Paradise, Paraty

Musings on my first yoga retreat in Paraty, Brazil.

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Paraty, Brazil is one of the most serene and magical locations I’ve visited. The town is a contradiction with it’s jungle and seaside type sectors which perfectly complement each other. Alongside the sea, each street facing door is painted more brightly than the next and the locals are sincere and warm. In the hills, seemingly just around the corner, and in reality just minutes away, you feel as though you are among an indigenous tribe.

I went to Paraty for a yoga retreat that I found by Googling, albeit accidentally. I meant to find a simple yoga retreat beachside in California, but I could not pass up the ‘next level’ adventure this offered. I’d never been to South America before.

After a leisurely breakfast of soft white Brazilian cheese and quince with coffee we were sufficiently powered for the two hours of vinyasa yoga that followed. Looking out over the lake, surrounded by wild flowers, we sweated through our practice. This was a little slice of heaven, but an intense one.

Estoy Contigo (I’m With You)

Runners supporting runners

In the running community, many people help each other through races. I call them carriers.

I’ve witnessed these ‘carrier’s – people with a sense of responsibility to help other runners no matter what – around the world, from Paris to New York to Argentina. It’s one of the most noble aspects of the sport. This selflessness, despite the individual competition.

A carrier can be a friend or a complete stranger.

Your friends from home, your built-in support system, have surely packed an emergency bag for you with a gel pack and a spare set of socks, and wait for you at the finish line. They might even run all over a city for the off chance to catch a glimpse of you at a mile marker. They’re carriers, sure.

And then there are those that literally had no idea who you were at the starting line. They might smile at you through the easy miles, but when difficulty sets in, you develop a true friendship. They are telling you their life story to distract you from your  leg cramps. They teach you a song to keep your spirits high and your thoughts positive when you start hitting an emotional pit. And sometimes they just embarrass you to get you moving again.

For example … as you enter Central Park in the NYC Marathon there is a cop who, year after year, yells people’s name into a megaphone to “motivate” them to keep moving. For me it was: ‘Come on Nieuwy – the whole world is watching!’. Believe me, it works.

During a very difficult time in a 10K in Mendoza, Argentina, a fellow participant ran alongside me, repeatedly saying ‘Estoy contigo’, which means ‘I’m with you’. That expression said it all.

After the Boston Marathon bombing I read a story about the marathon finishers who donated blood, and others who have helped in various ways when they could have cried victim. After the New York City Marathon was cancelled because of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy many who had already arrived in New York and planned to run the marathon instead helped out families in need throughout Staten Island and Manhattan.

I am proud to share the company of these carriers. The world needs their light and inspiration. I know I do.

Going Organic in Chile

Organic Chilean Vineyard

My parents came to Mendoza, Argentina during Harvest 2012 to visit me and see what all the fuss was about. I joined them for a side trip to Santiago, Chile. In the outskirts of this city, in the Casablanca Valley a lot of fabulous Carmenére is made.  Although I sadly forgot the name of the winery, these are a few photos from a fabulous organic winery on the outskirts of Casablanca. Thanks for a great tasting and Chilean humita, Roberto!

Respite in Rio

An ironically relaxing New Year’s Eve weekend in Rio de Janeiro.

For New Year’s Eve 2013 I decided to spend a long weekend in Rio de Janeiro after the holidays with my family, and before returning to Mendoza, Argentina. As I was traveling alone and Rio has a reputation of being violent, I easily coerced myself to splurge on the hotel Mar Ipanema in the city’s fanciest and safest region.

I was thrilled to get out of my cab at the hotel and realize I was literally five walking blocks from the beach. Immediately, this trip had the feeling of being the best of being at the shore and in the city.

My hotel also proved to have the the best happy hour the area and their own microbrew. Score.

Soon after my arrival I learned the secret to the Brazilian booty. Working out – all.the.time. There were open air gyms right on the beach where meatheads and fitness gals would strut their stuff. No one was shy to show off the results of their hard work.

As an avid runner, I was thrilled to see so many people in a ‘runners only’ lane that ran parallel to the beach. Immediately after checking in, I laced up my sneakers, and joined in. (Like many travelers, a quick run is one of my favorite first things to do when I arrive in a city to get to know the lay of the land.) I quickly got caught up in the view of the beautiful jagged coastline. I was in heaven, and quickly became reinvigorated despite my 13 hour flight.

I quickly settled into a rhythm. Every morning I would take jog for a few miles along the beach, and afterward have a delicious breakfast of papaya, melon, and sinful cheese bread in the hotel’s outdoor restaurant. Then, after a change of clothes, and email check, my bikini and cover up were on, and the bell boys handed me my beach chair. Travel Tip: Brazil is considered stylish and conservative – so wearing people beach attire through the streets is frowned upon, even though a thong on the beach is expected. Keep that in mind and cover up chicly if you’re headed directly from the city to the beach. 

Brazilians have a warmth and liveliness not found many other places I was just learning of, and I found it fascinating. While vanity is a core element of the culture, there is much more authenticity than in U.S. cities. The coconut water comes in coconuts, not boxes, and doesn’t come in boxes, and regional specialties, not American fast food, are the norm.

 

Silent Night … Silent (Holy)day

 

While shopping mania is in full force during the Christmas season in the United States, in Mendoza, Argentina, where it’s close to 100 degrees, things are a bit more ‘tranquilo’.

