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I went to India and Didn’t Do YOGA!

by Friday, September 25, 2015
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Qutub Minar

WHY INDIA?

Last April I went to New Delhi, India with my daughter Maddie for a mother/daughter trip. Why we chose India as one of our stops on our bonding journey you ask?  Because of YOGA. India is the birthplace of this physical, mental and spiritual practice or discipline.  Ever since yoga entered our lives three years ago, we have been drawn to visit this auspicious country of its origin. When we started to plan our trip and searching destinations to visit, India was on the top of our list.

India not only had YOGA, but it had so many other things to offer us by visiting:

  • Taj Mahal
  • Indian food
  • Indian culture
  • temples
  • the people
  • broaden our perspective

 

WHAT YOGA DID FOR ME

I can go on for days, like my friends and family know, on the reasons why YOGA can benefit a person’s overall health and how it has improved my life. When I took my first “official” yoga class in 2012 (I have done yoga through the years using at-home videos), I knew that something special was occurring in me and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I actually didn’t even know or understand what was happening when I experienced this phenomenon, as they call it, the “yoga high” and it was an epiphany. I felt a complete connection with my physical, mental, and spiritual body and my surroundings. It was like I was one with the Universe. I know this sounds very hippie and over-the-top for some, ( and most will think I’m crazy, they do anyway) but its my truth and what happened to me.

It was then, that I realized what all the hype was with yoga, and really began to understand its purpose.  This practice wasn’t just an Indian, turned American-style fitness program to get rock hard abs and a firmer butt. It has actually nothing to do with that. Yes, practicing YOGA will strengthen your muscles and aid in weight-loss, as well as many other things, but it was so much more. It was love.  Universal love.


Due to this incredible experience I went through, I had to learn more about what was happening to my body, mind and spirit through YOGA. So, I went to google (as any other person would to find information). To my surprise there were boat loads of studies and research on this exact subject. I began reading everything I could. I read books, listened to podcasts and watch TED talks. I felt like I was a researcher myself and I had to do something with my findings.

I enrolled in yoga teacher training.

I felt like I was receiving a calling that I had to share with the world. I knew I not only received the gift of YOGA at the exact time I needed it, but I was drawn to take this gift and give it away. I felt like there was a higher purpose of why this all happened to me and I wanted to help others, in the same I was helped through YOGA.


Here are examples of just some of the proven benefits that YOGA can do for the body:

  • supplement cancer treatments
  • soothes insomnia
  • lowers blood pressure
  • prevents heart disease
  • alleviates arthritis
  • improve circulation
  • balances hormones
  • lower triglyceride count
  • improves respiration
  • combats osteoporosis
  • relieves diabetes
  • engages the autistic
  • relieves fibromyalgia
  • treat bronchitis

For me, yoga healed me of depression and anxiety. Another condition that yoga can treat, proven by science. If you think I am making this up or its all in my head, I will  show just one study of many. This study I wanted to share with you was done in 2009 by Harvard researchers on how yoga aids in the  treatment of depression and anxiety. Here’s the link: (http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression).

Just for fun I wanted to also share a youtube video of another Harvard researcher’s study, Sara Lazar PhD, on how yoga and meditation can effect the brain. (below)

Dr. Sara Lazar PhD (Harvard), discussing “How Meditation can Reshape Our Brain” in a TEDtalks presentation 2011.


 

I used to be embarrassed or ashamed,  and not want to share why I fell in love with yoga and what it has done for my life, because of the stigma, still today, of the subject of depression. Then I realized that if I share this with people and if it helps, even one other person,  I am spreading the joy that yoga has brought into my life and possibly be bringing into others’ lives. For this reason, I had (have) to.


 

I am aware that not all people will have this kind of experience. For instance, I told one of my friends how much I love yoga and was bubbling over with excitement about it, and told her how it has literally changed my life!  Her response was, “Oh, I hate yoga. It’s so boring” Clearly, not the response I was hoping for, but we all are different and some things work for some people, that don’t work for others.

My daughter may not have had the life-changing experience as I did through yoga, but she definitely did love it as well, and knew the benefits yoga could bring to her overall wellness,  not to mention, she felt great doing it! She also saw what it has done for my life and knew there was something special about it.


 

THE PLAN TO VISIT A YOGA ASHRAM IN RISHIKESH

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Ganga Aarti, at Parmarth Niketan ashram, on the banks of the Ganges River

When we set India in stone on our itinerary, we knew we wanted to do the tourist-type things for our first visit. We had to, of course, check off  a bucket list  item, Taj Mahal,  but were super excited to visit an ashram in Rishikesh, in hopes to have a magical experience there.  We thought about how cool it would be to take a yoga class, right in the World’s epicenter of yoga and sit along the banks of the Ganges, while being part of the Ganga Aarti,  nightly ritual,  and thought that this might be an experience of a lifetime, possibly even be a spiritual one.

