From Mysore we took a minivan $3 at 7am all in a rush, and then after an hour of picking people up we were back in front of our hotel! You shouldn't try to understand India...
We are going to Mudamalai National Park, where tigers, elephants, monkeys, and leopards happily spend their time all together, sometimes eating each other. The main road actually goes through the park, and you may even have the chance to see a tiger or an elephant crossing the street! Imagine?
We stayed in a guesthouse managed by the park: very basic, $16. Nice river view with locals doing laundry where occasionally crocodiles show up. Forget about good food here, also there's no phone service or wifi in the area. We took a pm safari on a bus, $3: it's a matter of luck seeing wildlife and we didn't have much: few deers, boars and an elephant. The day after at 6am we took a walking tour with Vishnu, a local who also manages a guesthouse in Masinagudi the nearby village, and I would stay there next time instead. We went through the forest for 2hrs -$13. This was really beautiful: just 4 of us, and quiet, animals were waking up, birds, monkeys and deers were giving alarm calls when they felt the nearness of a tiger or predator, there were footprints, bison skulls, elephant shit... all beautiful! : D
Next destination: Ayurveda Clinic! Local Bus to Perdamana $3, and then to Chetallouri 20c. 4hrs
Mysore: Jan 15-17, 2013
Mysore is a busy city, with a lot of traffic and pollution, and after just 3 days my lungs hurt, even after wearing a scarf on my nose and mouth often. There are: the beautiful Maraja's Palace, a silk factory where you can walk around freely among the workers, sandal wood and essential oils, amazingly skilled carvers, nice markets selling garlands of flowers...and of course there's Ashtanga. Thank you!
You don't find it in the center, there are areas in the near suburbs where the yoga schools are located. I went to Mysore Mandala, one of the few that offers drop in classes, and it was amazing, for more details see The Yoga Trail, but I just want to share that the energy there and the teacher was able to gently slide me into poses that I thought to be two years behind... like full lotus! I couldn't stop looking at my feet in pure awe!! Ahah!
We wanted to rent bicycles and it was very challenging finding some because apparently they don't rent to tourists here: we had to go through the owner of the shop where I bought all my essential oils, btw the oils at the market are watered down with alcohol so it's better to buy them in a recommended shop.
We stayed at the Hotel RRR close to the Palace, $15, decent quality.They also have a very good local restaurant downstairs where they serve delicious veg talis on banana leaves, and where you can observe the technique used by the locals to eat with their hands, apparently it's standard in India... and definitely funny.
Tiruvannamalai, Jan 12-14.
I arrive on a honking local bus from Bangalore, 5hrs, $3. Tiru is a spiritual Mecca: not only it sits at the bottom of Mt Arunachala, which is supposed to be the incarnation of Shiva in the element of Fire, but also it's where Sri Ramana Maharshi, a great sage and guru, lived and founded his Ashram over 50 yrs ago. All the westerners here talk about awareness and supreme consciousness, they all wear long tunics and ample pants, favorite colors are white and orange, and they are all seeking their way to enlightenment, therefore there's a huge offer of spiritual activities, which you can find on all the billboards of the cafes: satsang with various gurus - you may find yours -, spiritual dances and kirtans, Yoga and Ayurveda. I have to admit that this place really confused me a lot!
Ramana Ashram is very tranquil, despite the numerous visitors, there are peacocks and monkeys, and they have pujas in the main temple twice a day, where you can go freely to calm your mind and get uplifted. In the back of the Ashram there's a path going up the mountain to visit the cave where the Guru spent several years in contemplation, there's beautiful energy there and it's perfect for meditating.
Then there's the main temple in town dedicated to Shiva and Fire, which is one of the biggest in India with its 9 towers. It's surrounded by the messiest, most crowded and noisiest streets, we rented bicycles for $1/day and ride around: it's remarkable how we could keep our mental and physical health in that chaos. It was also Pongal in India these days, a special holiday to celebrate the harvest, so there was even more people around; for the event the females of each household draw every night on the street in front of their entry gate beautiful colorful geometries similar to mandalas, they use sands of different colors that during the day get ride and stepped on, or even more decorated by the doo doo of the numerous cows walking around; but it seems not to matter at all and every evening they wash it off and draw new beautiful ones : )
We found accommodation in the neighborhood across the street from the ashram where most of the visitors stay. $10/ night, decent room, guesthouse with no name, the lady who manages it has her face yellow of turmeric for some reason... Now try to find it!! : D
Restaurants and cafes. The ones for visitors are spiced down and few times the food was not that tasty, the indian ones are few and not that clean. Anyway I would recommend:
- Dreaming Tree, also guesthouse and Internet point, with breezy rooftop where you can also take a nap. All organic, great chocolate cake
- Shanti Cafe, great for breakfast, high speed wifi, they also run a foundation for local kids.
- Tasty Cafe and German Bakery, both nice and it's easy to meet other visitors there
- Quo Vadis, spiritual cross religion center, with a lot of activities, a pretty garden and very tasty cheap Indian food....