During the mornings at the enormous city park, Parque San Martin, families are huddled in the shade drinking maté. Before or after there is inevitably a trip to the pool at a nearby ‘quincho’ (think country club)  or relatives home.  But this is the normal day to day life here, so you often forget it’s the holiday season. (Handy when you’re an expat with a very close and adorable family celebrating all together up North.)

The lack of commercialism is refreshing, as is the heat. It’s better than waiting on line for hours for a parking spot at the mall, fighting with Christmas lights, and shoveling snow.

Tranquilo seems like the right type of holiday spirit to me.

I hate Sandy

Heading home to New Jersey for a short family visit / media tour, (my first after living as an expat in Argentina for roughly a year) I heard there was a tropical storm on its way, but never imagined the damage that Sandy could bring to the Northeast. After one night out in New York at an amazing Chinese restaurant with my BFF and her beau, I headed to New Jersey to stay with my parents for a week, making that my homebase before heading into NYC for some great grub, shopping, and time with friends. Little did I know the North Haledon home where I grew up would become our bunker.

With all the hype about Sandy, I was convinced it was BS – just overhype by meteorologists looking for a story. But, on Tuesday afternoon, the winds kicked in and I was convinced I was in the middle of The Wizard of Oz movie. Thankfully, the house did not blow away, and we were only left without power for 30 hours. But, with all mass transit in to New York closed and a major gas shortage, it was me + mom and dad for a week straight. I love them, but it was not the trip home I was needing, with none of my friends able to get out of their houses, and my favorite local pizza joint was closed for the entire duration of the trip. Friends I hadn’t seen in one year were as close as two miles away, but it was simply logistically impossible to see each other. Heartbreaking.

I probably sound like a horrible, selfish, ungrateful person. You try going one year without seeing your friends and family and coming home to that.

I sure hope that b*tch doesn’t visit Jersey again for Christmas.

The Luxury of Dirt

There are days when you realize nothing is as beautiful as the dirt and grit of a pickup truck and taking a bunch of friends, food, and a makeshift grill, (basically an oven rack could do) into the middle of nowhere. You spend hours cooking an asado (bbq) in the dirt, playing cards on a blanket, laughing, and drinking. Surrounded by dogs rolling around with reckless abandon, we’re all just kids playing outside.

In Mendoza dirt surrounds you. It is after all a desert — and this gritty beauty is the secret behind Mendoza’s great wine producing terroir and alluvial soil. The dust in the air during the whipping wind of a ‘zonda’ or during the universal morning sweep of the sidewalks is perpetual. Love it and embrace the adventure. Let yourself go and roll around in it like a pup. After all it’s the grit in life that produces the ‘diamond’ experiences.  

Running on Empty

Managing working out and play as an expat in Mendoza, Argentina.

Keeping up a consistent workout schedule, not to mention marathon training schedule, is a bit difficult in Mendoza – particularly if you want a social life. If you told me I would be dancing until at least 5 a.m. in clubs in Argentina at 36 years old, and trying to fit in a healthy running schedule on the side, I would never believe you.

Truth is, the dance club actually doesn’t happen more than twice per year, and due to health issues, the marathon training doesn’t either – but I still do try to keep up the habits.

Charm

ImageBeing an expat brings you down to size a bit. You don’t know the language, you live in an odd environment, and for me, a small town lifestyle I’m not accustomed to.

Coming from living in New Jersey and working in New York City it seems kind of inane, yet logical that people are fascinated by you and always talking about you. That is the norm in Mendoza. Tri-state area people (those from NY/NJ/CT) work, have dinner, and have a few drinks like the rest of the world. We don’t care about the people at the next table; we frankly don’t have time to. In a way that’s a shame.

The way that Argentineans care just a bit more is kind of sweet.

One Evening in Mendoza

An evening out in Mendoza is often a bit more like a morning out. A crazy wonderful train wreck of a morning. This Friday, along with some gringo friends who are quickly acclimating, I ventured out to a casual lomo dinner at Don Claudio at midnight. Following, the plan was to go dancing at Black Jagger at Arena Maipu.

Dinner, at a cafeteria table, on red metal chairs with wire webbing was the backdrop for our pre-clubbing meal. With a fire burning inside almost literally on the floor the very unassuming establishment, and soft porn by U.S. standards playing on the television, we drank wine out of orange juice glasses and prepared our stomachs for the long evening ahead.

After finishing the greasy deliciousness of the lomo, we found a cab marked “libre” and were on our way to have a pre-club Fernet and Coke – the cocktail of choice in Mendoza.

Twenty minutes later we were at the casino in a tremendous line (no one does lines longer than Argentina) and as is custom, budged ahead where we could, eventually making our way in thanks to the “naïve gringo” card.

And then we were in a packed club with Argentine/Brazilian music. There may be skirts shorter and tighter than in Mendoza, but I have never seen them. And there is a tremendous love of leopard. TREMENDOUS.  Add to this a female to male ratio that seems to be 500 to 1. (Disclaimer: It’s probably actually 6:1). Men hear live a happy life, as you might imagine.

There was dancing. Until 6 a.m. As is the norm in Mendoza. And so we danced, and vowed to stay up until sunrise (8:15 a.m. here) … and proceeded to fall asleep at 8:00 a.m.  And woke up at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday.