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Posts Tagged ‘vacation’

Kauai’s NaPali Coast – no roads or inhabitants on the entire western third of the island – the rugged breathtaking region can only be viewed in its entirety from the ocean

I kayaked the entire Na Pali Coast – 18 miles of rough open ocean with no “bail out” spots.  After rafting the Colorado river, National Geographic ranked kayaking the NaPali the #2 adventure in America.  And I did it.  And I survived, rather, I thrived, with flying colors.

Now – I am not an adrenaline junkie.  I hate “adventure sports” for their own sake.  You will never find me attached to a bungee or a parachute.  Hiking is cool, even difficult hiking, but I won’t ever veer from the path.  So why oh why did I sign up for what seemed like a suicide mission?  I’m not quite sure.  It’s not like anyone helped me out psychologically there — everyone I spoke to said it was really difficult, an event that would push you to the limit, and one woman even compared it to childbirth.  So why, again, would I do this?

I kayaked from the end of the north road to the end of the south road. Yes, that's about a third of the entire island.

Stress.  Life.  Powerlessness.  Who knows.  The feeling that I was not actually relaxing and having a vacation (see previous post), combined with somehow wanting to prove something to myself – prove…what?  Prove…I don’t know…that I’m not a weakling, that I can deal with life, control my body, tackle seemingly huge and scary tasks…all of that.  And kayaking in the ocean takes all of that.  You cannot think or worry or stress out about anything else because you have to be right there and only there.  In fact, if your mind wanders, you can flip your kayak or crash into cliffs or both.

Of course, being on one of the most beautiful, unique islands in the world helps — nobody can see this beautiful coastline in its entirety — except on a kayak.  Even a motorboat isn’t enough – they cannot enter the caves and nooks and crannies or land on the tiny beaches that are only accessible to small small boats like kayaks.

Miloli‘i Beach - accessible only by water - a favorite spot for monk seals, which I saw from a distance

I wish I could report that I was scared.  Before or after.  Or during.  But I wasn’t.  I think beforehand I had resigned myself to the “fate” of it all — it would be hard or easy or somewhere in between…I would survive fine or I wouldn’t and it would be a disaster.  Whatever, it would be what it would be and there was no point in worrying about it.  What I didn’t expect was that it would be as fun and smooth and effortless as it was.  Well, not effortless – the paddling was brutal – but I didn’t tire out in the first hour like I thought I would.  In fact, I was among the best.  I was paired with another single woman (what they were thinking, I don’t know – the guide could have taken one of us, and there was a single guy, too — even out the men/women ratio — but no).  We had the most solid consistent rhythmic stroke of anyone.  We NEVER flipped over.  One friendly couple, who wasn’t even fighting, flipped over 7 times!  We almost always led the pack – next to the lead guide.  Crazy.  Every other kayak had a strong man in it, strong men with decent upper body strength — I was shocked myself at how good we were doing — I had expected to be the trailing kayak who needed help flipping over every few minutes.

In any case – I have never felt my body so entirely.  It was like a full day’s meditation.  18 miles is no small feat – whether you’re walking or running or swimming or whatever.  My arms did a lot of that work.  The ocean, the cliffs, the caves, the sky, all so beautiful.  We also saw a group of small dolphins close up (I believe they were called bottle dolphins).    And talk about beating the stress out of yourself physically — there is nothing like such an intense challenge to shove all of the “everyday life” out of you.  Perspective.  I’ll be remembering this for a long, long time.

All in all – if you’re even on Kauai and you’re not a 90 pound weakling, I would highly recommend kayaking the coast.  You can only do this in the summer, though, and I wouldn’t recommend it to people with bad motion sickness issues (I usually do, but I took some new pills the night before and morning of, and had no trouble – the ginger I took with me also helped).  That said, this isn’t an airplane or a sheer drop into a valley.  People have been traveling the world in small vessels since prehistoric times.  It’s how we got to where we got.  Ancient Hawaiians lived on these remote cliffs and valleys.  It’s only natural we see these places in the way they would have.

 

The forbidden island Niʻihau seen in the distance

The kayak company I chose was Kayak Kauai — nicer more professional folks I’ve not met in ages.

The Na Pali National Park website — for permits on camping and hiking, as well as kayaking info.

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Eating in America (continued) — Budget Vegetarian Dining Adventures

New York cuisine proved to be far more interesting than Chicago’s, although I am certain this isn’t at all a rule.  This is probably because I saw more friends, ate less at my sister’s place, and was generally “on vacation.”  Here are the places, some exceptional, some pretty mediocre, that I patronized.

