Jane's Travel Blog

New Chapter: Explore the World


A Pattern is Developing

My goodness, time certainly does fly by…. We have been in Spain for just over two and a half months now and soon we are off to another adventure…

Bob and I have noticed a pattern in our new lifestyle. It’s been true for all four countries so far.  

Phase One:

We arrive and instantly begin to explore. Where’s the market, the grocery, the cafes? What are the historical sites and the museums to visit? We dive into the city wanting to know what we can learn from this city and country. The newness brings an excitement and renewed energy.  I like this phase.

Phase Two:

Of course as we explore and try, our favorites soon emerge. “Ah, this is the cafe that will inspire the next blog. It has perfect coffee, a kind staff and a stunning view.“ I return a few times and  the staff smiles recognizing that I’m in the city for longer than the average stranger and this brings me comfort. The markets reveal my favorite vendors and my walking routes pass through my favorite neighborhoods. It’s a sweet place to be. I like this phase too.

Phase Three:

Slowly a feeling of , “Hey, I’m leaving soon. What haven’t we done yet?” creeps into my mood. Bob and I sit down and create a list, actually schedule the “musts” on a calendar and happily soak in the last weeks of the county. Another part of this phase is the anticipation of the next country. I start to “Google” and collecting a few ideas. ok, I like this phase as well.

Here in Spain our “must-list” included Ronda and Cordoba.

Our new friend Nacho graciously became our tour guide and drove us to Ronda and a couple of nearby towns for a delightful day of sightseeing. Ronda offers a grand history, first settled by the Celts in the 6th century. It’s famous for the Puente Nuevo (The New Bridge) which started being built in 1751. Nacho tooks us on a secret path that wound down below the bridge and revealed an intricate system of pipes and valves that controlled the river.

After leaving Ronda, we drove to the town of Setenil de las Bodegas. Many of the houses and buildings were built right into the sides of a cliff. When you go inside, the back walls are the cliff. Crazy! They did this to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. I’d worry about spiders.

On our way back to Malaga we made a quick stop in Antequera, known for its 52 churches and its cathedral.

Nacho’s generosity of time and knowledge made for a perfect day. The Spanish people are truly kindhearted. And Nacho tops the list.

Next, Bob planned a wonderful day for us in Cordoba. We were blown away by the Mosque, completed in 987. A cathedral was built in the center of it in the 1500’s. The mosque is so big that when you enter the mosque you have no sense that a full size cathedral is in there somewhere. It kind of just pops out as you take a turn and bang, there is it. It’s so perfectly blended with the mosque (go figure that one) that you just think it’s “normal” for a second. Sitting in the pews in the middle of a cathedral in the middle of a mosque. All good vibes. It was an incredibly peaceful and calming space to be.

An unexpected surprise was a trip to Gibraltar with our Spanish hiking group–Las Rutitas de Domingos (“the little Sunday hikes”–not so little really!) . We actually hiked from the sea to the top of the rock. Prudential would be proud. We could have been a commercial. This Sunday will be our last hike with our beloved hiking group. It has been one of the highlights of Spain for us..

Flashback…, we had three visitors in Spain

Lori and her son Spencer came in October and Ed in November.

Lori and Spence were here for a week and we did a great job of exploring Malaga. We insisted that Spencer (13 years old) go to the Picasso Museum. I’m not sure it was his favorite part of the visit, but he did it. I loved it. The four of us had a wonderful day in Granada. Bob and Spence enjoyed hot chocolate and churros (Lori and I had red wine) and we toured the Alhambra. Wow, what a castle. I am now in love with the moorish design. The colors, the use of water and geometric design seem to agree with me. (Robin, you would go nuts with this design.)

Ed came in November, staying with us for one quick night before he was off to Morocco for four days, and then he returned to join us for the weekend. We played in Spain, riding bikes next to the sea and eating the “typical” Malaga foods and celebrated Thanksgiving a bit early.

We have loved our time in Malaga and I do hope to return here in the future.
Next stop, Tangier, Morocco. On Dec 6th we jump on a bus to Tarifa, Spain, which is the southernmost point of mainland Europe, hop a ferry and cross the 9 mile wide Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier for a two month stay. Africa here we come.


No Mom, It’s Not a Cult. It’s Just Meditation Training

I didn’t shave my head, I’m not donning a muted-orange robe, and yet I’m a tad calmer and have a bit more insight.

