being of young children. How jubilant. We saw many people dressed up with their children in traditional colorful Japanese Kimonos and outfits.

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We stopped at must see Shibuya crossing which was a bit slower than usual given the observance of the holiday, nonetheless it was still busy.

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We then took the train up to Shinjuku and walked around the Shinjuku-Gyoen gardens, peaceful, zen-like and intricate classic Japanese gardens. We walked over to Hanazono shrine, hidden between the city scape. Peaceful and moving as families were there celebrating.

IMG_1213 (1)We walked around parts of Shinjuku and found alleyways with grilling Japanese kebabs.IMG_1236 (1)The Tokyo tower lit up for France. I was holding intentions for peace, healing and love. For Paris as well as the many attacks that have been happening worldwide.

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DAY 2: Tokyo

We decided to head to Harajuku, famous for teenage pop culture and quirky, colorful displays in fashion. Walking down Takeshita. We stopped at several stores, fashion forward.IMG_1283 (1)

IMG_1327 (1)Then we meandered over to Meiji Jingi shrine and observed a classic wedding taking place. Meiji Jingi sits on hundreds of acres and was built during the time of the enlightened era in Japan by Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.IMG_1291 (1).jpgIMG_1308

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a street vendor. I had to try Takoyaki after my curiosity was piqued, it was super scrumptious, melting in my mouth. Octopus rolled and topped with cheese and spices and sauces that I have no idea what they are called.

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After resting and regrouping we went to dinner at a European restaurant where we met a group of Japanese guys, who were a bit toasted and all kept exclaiming “Pasta”. Which may or may not have the same meaning translated from Japanese to English. We chimed in, still trying to figure out what it meant.

IMG_1246 (1)Day 3: Kamakura

A beautiful reprieve from the bustling and busy city. Again navigating the trains we took one an hour outside of the city to Kamakura, which was once the political center of Japan in 1192.

IMG_1354 (1)There is much historical significance and when walking through the quaint and cozy streets it feels much different than Tokyo. Below are Samurai swords.

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We went to Hasedera temple, devoted to Kannon, the Goddess of mercy and the Great Buddha, which both were quite impressive in their size as well as antiquity. There were tunnels we had to bend down into the dark into several passageways, twisting and turning, each stop temples and tiny statues everywhere. It was damp and earthen with smell of antiquity. IMG_1389 (1)

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Day 4: Kyoto

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With our well used purchase of the JR ticket we headed to Kyoto on the bullet train. I was excited to experience the bullet train which averages about 200 mph. We arrived and it was raining and a bit chilly, for lunch we went to a nearby place called Kamo which had vegetarian options. I then went wandering into Kyoto and found several bemusing shops and had an acupuncture treatment that was so very thorough.

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We ate at a little treasure that night, what we found out was an old Geisha house turned into restaurant. This special place had different rooms, sliding doors and maintained a quietness, it felt very decadent, secretive and elegant. Which is fascinating given that Kyoto is known for its prestigious Geishas. They are trained in various traditional Japanese arts such as dance and music, as well as in communication and entertaining.

 

Day 5: Kyoto

 

IMG_1419 (1)We started the day early, as seemed to be our ritual. The time change made it feel much later as we usually woke up around 6:30 am. We went to Nijō Castle, which was built in 1601, parts burnt down and was again rebuilt. It’s intricately impressive in its history and architecture. A time when empires ruled society and caste systems were more common. We then went to Kinku-Ji, the golden pavilion. It’s a golden inlaid Buddhist Zen temple and popular for tourists. While extremely busy, it was well worth the crowds to see the grandeur of this temple and its gardens.

 

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Audaciously, I wanted to find an sento onsen, to at least try it. There is a fine art of bathing which I find rather intriguing and I wanted to experience this classic tradition. I ventured alone after a recommendation from an ex-pat we met, the spot was a bit off the popular path in Kyoto.

I followed the traditions by watching how others were, not wanting to be too obnoxiously American, but also not knowing what I needed to do to follow suit. Once inside men and women are separate and there are 5 baths. One has a jacuzzi, one is electric a few are hot and they all come from hot springs below. There was an outdoor area with a cold and hot bath amidst a garden which was lovely. I felt like I left the womb when leaving, all soaked, softened and ready to go.

Day 6: Kurama 

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I wanted time to meditate and have a solo journey, navigating to me is a test of my mind and I like the challenge at times. It’s knowing where to get off and on and there are signs in English. I took the train up to Kurama. I am a Reiki master and felt the pull of this mystical place calling me to it. It is where Mikao Usui meditated for 21 days and received the Reiki healing energy.

IMG_1514 (1)Taking the train up is quite magical as one leaves the city, with tall trees and waterfalls. Walking up and through the mountains to the top shrine I meditated while a zen ceremony was taking place with a monk giving blessings.

IMG_1555 (1)It was serene and gorgeous with the autumn leaves. There were shrines to stop at on the way up, tranquil and deep in the mountains. Afterwards I went to a traditional style Japanese lunch/dinner sitting on the ground, in quiet contemplation and another onsen set amongst the mountains. Like I said, I revel in the art of bathing.