  • Popover Cafe

    Popover Café – typical yuppie breakfast place with a specialty in super-inflated-fluffy popover buns (if you can call them that).  We got in early-ish (before 10:30) and didn’t have to wait for a table.  Lots of interesting egg dishes.  Funny rule in NYC – no alcohol served before 12 noon on Sundays.  I really wanted my bloody mary or mimosa.  I really did.  Finally stateside in a proper decent breakfast place, and no booze to take the edge off the weekend.  Goodness.  I made up for it that night, though.

  • Landmarc.  Ick. Ick.  Overpriced ick.  Besides a salad or something, close to no veg options of interest on the menu.  There are daily pasta specials, and one was agreed to be made for me sans meet.  The waitress went on and on about how todays risotto was great.  And I love risotto.  Better than fetuccini  alfredo any day as a veg option.  And you know what I got?  Pretty much fettuccini Alfredo.  No risotto.  We were in a hurry and I was really hungry.  I didn’t say anything.  So I’m saying something now.  First of all, if you’re a tourist in NYC – don’t go to TriBeCa besides the World Trade Center site.  Seriously, there’s nothing to see.  I really don’t want to put people down, but only wealthy artists and yuppies live seem to live there.  It’s not too pretty either.  Second, if you live there or are visiting someone who lives there, I wouldn’t go to this restaurant, especially if you don’t eat meat.  There’s a perfectly charming bakery down the block on Duane.  They’re way famous and overpriced, too, but at least you can’t mess up a cupcake or croissant too badly, and their mint tea really hit the spot when I was stuck in a huge downpour.  Just don’t eat in TriBeCa unless you do your homework.  Ugh.  At least the wine was good, and they had plenty of half-bottles.  Getting pleasantly sloshed took some of the frustration off of the crappy pasta.
  • Better Being Underground – yes that’s the name – awesomeness in a paper bag.  Tzaziki egg salad sandwich.  Incredible gourmet soup with pears and I can’t remember what else.  Not cheap but not expensive, given the amazing ingredients and speed.  It’s one of those sit-down-break-open-a-bottle-of-bubbly-just-because kind of lunches except it’s in a tiny basement without any seating and you grab what you want or wait a couple minutes while they make it for you.  Yes.  At least al fresco dining was to be had at a sweet little park across the street.
  • Food Exchange Café – At least it might be.  It could be the Oxford Café.  I can’t remember the name, so I’ve googled the entire (59th and Lexington) area, and these two seemed the likeliest candidate.  The only two options on the block, and both sound like delis.  Honestly I was only there for a few minutes.  I’m writing about it because it seemed like a typical office-worker-lunch.  Very NYC.  A hurried lunch if I’ve ever seen one.  A counter.  All the diverse, delicious sandwiches already made.  You point, they grill or not, according to what you want.  You pay somewhere else.  It comes out to you.  You stand and eat.  Or you go to a tiny park facing some giant bridge and noisy intersection on 59th.  It’s all good.  My three-cheese caprese was just that.  I miss Italy.
  • Pomme Café Astoria – it’s nice that people realize that they’ll get more business if their décor is just right.  It helps if it’s all in the right neighborhood.  And Astoria seems to be just that.  Really hip.  Lots of cool looking restaurants.  If not for the lack of high buildings and slightly shabbier look, it could be the Upper East Side, not Queens.  The food was very pretty on the plate.  My mushroom truffle risotto was perhaps the best thing I ate in NYC all week, miniscule as it was (as it should be, say I).  Again, yes, maybe I should give them a break because it is a French place, but there was nothing veg on the menu besides that risotto (an appetizer), the onion soup, and two salads.  And it was a beautiful authentic upscale French bistro menu.  Great, great, creamy, crisp crème brulee.  Just as it needed to be.  This place I would recommend.  Great drinks list.  I had Talisker and Johnny Walker Green.
  • Brooklyn Label Cafe

    Brooklyn Label Cafe – Organic tofu and cheese and potato scrambler.  Oh yeah.  My friend always gets the scrambled eggs that come with a huge side of roasted beets.  It’s delicious.  Lots of creative veg.  Lots of creative non veg.  It’s a rocking joint.  A raving recommendation from me.  It’s such a hipster spot.  Really warm and welcoming.  The food is just interesting, flavorful, and comforting.  Yay for Greenpoint!