We made arrangements to stay at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram (www.parmarth.org), probably the most well-known one. We were to stay two nights on our five nights in India. The other days we would sight-see in New Delhi. We thought it would be the perfect balance of getting a glimpse of the spiritual side and cultural side of India.

Problem: Rishikesh happened to be a 7-8 hour drive from New Delhi, or even more if you understand the road conditions and driving in India.  Our hired driver didn’t go that far. We could, however, take a train or a flight, but it wasn’t going to be an easy task to accomplish. When considering the dangers of taking an overnight train (being females) we thought that may be too risky to do, not to mention, time-consuming.  As far as taking a flight, we really weren’t anticipating that kind of expense, especially being only one of the stops on our 3 part (three country), 2 week tour .

It wasn’t going to happen this trip.


 

OUR TIME IN INDIA

Although on this trip, we didn’t get to visit an ashram and do yoga with the descendants of historical yoga gurus, we did however, enjoy the other things that India showed us. We got to see the magnificent Taj Mahal, that no words can justify its awe-inspiring beauty. We got to visit temples and historic sites, and eat the fragrant and uniquely spiced foods of this land. We got to see poverty up close and personal, which to most, seems like a bad thing, but to us it gave us an overwhelming feeling of compassion, empathy and gratitude. We got to meet amazing people like our driver, Ramen, that we got to know over the five days we spent with him, whose story was so touching.

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rickshaw ride in Old Delhi

Ramen had to leave his wife and family behind in his tiny village, so he could work in New Deli, because there are no jobs where he lives.  He worked in 4 month stretches and missed them so much. He was counting down the days until he would see them again. He loved talking about his babies and when he spoke (with his broken English) of them, the smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes, were enough to understand what he meant. 

We got to drive in rickshaws and be driven to places that I’ve only seen in books or in movies. All of these experiences and special humans we got to interact with, made this trip to India worthwhile and unforgettable.

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Taj Mahal, Agra, India


UNTIL NEXT TIME INDIA

Visiting India was an incredible experience, that has only made me want to go back again. After being fortunate enough to visit a Wonder of the World and being in a place that is so unlike my home,  it solidified some of the reasons why I love travel so much. It’s to learn and grow.  The next time I go to India, I will plan it to be at a yoga ashram and allow the magic of yoga to engulf me.

Until then, I will practice yoga wherever I am in this world. I have learned that I didn’t have to travel thousand of miles away, to far off Holy Lands, to gain the knowledge and benefits of yoga.  It was always right here.  In me.

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me doing yoga on vacation in Southern California- namaste!

All I had to do was step on my mat.

 

Reykjavik, Iceland: A Perfect Stopover

by Friday, September 11, 2015

Last summer I took Iceland Air (www.icelandair.com) for the first time on our trip to Paris and Amsterdam. The reason we chose Iceland Air, simply, was the cost.  They had great deals to many of Northern Europe destinations.  The flights left in the evening, like most other US to Europe flights, but with a stop in Reykjavik.

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The Blue Lagoon, Iceland


I never even considered a visit to Iceland before, but it is something I kept hearing about as a new “hot spot” for travelers.  I was intrigued.


The week before my trip I was at work (still a full-time dental hygienist at the time) and I saw a patient that traveled a lot for his job. I loved seeing him because we got to talk about world travel instead of just the usual, “do you floss” talk. When I told him about my upcoming trip, he asked which airlines. When I said Iceland air he told me about this amazing deal. He said that Iceland  Air was trying to promote Iceland  tourism and will offer, up to a 7 day stopover, for no additional charge. At first I didn’t believe him because he was always joking around with me, but by the end of his appointment I knew I had to look into this.

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I got home and did some research. He was right!! I was so excited and yelled to my husband, “What do you think about staying one night in Reykjavik Iceland?” We did have one extra day on our vacation because it fell on Labor day weekend. He said, “Sure, that sounds great”

This deal is still going on today.  here is the link:http://www.icelandair.us/flights/stopover/

I was pumped! To think I would not only be seeing Paris and Amsterdam( for the first time), but now also be able to squeeze in a little visit to the “Land of Fire and Ice.” How cool!

I immediately brought up my reservation and looked up contact information on how to go about the change in my flight.  I called and spoke to a Iceland Air representative. She stated that this is possible and people do it all the time, but she would have to check the availability of seats. A minor detail I forgot due to my excitement!  Guess what happened next? Yep, it was a no go. Especially being a holiday weekend , there were actually overbooked by 10%. Bummer!!

