From the Cave: Writings from Deep Travel Andalusia, Featuring Tania Amochaev

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We continue our “From the Cave” series with writer and photographer, Tania Amochaev. Her essay, “Ma Ganga,” exemplifies the spirit of duende–the theme of our Deep Travel Andalusia trip. Imagine yourself in a cave, high above Granada, Spain. The flamenco dancer, singer, and guitarist have just finished their resounding performance–the cave walls still echo with the sounds of it. Standing where the dancer had been spinning in flamenco puro, Tania read this essay….

 

MA GANGA

 By Tania Amochaev

A corpse wrapped in gold foil—lightly balanced on the shoulders of a group of men—jostled past me. Its bare soles bobbed as they disappeared into the dark crowded alley leading down to the river. I stared briefly while skirting the cremation ghats—burning fires and dense smoke—and barely avoided falling on the twisting cobblestones of Varanasi as I caught up to Raju.

“You don’t allow women at cremation rituals here in India because you are afraid they might still throw themselves on the fire?” I asked, knowing the old custom of sati—widows practicing self-immolation—had been illegal for years.

“Oh, perhaps it started for that reason,” Raju replied, politely oblivious to my cynicism, “but now it is part of our culture. Our brothers, fathers, and husbands perform this sacred ritual.”

“And who performed your own good husband’s cremation?” Raju continued, not interrupting his effortless weaving.

Saved from an immediate response by another jostling corpse, I stopped to watch a skinny, nearly naked black man weighing large pieces of wood for the pyres that were lit hundreds of times daily in this most holy of places.

I was spending several weeks on Ma Ganga—Mother Ganges—the heart and soul of India’s Hindu culture. For days we floated on small boats covered by old cloth canopies, each rowed by two young, gently muscled dark-skinned men wrapped in lungis—the six-foot-long cloths that cover, from waist down, most Indian men in all but the centers of large cities. Often the banks of the river were quiet, just oxen mingling with night herons, an unexpected perspective on this vibrant land. But during the Sonepur Mela celebration in Bihar, near the confluence of the Ganges with the Gandak, we joined over one million people bathing in the river at this auspicious moment—the November full moon.

Moments—like snapshots—imprinted themselves:

A small boat floats along a placid channel, the water pale blue, the sun gentled by constant haze. We—three startlingly white women—relax against colorful pillows, facing oarsmen who lie asleep in the prow while the minimal current does their work. Beneath our idle gaze a group of large black birds—crows or ravens—alights on a body-shaped floating object.

Smoke on a garbage-strewn rocky bank clears to show three sinewy men cremating a young family member. A brother reaches quickly into the fire to pull out remaining shards of bone and throw them in the river. Water is splashed onto the flames in the final step of the ritual.

Our boats approach the night’s campsite—a broad expanse of sand that forms an island in the low post-monsoon river. I jump ashore, avoiding a round white object. Our oarsman says it is a skull, but a fellow traveler laughs and assures me it is an old piece of styrofoam. Tents are extracted from beneath boards that were softened by our bed pillows during the trip on the water; dried cow patties are quickly set on fire for our afternoon tea.

Beneath a quiet alcove a holy man setting up his morning gratitude ritual invites me to sit. In an intensely personal ceremony he steers my soul to my deceased husband and welcomes him to the circle of the blessed. I chant along and toss bunches of seeds, gripped with my thumb and middle two fingers, onto the fire in time with his rhythm. A sense of peace and a decorated forehead testifies to my participation in this puja.

I walk during the Mela with increasingly dense crowds towards the broad river, lined by cement ghats—the ever-present stepped platforms full of life along Indian waterways. A barber snaps his scissors overhead advertising his availability for a child’s first ritual head shaving. This day many parents cannot reach the river for the density of the mob; so bald babies are trustingly passed above the crowd, assuring their dunking before the rising sun flashes on the water. Even in this intense swarm people save a smile for my visibly foreign face.

The Ganges flows for 1000 miles through India, its life-giving force evident all along the way. In death, people aspire to bring their loved ones to sacred spots like Varanasi and Haridwar to assure peace for their souls. Tourists also flock to Varanasi—at sunset the river is full of 20-passenger boats rowing up and down between the two large cremation ghats, visitors staring in rapt amazement at the fires. The evening religious ceremony there is now performed under glowing neon lights. Seven priests in gold, in a carefully staged performance, swing flames to loudly broadcast chants. Prosperous Indians fill the front sections, and, in spite of the strong tourist presence, it is believers who crowd the banks.