And now ... Mysore: local bus to Bangalore $3, 5hrs+ local bus to Mysore $3, 3hrs.
Hampi: Jan 9- 11
Beautiful scenery: big red roundish rocks, the blue river, green rice fields, ancient temples.
We arrive early am and the light is gorgeously orange, the people are washing themselves in the river along with Lakshmi, the temple elephant that every morning receives a bath and a big scrub! I feel India! Ladies are making fresh flower ornaments and I have some arranged on my hair. The bazaar that overtook all the ancient buildings along the entry road has been removed to allow the full renovation of this world heritage site. The temple look nicer without the noisy crowd but I think it's missing that Indian flavor.
We cross the river to reach Mowgli Guesthouse, with huts peacefully sitting in front of the lovely rice fields. The vibe on this side is really cool: musician singing and playing, and friendly travelers with nice stories. Pm walking thru temples, and side bazaar: juices, coconuts, and colorful fabrics. At Gali, local musician shop, I finally find an egg shaker, which I have been looking for for years, and he invites us to a sunset jam session on top of a big rock: there are really good musicians here, and I can shake my egg along too! The next day we rent two scooters and explore the green and rocky countryside, stopping by a nearby lake for a swim, listening to rice farmers singing in their colorful clothes, getting harassed by locals wanting to take pictures of us! One car passed me and stopped me to ask to take a picture of me!! Ah!ah! Maybe they also wonder why I take pictures of them in their beautiful traditional clothes.
Today I took a full body 1.5 hr Ayurvedic massage: amazing n $16! Then I went shopping a little and the young shop owner - who practice Ayurveda and kundalini n knew i'm a yoga teacher before i told him- tells me that I need to eat only fruit n veggies to be healthy n loose weight. I say "yes I'd need to loose maybe 4-5 kilos", and he says " mmh, maybe more!!" Talking about honesty! Well, and meditating on that statement, we went for a great dinner at the Mango Tree Restaurant with river views and crickets soundtrack. Night bus to Bangalore, then bus to Tiruvannamalai, where the sacred Sri Ramana Mahasri Ashram is. : )
Goa: Jan 3- Jan 8
Skipping all the north of Goa, which is supposed to be very busy and noisy, we shoot for Agonda Beach in the south, and arrive early am with welcoming dolphins jumping in the ocean in front of us. It's a wide sandy beach, the ocean is not Caribbean blue but pretty. There are very few locals here but a lot of dedicated visitors who run along the shore and show some random yoga move here and there, it almost seems that there's some sort of common disease that gives yoga attacks to people! Funny : )
Unfortunately the first meal in Goa kills my stomach and I don't have the chance to enjoy and explore much. We stay at the Rama Resort, $20 for a hut w/ bath and garden view.
There's a lot of yoga and ayurveda offered everywhere, the prices are higher, $7-8 per class, everything is more westernized and I'm not really inspired by this. We move to Palolem, the next beach, which is even more touristy but we stay at Bakti Kutir Resort, a nice quiet place full of plants on top of the hill next to the beach. $40 for a hut w bath. There's an ayurveda clinic and a swami teaching yoga 3 times a day, he's good n funny with his Indian accent. $4/ class. Once back in the hut and ready to go to bed we realize that the kerosene smell that was there before is not temporary or coming from outside but it's from the interior paint of the hut... It's so bad we have to move to another hut in the middle of the night, but the day after they give us the night for free and offer breakfast, after which we move again to the next beach, Patmen.This one is the best so far: wide but still cozy, less suitcases and less crowded. R find the perfect spot at the end of the beach, it's called Bridge n Tunnel, hut w bath n unobstructed sea view, no sun beds in the front or tourists grilling their skin. $20. In the pm we go for a walk to the next beach and crash into an Indian wedding on the beach next door, which was really cool: colors and beautiful fabrics, live traditional Indian music, tiny helicopters filming and throwing confetti on the crowd, funny moves and faces...and fireworks!
There's another swami teaching good yoga in Padmen, $7/class, very good, and there's also an ashtanga vinyasa shala with a YTT, $6/class. But it's time to move on: night sleeper bus to Hampi, $24.
Mumbai, Dec 31-Jan 2, 2013
After a fantastic lucky flight in business with our standby ticket - thanks to Eva- we land in Mumbai at 11:30pm.
I'm expecting an assaulting crowd of sellers and drivers outside the airport but it wasn't bad at all. At that time there are no women at all in the streets. We stay at Hotel New Bengal near the Fort area in the center, it's recommended in the Lonely Planet but it ends up being creepy and overpriced, $56, bad wifi, and horror movie music to remind you to close the elevator!
During the day there are definitely more women in the busy streets of Mumbai, almost all them wearing beautiful traditional dresses, either saris or panjabi suits, the typical long camisoles with matching pants... I want to wear that too! The best ones are tailored: the fabric could be about $40 and only $6 for the work. I'll work on it.