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I ate Kebabs and had Sake with friends whom I met from Japan and Taiwan after wandering into a place in Kyoto once back.

Compai!

Day 7: Tokyo

We took the bullet train back to Tokyo where we were staying in Ginza for two nights. We decided to go out in Rippongi which is the cool, hip, club area. It was fun, crazy, a bit over the top glittering club frenzy.

Day 8: Tokyo 

The food. Yum. Sushi, of course! Yet, it’s the other foods I wasn’t as familiar with that impressed me the most.
I met new friends again from wandering into a Monjayaki grill in the Tsukishima district while waiting for my Owl cafe appointment.

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It surprised me this street I found, filled with Monjayaki restaurants I went into a couple. Monja as it’s known is chopped veggies, fish or seafood, with a batter that is poured on it once the chopped portion is grilling, with a pancake like consistency, it looks wary but is delectable.

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A gem, yet again from venturing into new terrain. What an amazing way to experience a more local sensation.

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Fukuro No Mise: Owl Cafe

What a cool experience that was. Owls are one of my spirit animals so to experience so many in one place was pretty intense. All eyes on me, or so it felt, with their penetrating gazes that stare deep into the soul. I felt many things from these majestic creatures. Images and ideas of times long ago, deep in the forests and nighttime exploring.

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IMG_1497 (1)The vibe is so very Zen while bustling and busy, yes quite a paradox indeed. The people are exceptionally nice, gracious and helpful. Unbelievably so.

I feel I can let my mind escape and dream and not have to explain why I’m dreaming here. I have my setbacks show up sometimes but that’s life and traveling, is it not?

IMG_1621 (1)While dreaming and wandering in my dreamscape, especially on this trip which unexpectedly turned into visiting many temples and shrines and tuning into the realms of my spirited nature. Also, from not having my phone always connected, I felt present to the tactile world, which helped me to be with each experience, just as it was.

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Magnificent if you think about what takes place to experience what we do, the organizing structure of our universe. From the macro level, to the atomic and quantum level. We are the dreams of what came before us, those of our ancestors and creator. Conscious of creation creating in and around.

Oh glory of creation you astound.

What is your moment and can you bring it to its glory?
xo,
Nicole

I’m off to China and will post when I get back! You can also check out some of the same pics and more on my Instagram account. nicole_astara. Compai!

 

Taking Flight

I ask myself if I believe in destiny or do I co-create my reality, are they one and the same?

The manifestation of soul knows and speaks through the body in intuitive flashes and promptings. With a purpose to its calling, trusting its knowledge, I’ve moved onto a new path. As I’m entering new realms of self-discovery and owning them the word Boaz has come to me meaning strength and the unknown, which causes trepidation.

There are times when strength is taking a stand, no one outside of self knows how to do that. True strength resonates with the understanding of the soul’s whisperings.

Unflinching in the face of the unknown, viewing it as an opportunity of empowerment. What I swore could never be happening is whilst what was comfortable as I knew my life to be, has dismantled.

I’ve laid intentions and have viewed higher aspects of my living dream and where I have to let go, I find beautiful treasures unfold. Stepping away from what is unhealthy allows what is thriving to grow. Knowing that in this unknown abyss called life anything is possible.

BUDAPEST

I traveled to Budapest where I arrived feeling bogged down. I received a phenomenal massage from a healer who told me “Always care for you first, make that time happen”. Empathically releasing residue I’d been holding onto, ironically I realized I was relinquishing my heart’s calling for attainment of status quo, which goes against everything I teach to others, I had become a living contradiction .

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During the days, I strolled the boulevards, going to the famed Szeycheni baths for a dip and watching opera in the park at a castle.

At night Budapest transformed into a magically lit sight along the Danube. Taken by rickshaw on a tour, this city felt alive with softly glowing and swaying lanterns, cobblestone streets blocked off with chairs and tables, smells of grilling, musical sounds mingling, movement of people walking, dancing and romancing. An active city, with much youth amidst what has kept a jazzy glamour.

I thoroughly enjoy traveling alone at times, in the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing my surroundings or culture I expand in my ability to circumnavigate, communicate and get to know others. I left Budapest with making things happen for myself, of course with help from others as well.
In gratitude for that help always.

PRAGUE

Traveling can thrust one into a new path unexplored, unexpected, unknowing how it happens, it just does.

Heading to the train station an hour and a half early, waiting almost two hours in line I missed the original train instead taking a later one. Feeling buoyant about this turn of events with a pulsating clarity in my heart.

It was hot, one of the hottest days on record in Budapest. The train arrived and everything felt muggy and tired. I was in a meditation of sorts releasing thoughts that were no longer befitting my state of being. Moving through the impatience of delay, I looked out the window to see the lights flash off and on three times.

Which has happened before, twice actually, usually an auspicious sign of something taking place beyond my conscious mind.

What I do know is this delay caused a meeting with an incredible friend, that made my time in Prague extraordinary. The three days I was there were spent being shown around the picturesque city that felt out of a storybook.