Standing above this melee, I watched a hawker entice a baby with a poodle shaped balloon—the father too polite to chase him away, the hawker intent on getting the child to demand the toy. The whole scene could fit somewhere between St. Mark’s Square and a country carnival.

I headed for the cremation ghats where work continued into the night. Each body is allocated a large amount of hardwood straight from some diminishing forest. The flame is brought from a perpetual fire—lit by Shiva thousands of years ago—and the fee for its use is based on the wealth of the recipient.

The men in the family stay the 3 to 10 hours it takes to complete the cremation, having brought the body on their shoulders through the town. The government, concerned about conservation, has built a sophisticated modern crematorium that sits ignored. People wish their loved ones’ ashes to enter Ma Ganga in a traditional manner, and the ceremony is a joyous time in which the soul is freed.

The intensity of India keeps pulling me back, and I feel protective of experiences that touch me in unexpected ways, often dissipating disbelief. When I later share stories of the trip, questions about dead bodies in the river dominate conversation, seconded by awe over the intensity of the cremations and revulsion over the crowding, filth and chaos. It is in this revulsion that I recognize how far my own perceptions have moved.

My mind returns to that one question, innocently asked by a young Indian in the alleys of Varanasi: “And who performed your own good husband’s cremation?” At that moment I was horrified to realize I had no idea. Complete strangers—men—took my husband’s body away from my home.

I later received his ashes in a polished wooden urn that I had selected in the sterility of a crematory along the freeway not far from my house. The beautiful small mortuary in the heart of my small town of Healdsburg had been torn down and replaced by a lively restaurant. In our society the real estate was simply too valuable to waste on the dead.

The moment I seriously considered the question about Harold’s cremation, I saw my world through the eyes of my Indian hosts. Their rituals of death, the normality of corpses and skulls, the belief that a river can ease the passage to the afterlife—these are all ways in which people accept the unacceptable—the loss of a loved one. Our ways might seem as impersonal and foreign to them as dead bodies floating in rivers are unimaginable to us; our horror might be perceived as callously judgmental.

The floating object with black birds on it did in fact turn out to be a dead body—a lost corpse. The styrofoam ball really was a water-smoothed human skull. The boatman who drank river water from his fingers moments after we passed a corpse was vibrantly alive at the end of our trip. My friends ate river-fish at our campsite and suffered no ill consequences. I didn’t choose to dunk myself in the river but I did fall in and survived unscathed. No one drowned on the packed ghats of the Mela in spite of intense crowding and shoving. And the water and air around Varanasi—subjected to the burning of hundreds of bodies daily—mysteriously has no unpleasant aromas.

I could not leave Ma Ganga unchanged. An old fear of crowds dissipated. Faith and fantasy cohabit with greater ease in my scientific Western mind. Death harmonizes more naturally with life today than it did before those weeks I spent on her, and Harold’s spirit roams more freely.

Early one morning at my riverside campsite I watched a holy man appear out of the mist. He roamed alone in a land of a billion people; on his river; oblivious. I carry that scene with me, and the memory helps me walk in serenity. From my low angle I saw him effortlessly walk out onto and over the water. Of course, I thought.

TANIA AMOCHAEV

Tania Romanov Amochaev was born in Belgrade, Serbia of two displaced émigrés―a Russian father and a Croatian mother―and spent her childhood in San Sabba, a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy. After arriving  in America on the SS Constitution in 1954, Amochaev grew up in San Francisco, California and earned a  degree in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley. She then forged a successful business  career, serving as CEO of three technology companies, earning an MS in Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and receiving an honorary PhD from Saint Catherine University in  Minneapolis, Minnesota. Amochaev is a founder of the Healdsburg Literary Guild in California and the educational non-profit Public School Success Team, which mobilizes community volunteers to reduce public high school  dropout rates. She has climbed Mount Whitney and Mount Kenya, circumnavigated Annapurna, trekked  through Bhutan and Kashmir, and sailed along remote rivers in Burma (Myanmar). Tania lives in San Francisco, but spends several months each year traveling the world.  Learn more about Tania and her book, Mother Tongue: A Saga of Three Generations of Balkan Women, at TaniaRomanov.com

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Want to know more about upcoming Deep Travel Workshops? Check out these 2019 adventures to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco.

 

From the Cave: Writings from Deep Travel Andalusia, Featuring Gloria Wilson

Gloria Reading in Cave

We continue our series, “From the Cave,” with a duende-filled vignette from Gloria Wilson. After Gloria and fellow Deep Travel writers watched a flamenco dance, they all read their work in the gitano cave, celebrating a week of following Lorca’s footsteps through Granada, Spain. 