I guess it wasn’t meant to be?


 

Fast forward to this summer.  My girlfriend from work was taking a trip with her mom to visit their homeland of Poland.  She was ironically taking Iceland Air. I had previously told her about the deal and she thought it would be a great opportunity to take herself.  She booked he flight with  3 day stopover in Reykjavik.  I told her I was excited and wished I was able to have done that last summer.

She said, “Why don’t you join us?” “Just for the Iceland portion of our trip.”

I thought about it and decided to take a quick check of price quotes first.  I found a deal for $432.00 round trip on WOW Airlines.  What the hell was Wow Airlines? I’ve never heard of it, but whatever. I’ve flown Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com,) I’m not picky.

So I booked it!thewanderlustyogi.net


 

In the few months of planing and seeing what I wanted to do on my quick trip, my husband said he was interested in going as well.  He works as a home inspector, so summers are crazy busy and he works constantly. He said it would be a perfect  long weekend getaway (less than a 5 hour flight) to relax after an exhausting work season. I was thrilled.

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At Boston Logan airport doing my daily headstand challenge, waiting for my flight to Reykjavik, Iceland

The first thing on my bucket list to check off, was to see the Blue Lagoon (http://www.bluelagoon.com.) I always thought that seemed like such an unique and awesome thing to see, but ever since I was watching (dare I even admit this?), The Bachelor, (cough, cough), television show and their episode in Iceland, I knew that it would have to be a must on my ever-expanding travel destination wish list.

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Northern Lights viewed from my WOW airlines flight

The Blue Lagoon is situated about 20 minutes north  from the Keflavik airport and in route to Reykjavik, which is approximately 45 minutes from the Keflavik airport (something that many people aren’t aware of). Because of this, it is recommended to visit the Blue Lagoon either on the way in from your flight or on the way out to your flight. This way you can use your time wisely (since many visitors here are on a stopover ).


 

Day 1: Blue Lagoon and checking into our AIRBNB

We decided to do it right when we got there. The flights that come into Keflavik International airport from the US come in very, very early. Iceland Air around 7:00 am and WOW Airlines at 4:00!!! This part was a bit inconveniencing. It’s not like you can check into your hotel that early and nothing is open.

W got in from our flight and hung out at a juice and coffee place called Joe and the Juice (http://www.joeandthejuice.com.)  It had great health smoothies, coffee, lattes, cappuccinos and hand sandwiches. Our car rental place didn’t even open up until 6am, but our reservation wasn’t until 7:00 am. Lots of waiting around.

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arrived at 4:00am in Keflavik International Airport, sitting at Joe and the Juice drinking coffee until anything else opens. Boy is it cold here!! 40 degrees!!!

We finally got our car and started heading to the Blue Lagoon. We got there early.  Our reservation was from 8:00 am-11:00am. The very first block. They do 3 hour appointments, which was plenty of time to enjoy the warm and milky blue waters.

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just checking off the bucket list!

There are 3 different packages from a basic entry to a luxury experience.  I decided that this is where we would splurge on our trip. I wanted to have a private changing room and spa area to lounge around in and have a bathrobe, slippers, towel, spa products, drinks and snacks. The basic entry ticket did not provide any extras and you would be changing in a crowded room, not unlike a YMCA. I didn’t want that. I wanted this experience to be special.

We were greeted and walked down to our private “members only” area.  We felt like VIP’s and enjoyed every minute of this special treatment and private area. Although it was much pricier, I think it was well worth it.  My friend and her mom didn’t indulge in the luxury ticket and they didn’t enjoy it as much. My friend said, when I asked her how they liked it,  responded, “It was nothing special. I felt like the whole thing is over-rated. It isn’t even natural. It is heated by a power plant!”

In spite of the fact that this is true, I still feel like, natural or not, this place is the bomb! Where else in the world can you swim in a geothermal bath? Not many places at all!   I know I will never probably get to do this again in my lifetime. (I am writing another post that will give a in-depth look into our Blue Lagoon experience soon.) Also note, that there are many naturally occuring geothermal pools in Iceland, plenty right within the Reykjavik region.

When we were done with our Blue Lagoon visit we headed into Reykjavik to have lunch at a cafe that was recommended.  We figured we could walk around a bit and explore the area before heading to check into our airbnb rental ( http://www.airbnb.com), which was about 20 minutes away.