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The architecture in Prague is preserved, the museum, churches and opera house were indescribably gorgeous. A clear and meticulous ingenuity makes up the city’s design.

Prague captured my heart; out of a movie scene, camera missing, the pictures snapped in memory.

TEPLICE

I was taken out of my comfort zone, comfortably. Also out of Prague on a mountain trip. I asked to stop at Terezin, which once was a concentration camp. I felt it important to see the depths to depravity. To not be forgotten. Feeling despair while honoring the victims I understood I came to reclaim a part of my soul.

I went to Teplice, a Bohemian mountain town also known for its healing spas where people from around the world indulge in. In an illusory fashion, I went frolicking and swimming in the mountains.
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A thunderstorm again blowing winds into the path on the ride back to Prague, the elements making their presence known. I left Prague dizzy with bliss. Bittersweet, yet knowing like most in life, experiences are forever engrained in mind and heart.

I benefit by letting go of expectations, allowing the universe to unfold its wings to me, as I to it.
Like the butterfly I feel my wings are drying after emerging from the chrysalis, a part of me vies to go back to the comfort of it, while the urge within says to

spread my wings.

Unsure, shaky, yet knowing the winds of change will take me

where I’m meant to go

taking flight

xo,

Nicole

I lost my camera in Budapest so the pictures featured are pulled from internet to give you a visual.

 

Istanbul

Istanbul, once Constantinople, a cosmopolitan city that is a Turkish Delight. I came here as a birthday present to myself, a long-awaited trip I’ve dreamt of for years. With a history of empirical rule that spans across two millenias, there lies an anciently modern feel in what is known today as Istanbul.

In Istanbul East meets West, North and South on the continental divide of Asia and Europe.
What once was the empire of the world falls, to create a new empire keeping the architecture and traditions alive with historical significance.

 

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Before traveling I had several dreams of being in the Hagia Sophia what was heard in my dream was:
AYA SOPHIA

So I booked a ticket to Istanbul. After booking it, I heard in international news of a young American woman murdered, many condolences to her family.

Needless to say, I received caring backlash for my choice. I’m a risk-taker and took the chance. More importantly, my living dream was instated in this mecca of culture and city.

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I chose to travel by myself in a country where I knew no one to experience the uncomfortably brilliant sensation that can only come from letting go of what I think the world should be and boldly appreciating it for the beauty that it is.
The people in Istanbul have been incredibly warm, generous, nice and accommodating to my American self. While I don’t speak Turkish, I understood the customs and language enough to get by with ease.

Renaissance Bosphorus:

Renaissance Bosphorus, what a gem. Like a genie in the bottle, my every wish was granted. From the staff, to the spa, to the restaurant, to the concierge.

The service was personalized in a way that I felt cared for. I was given tea when sick from the lovely lady who ran nightly guest services. I was suggested where to go and what to do by the navigator. I was questioned every time I came in how my experience was, what my favorite parts were, if I liked everything so far.
I was brought coffee and breakfast dishes in bed. What a delight.

Spa:

After 24 hours of traveling, delays and no sleep I awoke my first day at 2 pm, wondering why I had slept so long.
My energy felt heavy with travel, imbued in my state, all I could think was: relaxation and purification.
My first stop was the spa downstairs where I indulged in a traditional turkish bath, known as a Hammam.

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In this bath I laid on a marble slab in a soothing room lit up by pale blue. As I lay there, covered by a thin sheet, I was wondering what I was in store for. Then my bather gathered hot water from elaborate sinks into a large brass bucket. Dousing me head to toe thus soothing me to my core.
I stepped back in time as this ritualistic bath warmed and cleansed me. A treatment that was purification of mind, body and spirit. An honoring of myself making it to Turkey and my birthday too.

 

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With new customs intertwining an ancient stillness that envelops Instanbul,  there is movement with a slow feeling of tranquil sensuality.

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Images come to me of ancient people and smells, who were part of cultures centuries before, penetrating modern existence. Breakdowns and restructuring, changing and shifting with the times. In Istanbul there is a conglomerate of cultural reference to bygone ages. The roots of this city have a formidable, yet inviting energy.

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Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque:

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I went to Tutahnemet square where the tourist relics I wished to visit were.
Entering the square the sight of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque was overwhelmingly vast. Coming to mind were the mammoth amounts of energy taken to build such impressive structures. There lies a strength in reverence to piety, as such I praise the minds that came up with such beautiful mastery. The ability and time it took to carve such finely laid intricacy is astonishing.
The circling of what came before is still within the now, what is now will come to pass as the past, into a new wave of future = exaltation of now.

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Aya Sophia’s structure architecturally has the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence. The name translates literally to divine knowledge. I believe all creative processes we are gifted with, from the arts to science, religion to music come through a ratio as such.

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Looking at the inlaid inscriptions, still there after thousands of years I realize there is a mystery of Hagia Sophia. The inscriptions tell a story of some of the different faces and names divinity has taken throughout history. First built as a church in 532, it was rebuilt twice and changed into a Mosque in 1453 with the new Ottoman rule. A cultural treasure to beautiful architecture standing the times.