  • Café Grumpy – Awesome green tea.  Great to work at.  Quiet.  Funky.  Yes, yes, yes.  I wish we had cafes like this in Israel.  Hip and quiet and tasty and so internet friendly you’d think it was the Skokie Public Library.  Gotta love Brooklyn!

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I haven’t blogged in an eternity.  It has been difficult to share with people what I experienced a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure I want to – or if this story will interest anyone.  I feel I’ve become some sort of missionary – but please know that that is the last of my intentions. Without further ado – here’s the blog post.

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Does sitting silently with 100+ strangers in the middle of nowhere for 7 days sound like a vacation to you?  I don’t know if I was nuts out of my mind when I signed up, but it did indeed sound like the perfect getaway for this stressed out Telavivian.

From March 31 to April 6 I attended a Vipassana Retreat – a living meditation immersion, where from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm all time was devoted to sitting, standing, and walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – conducted completely in noble silence.

I can say with certainty that attending this retreat (hosted by the incredible Tovana organization and led by Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss) was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

For those who don’t know anything about Buddhism, I don’t want to go into detail here and risk boring or alienating you.  What I would like to do is share with you even a small bit of what the experience was like.

Buddhism in 10 words:

There is suffering, and there is an end to suffering.

The Buddhist teachings, known as the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali), spoke so clearly to me.  To even touch upon them in such brevity would be fruitless here.   They tell of a “middle path,” not one of religion and not one of secular life – away from both the comforts of blind faith and competitive addictive materialism.  The smallest summary – Buddhism is the most peace-loving and logical philosophy and practice I have ever encountered.  And I stress philosophy and practice.  Buddhism did not begin as a religion – it became one – probably contrary to what the historical Buddha would have wanted.  This is not to say that all the religious Buddhists today are in the wrong.  But I do want to communicate here is that you can be a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, and still practice meditation, live by Buddhist ways.  Never did we speak of God.

The meditations, difficult as it is to sit on your ass for 8+ hours every day, frustrating as it is to hear yourself silently repeating over and over, “why the fuck am I here,” eventually become incredibly beautiful experiences.  I don’t think I have ever experienced such complete calm as I did then.  After a few days, your senses become heightened.  Smells, sounds, tastes – both within your body and without – become acutely fine-tuned.  Silence, a scary concept for busy city dwellers, becomes a beautiful, no, a precious commodity.

Calmness – however – is not the goal of meditation. Vipassana means insight.  If we can quiet all our voices, focus our minds, practice mindfulness, we then are in a position to really examine ourselves.  Before I started meditating, I thought that it would be easy or boring or simply a tactic at reducing stress.  Now I know it’s a difficult lifelong process.  It is a process of learning how to end suffering. Because we all suffer in varying degrees – from the drudgery of work, to the annoyances of family, to the very fiber of our social structure of making it, making it big, buying it all, impressing the neighbors, becoming famous, seeking out the finest pleasures, and reviling all that is ugly and painful.

Coming back to Tel Aviv was not as difficult as I had expected.  I believe this is because I learned to process fear differently.  I wasn’t dreading the drudgery.  I wasn’t scared of life after the calm.  But I also didn’t know how to share what I experienced.  I still don’t.  I live with my sister, a beautiful human being, who I believe is governed by a lot of anger and self doubt.  It would be highly unlikely that she would even want to begin to understand.  Some friends gave me wide eyed, “oh my god she’s gone off the deep end and joined a cult,” expressions while politely nodding.  Luckily, I found several groups to study and meditate with.  I have meditated twice every day (or more, on days I have meetings and classes) for a month.  For related reasons, but not ones altogether decided upon, I have not been eating any meat.  I have been sleeping more, and I have found that the life I had found to be exceptionally dull, painful, and hopeless at times (time spent with yoga, wine, food, friends, good books being the exception), was all of a sudden not only tolerable, but beautiful.  I wash dishes.  I clean the cat box.  I work at the computer.  And I am fine.  I do not suffer. As much. It is a process, after all.  And boy oh boy, does it take time and learning.

I am stopping now.  If you’d like to know more, please email me.  If you’re in Tel Aviv and want to come with me to Dharma talks and/or learn how to meditate, email me.  In all, dear readers of mine, please know that I am actually happier than I was.  There are those few moments in our busy lives when we can stop and put a finger down and say, “here, now, I am happy.”  I’m having more of those now than I’ve had in a long time.

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