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veggie sandwich at Laundromat Cafe

We ate at the The Laundromat Cafe (http://www.thelaundromatcafe.com. It was a funky, eclectic style, casual place. They offered free wi-fi with the password:iloveyou. Their menu had the usual American staple dishes such as burgers, salads and club sandwiches, which I was  a little disappointed in. I wanted to try some authentic Icelandic dish.  I guess I could do that somewhere else?  I had a veggie sandwich and my husband had a burger. We hung out and used the wi-fi and after eating, both felt extremely tired.  I think the combination of an overnight flight with little to no sleep, taking a 3 hour bath and then filling our bellies, was enough to make us feel ready for a nap. It was still too early for check-in, ugh! We walked around a little but were eager to just relax for the night in our airbnb house rental.

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Reykjavik

When it was time for check in, we drove to the address and waited to meet the person who was letting us in.  (This is another whole post I will share about later) We waited 2 hours! Due to miscommunication, the person thought she was meeting us at 5:00pm, but we thought we were meeting us at 3:00pm. It was torture waiting to be able to take a shower, lay down or just use the bathroom, especially after landing 12 hours prior,  but finally we got to stop and take a breather.

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airbnb rental in Iceland

We decided on a quick and casual dinner, since we were tired, and certainly had to try their famous hotdogs called a pylsur while visiting.  This would be the perfect time to.  The hotdog is made with a combination of pork, beef and lamb and is the Pride of Iceland.  We found a restaurant that served them, literally 2 minutes from our rental.  We got two each. We had them, as the say, “Clinton style” with mustard only.  This is how you should order it, I’m told by locals.  Their mustard was different, almost like a honey mustard, but not quite. I must admit, the hot-dogs were delicious!

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Icelandic hotdogs “pylsur”


 

Day 2: Spent the Day in Reykjavik

I’m not sure if we were just generally tired or the 4 hour time difference affected us but we slept late. Very late! So late that the day we had planned, touring the “Golden Circle” with my friend and her mom was not going to happen. I couldn’t make them wait for us.

They did the tour themselves and we had to readjust our travel itinerary. No big deal. I never like to over plan anyway. The best things that happened on any of my previous travels, were always on a whim. Not to mention, this was supposed to be a somewhat relaxing trip for my husband. No stress.  We decided to go find some lunch (now that it was afternoon by the time we got ready) and we wanted lobster soup. It was cold out and it seemed fitting since it is a popular Icelandic dish.  I’m all about trying other culture’s foods. While I showered I asked my husband to look on tripadvisor (one of my favorite goto travel resources) to find who makes the best lobster soup in Reykjavik.  On his research he found the Saegreifinn Restaurant (http://www.saegreifinn.is.), located right in Reykjavik harbor.

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lobster soup

You can’t get much fresher than that. We drove the 20 minutes, parked our rental car in the  parking garage, which had ridiculously low hourly rates, and walked over tho the harbor side.  The restaurant was a little fishing village style place. It was very small with benches lined up where you actually sit side by side with other customers and order at a counter.  A completely basic setup so if you are looking for a comfortable dining atmosphere, this wouldn’t be it. On the menu- pretty much just lobster soup.

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minke whale anyone??

They also had open refrigerated section with fresh fish to buy by the kg. I went over for a browse.  They had mink whale, cringe!! No thank you, but the lobster soup was, as the review promised, “delicious”!!!

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Saegreifinn Restaurant

After our bellies were full and we were warmed up, we headed over the weekend flea market called the Kolaportid Flea Market. I was so excited because I love flea markets and if we would have gone to the “Golden Circle” tour we would have missed it. I was in search of a handmade Icelandic wool sweater. I guess that’s what you need to buy when you are here.  The prices were super high for these at all the souvenir shops, I thought for sure I could get a better deal at the flea market.

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Kolaportid- the weekend flea market

I was wrong! Even at the flea market they sold for no less than $200.00 USD. I just couldn’t justify it.  Wool has already been my least favorite material. It’s so itchy! I realize you can wear this over clothes and it is extremely warm but for $200.00, I know I wouldn’t get the use out of it to justify the price.  No sweater for me.

We walked around the main street called Laugavegur, which had gift shops (more sweaters) coffee shops, restaurants and plenty of bars.  We found our way to the Hallgrimskirkja church. It was remarkable looking and tall. It almost looked like a tall “Lego block” building . We went in and were going to go to the top for only $6.oo USD for a lift ticket, but ended up just strolling around inside and outside of the building.  I’m afraid of heights anyway.thewanderlustyogi.net

We walked all day. Reykjavik isn’t a very big city, but it has a lot or character and European charm. The colorful buildings and cobblestone roads were pretty to wander around on. Something to point out that didn’t dawn on me until I came back home was, we never felt unsafe the entire time we were there. The thought of our safety was never even spoke of. I can’t say the same on my visit to India, Thailand and the United Emirates. That was always on the forefront of my mind.