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I visited the impressive Blue Mosque. It was my first time entering a Mosque. In honor I covered my head with my hood and walked inside, taking my shoes off, revering the architectural masterpiece that it is; a larger, quieter, beautifully subdued way, with current religious practices taking place.
Mimar Sinan designed the Blue Mosqe known as Sultanhmet Mosque and many other architecturally astounding Mosques around Istanbul. He also redesigned Hagia Sophia in the mid 1500’s.

 

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Basilica Cistern:

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The underground roots of Istanbul, this cistern was built in the Byzantine empire as their ancient waterways. The passages are symmetrically perfect columns of differently carved structures, where old waters from the Belgrade forest circulated through.
With a past of mythological presence at the end of the passages there are two separate gigantic heads of Medusa; one upside down and one on its side. Ancient to the times of Constantinople, they were brought from ruins as relics. These heads are thought to be omens keeping away bad spirits

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As I walk through I feel almost breathless, chills run through. There is a beauty that is uncaptured and untouched down under. As though the times are unchanged and when walking through it can be felt in a compelling way.

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I meandered around the square, stopping before each relic to sit and have a Turkish coffee and dish. Rich flavors of the mediterranean represent Turkish fare; cheeses and spices with creamy overlays. Light foods like tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots with fish dishes. Ah, and the Turkish coffee, yum, like a rich, sweet espresso with grounds left in.

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The obelisks I knew about before knowing about. Brought here as ancient relics to the Byzantine empire, they’re about, give or take, 3,000 years old, looking over the plaza with Egyptian hieroglyphs lighting up each side, impressive and daunting with the clouds rolling in.

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In Taksim square I went to a local Hookah bar, where I experienced a more traditional Turkish feel of living with people playing backgammon and traditional card games and smoking apple flavored “Nargile” while watching football. Drinking black tea and passing the Hookah, the place was eveloped in a sweet-smelling smoke.
During Islamic prayer time, the game is silenced, at which point throughout the city chanting of prayers is heard through the speakers, known as the Azaan or rise to prayer. Exotic to my foreign ears.

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Grand Bazaar:

It’s in my opinion that this 500 year old indoor bazaar was the inception of the modern mall. The vendors sell everything from shoes, to lanterns, to silks to turkish delights, stones, jewelry, sunglasses to many things.

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Overwhelming, one brightly covered tunnel leads to another. Turning right to turn left to find myself facing what seemed like a never-ending maze of retailers selling colorful, bright products.

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Bebek, a section of the city on the Golden Horn where cafes gorgeously dot the streets, with lounge music and what I would say an Istanbul feeling along the Marmara sea. I was held in rapture by the panoramic beauty encapsulating this city, with sailboats and homes sparkling the sea, everything lazily caught up in soft winds rolling over the hills surrounding the golden horn.

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Spice Bazaar:

Walking through century old tunnels and streets bustling with intense activity. The spices of the city enticed me with their energy as I felt pulled into store after store creating a buzz in my olfactory glands. Stimulating, the spice bazaar has aromatic, rich scents. Everywhere I walked it seemed a new scent embraced me with its essence.

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Sampling the different spices like mint and saffron, cardamom pods and curry. I was left with a spicy sweetness on my lips, test tasting figs and apricots, dates and turkish delights. Selling, buying, bartering, trading, walking through the old streets aromas of roasting chestnuts, coffee and spices wafts through the air.
I stopped to have traditional lamb shish kabob and rice. Sitting at the table with a Turkish family table I don’t know, I enjoyed the simplicity being the oddly even one out.

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Appreciating the patterns of history and culture around me, this trip is an affirmation of my intentionality and the finely laid intricacy in the patterns of life.

I left on a nostalgic note, yet also in such gratitude for my home and life in Chicago.

Teşekkürler Istanbul,

Seni seviyorum

xo,
Nicole

Trapezin’

Part of my living dream, a part that was unknown to me until the idea came up. It’s the spontaneity in life that sometimes blows my mind.

A trapeze class?
My adventurous room-mate and good friend Pamela prompted the idea with a “Just come with”.

Yes, I thought to myself, I’d love to see what this is all about.

Being a bystander to something so incredible would not fit into my agenda, as is my way I will always achieve my goals, of course if it’s for the best of all involved.

Well, Trapezin’ apparently was.

Pamela had purchased her deal through Living Social, thankfully I was able to take part in the class that there were 20 others in. All of us participated in one of the coolest local adventures we could undertake.

This class took place less than a mile from where I’m residing on Belmont Harbor, perched right next to Lake Michigan. The staff of Trapeze School New York-Chicago and Living Social were rad, every one of them had their unique way of bringing this adventure to fruition.

We first took part in a twilight picnic on the grass where we mingled, ate and watched the sunset. All the while aware of the dizzying heights from where we’d be flying from.