A VIGNETTE BY GLORIA WILSON

It never goes quite right.  The wind shifts, the wave comes in, the ashes lie flat.  The ever-present pressure of finding the perfect spot for deployment.  The hill on the Serengeti or the elephant-demolished bush on the plain.  High atop a cliff in Tibet or the holy hot spring. The bay that surrounds Robben Island or from Table Mountain. High or low, land or sea. Like the Buddhist air or water burials.  No matter.  The remains will eventually be swept away.  I bring him in my pocket and release to share the wondrous sights of places he would never know.

A friend is aghast! You’ve taken him everywhere? Tibet, India, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, France, Italy, Guatemala, Belize, Vietnam, Cambodia? Jerry will never be free if you don’t dispose of all of his remains. I don’t agree but the admonition lingers.

My daughter and I talk of perfect places for the final burial. We nod. A not-so-far-away island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Not exotic but very familiar.  An island getaway where the three of us often went, where we looked into the yachts at night, walked the cobblestone streets, imagined the wives waiting for the whalers coming home from sea. We will go again on Jerry’s birthday, to celebrate the lives we shared.

The high-speed ferry takes but an hour. Exhilarated from the sea air and a bit anxious, we drop our bags at the bed and breakfast and go straight to the flower cart on the main street for some wildflowers.  Next stop, our favorite sandwich shop. With flowers, sandwiches and beach towels, we head to the beckoning lighthouse. The one that greats the ferries and bids them goodbye.  Perfect marker for the resting place.  But it never goes quite right; we should have music, we should have written something to say, once again we don’t want to say goodbye.

In knee deep water, I  toss the ashes into the water, Cait tosses the flowers. The wave comes in, the wind shifts, the ashes and flowers come back to us.  We smile.  It never goes quite right, but then it never goes quite wrong.

 

ABOUT GLORIA WILSON

“You fit the profile,” says a stranger ordering a drink next to me. At first, I was taken aback. What does that mean? But it is true, who and what I am is a teacher, spending my entire adult life teaching students with special needs and now teaching others to teach students with disabilities. My writing, mostly on the evolution of loss, is short, to the point, and for me, cathartic. I live in New York City, overlooking the East River and daily sunrises, and in the middle of museums, theatres, subways and crowds. I’m a professor at Hofstra University, mother to Caitlin and of course love adventures of many kinds.

 

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Want to know more about upcoming Deep Travel Workshops? Check out these 2019 adventures to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco.

From the Cave: Writings from Deep Travel Andalusia, featuring Mike Bernhardt

Cave dancing

 

It was one of those days that stays with you long after it’s over: travelers gathering in a gitano cave high above Granada to hear flamenco puro danced, sung, and played by masters of their craft. It was the last day of our Deep Travel Andalusia trip. We had gone in search of duende–Lorca’s famous dark thread that weaves through our lives. After the flamenco performance, as the afternoon light softened outside the cave entrance, the Deep Travel writers read from their work. Mike Bernhardt read this poem–an embodiment of duende:

 

SUNDAY

Mike Bernhardt

 

Together, we survived the terrifying night

of CPR and defibrillation, too many tubes and wires and doctors,

my kisses on your forehead and your eyes kissing me back

until your EKG exploded again and they told me to leave.

I sat outside in the hallway talking softly with you.

 

In the morning, though your eyes seemed empty,

I dreamed of your recovery and went home to sleep

only to be greeted by a ringing phone and an urgent voice

and I was out again, stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge,

 

praying, screaming at God to get me to you in time.

Hoping that curses and prayers might be enough,

I inched and fought my way through traffic and despair

until finally free, nearly drowning

 

I plunged into the streets racing

to San Francisco General. Sometimes now

I like to imagine what I would have told the police

if they’d noticed. I like to think that I wouldn’t have pulled over

 

I would’ve just plummeted on at

70 miles per hour up Potrero Avenue letting

them catch up to me in the parking lot as

I ran inside MY WIFE’S DYING! I would’ve screamed

 

but they didn’t notice.

I ran inside alone

to find my friends cryingand you, dead.

 

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MIKE BERNHARDT

Mike has been married to his second wife, Yvonne for 25 years. After a career in IT, he retired in December 2016 at the age of 60. These days, he loves to travel, write, cook, walk, play guitar, and enjoy more time with his wife. Check out his travel blog at TravelingWithMikeAndYvonne.com for more of his adventures.

 

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Want to know more about upcoming Deep Travel Workshops? Check out these 2019 adventures to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco.