I think Iceland would make a perfect solo travel destination for females.

thewanderlustyogi.netWe later walked along the ocean path and saw the Sun Voyager structure. It was impressive, but it started to rain so we took a few snaps and headed toward the Harpa (http://www.harpa.is.) This is the central hub for all entertainment and cultural events in Reykjavik. It had unique architecture with mirrored cubes all around the building.  We made this our final stop before deciding on dinner.

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The Harpa

For dinner we chose a cute sushi place called, Sushi The Train (http://www.osushi.is.)  They set it up with a conveyor belt (almost like a baggage claim belt you would find at an airport, but on a smaller scale) and chairs lined up on either side.  They place offered different types of sushi and Japanese dishes. As the food  drives by, you can choose which dish you would like to try by just taking it. By the end of your meal, you bring the “color coded” plates to the counter (each one has a different value) and pay the total.  It was very inexpensive and a fun and easy way to end our day in Reykjavik.thewanderlustyogi.net

We headed back to our car and paid the parking garage fee. it was less than $4.00 USD and we were there the entire afternoon!! I was shocked how cheap it was since everything else in Iceland seemed very expensive.


 

TIP: They say the night life and bar scene in Reykjavik is taken very seriously by the locals. However, the drinks are super expensive, so the Icelandic bar-hoppers are known for  staying at home early and drinking first, before heading out to the bars at around midnight and partying way into the night.  So, if you go there for happy hour and wonder where all the people are? Just wait, it will get busy late night, so pace yourself.  Unfortunately, I can’t give you my opinion on the bars since I don’t drink, but there were a ton! I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem finding a drinking hole to enjoy some spirits with Icelandic locals.


 

Day 3: Waterfalls, waterfalls and more waterfalls, geysers and a black sand volcano beach

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Selijalandsfoss waterfall

We got an early start this day. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover missing the first day out on the road. We decided to do our own version of the “Golden Circle” tour. We chose to focus on the  south-west region of Iceland. We would head south to the beach in Vik, and make our way back up and around to see the popular waterfalls and geyser. That would fulfill our wishlist and we could do it all in a day trip.

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there were backpackers everywhere we looked…some even hitchhiking!

On our way to Vik we passed the Selijalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. They were beautiful as we thought and we saw dall sheep, horses and beautiful mountain landscapes as we drove. At least it was very scenic views for our 2 hour drive.

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driving in Iceland

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One thing that slipped my mind was the steep walks and stairs leading to viewpoints you are required to take to see these natural wonders. Like I said earlier, I am deathly afraid of heights! This day was full of amazing sights, but also gave me extreme anxiety. I tried my best to enjoy, but with my husband playing jokes on me, pretending he was about to fall, seeing tourists hanging off the edges, trying to take extreme selfies and kids running, with no parents in site, along the hundred foot drops, I was about to have several heart attacks!

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Skogafoss waterfall

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We finally made our way to the beach in Vik. Initially, we were at the top cliffs area, beautiful, but again the heights! ugh!!  Until we ended up on the black sand beach. This by far was my favorite area. I am partial to any beach, but the views all around, the black sand and lava rock formations, were nothing I have ever seen before.  We spend some time in a cave along the stretch of beach and my husband even spotted a puffin in the distance. thewanderlustyogi.netWe were lucky that this happened to be the nicest day of our 3 day stay (6o degrees and sunny).  We felt the ocean and were surprised that the temperature was much warmer than you might expect for Icelandic ocean waters. We even suggested that the oceans in our home state of New Hampshire, USA might be colder!

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Vik, Iceland

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I got to do my daily headstand challenge here at Vik, Iceland!

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My husband had a flooding thought of taking a swim in the ocean, just to say he did it, but just as quickly as the thought flooded in, it flooded out. He knew we still had a half day ahead of driving and touring and didn’t want to be uncomfortable. Poor sport! Just kidding. It would have been funny to see, but I agree, he may be freezing and wet all day, and I would NEVER do that. I have Reynaud’s syndrome! I would end up with hypothermia.  Visiting that beach and being able to do my daily headstand (#365headstandschallenge)  there, was more than I could ask for. It was awesome!