After the picnic we were separated into groups of about 6-7, the class was a three round instruction. The first round I took part in was grounded partner balancing. In this our group was instructed on how to support one another as we performed different tricks. After which we expertly learned how to balance in a human pyramid. This part was reminiscent of kids in a gymnastic class….

 

For adults of course …..

The second part we were guided to a low swing where we tried several tricks while being supported by our expert teachers.

I got a bit ahead of myself as my yogic acrobatic spirit came out, I kept thinking…..
I HAVE to do this again, it comes so naturally.

The third part was the aerial, where we were shown with exemplary instruction on how to trapeze correctly. After watching others go, I was harnessed in and led up the ladder about 40 feet off the ground to the landing, where I prepared myself with the instructor until prompted when to fly.

On top, with the darkened sky I was under the full moon with Lake Michigan in view, to my right was the full lit up city skyline. A gorgeous sight that has left an unforgettable impression on my full adventuring memory.
It was a bit daunting as I was standing up there, waiting for the prompt. My knees were a little shaky, I was breathing deep as I grabbed the bar and flew….

Then the magic took place. Listening to my instructions, I started soaring, knees up, backwards, forwards, somersaulting, legs flying with the wind whipping through me.

Liberated and exhilarating as I exerted myself with my best effort.

 

There was a list of people who if performed well the first two flies were able to fly again, this time expertly caught by an instructor. While I made the “catch list” my defiant self didn’t listen properly, I missed the catcher’s hands and ended up back flipping my way down instead 😉
Leading me to believe I’m meant to take more classes to perfect this aerial art.
How else am I to fly if I don’t learn to properly spread my wings?

Walking away there was an exuberance of pride felt for my first trapeze class. An accomplishment that reinforces the belief that I can do anything, as long as I set my intentions.

This whole adventure not only blew my mind, but was affordable as well. The staff was amazing and I’m happy to say I felt expertly guided and safe the whole time, while having an absolute blast. TSNY Chicago not only offers many trapeze classes, but others as well including acrobatic yoga which I will definitely be taking.

Even with my adventuring spirit Living Social has incredible offers on endeavors I would never think of. At the end of this class one could buy a two for one instruction for next time. Living Social Adventure has deals all over the world that are just as unique, check them out. It’s easy to receive, all you have to do insert your area and voila, you get an email with daily specials.

Hope to see you flying~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

xo,
Nicole

Oh Chicago

Oh Chicago,

I have a secret to impart in you.

Lighting me up within,

your splendid city has cast a beautiful spell upon me.

My adventuring soul has ventured to places far away and unknown.

Yet, as far away as I have roamed, I have an understanding that this incredible city is

My new Home.

While Chicago in many aspects is business oriented, there are intensely colorful and airy energies to this city.
Lifting my Spirit. Living directly across from Lincoln park with an amazing friend. I am astounded with the way life unfolds, blissfully inspired by daily adventures.

While I knew there was always a love between this auspicious city and I, my connection has become attuned to my amazing group of loved ones here.
This past weekend was infused with a 3 day birthday celebration with
friends new and old.

 

Conversing from quantum energetic levels, to old school rapping and dancing, there was a myriad of experiences that were quite astonishing.
Equilibrium within the spectrum, an alchemy of abundance was profoundly created.
My eccentric mind fits in perfectly within this equation.

After having been quite the hermit for most of the summer, my heart is vibrating intensely with the happiness and ease I have found here.
An outer reflection of what is within.

694 Wine Bar

It was the second time I attended a soiree in this space,
coming full circle.

One walks in to this wine and cheese bar and immediately feels welcome. Wood inlaid with a modern, minimal twist creates a classy yet comfortable environment.

One could sit at the downstairs bar and quietly hear what was being played upstairs, while enjoying an exquisite array of wines and cheese to suit one’s taste.

Or one could meander upstairs to the second floor bar and patio to connect with the dancing and music occurring on this particularly gorgeous day.

The staff and owner were warm, inviting and accommodating. Creating an ambience that

felt

so

cozy

Within this place a vibe of musical magic was created.

What I have realized is sometimes I have to fall,
in order to brush myself off,
take a deep breath,
own up
and stand tall.

as is life.

xo,

Nicole

I Believe, Toronto

Maybe you’re too serious about it,

Life isn’t meant to be so serious, it’s meant to be light and fun…

Stop judging yourself and
let go into acceptance
happiness
love.

I was deliberating these thoughts on the train ride from Chicago to Detroit onto Toronto. A trip spontaneously spurred by my dad.
Planes, trains and automobiles have become my second home, and meditation is a form of ease on them.
When a 5 hour train ride turns into 8 hours,

There must be a purpose, I think to myself.

I have to apply that even when life is not what I desire,
when I feel like giving up on myself,
giving up on my dreams,
letting go of the passion,
not understanding.

I believe in myself.

I believe that there is a purpose to everything, in seeking out what is positive, one will always grow from it.

I believe that what happens easily, is meant to be.

I believe to give up control, in order to let in the flow.
The flow of least resistance.

I believe that love is the only truth, all else is an illusion.