Between Yelapas

(introduction by Christina Ammon, Deep Travel Prez)

Lately I’ve been trying to break the habit of urging people to write books.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy or an Indian and I didn’t care which one,” my friend Jeff mentioned one day.

“OMG! That’s the first line of your memoir!” I gushed.

Jeff is a guitar player, not a writer, and not once has expressed a shred of interest in writing a book. Perhaps my compulsion to tell everyone what they should be writing about is to compensate for my own failure to pull off a book; it’s much easier to tell everyone else to do it.

People tell me to write books, too, and lately I’ve begun to notice that my response is not one of feeling flattered, but rather feeling pressured. Their well-meaning goading is a reminder that time is ticking, that I  have some good stories, and I haven’t done a thing about it.

Just when I resolved to break this habit, my friend Lisa Boice Hannington sent me her latest blog post which recounts her experience at a Deep Travel workshop we were at together Yelapa Mexico (her second Deep Travel workshop with us in Yelapa!). In her blog, I’m doing that annoying thing: telling her she should write  a book. Thankfully, she was gracious about it. Reading her blog–her clear writing style, her unique perspective, the clever title (The Accidental Birder!) it’s difficult not to feel like it could be a book. Both in workshops and on the page, Lisa discloses easily and elegantly and in doing so, and gives others permission to do so as well–just what you want at a writers workshop! Her writing is both scientific and emotional–the very same kind of writing that made me love Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams. Here she ponders birds, her husband’s cancer, and whether every story must have tragedy.

Lisa, thanks for letting us republish your essay. I won’t tell you I think you should turn it into a book!

                                  Between Yelapas

by Lisa Boice Hannington

 

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“I came back to Yelapa to face my words I uttered last year and found myself no closer to what I should do. I wrote much that week and not about what had been going on in our lives the past six months. I wrote and listened. I watched and wrote. I kept going at it like the birds that keep going at their lives all around us.”-Lisa Boice Hannington

 

It was on the beautiful beach of Yelapa where I caused bad luck to crash down on me the moment I uttered the words to Christina. It was my first time in the Mexican town of Yelapa and we had just wrapped up a morning session of a writing workshop where we all—a group of eight women—had taken our turn to read what we had written during a session called “wild writing.” I was making my way back to our open-air rental to meet up with Steve where he had spent his morning, and I was walking carefully on the wet sand near the surf, as it was flatter, harder wet sand and easier to walk on than the loose, dry sand where my feet kept sinking and sliding. While it was certainly better to be on the wet sand, I was also trying to avoid the approaching waves as they stretched up to the shore when I heard Christina’s voice.

 

“I meant what I said back there,” she said. “You really should write a book about you and Steve and all your birding adventures. You have such a great story!”

Read the rest here.

 

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Want to know more about upcoming Deep Travel Workshops? Check out these 2019 adventures to Mexico, Spain, and Morocco.

 

 

Wandering Eye: Interview with photographer Teya Jacobi

I came to know photographer Teya Jacobi on our Deep Travel trips to far-flung locales like Mexico and Morocco. But she’s actually nearly my neighbor, living right up the road from me in Oregon’s Applegate Valley. So, it was fun one afternoon to visit her in her own element—a classic log cabin nestled under tall trees. She “does” home as well as she does travel: a cozy woodstove, beautiful beam structure and earthy decor create a “grounding” atmosphere to settle down in between adventures.

But she never settles for too long. Already her mind was on an upcoming trip to Nepal and Bhutan. She gestured to the surrounding mountains that she will use as her training ground for the tough trekking route she was about to undertake to Everest Base Camp. Her plan is to hike in the valley in the months leading up to the trip. “Sometimes traveling can be in your own neighborhood,” she says.

Teya often has her camera in tow on our Deep Travel writing trips, and I always appreciate seeing our shared travels through her photographer’s vantage. She sees a strong parallel between the written and visual. “In writing, you want the reader to feel what you feel—the same goes for photography,” she explains.

While drinking tea, we explored her archives—photos of Alaska, Utah, of our valley, and of Mexico and Morocco. Most feature her favorite subjects: people and nature. Though she was trained professionally at the NE Boston School of photography and has owned a portrait studio, and these days she is just enjoying the meditative focus it brings to her travels. She has even embraced travel-friendly technologies such as iPhone cameras. “I never thought I’d I’d be a person taking pictures with an iPhone, but sometimes it’s great not carrying heavy equipment.”

We sat together and as we clicked along, she offered some technical commentary on her photos.

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“The placement of the woman painting in Essaouira is key to the composition.  Her bright pink dress contrasts with the dull background hues.  The light and dark arch shapes give movement and perspective.”