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campers at Skogafoss waterfall

We started to get hungry, but were pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We remembered that they had a hostel and restaurant at the bottom of Skogafoss  falls an it was on our way back towards our next stops. We figured we could have a little lunch there and head to the next stop after our break. The food was surprisingly good and inexpensive. We assumed, it was after all, a camper site/hostel area and tourist attraction, that it would be the usual burger and hot-dogs, but no. They had all sorts of Icelandic dishes and options. I was excited.thewanderlustyogi.net I ordered a lamb stew to share and picked char fish for my meal (its kind of like a salmon and a local fish). My husband ordered the leg of lamb. We even treated ourselves to dessert because they had a skyr cake, that we couldn’t pass up. Iceland is one of the only known places where you can find skyr (according to the locals), besides Denmark, Sweden and Norway, so we had to. It was very good, but if you have ever tried skyr before, you would think it was yogurt. It doesn’t seem so outlandish a treat. Also, when I got home, I found some at my neighborhood grocery store (in the yogurt section).  None the less, everything was so good and our bill was only $47.00 USD.  We were very happy that we chanced it and ended up having an awesome and authentic Icelandic meal.thewanderlustyogi.net thewanderlustyogi.net thewanderlustyogi.net thewanderlustyogi.net

Off to the geyser. The road that we took leading to it was so scary! It was so skinny and literally hanging off a cliff. It had many “shared bridges” which is a common thing in Iceland, where you have to share it with the oncoming traffic.  The road ended up going to dirt and I wasn’t even sure if our car would make it.

Another side note: its best to get a 4×4 car to rent. We were okay with the 2-wheel drive car, but if we had gone on more roads like this we would have needed a 4×4. Some roads don’t even allow anything other than 4×4 cars on it.

 Like it said on our dashboard of instructions from the car rental company. “Driving in Iceland is different.” Besides skinny, windy and cliff side roads, possible wildlife, sharing bridges, there is also the risk of falling rocks. If that doesn’t concern you, don’t forget in the winter, without proper gear and blankets, you could risk death by hypothermia if stranded roadside. I’m just so happy my husband joined, otherwise I would have had to drive. Yikes!


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The geyser was really interesting and I was happy that it (went off ) erupted in very short intervals..I wasn’t really sure about that and was so glad we could easily capture it’s eruption more than once.  It was getting cold so stopping there when the sum was starting to set was a good thing. The heat coming off these gurgling water holes was intense. The sign read that it could reach 80-100 degrees celsius and to stay away. The steam was so hot. We even may have gotten little too close at one of the eruptions. No wonder why we were the only ones standing there? The most memorable thing would probably be the overwhelmingly smell of sulfur that you couldn’t escape.  My husband may have gotten away with a few gaseous releases from his big lamb dinner that I would have not noticed.  He kept giggling every so often, saying, “Excuse me” as to joke, but I think he may have required that excuse me even if we weren’t at the geyser.

Lastly, we stopped at Iceland’s most visited waterfall Gullfoss. Since it was extremely close to the geyser we couldn’t miss this one. Gullfoss was the largest of the waterfalls and the most impressive. I’m not sure which was scarier; standing on the jutted out lookout at Skogafoss or the wet and slippery, rocky ledge of this bad boy? They were both terrifying, yet a marvel to witness.

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Gullfoss waterfall

 

Since we drove for nearly 12 hours that day, accomplishing all the sights we wanted to see, we decided to just get take-out for dinner and call it a night. We couldn’t wait to see all the footage and pictures we took of this amazing day in Iceland. We stopped at a nearby pizza place. Naturally, we got the “Boston-style pizza”

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crosses along the road in Selfoss heading back to Reykjavik from Vik


 

Iceland has many unique natural wonders to visit, from their breathtaking waterfalls, awe-inspiring glaciers, gorgeous black sand beaches, rejuvenating geothermal oasis pools, volcanic mountains and bubbling geysers. These are things you can’t just see anywhere.  With Iceland Air and WOW Airlines offering cheaper flights daily than their competitors, from  the US to Europe and discount deals for stopovers, why not take advantage of them and get to see the land of Fire and Ice for a day or two? The prices on these airlines to European cities, such as Amsterdam, Paris, London,Copenhagen, Barcelona, Dublin, Milan, (just to name a few), provide such savings, that a quick stopover in Reykjavik wouldn’t break the bank. You never know, you may even see a troll?

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Camel Trekking Dubai

by Friday, May 15, 2015

thewanderlustyogi.netI recently spent two days in Dubai in the United Emirates. I flew Emirates Airlines and this was where my layover was.  I could add this short stopover at no additional charge to my flight price. For this reason, being able to break up my long haul flight back from my trip to Bangkok, and getting a glimpse of this fast developing, and progressive city, (in reality, man- made for “tourists”), I couldn’t pass it up.

I’m not all into high-end fashion, like some of my friends.   This is probably more so because I can’t afford it, so why tease myself?  But this is what people always would tell me to check out when I mention I was going there.  I would,  just to say I did,  and  humor myself, (maybe? but I doubt it-sorry girls) but that’s not what my intentions for going there was for.  My goal was to check off another item on my bucketlist, which is:

“ride a camel in the desert” 

I have no idea why that fascinates me so much, but it’s what I was there to do.  The fancy malls and impressive buildings  would be cool to see, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t.  My daughter was on this trip with me and when I asked her if that interested her, she screamed, “YES!” So it was decided. Camel trekking in the desert……….check!