I believe that thoughts, actions, words and deeds create our reality.
Individually and collectively.

I believe that we are only human, doing the best we can with what we know.

I believe that life is beautiful, in order to see we have to remember.

I believe that a certificate does not give one merit, character or wisdom.
Life does.

I believe that the spirit thrives in laughter, letting go and having fun.

The pride parade happened to be the same weekend while we were in Toronto. Walking through the crowd, I was elated to see different cultures coming together to celebrate this symbol of tolerance.

I believe that judgement is a barrier to love. Who is anybody to judge?

I believe that the ego is annihilated in remembering that we are one.

I believe that intolerance and judgement come from perspective. Every person thinks they are right in their perception.

I believe there is no such thing as mistakes, only learning and growth of self.

I believe that tolerance and acceptance are the antithesis to self-righteousness and judgement. If we were raised in a world that promoted these tenets collectively,
we would see more love.

I believe each heart holds the secret of inner truth. Cultivate the heart.

I believe that love, empathy and compassion are practices of the highest. Accepting self and others through faults, leads to success.

I believe letting go of expectations, will allow one to be in the present.

I had time to myself while on this trip. Staying at the Park Hyatt, I indulged at Stillwater Spa.
I received a manicure, pedicure and facial, the service was impeccable.
The sauna and steams imparted healing on my mind, body and heart.
A tranquil, peaceful place Stillwater helped me to uncover my inner beauty by polishing the outer.
I was absolutely thankful for this luxurious treatment.

I believe in pampering, and feeling like a queen

I believe that a healthy mind, body and spirit creates happiness and ease.

I believe that life is a contradiction, in the duality of reality lies humor

I believe that every person is intrinsically gifted, sometimes waiting for their inner light to be uncovered.

I believe that in facing one’s shadow, one can see the light.

My father and I were sitting outside at Creme Brasserie, eating a lovely, light and delicious meal.

We were having a life questioning discussion.

I asked him

“Dad, if there was one thing you could impart, what would it be?”

“I used to play the game, and the game was top priority. Over time I have realized that family is the most important, however and whatever that family may be.” He responded

“Could that apply to the family of humanity?” I asked

I believe that children are our future, teach them to love each other.

I believe in taking care of the earth for future generations, it’s the only earth we have.

Every person believes differently, in that there is a beauty.

I believe in you, and me, to create, love, be happy and free.

Life is done unto as you believe.

xo,

Nicole

Ayahuasca’s Seed

Ayahuasca found me, easily.

I knew that the best way to undertake this ceremony would be to go into the jungle, yet that was not to be along this journey.
My inner guidance told me.

“You will come back to the jungle, Nicole.”

Eating lightly the day before and refraining from anything such as caffeine, sugar, condiments or what the medicine does not like, I aptly prepared myself.

I asked the medicine the night before in meditation

“Show me what I need to see in order to more fully live my purpose, which I know to be illuminating myself, others and healing this earth.”

With a friend I had met, I will call him Pato, who was taking part in San Pedro, we departed with the shaman, for our ceremony.

Arriving in this young shaman’s house with his wife, there were animal skins and masks hanging on the walls.

With Pato translating,
“You are so young” we spoke to him.

He replied
“Its better to have a young shaman, sometimes the older ones have taken on many negative energies. There are so many false shamans here for the tourists, who do not understand the medicine. My family is from the jungle, the knowledge of the medicine been passed down our lineage within my tribe for generations.”
He continued
“Most of what you will see, will be an internal journey, this medicine is not so much about the shaman, as it is about your inward learning.”

Ayahuasca Vine and San Pedro Cactus

I drank a small amount of the dark, syrupy, bitter liquid, gagging a bit as it went down.

Breathe.

Ahhhhhh

Awakening itself within me, the medicine was feeling warm and tingly.

Ceremony Tools

The shaman spoke to me,
“We believe this medicine pulls up everything no longer needed in your body; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally
As it pulls it up, you will become sick,
throw it up.”
As he was speaking this, I could feel a churning in my stomach.
Vomiting is an essential part of this, I felt better immediately.

After he and his wife cleared us with sounds, feathers and tools, he lit a fire in the middle of the room, with the sacred, purifying Palo Santo wood.
He told us to stand and individually jump over this fire 7 times for purification.

The fire was growing and I jumped 7 times, in my altered state, fire licking up to my thighs, I wondered if it was going to eat me alive.

Afterwards I sat with him and he handed me something.

“Young shaman, I am giving you this sacred seed from the jungle, this is given to shaman initiates, you will not find this seed anywhere else in the world.
When you are ready, come to the amazon to study the plant medicine and Shamanism”

Starting the development of my healing abilities years ago, a new initiation was placed in front of me, one that when cultivated will grow into a beautiful tree of being. This is not something that can be learned in a classrom setting, this is intrinsic abilities continuing their evolution.

He spoke to me
“Wear this seed and it will keep you balanced, for you are a karma eater”
I have known this to be true since since I was younger, being empathic, I take on energies from others and release them.