I'm having some resistance to adjust to Mumbai: everybody horns all the time in the streets, it's crazy! Even bikes on the walkways horns at you to pass you! Also everybody, I mean men n women, croak n spit all the time. There's a lot of people begging and sleeping in the streets as well, and everybody wants to sell you stuff, but I expected that.
New Years Eve is a flop, we go for dinner at Koyla, nice rooftop restaurant in Colada but there's nothing special for the evening apart from a nosy crowd of people wandering around the place, so we leave and go to Marine Dr thinking there will be parties and bars there to have a drink n celebrate but instead there's just another huge crowd of people and honking cars, no bars at all apart from one Hotel asking $80 entrance... I mean not one bar, can you believe?!?
Now I'm on a 12 hr $10 night train to go to Goa, I was expecting the usual crowd but instead it's basically empty, lucky us. India so far is unpredictable!
PS Crazy coincidence: a guy at the hotel is wearing the same t-shirt of the Notte Rosa 2010 I brought from Italy to give away... A sign??
Restaurants. We have few excellent meals: - in Colada, close to the famous Taj Hotel and the gateway of India at the restaurant of Hotel Apollo and at Basilico. - in Fort at Yoko Sizzles.
PS. I went back to Mumbai before leaving India and stayed in Fort at Hotel Benazeer
2200 rps, good quality- price ratio, but Mumbai is expensive in general.
10 days road trip around the heel of the Italian boot. We camped at Lu' Cannitu, in Torre Pali. The owner Marcello is an inspiring artist of the Good Living. Perfect spot for yoga, among olive trees, figs, and blue sea. I shared my yoga with the other guests. There is an Ashram in Cisternino, Brindisi, but I couldn't make it there. I also heard a lot of good things about Ananda Ashram in Assisi... next trip!
Netherlands, Aug 2-12,2012.
I was recently back in Holland , enjoying gorgeous little Haarlem, a real secret gem 15 min train ride from Amsterdam. I've led a Vinyasa Yoga class on August 8th at the local city beach, Stadstrand de Oerkap, a super cool little spot in Haarlem where people go to enjoy the summer sun, a good pizza and a fresh beer.
I had several total beginners among my students, what an honor to lead them through their first yoga class!... and I also made it to the local newspaper!
Here is the translation: "Wednesday morning around 11 it get's busy at the Haarlem city beach. All the participants, mainly yoga girls in leggings, find their spot in the sand. The city beach is doing an one time yoga class given by Silvia Neri from New York. She travels through Europe and everywhere she goes, she offers her yoga classes. And she is successful: the city beach is almost full. The house cat is curiously walking around looking for attention. During the sun salutation the train passes by. That's the charmer of the Haarlem city beach."
April 28- May 1: Salento
No matter the rain, it was time to leave Medellin. I took a bus - 6hrs, COP 37k- to Salento in Zona Cafetera, which is famous for coffee plantations and beautiful mountain landscape, and strategically 40 min away from Armenia where my plane will leave from on May 1st.
Two kind locals gave me and another girl a ride to Hostel La Serrana. Dorm bed and breakfast: COP 20k. The hostel is located in a Finca 20 min walk from town, great views, nice furnishing, delicious food and interesting people from all over the world. I could also have my laundry done for COP 5k. They offer fresh milk from their cows and homemade brownies and peanut butter, gnammy! Recommended.
The first day I went with two roommates to the Cocora Valley for a gorgeous 5 hrs hike up and down the mountains and across rivers. A lot of mud but still great. We saw the famous Palmas de la Cera, 50m tall palm trees with cows and pine trees next to them... Very bizarre! The town of Salento is cute, with colorful colonial houses. The next day I led a yoga class for other guests and then I went to visit Finca Don Elias, an organic coffee farm 1hr walk from the hostel. Recommended: very informative and delicious coffee.
The last day of this adventure eventually arrived: bus to Armenia COP 34k, and then another to the airport COP 19k. I have never been searched and checked so many times ever in my life. They even completely emptied my backpack!
I want to thank all the people that inspired me, helped me, and challenged me during this trip. In particular, thank you to Robbert, the best travel companion ever.
PS I absolutely loved the feeling of entering the US with my new Green Card!! : D
April 26-27: Medellin
How nice to fly from Capurgana back to Medellin: only 1.5hrs and COP207k! Especially compared with the previous exhausting 15hrs trip to go there, which was COP95k. The plane was small and I was sitting right behind the pilots, i almost learned how to fly. One of them also gave me a ride to the Hostel Casa Blanca in El Poblado, where my Green Card was waiting for me in a lovely FedEx pack!
Lunch at Basilu' by the hostel was good and cheap, they also were very helpful in helping me find yoga classes.
In the pm I joined an Atman Yoga class at Parque Presidencia in El Poblado, the teacher Gina was very nice and inspiring but I'm not a big fun of her Sivananda Yoga.
The day after I went for a complementary yoga class in a fancy yoga studio called 108Yoga. The teacher Angelika was really good leading her Vinyasa Flow Class, relaxing and vigorous. Pm dedicated to Internet and rain to seal the day.