 

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“This colorful Puerto Vallarta seems simple.  What makes it work is shooting at an angle, the flags dancing in the wind, the solid green tree leaves contrasted with the multicolored buildings, and the detail of the tiny lamp lights.”

 

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“The Oaxaca church/museum is a classic historical landmark photo.  I look for natural frames, like this arch, to add interest and put the subject off center.”

 

 

Marrakesh
“Despite not using a tripod, I captured the city lights of Moulay Idriss, Morocco from a balcony.  I set my camera at ISO 1000 at f4.5 and braced myself against a wall for a one second exposure.  The diagonal angles of lit buildings pointing towards the sky created a dramatic scene. “

 

 

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“I often wait for birds to fly into a scene.  The 3 birds silhouetted on the sign in Puerto Vallarta came alive when a bird flew into the perfect spot.  It’s what eminent photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment”.

 

Teya has taught photography classes and shared a couple of tips tips:

*Look for diagonal lines in your composition. They create dynamic movement.

*Try shooting vertical instead of horizontal.

*Notice the background. People often only look at the people or main object of the photo without attending to the background.

*Cardinal rule: never place the horizon line in the center of the frame. This is known as the rule of thirds.

NOTE: cover photo is of Teya at the Tongoraro crossing in New Zealand!

For information on upcoming Deep Travel trips, visit http://www.deeptravelworkshops.com

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Yelapa Sol: The official cocktail of Deep Travel Mexico!

                            CROSSING THE BEVERAGE BARRIER….Nancy Yelapa sol

Nancy Kessler and Tim Cahill prepare their signature “Yelapa Sols” with  serious soul!

By Nancy Kessler

(Written at Deep Travel workshop in Mexico, January, 2018)

It is said necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes the spark of creativity is driven by want, such as in the desire for a drink.

And, you never know when or where the need will hit.

We are staying in Yelapa, a small sunny and warm pueblo costera (coastal town) in Mexico, una ensenada (cove) catering to tourists and my fellow writing workshop participants. Our hosts, Anna and Christina, kindly left us a bottle of tequila reposato, or aged tequila, and a bowlful of lovely, tiny, bright green, sweet and tangy limes in our room, knowing my sweetheart, workshop leader Tim Cahill, enjoys indulging in an after work cocktail.

I, on the other hand, have a wary respect for the blue agave, earned many years ago, many, many miles north, in a place many, many degrees colder. That night, I met some girlfriends for a Christmas drink after a long week of work, needing only to finish packing for my trip to another snowy holiday destination before leaving on a 6 a.m. flight.

Our local taverna, El Buho, or The Owl, was often frequented by my friends for a drink called “The Fishbowl,” a softball-sized and -shaped glass, which the infamous bartender Dana (but that’s another story) would fill with ice and straight tequila, topped with a squeeze of lime.

I had never indulged in a Fishbowl, but Kelly and Gloria encouraged me to live large and kick off my vacation with a kick. And so I did, and did again, and again, and…  After five Fishbowls, I crawled home happy, packed my bag with alacrity, and crashed at 11 p.m.

At 3 a.m., I bolted upright in bed, wide awake, still past tipsy, and asked myself, “What the hell is in that suitcase?” I pulled it over, flung it open, and discovered that for my ten-day visit home, I had packed 23 sweaters, and not a single pair of socks.

I have limited my tequila-drinking ever since.

Tim knows I rarely drink liquor straight, so he kindly asks Mr. Google for some tequila beverage recipes – not margaritas – that we might easily make in our casita with ingredients found at the local tienda. Nothing quite fits the bill, nor can we find all the mixings at the store, so I improvise on the spot, picking this and that in hopes the blend would be potable.

Later that day, I try my newly invented cocktail, and find it to be not only sabrosa, fresca  y refrescante – tasty, cool and refreshing – but good enough to deserve a real name, and worldwide acclaim. Tim too finds it to his liking, and helps devise the perfect moniker to celebrate the potion and the place.

We call it Yelapa Sol.

Herewith, fellow workshoppers, the recipe:

Fill a tall glass with ice

Add 1-2 shots of tequila (to taste)

Fill the rest of glass with ½ Seven-Up and ½ agua minerale (club soda)

Add squeeze of lime, stir and sip

Repeat as desired

Feel free to share the formula, demand it at your local tavern, and help give it the fame it so tastily deserves. A tu salud!

Garcias view

Enjoy Yelapa Sols with a view!

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The Call to Prayer by Martha Ezell

moulay

I missed the call the third day I was away from it – the call to pay attention, the call to be grateful, the call to be together, the call that unites us.