Sitting eyes closed with my seed, the medicine started speaking to me…

“Don’t settle for anything less than what you have come into, my dear.
You have overcome many obstacles in your life, including yourself, and if that is not respected and honored by those surrounding you, surround yourself with only those that do. Give love and focus on you many types of friends, communities, families and loved ones for they will always support you.

Don’t be surprised if people and ideas that are no longer encouraging and supporting your highest purpose fall out of your life, it is no longer for you on your path.

No one but you knows how to achieve your truth, how to live your life, everyone else’s ideas are part of their reality. Create from your knowing, that my dear is true self-sovereignty.

You may play out patterns of who you are no longer, hold fast to the visions you have been given and create from the knowing of your greater purpose. This seed you have been gifted represents your transformation, plant it within your heart, mind and spirit to grow from powerfully.

Push through what ANYONE thinks of you and be unstoppable in your purpose, no need to justify to anyone, be your own resolve .
Share yourself more and strip away all the layers that are blocking you from seeing, it is only you who have been blinded to your true being.

Move forward, even when you want to give up, the challenges are what refine your character, be that center of strength, against all conformity.
Do what you know to be right, against any conditioned mindset.

Know that your are a bright light, even if its not always seen, right and wrong are irrelevant, perception is everything.
Move through the toughest obstacles,
for you will achieve your highest dream,

which is part of the collective dream.”

 

 

xo,
Nicole

Ayahuasca’s Femininity

I sing to you, Sacred Macchu Picchu

Following my map I had to forego a few stops, time was running out. The search was on. I came so far, my treasure had to be found.

Arriving in Cusco, a beautiful city set in the mountains, I had two distinctive goals.
Upon arrival I had 3 days to achieve:
My purpose = ayahuasca,
My dream = Macchu Picchu, a place I had been envisioning since I was 13.

As I said in a prior post, my funds were running low, so the attainment of these goals was questionable.
How can this all occur, I asked myself?

It will, I know it

I listened for the quickening and was unsure if anything would happen. Then like a rainfall, it poured down on me at once, my dream coming to reality in a tour, manifested easily.

To the Incan Sacred Valley and Macchu Picchu

These lands called to me, and I heeded..

Walking through the Sacred Valley, one forgets about modern existence and technology. Primal memories are invoked, lodged within the evolution of our DNA. These lands sacred, the air feels ancient, succumbing to the power of this world, one that becomes nameless, timeless, placeless

existence

I envision what this must have been, with an extinct people living amongst this.
Places built with expert stoneman-ship, structures that defy the times.

Pisac, a city built upon the ruins of an ancient city.

Across is the mountain that Callpa had explained and drawn out for me.

More within the mountains

Taking the train to Aquas Calientes, a tranquil city by the river, I awoke at 2 am to get on the bus to be one of the 400 to be able to hike up Wayna Picchu.
I was the first person in line, all of us in excited anticipation, the bus ride up felt like a field trip at 5 am.

Walking up the entrance as the sun was rising, the air takes on a different tone, a stillness enveloping everything.
Coming through the clearing, it is beyond expression.
The ancient structures becoming one with the mountain, together creating
Macchu Picchu, smelling ancient and sweet, breath blowing through my being.

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Whispering to me the sacredness was calming, vibrating with an energy never before experienced.

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Speaking of transcendence and mystery.

Walking these ruins, I spiraled into their pulsating embrace

This place is magical,
awe-struck reverance, for an era of ancient people and ritual.

How were you created? I asked this place.

It whispered back

“With time and effort and untold secrets”

Hidden places, secret spaces

Looking across the mountain to a blue mist rising. Life energy of orgone circling through and around me. I had known that this place was one of the highest energetic places on earth, no description can capture that meaning.

The river flowing down below, I find myself remembering,

Ancient memories of being on a boat, traveling these mountains, in search of something.
What is this that I am feeling, I almost remember it clearly.

The Incan energy speaks to me.

“These lands are protected by our ancestors.
Remember,
remember our presence,
the place,
don’t let our history and lands be forsaken,
amongst what has become your human race.”

Tranquility came over me, keeping me in a quiet stillness.

Incans, I understand your connection, and will revere your message, doing my part in
my larger purpose

Making the hike up wayna picchu, the mountain overlooking Macchu Picchu,

The smell of fresh, cold stone permeating, alive with green moss, along this magical path.
Climbing higher and higher, reaching the top to another structural masterpiece, inlaid with ancient ruins even closer to the heavens.

Memories again surfacing of walking this path before,
a woman guiding me up the stone stairs,
leading me to my home and family.

Speak to me, speak to me

Living, breathing, circulating
My heart exploding with the surges of your energy,
what are these visions?
what is this that I am feeling?
something lain dormant awakened within me.

Within these ruins lies forest and jungle, climbing through I found my space for meditating.

Giving gratitude for something beyond description, beyond my life and being, beyond civilization,
beyond a calling,
beyond imagination,
a oneness within creation.

Do I have to leave?