The real point of this stopover was mainly to relax a bit.  Our itinerary for the two-week trip we planned was so jammed packed, (just reading it made me tired), and I even doubted that we could accomplish everything we set out to do.

Assuming that we did, I knew we would be exhausted and all done touring by the time we got to Dubai.  We wanted to keep our layover schedule extremely light to help us unwind a little after our time exploring India and Thailand. We thought it was a simple, yet a perfect end to our trip. My daughter also wanted to see the outlet mall, because she heard there were knock-offs there. Other than that, we were good.

The plan:

day 1:

  • arrive in the afternoon 
  • hang out at the hotel pool
  • get dinner
  • go to the Dubai Outlet Mall

day 2:

  • breakfast at hotel
  • beach all day
  • camel desert ride and Arabic dinner show

day 3:

  • breakfast at hotel
  • flight back home

 

I searched the internet for camel trekking tours in Dubai on my last night in Bangkok. I had to do some research because there were many different options and price ranges. I also wanted to read reviews on trip advisor and yelp for the best one.

We chose the Half Day Camel Trekking Desert Safari package ,that included:

  • hotel pick-up and drop-off
  • 4×4 desert safari drive
  • camel trekking in the Arabian desert
  • traditional Arabic buffet dinner
  • belly dancing show
  • sheesha
  • henna

The package seemed like it had everything we were looking for and more! The reviews were great and the price seemed reasonable so we booked it. We booked it through getyourguide.com and the company was North Tours LLC and the cost was $85.00 USD/pp.

On the day of the tour they picked us up at our hotel lobby at 3:30 pm. There was another family from our hotel joining us.  They were a very nice family from Italy. It was a husband and wife on their 30th wedding anniversary and their 18-year-old daughter who accompanied them on their trip to help them with translation.  They couldn’t speak English and felt better with her interpreting for them.  She laughed how she made out great, being able to come to this supposedly romantic trip for two, for free, just because they needed her language skills. By the way, her English was super.

The driver picked us up and we drove about 30 minutes or so to the entry point of the desert. He then switched the SUV in 4 wheel drive and just went for it. We where all shocked at how crazy and fast her was going. We all laughed with a mixture of excitement and fear.  We were literally being throw all around the vehicle.   I looked up and noticed padded roll bars and became instantly aware that we were in for a bumpy ride. It was way more of a road trip then any of us expected.  But we survived.

We got to the site of the desert camp. It was very cute and so Middle Eastern looking. (if there’s such a thing?) I loved it!  There were many low table aligned around a stage in the center. They each had place setting and cushions as seats in the sand. Each table had a number.

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sheesha smoking room

Encircled around the dining area were covered rooms, each with its own purpose.  Upon arriving, a man served us waters and showed us to his room. It was a souvenir shop selling traditional desert turbans, and belly dancing wraps that he, in seconds, adorned us with. thewanderlustyogi.net He quickly tried to sell them to us and when we said that we weren’t interested he got sort of aggressive try to barter us down and kept trying to pressure us to buy the items.  I felt like I was back in New Delhi.  We didn’t budge. I mean, where the heck would we wear these at home? Nowhere!

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my attempt at belly dancing

The driver told us to wait a few minutes and the camel trek guide would be there momentary.  We browsed around the shop and then the area.  Some of the other rooms were for sheesha smoking, another for henna, some looked like it was a serving area for food, and then a bar. We drank down our waters fast.  It was so hot! Desert hot! We were very glad at that moment that we chose the evening trek, we couldn’t imagine how hot it would have been, mid day! Yikes!

I glanced over and saw the camel guide heading our way, also the Italian family walking towards us, all decked out in their desert attire.  I guess the daughter wasn’t too good at translating NO!? They did look cute though.

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camels just chillin’

The guide walked us over to our camels. There were 3 lined up, attached by ropes to one another.  The first one was going to be for the Italian mom and daughter, the second for the Italian dad and the 3rd, for my daughter and me.

thewanderlustyogi.netWe all had help getting onto these huge beasts.  They were sitting in the sand.  Ours was a little feisty, making noise and using its mouth to nudge the poor Italian dad.  The dad looked concerned but the guide just laughed. Good thing the camel had a muzzle over its mouth.  Then all at once, the guide instructed the camels to stand. We all yelled out a little. It felt like we went up high so quick.  We started our trek.

thewanderlustyogi.netThe trek was calm and quiet as the camels walked slowly, one after the other. The guide just walked at a minimal pace in front of our caravan and pulled us through the Arabian desert. Did I mention it was hot? It was so hot and dry. I know. It is the desert after all, but its hard to understand that feeling of “desert heat” until you are actually in it. I wish I drank more and felt completely dehydrated. I tried to put that out of my mind and be in the present moment. This was hard to do because I was also trying to capture this moment by filming and taking pictures.thewanderlustyogi.net

I was talking to myself in my mind the whole time,

” this is so cool”,

“Make sure you get some good footage and pictures for instragram.”