I’d never visited a Muslim country before. Like many others of my nation, I held a one-dimensional view of a vast and ancient religion practiced more outside than inside our borders. I associated Islam with conflict. I heard reports of women’s inferior status within Muslim countries. I naively believed there was little to learn from these places.

Still, I’d traveled enough to realize the importance of experiencing somewhere you don’t truly understand, so when the opportunity came to travel to Morocco with a small group of writers, I packed my bags. We’d start in Fez, one of its oldest and holiest cities.

From the second floor window of my riad (an old family mansion converted into a guesthouse) I spot a worker standing in the garden below, away from the central courtyard and behind a row of tall orange trees. He is staring at a rug on the ground with a picture on it of a house? A temple? He is talking to himself. Is he trying to decide whether to buy this rug? It looks almost new. He stares at it for several minutes, and then drops to his knees and puts his head to the ground. Of course, I realize: he is praying, not for the first time feeling foolish at my cultural ignorance.

The call comes again later when we are gathering on a rooftop oasis for dinner. I look around to see what to do. None of the locals seem to behave differently or even notice. The lonely call filters through the trees of the courtyard, and bounces off the tan walls and uneven wooden beams that hold up the ancient infrastructure. It does not disturb anything.

We are invited to dinner at another restored riad in the oldest part of the medina. We navigate through several of the longest passageways where I can reach out and touch both walls on each side for blocks on end. As we pass through the markets, I notice only men are behind the stalls. They sell multi-colored bins of aromatic spices, hand-sewn clothes, freshly-made leather slippers, hammered copper pans, intricate weavings, and an infinite variety of offerings for everyday Moroccan life. They wish me bonjour from under their hoods. Women are not, however, invisible. They stand with their headscarves in doorways greeting their children as they return from school, or are out shopping, often arm-in-arm. They are on their way to the common bathhouse, they are in line to pick up the bread from the baker where they have left their dough to be cooked in a community oven. Most are friendly when asked for directions. Their headscarves and djellabas look comfortable, not “limiting” as I had imagined.

When we at last arrive at the riad, we dine under the stars and a canopy of old orange trees. We listen to readings and tales of living in Morocco’s varied terrain of rolling hillsides, jagged peaks, vast deserts, and inviting beaches. Our hosts are an Australian couple who now raise a family in Fez at an age far past the traditional age when most people become parents.

“We never wanted a family before we came to Fez,” they tell us. “The life of Western families always seems to divide the attention of the parents between working and caring for their kids. In Morocco there is not this division. There is a cohesiveness to family life here that Western cultures seem to be missing.”

We climb a narrow stairway up to the rooftop patio to gaze over the expansive network of walls enclosing its 160,000 residents. Satellite dishes dot every building making for a complicated puzzle of old and new. We then do what unites all Moroccans: we drink mint tea together, a thick blend of deep green mint leaves, sweetened, and poured from a silver pitcher high above to aerate the drink.

The next day, a young Moroccan guide named Zakia leads our group to a courtyard house in Old Fez. She is anything but shy—a modern version of the Muslim woman, navigating her way boldly though the heavily-laden donkeys and pushcarts that deliver all that is needed inside the medina. She seems comfortable with the time-worn traditions, always with a stylish headscarf, never suggesting she desires a different kind of life. She leads us to the house where she was born in the heart of the old medina. Her family now lives outside the walls in “new Fez”, and the three-story home that surrounds an open courtyard where she was raised now houses a business and another family.

“I want to open a cafe here and have beautiful dresses like the ones we wear for special occasions available for tourists and visitors to try on and take pictures, along with tea, storytelling, and readings,” she tell us. We take turns trying on the elaborately embroidered and beaded gowns in intense colors of pink, purple and deep blue, and take turns taking photos. She will find her way here just fine, I think, even if not allowed to sell anything in the stalls. This is for her brothers. She seems to have no worry about where she is unable to go. She only seems to want to expand her world where she can imagine it going.

I see how she fits into a larger picture of Muslim life, one that is structured with clear traditions that support a family-based society. It seems gentle, orderly, nourishing. It is not a perception that I could’ve understood from a distance. This feels like true Islam.

A few days later my young guide takes me to the central Taxi Dispatch to recover a treasured camera I had left the night before on the back seat of red taxi. The officials look us over and bring out the only “lost-and-found” items they have: a long wooden drawer filled with hundreds of sets of keys and a cardboard box full of water bottles. “This is it?” she says skeptically.