I desire to sleep under the stars and frolic amongst the sun and moon temple, dancing with the life force that lights up this place day and night.
Sing to me, sing to me,
my spirit is alive with your ancient energy.

xo,
Nicole

 

Oasis between Purpose and Dream

Lead into the dry desert, white sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Hot, slow and hazy, time floats by lazily.

Within the Peruvian desert one comes upon Haucachina, a small village, surrounding an oasis. It’s not an apparition, instead it’s nourishing, promising and inviting. With palm trees glistening amongst the blue-green lagoon.

Laying by the pool with the sand dunes in sight, I thought to myself, in the heart of what seems harsh and fierce, there is promise and life. Like an artichoke, peeling away the layers to find this heart, once there it becomes self-sustaining.

Sand-boarding and boogying down the dunes, I felt like I was flying, the sunset in this landscape was breathtaking…


I traveled by bus from Haucachina to Arequipa. The old Baroque architecture set against the snow-capped Andes was beyond gorgeous.

Passing on the guided 2d/1n tour, I decided to undertake this specific hike alone, having heard it was easily do-able.
Heading deep into the Andes, I departed the bus at Cobanaconde at 3:30 pm, with a determined mindset.
Enthusiastically, I told myself

“I have to get my nature fix going and want to try it alone. I am going trekking down this mountain…to the oasis that lies at the bottom.”
I stopped inside a store to get my aqua and placed it in my 30 pound backpack. I was informed by the lovely lady at the store that it took 2 hours to get down.

“Solo?” The senorita asked, with a confused look
“Si” I answered back, innocently

I was left in the dark on any more info about it.

Excitedly venturing into the unknown, I told myself

“I know I can do this”
As I was heading down, others were coming up looking at me rather, um, curiously.

I was keeping a vigil on the sun as it was dipping lower, trekking down the rocky, dry desert mountain. I could see the oasis down at the bottom, a speck of blue…

Far, Far, Far from where I was.

“Ok, it’s alright, keep going, there is nowhere but down from here” I told myself. “My intuition directed this and I listened. I take full responsibility for what I create.”

Zigzagging down the steepest hike I have ever done, I kept thinking to “This is a test, of what I am unsure, but I will pass.”
I was half way down when the sun started setting behind the mountains.
“No panicking”
I told myself,
“I know I have been steered correctly.
Please, please, please let there be enough light to make my way down.”

I kept going.

and going..

and going…

It was getting darker, the oasis far, far away was no longer in my sight.
Twilight was fading, I was alone on the mountain.
I thought to myself “Should I just sleep here for the night.”

“No keep going” I felt in my heart.

I brought out my headlamp that was flickering and with a sense of fear-laced knowing, I kept going. I started stumbling in my footing.
“Holy shit, what am I doing, why am I doing this?
Am I an idiot?
Am I going to die here on this mountain?”

I sat down and started crying, second guessing every decision I have made, if I can’t rely on my guidance what can I rely upon?
I saw eyes of an animal looking at me as I turned my head. Coyotes howling, I cried out,
“OH MY GOD, help me!”

And from there I don’t remember a thing. As if some force came over me.
All of a sudden I was walking through the lushly planted trees.

Miraculously, I was at the oasis, so far from where I had been.
I heard voices and saw people eating. Tears came again to my eyes, this time in gratitude and disbelief.

I thought
I can’t believe I just did that, this was a test.
A test of perseverance and dedication.

I learned that even in the darkest of dark, there will be a light, always guiding.

As for the Oasis, it was electricity free with darkness obscuring the view, I awoke in the morning to see stunning beauty. Everyone else staying left at 5 in the morning, lucky me I had the place all to my adventuring. I enjoyed the day by basking in the beauty of where I was. I swam lazily in the mountain water pool that was emptied and filled daily.

Down in Colca Canyon, Sangalle Oasis was a dream. The mountains, massive beyond belief, were living and breathing with a flowing river in between.

Afterwards, I was duly informed that Colca Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world. It is twice the size of the Grand Canyon, two people died doing what I did recently.

Solo
!?!???!?!!!

SI!

The hike back up was just as trying, there were 3 others with me, one Scot and 2 Brits.
We became one another’s saving grace. Russ I had already met on the bus and the four of us made our way up. It was more difficult than anything I have physically undertaken, the desert sun was hot, the 30 pound bag I was carrying started to feel heavier and heavier.
This was no joke.
We were all hurting. It took 3 hours of stopping for water, trying to make it before it got dark. Half way up I couldn’t see the end, looking up at the looming mountain, it seemed impossibly daunting.
And I again reinforced within…

Keep going, keep going, take responsibility for what you create.

My faith in myself and my ability was tested enormously.

Sometimes, the road may feel like one can’t go any further, in a perilous place, and perhaps foolish, this is when an epiphany occurs.

The understanding was that I was always taken care of as long as I ask. There is always an oasis to surrender into, if I don’t go for it, I won’t ever find it.

Legendary and by far the most physical exertion I have ever undertaken. One that became an internal test, strengthening me in my ability, restructuring a belief system that used to be based on insufficiency..

I now know I can undertake

anything.

xo,
Nicole