“Never mind that, just enjoy it!”

” I hope this camel doesn’t freak out!”

” I’m so hot and thirsty.”

“How far are we going to go?”

” We could be killed out here!”

“Don’t think like that.”

thewanderlustyogi.netAnd after an hour and a half  our trek ended in the middle of the Arabian desert. What? Then we saw the SUV driver on his way over the sandy hills.  Whew! He came to the end point and picked us up to bring us to the dinner show.  I asked him if he would take a few shots for us and he did. I was glad and thankful.

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our camel trekking guide

After another wild ride in his SUV we made it back to camp.  We were the only ones there. The driver said we could go to the bar and get more drinks (all non-alcohol drinks were unlimited and included) and we were able to do henna and sheesha if we wanted, while waiting for the dinner and show to begin.

thewanderlustyogi.netWe got drinks and headed over to the henna room. The lady wasn’t very friendly, but we really wanted henna. She only did a very little area on our hand. We asked her if she could do a little more if we would tip her a few dirham, and she obliged.

After that, the place started filling up. I couldn’t believe how many more people arrived.  It looked like the dinner show was going to be sold out.  The line for the henna started to get long, so we were happy that we got it done before anyone else showed up.

thewanderlustyogi.netWe looked over to another room and they were setting up for sheesha. I know its bad and probably as cancer causing as cigarettes but I do sheesha, or as we normally call it, hookah (on occasion).  Its like non-smoker smoking an occasional cigar every so often. Everything in moderation I say. And since we were there, and this is “their” tradition (when in Rome)  I even let my daughter do it, even though she took like one puff and didn’t like it very much,  Good!thewanderlustyogi.net

Sitting there on the cushions, puffing the sheesha with other tourists, we all suddenly noticed the amazingly beautiful, desert sunset.  It looked like no other sunset I have ever seen before.  With the desert as the back drop, and the halo of dissipating heat surrounding the sun, it was hard to even give it justice by a picture.  I was expressing how absolutely stunning it was and a worker who over heard me told me to go to the second floor for an even better view. It was incredible and it felt like a very special moment. Standing alone on the second floor balcony, gazing at this view, felt surreal. I almost felt outside of my body for a moment. A warm sensation came through my body, from the crown of my head, making its way down to my feet.  As this warmth left my body, I got a sudden chill.

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desert sunset

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desert sunset from 2nd floor and looking over the desert camp

People were scattered around the camp, some looking at souvenirs, some getting henna, some smoking sheesha, and some just relaxing in the sand on the hill behind.  It felt very nice and relaxing, especially with the heat subsiding. The announcer spoke over the intercom that it was time for dinner and that we should all go to our assigned tables.  Upon arrival our driver let us know which table was ours.thewanderlustyogi.net

The Italian family was also with us and some others. We sat down and greeted each other and then they announced that we could all line up to the buffet for food.  The line was long but moved along fast.  The Arabian men lined up and each scooped food onto our plates. We had a little of everything, just to at least try it all.  The gave way too much. My plate was heavy, filled with lamb kabobs, legumes, rice and pita.

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Arabic food

We all sat and chatted as we ate and after about 20 minutes the announcer said the show was about to begin. Red, blue and green lights started shining in the center of the stage and loud Arabic music (that had a sort of dubstep sound) began to play.

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belly dancer at the dinner-show

A belly dancer took the stage. She shook, wiggled her hips and stomach and danced all around, which reminded me a lot like Shakira. She was very entertaining and talented. Then the second act  took the stage. thewanderlustyogi.netIt was a man with a lighted dress that spun like a top. It was a great show and was fun to watch.  At the end the announcer thanked us for coming, hoped we enjoyed it and said to head out to the area of parking to find our drivers.

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Maddie and Julia (the Italian daughter)

We hopped back into the SUV with the Italian family and all said how much we enjoyed it. We told the driver to take it easy driving back. We said we were all full from dinner, not to mention,  it was pitch black and you couldn’t see a thing! He looked through the rear view mirror, smiled, and then pressed on the gas, full speed.

It was very fun and I’m so happy I not only got to take off another item on my bucket list, but it was even better than I anticipated!   If you ever go to Dubai, I  highly recommend this tour. It’s a great time and something you just can’t do anywhere else!

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Italian family we met on the camel trekking tour

 

 

 

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