I’ve always liked the small exposure I’ve had to meditation. From my simple “cat-time” in the morning to short experiences in Tae Kwon Do and yoga, I’ve always wanted more.

In Ecuador, I attended a wonderful yoga retreat. Four of the people at the retreat had attended numerous Vipassana Meditation trainings and my interest was piqued. They talked of a more balanced life, a happier life. Vipassana means seeing clearly and deeply and to see things as they are and not as we want to be or think we are. Almost instantly, I decided I was going to attend a training somewhere in the world as we traveled.

I found a training in Spain that coincided with our visit so I applied and was placed on a waiting list. A week before the training, I received an email telling me that I was in.

So without much time to think, I was off on an 11 day meditation adventure.

The training location was six hours by car. Hmm, How to get there? The website had a ride board and sure enough, two men were driving from Malaga, so Bob dropped me off, handed me over to two strangers and I was on my way. (BTW, Miguel and Paco are delightful.)

The drive was stunning, passing through the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Granada, with groves upon groves of olive trees covering the landscape..

I arrive at the meditation center, which is actually a rented rural camp surrounded by rolling hills– a perfect place for a meditation retreat. I’m excited, a bit nervous and very curious.

Let the Noble Silence begin: The Rules and The Routine

First of all, men and women were kept separate. Even our outside spaces were separate.  We shared the meditation hall, but women were on one side and men on the other and we had different entrances.

Next, noble silence was required for nine days. No talking, no communicating of any kind. Basically you were told to act as if you are alone. You could talk to the teachers and the management, but this was to be kept to a minimum. The silence was necessary for “continuity of practice.”  I went there to meditate and boy did I.

The first evening, I am shown to my 2X3 foot meditation spot where I would spend most of the next 10 days. They offered foam pillows to create a meditation cushion. Hmm, how to make this space comfortable for ten days? “Holy shit. Here for ten days.” I realize, “These foam pillows are shit. I can’t sit on these for 10 days.”

I’m a wreck. And it’s cold. My meditation shawl is too small and it’s not going to work. I remember I can ask the management, but who is the management? I figure it out, they help a little, but I realize that I’m alone for these 10 days. I meet with the teacher. She is kind, and love pours from her and I know that all is going to be fine. Two extra blankets and a loving yet brief conversation, and I’m on the path.

The Routine

In general, from 4:30 am to 9:00 pm, I mediated. Of course we had breaks. The pattern was get up, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and tidying up your bunk space all came after eating and between walking. Actually, the routine was very comforting in that you didn’t have to plan a day which allowed your mind to be calm and to go within.

Following this schedule seemed like a cross between prison, rehab, and the life of a monk or nun. Your schedule was not yours – no internet, no reading, no writing. You truly just meditated, ate, groomed, walked slowly and repeated.

It was 10 days of sitting on a 2X3 foot mat, closing my eyes, trying not to think and letting my mind clear. In the first three days, we were instructed to focus on the area between our nose and upper lip. Its purpose was to focus and sharpen the mind.

This sounds easy and a bit boring, but it’s neither. My mind would go any and everywhere except to the focus area. You’re told not to judge, to just notice and observe your thoughts and come back to the focus area. I guess this is why that’s what we did for the first three days. It takes a long time to calm an untrained brain. (Perhaps a life-time to tell the truth)

In the following six days, the instructions were to observe your body from head to toe and toe to head noticing and observing sensations. In observing these sensations,you again have no judgement. A sensation is not positive or negative, and it will always change. This is the root of the practice–equanimity and impermanence. The phrase, “this too shall pass” has a much deeper meaning for me now.

Ok, in theory I get it, but when you want to scream because your hip is burning, it can get a little negative. Oddly, the more I practiced, the more neutral the sensations became and the more I could observe sensations.

Each time I sat and then left a meditation session, I was a little tight, pulled my underwear from my butt, and immediately noticed the beauty of nature. Green was not just green, but so many shades of green rolling from the mountains, a soft breeze on my face, or a shining moon peaking through the clouds. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time. And this was every time I left a session. Powerful stuff!

Honestly, I loved it. It was one of them most intense, difficult, and profound things I have done in my life. I’ve discovered a wonderful gift in meditation and it’s my hope that this practice stays with me for many years to come.
I would recommend it to everyone.

(Sorry, no photos this time. It was recommended not to bring cameras)