There is no hope, but my guide forges ahead, explaining to the men how I need a police report for my insurance. We’re sent to a police station back near the medina where we sit for hours on a narrow bench, our backs against the wall facing the courtyard with it’s impossibly high ceilings and etched stone archways. I study the elaborate patterns of blue and white tiles covering the police station as my guide flips through the Tinder feed on her phone. Not so different anymore, these youngsters of the world. I notice one candidate with no shirt on and comment, IMHO, that this is never a good sign. “Really? ” she looks up smiling, “I like it. You can really see them!”

“You Americans are the funny ones!” she tells me. “Always carrying on about how wonderful the food is….every meal…’Fantastic! Amazing!’ I mean it’s just food!” We both laugh. “And then you’re all obsessed with your bodies! Everyone running and working out and eating just so! It’s so funny to me!” We agree she should write a story about traveling with the strange Americans.

The designated official never comes back. Having learned more spending the afternoon with my Muslim friend than I did with my “valuable” camera, I give up and go home.

The next day we visit the local Hammam, a communal bathhouse where women, with their small children, gather to talk and bathe together, sitting on the floor in their underwear on an intricately-patterned tiled room full of steam and surely used for a thousand years.

I lie on the floor as a large woman in sizable panties rolls me over and covers me from bottom to top with cleansing mud. I suppress my giggles but others around me let out peels of laughter as we take turns being scrubbed down like an omelet-encrusted pan. There is no modesty within these walls. We are all more alike than different here and the Muslim women nearby bathing their babies and deep in conversation accept our presence with little notice.

“Ei-yi-yi-eeeeeeee!” A high-pitched scream that seems almost inhuman comes from the next room. A contingent of squealing women enters to surround a young boy bringing him a candle in a small cake. “He’s just been circumcised. It is a celebration,” our guide says as the high-pitched noises form a prayer for the new little man.

We walk back out into the medina where the streets have quieted. Friday is the holy day for Muslims and shops close at noon. There is a rush to lock up as the call to prayer starts, reminding all of their commitment to pray five times each day. The men hurry to the side door of their mosque, slipping off their shoes to kneel together in rows. Women enter though a different door to find their community prayers.

Across the street from a nearby mosque, an affable, grey-haired man is stooped over a loom in his shop finishing a weaving. The sheath of material in front of him is a crisscross of delicate fibers of white cotton with bands of silk made from the agave plant running through it in stripes of bright sea-blue. It is fresh off the loom. I look at it through the light as it draws me in, reflecting the symmetry, the delicate beauty, the calm that exists beneath and alongside the confounding bustle of Fez.

I bring the material home and send it to my go-to seamstress – my 95-year-old mother who still loves to sew. These curtains of woven white and turquoise created by the elders of two nations now hang in my bedroom window. They filter the morning sunlight, bringing with it a distant understanding, calling me to prayer.

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Martha Ezell has always been an explorer at heart, full of curiosity and restless by nature. Once she left the almost-great state of Texas where she was born she was on the move. She has worked as a waitress, psychologist, social worker, teacher, mortgage broker, documentary filmmaker and technology instructor. She has been published on Gadling.com and included in the Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8. She lives in Petaluma, California.

There are still spots on our upcoming Deep Travel Spain and Deep Travel Morocco trips this coming March! For more information, visit http://www.deeptravelworkshops.com or email: info@deeptravelworkshops.com

Deep Traveler Hudson Lindenberger braves the hammam…

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Hudson opting out of a photo-op.  (Moulay Idriss, Morocco)

Hudson Lindenberger came with us on our Deep Travel Morocco trip last March for a writing workshop led by Tim Cahill. A freelance writer from Boulder, Colorado, Hudson is now residing for a year in Lyon, France. He writes, “Diving into the deep end of the pool is scary at first, until you realize how much fun it is. Then you can’t stop.”

His characteristic humor is on display in this account of diving into the local hammam in the Middle Atlas town of Moulay Idriss. This story is published in one of our favorite online travel mags, Hidden Compass. Here is an excerpt:

Scalded, Sanded, and Smeared

This place should come with a warning sticker. You know, like the advisories on the outside of certain compact disc cases: “Explicit content.” A sign that says “Fat, Middle-Aged, Pasty Guys: Beware” would suffice.

Come to think of it, maybe that was what was written on the fading, peeling sign I passed on my way in. Unfortunately, I can’t read Arabic…

Continue reading at Hidden Compass.

