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Friday, July 29, 2011

Glamping in Bryce & Zion National Parks, Utah. {Travel Photography}

Last week, Drew and I went glamping with our friends Matt & Sheryl from So Cal. What is glamping, you may ask? Well, I just heard about it from Sheryl, who heard about it from the Today Show right before our trip. Apparently glamping = glamorous camping. We mixed a a couple of nights of camping at each park with staying at hotels. When we camped, we'd eat canned soup & noodle bowls. While we glamped, we'd eat at some awesome restaurants & take a dip in the hotel pool in the evenings. I think my former scoutmasters from back in the day would be a bit disappointed in me, but I have to say that I do love this glamping!

We started off at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Before the trip, we all bought brand-spanking new hiking shoes at REI. So clean & new!

The hoodoos (as they're called) at Bryce are unlike anything I've ever seen. Truly awe-some.

Before there was this new trend called "planking", there was StiffPics. I guess you can call it planking standing up. Matt & his friend started this a few years ago and we still honor the tradition today.

Ok, this was totally Drew's idea.

My favorite photo at Bryce:

End of hike: shoes all look the same color -brown.

At camp...

A stellar blue jay.

After a couple of days at Bryce, we headed over to Zion National Park. There is something very magical about this place. Bryce was amazing to look at, but Zion had this spiritual aura about it that drew us all in.

We decided to hike the Zion Narrows on our first full day. In the middle of July, when it's about 100 degrees at the park, it's nice to be hiking in shade and be in the water...which is what your feet are in about 70% of the time it seems like when you're hiking the Narrows. This has got to be one of my favorite hikes in the world.

Before getting to the Narrows, you have to walk down this mile long path. Excited hikers can be found along the way.

Along with some wildlife.

We had to do a few prom pics before starting.

The hike begins!

It's not so bad at first. The water was about 55 degrees.

Then all of sudden, it gets chest deep! This is actually the deepest part and it doesn't last for too long. The rest of the hike the water is about ankle to calf deep.

This is why I love the Narrows. The water, the rocks, the glowing light.

We saw three guys rappelling down the side of the canyon that was about 100ft high. After talking to the first guy that came down, I found out that his friend had tumbled down the side of this canyon at this very spot just last year. He filmed the whole thing and they both ended up on the Today Show talking about the mishap. Eric Shreever luckily ended up with a sprained ankle and some rope burns at the ends of his fingers. I'm glad to see he and his friends are still rappelling.

On our last full day at Zion, one of the locals at Mean Bean Coffeehouse in Springdale (the cute little town right at the edge of the park) told us of a little swimming hole. When we first arrived a grandma and her 10 grandchildren were enjoying themselves there. After the kids showed us where to jump from, they took off and we took over. FUN!

We ended our stay in Zion with an unforgettable dinner at Bit & Spur in Springdale. If you're in Zion, you MUST come here and order the beet salad. It was so good that we ordered a second plate for dessert!

But the place that totally put the GLAM in glamping was our final destination: L'Auberge in Sedona. I love this place! Here's the view of Snoopy from our balcony.

Future Miss America here with her man.

YAY for glamping!!!

{Travel Photographer}
Monday, July 11, 2011

A Shaman in the Amazon. {Travel Photography}

Two months have passed since Drew and I traveled to Peru and I've blogged about the entire trip except for one last part: our trip to the Amazon. I debated over whether I should share this part of the trip or not because it can be somewhat controversial for some people. After talking to a few people about it, I've decided to share the experience on my blog because it was just too positive of an experience to keep under wraps.

Before heading to Peru, I had read in several travel books about a vine in the Amazon called ayahuasca. In Quechua language, it means "vine of souls". The indigenous people, in particular, the shamans (or medicine men) of the Amazon brewed this vine and used the tea as a healing medicine. The effects of ayahuasca are multi-leveled as it works on both the body and the mind. There is so much intriguing information regarding ayahuasca and its past and present uses by the indigenous people and westerners that it can't all be explained in one blog post. Plus, I am so new to it that I only have an inkling of all there is to know about this vine. For more information, you can visit this excellent website: Ayahuasca Forums.

Since I am definitely no expert on ayahuasca, I can only tell of my own personal experience with it. It started off with a flight to Iquitos, a town in the northeastern region of Peru. I found via and other online resources an ayahuasca retreat headed by a western shaman named Scott Petersen. The retreat was called Refugio Altiplano.

Below is a short description on ayahuasca on Refugio Altiplano's site:
"The Medicine – Ayahuasca is considered by many of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon to be the Mother of All Medicines. The medicine reaches deep into the body’s systems and cleanses and energizes. It often provides a powerful kinesthetic and visionary journey and opens the mind and body to information pertinent to your life awareness. Most come away with a life altering experience."

From all the positive reviews I had read about this place, I decided to give it a try. We flew into Iquitos and Scott had transportation arranged. It was quite a long and beautiful boat ride down the expansive Amazon River.

We started off in the early evening, watched the sunset, and didn't arrive at the refugio til nightfall.

Scott, the two Peruvian shamans who work at the retreat, and several of the guests had waited for us to start the ceremony that night, but we decided to decline since it was our first night, and with everything being so dark in the Amazon jungle, we wanted to acclimate ourselves in daylight first.

The next morning as we were walking from the Central Gathering House after breakfast, we saw this beautiful scarlet macaw up in a tree.

We were so excited and so quiet as we approached it because we didn't want to scare it away. After ten minutes, and getting relatively close, it flew away. So we walked back to our place. Lo and behold, Mr. Macaw was there waiting for us on the second story. We brought some fruit up and fed him, both of us still on a natural high that we were actually getting to feed a scarlet macaw in the Amazon!

After a while, I was wondering why this guy was so brave and friendly. The thought crossed my mind that he was perhaps a pet of the refugio. And sure enough, when we asked Scott later on that day, the bird's name was Tito, and he was left behind by a rescue person.

We took our time that day and wandered around the refugio for a bit.

We then took a little boat ride down the river.

Not a lot to see in the middle of the day. A few interesting birds' nests.

Native life on the river.

We stopped by a little house on the river and grabbed some fresh coconut juice.

This little cutie was a resident there.

When you're done drinking the juice, you crack open the coconut and eat all the goodness inside!

The best thing I saw on the river!

On the second night, I participated in the ayahuasca ceremony. There were about 15 participants that night, not including Scott and the two other shamans. Everyone else was from other parts of the world. Two psychotherapists from Spain were there to try and see how ayahuasca can help their patients. A large group of Russians were also present. The guy who coordinated their trip had been to Refugio Altiplano four times before and loved each one of his experiences. This is why he now coordinates a yearly trip for his fellow Russians. There were also a few people from the UK and Peru. Almost all the visitors were professionals or business owners.

At 7:30pm, we all climbed the stairs and made our way to the second story of the ceremony house. I didn't bring my camera into the ceremony house. I assumed I wasn't allowed to because it was (in my mind) a sacred ceremony, so here's what it looks like from the outside. Inside, on the second floor, there were mats laid out in a circle (since the ceremony house was circular) on the wooden floor. Off to the side was a private restroom.

After everyone had arrived, Scott and the two other shamans entered the room, turned off the light and lit 3 candles in the center of the room. They took their seats at the top of the circle where the ayahuasca and other ceremonial items were placed. Scott said a few words and we then each took turns coming up to drink the ayahuasca from a small tea cup. (First-timers get a small dose). After everyone was done and returned to their mats, one shaman blew out the candles so the place was completely dark, we all laid back on our mats, and the ceremony began. One shaman then smoked a pure tobacco cigarette and blew it on his fellow shamans. Afterwards, he walked around around encircling the room with smoke for protection. The shamans then took turns chanting and singing two different songs throughout the night in Spanish or Quetchua. I understood some of the lyrics..."Ayahuasca medicine, cleanse our bodies." A few times in the beginning of the ceremony, Scott came around and dabbed each one of our faces with some flower water. At times, some people vomited (which is totally natural), though I never did. I have to say though that this was somewhat distracting to me, but the overall experience was still a very magical and powerful one.