UPCOMING TRIPS TO SPAIN AND MOROCCO: Click HERE for more information about these adventures, or visit www.deeptravelworkshops.com

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Kimberley Lovato’s new book explores the ‘Unique Eats’ of San Francisco

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A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering with friends in North Beach wondering where to dine. We walked the streets and examined menus, but were at a loss. The place we settled on was good, but I suspected we probably passed a few hidden gems. I wish I’d had a copy of Kimberley Lovato’s new book Unique Eats & Eateries of San Francisco, but it wasn’t released yet. Now that it is, I’ve ordered one to have ready for my next bout of culinary disorientation!

Like in her book Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves (about the food of the Dordogne region of France), Kimberley reminds us that behind every restaurant is a dreamer and behind each recipe a story. For example, did you know Cioppino, San Francisco’s signature dish, was inspired by the left-over catch of Italian fisherman who in the 1800s arrived in the city. They put it in pots and then added to it, spiced it up until it evolved into the well known dish that it is today. The same process of trial and error  led to The Buena Vista’s perfect fog-inspired Irish Coffee. Among the dozens of restaurants she writes up, I was glad to see Swan’s Oyster bar included; I’ll never forget the Crab Lois salad I had there on one bright spring day.

Kimberley Lovato writes in a way that only a enthusiast can: with energy, easy interest, and detailed expertise. Better than a “best of book” she seeks places with story, history, and traditions that represent this–as she puts it–“uncommonly edible city”

Kimberley joined us on our first ever Deep Travel adventure to Morocco and fell in love with the country. She writes

From the second I arrived in the Fez medina for Deep Travel, it was a magic carpet ride. It was twisting and turning streets; food stalls piled high with spices and sticky nougat and oil and bottles of orange blossom water. It was sounds I’d never heard before like the clack of a loom, the tinny clang of metal being forged into bowls, a donkey bray as it hauled its heavy load pack through the tiniest of passageways. It was the coating of sugar on my teeth at each sip of hot mint tea.

She uses the French word dépaysement to sum up Morocco:

It means disoriented, out of your element, a change of scenery.  As someone who loves to get lost, Morocco was heaven, and I was never more pleased for the sensation of dépaysement. It was hard to put into writing the feeling and emotion of being completely out of my element, but Deep Travel managed to help me conjure the words. I’d gladly get lost with them all over again.”

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Visit Kimberley Lovato’s website here.

Deep Travel is currently accepting sign-ups for our upcoming trips to Yelapa, Mexico, Granada, Spain and Fez, Morocco. All of our trips feature two hours sessions with award-winning writers like Tim Cahill, Erin Byrne and Larry Habegger, as well as inspiring elder Dot Fisher-Smith. For more information, click HERE.

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Yelapa Encounters with Cheryl Harleston

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Painted Wood Turtle (photo by Cheryl Harleston)

I love it when I’ve known someone a while and suddenly they pop up with a hidden talent. This happened one evening when long-time Yelapa resident Cheryl Harleston stepped up to the microphone at the Yelapa Oasis restaurant and began to sing. Her soulful voice invoked the spirit of flamenco–a genre of music that I love.

Cheryl has surprised me again, now revealing herself as a talented photographer  of Yelapa’s natural world: the hummingbirds, treehoppers, caterpillars, butterflies, iguanas, frogs and hawks that make Yelapa special. All are portrayed in her new book Yelapa Encounters. My first journey through its pages left me feeling deep peace and wonderment. Each colorful and detailed image is like a meditation: A silkworm nibbles a leaf, two Orange-fronted parakeets touch beaks, a Shovel-headed tree frog seems to almost smile into the camera. Her portrait-style approach treats each creature as an individual–a soul even –and not as part of a mass or swarm.  This approach helps the viewer see even the tiniest insect as the miracle that it is.

One can only imagine the patience involved in getting these perfect shots.  Cheryl writes in her book:

To be able to relate appropriately to any animal, one must be in their same ‘here and now’ state of consciousness. To encounter a wild creature that is aware of our presence, that looks straight back at us in acknowledgement, and still serenely allows to be photographed is, to me, the ultimate challenge, the most genuine relationship, the highest honor.

She did not come by this patience easily. In 2014, Cheryl came down with an illness that required her to surrender her role as the owner of the popular Yelapa Oasis restaurant. She coped with this forced slow-down by taking patient walks around her property to harness the healing energy that Yelapa is famous for.

“It was during those walks that I started photographing the fauna around me, and I truly believe those connections and encounters were instrumental in my recovery.” Cheryl explains.

Cheryl’s photography isn’t just incredible art, but has now become part of a larger project.  She is currently collaborating with the National Commission for Biodiversity in Mexico and its scientists, keeping records of all the fauna in Yelapa.

To purchase her book click HERE

For information about Deep Travel workshops, including our upcoming trips to Yelapa, click HERE.

Four in One