It started about 20 minutes after drinking the ayahuasca and lasted for about 3-4 hours. During the first ceremony, I saw some colorful patterns (even though it was dark and my eyes were closed.) I thought A LOT about important people in my life and my relationship with them in the past and present. My family, friends, Drew. Most of the thoughts were about how I could be a better daughter, sister, friend, and wife. It showed me that I'm not perfect and how I could be better.

Two visions appeared that night that made me think that I was on the verge of seeing and knowing so much more, but I never made it to find out (perhaps more ayahuasca would've gotten me to that point?). One was an image of doors opening up, one right after another, as if opening up to my past or another world. I just never got to the end to see what was there. The second vision was of two hands reaching down and grabbing my arms to pull me up, but I couldn't seem to get up. There was a moment when I did feel like my spirit was separate from my a kind of out of body experience.

When the ceremony ended, they turned the lights back on and I was feeling so serene and content. Those who were ready were walked back to their rooms by one of the shamans since your motor skills are a little impaired under ayahuasca. As I laid in bed, I continued feeling this peaceful happiness as I fell asleep.

The next day, we all had brunch together in the central house. Some of us shared our experiences, and there were a ton of questions for Scott. Lots of interesting information digested that morning.

In the afternoon before dinner, we all took a long walk over to Scott's medicinal garden and saw a plethora of healing plants. The top right (and second left) image are of a tree called Dragon Blood. When you carve into it with a knife, "blood" drips out of it. This red sap is actually used to heal wounds and prevent scarring.

The small yellow flowers on the bottom right give off a numbing effect when chewed. I chewed one and couldn't feel my tongue and part of my mouth for a while.

Below is the ayahuasca vine.

Scott also had the superfruit, noni, fermenting in a large container. From the NIH website: "In laboratory research, noni has shown antioxidant, immune-stimulating, and tumor-fighting properties." We all had a taste and although many described it as tasting like blue cheese, I felt like I was drinking vomit. Disgusting, but good for you!

As we left the garden area and started walking back, the downpour began. I love torrential rain in hot weather!

On my third night at the refugio, and second night participating in the ayahuasca ceremony, I took a little higher dosage, as did everyone else. It was a completely different experience than the night before. And now I remember Scott saying that it is different each time. Well, the second night I did not have any relational thoughts. Overall, it was a very happy, loving, and peaceful journey. I felt incredibly lucky to be alive, blessed to be able to experience LIFE in so many ways: all the emotions (from elation to sadness), having all my five senses so that I could fully experience this world, having true love in my life, not only with my husband, but with friends and family.

I saw another world (the afterlife?) of infinite black space. I sensed spirits, good and bad, in this space. Funny thing was, I didn't fear the bad ones, and I'm usually such a scaredy cat when it comes to things like this. Drew hasn't watched a horror movie in over ten years because of me! For some reason, I knew that these bad spirits couldn't get to me.

In this black spaceless place, I saw my grandfather. I don't think he was in his human form, but I knew it was him. I thanked him for watching over me and my grandmother (who's turning 103 this year!), and said that it's so sweet that he's been waiting so long for her. His answer to me was that a few years is nothing compared to the infinite amount of time you have afterwards.

Other thoughts trickled in and out that night, though nothing worth mentioning here. I do think that this spiritual experience was worth a trek to the Amazon. For some it has had a life-changing effect. Perhaps because they took stronger doses or stayed longer and did it for more nights (as is usually the case). My experience with ayahuasca was definitely overwhelmingly positive and I would do it again (under the care and supervision of experienced shamans) if I had the chance. I'm not sure if it's for everyone, but I do believe most of us would benefit from it. If you're ever in Peru, consider finding a trusted shaman and trying ayahuasca for yourself. I am sure you will walk away with a refreshed perspective of yourself and the world.

With much love,