Guatemala: Part 1, Getting to Know The Yoga Forest

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I’m baaaaaaack from my spring break trip to Guatemala! I’ve actually been back for a while, but I haven’t had much of a chance to post since the end of senior year of high school is crazy busy.

What’s going on and how’ve you been?! I’ve missed you guys!

Today’s post is the first of three parts of the recap of my trip to The Yoga Forest, a yoga retreat in Guatemala. Let me tell you: it was a grand adventure that I greatly enjoyed! Guatemala is a beautiful place, the people we met were so interesting (in a good way), and the food was quite delicious.

The trip started out on a Wednesday morning at four AM.

Day 1 (of 6 days total)

Beeeeeep beeep beep beep beepbeepbeepbeepbeep. I open my bleary eyes and glance at the clock. Four AM. “Today is the day!” I think. “We’re going to Guatemala!” My excitement gets me out of bed and dressed, and it allows me to hop into the already packed car. My dad drives my mom and I to the airport. We’re quiet in the car, still tired and a bit nervous, but overall pumped for this adventure. We check our bags, go through security, and wait for our 6 AM flight. We board, take off, and land in Atlanta, where we take a connecting flight to Guatemala City. We finally arrive at around 1 PM Guatemala time (two hours behind “my” time). We grab our bags, exchange money, and step outside and into the sweltering heat. A Spanish-speaking shuttle driver awaits to take us from Guatemala City into San Marcos, the town closest to The Yoga Forest. We hop in the van and endure a rough four hour ride through the most pothole-y roads I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Potholes take up literally half the road.

Below: pictures from our ride from Guatemala City to San Marcos. There were lots of shops, restaurants, and people around. 

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Left: “Alto” means “stop” in Spanish. Right: there was a stuffed llama at the gas station we stopped at! At the gas station, workers  pumped your gas for you (just like they used to in the U.S.).100_7374

Below: riding down the pothole-filled mountain road into San Marcos.

When we arrive in San Marcos, the driver points to the nearest mountain pathway and states some of the only english he knows: “Yoga forest.” Okaaaay. Mom and I have no idea where the property actually is in the mountains… so I guess we’ll just walk up the mountain, lugging our bags behind us, until we find it.

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We see flowers painted onto rocks, and Mom gets excited because she read online that the painted flowers will lead you to TYF. We huff and we puff through the dense air and up the steep path… and eventually we find it. Huzzah! The gates to The Yoga Forest.

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Okay I’m switching tenses here so stick with me.

As soon as we stepped foot onto the property, I felt like I’d opened a book and stepped into a fairytale. Tall trees filled with plump fruits lined a dirt pathway that led us to the steepest rock stairs I’ve ever seen. My mom might have said a bad word or two when she saw how daunting the steps were, especially since we were tired from dragging our bags up a freaking mountain. I felt the warm, tropical-scented air envelop me, and I started to really break out into a sweat as I dragged myself up the last few steps of these stairs which led to the Forest’s rustic buildings.

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The buildings were made of natural materials such as wood and bamboo, and some were built into, or at least supported by, the craggy walls of the mountain. Surrounding the buildings were flowers, from tiny pink petals to “angel’s trumpets,” yellow cone-shaped flowers (pictured below). Mom and I were in awe of how eco-friendly but beautiful the main area was. The view was even better than the main area itself- just look at this picture to see for yourself!

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The first night we got there, we got settled and enjoyed the first of many delicious dinners prepared by some of the local women. Mom and I were surprised to participate in a Sanskrit meal chant before this meal and every meal after that. We stood in a circle around the food, held hands, and sang the chant. Here’s a picture of the words to the chant (as well as a sneaky pic I took of people getting ready to chant):

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Every meal was buffet style, so you could eat as much food as you wanted. I took full advantage of this. I’m not joking when I say I had two servings of every meal. The food was just SO DARN GOOD! The first dinner was veggie “fried” rice, salad with greens from TYF garden, and lemongrass tea with TYF lemongrass. At dinner, we met some of the staff as well as some of the people staying at TYF. We actually sat next to a girl named Ellie at dinner… who happened to be vegan. What a crazy small and unusual world!! The people we met were were friendly and helpful, but also interesting and from all different backgrounds. People staying there came from the U.S.A., Israel, Canada, Malaysia, Australia, Finland, Brazil, Costa Rica… everywhere! Five continents were represented in the short time we were there.

The main dining area.

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Above: rinsing dishes. Left: kitty and compost. Right: doggy and avocado. I loved meeting all the animals on the property!

When we finished eating, we others put leftovers in the compost bins and we washed our dishes by first rinsing them in water, then scrubbing them with soap, then soaking them in vinegar, and finally by rinsing them in water and drying them by placing them on a rack. After dinner, we tried out the on-site sauna (pictured below).

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Then we unpacked our bags and went to the bathroom that was down a path from our room and up some more steep, rocky stairs. In the bathroom, you did your “business” into a hole with a toilet seat, and then you poured a mixture of sawdust and ash into the hole to help turn the human waste into compost used on the property. Waste not, want not? We went to bed at nine, a.k.a. the designated bedtime when lights go out. I slept better than I had in a long time.

Below is are pictures of the bathroom, which was complete with a sweet quote on the wall, a sink with a view, and the compostable toilet. 

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Day 2

I slept through the gong that rings at 6 AM every morning to wake everyone up. I think they would have needed a jackhammer to wake me up this morning because I slept so soundly.

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Our room

I slept through meditation, but I wouldn’t dream of missing yoga so I woke up and got ready to go for that. It was a decent vinyasa flow class, but it was very different from what I was used to. The class was an hour and a half but the shavasana within it (the resting pose at the end when people look like they’re sleeping) was twenty minutes long, whereas my normal shavasana is maybe five minutes! Yoga finished and the sound of a gong (the same one that didn’t wake me up) signaled us to the main area for breakfast. Breakfast was…

  • oatmeal with cinnamon, coconut flakes, and the plumpest raisins I’ve ever seen mixed into it
  • fruit (pineapple and papaya plus papaya seeds)
  • toasted bread or homemade tortillas
  • gluten free toasted raisin bread
  • homemade peanut butter

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They make the tortillas by boiling the corn and then putting it in a grinder attached to a bicycle, so the pedaler just pedals on the bike to grind up the corn! Then the cornmeal is shaped into tortillas and baked on the stovetop by the local ladies. I got to grind corn to make tortillas one day (pictures below)!

They make peanut butter by salting and roasting peanuts and grinding them up with the same bike grinder machine. The peanut butter is super thick and crumbly because of this, but it still tastes great.

After breakfast, I got stung by a scorpion.

Yup. You read that right. I got stung by a real, living, breathing SCORPION!

I was making the bed in our room, which was on a little raised platform above the floor. I lifted up one of the decorative pillows that goes on the bed from the floor when all of a sudden a big black scorpion leapt off the pillow and stung my thumb! I was so surprised that I shrieked! It felt like a wasp sting, so it didn’t hurt that much, but I was worried that it would be poisonous and that I was going to die!! Spoiler alert: I didn’t die. After all, I’m here publishing this post!

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I ran down to the main kitchen area and yelled out, “I just got stung by a scorpion!!!!” Sanni, one of the yoga teacher volunteers at TYF poured vinegar onto the sting and had me soak my thumb in a mug of vinegar while she calmed me down (pictured above). She explained to me that, according to the locals, black scorpion stings are good for you since the venom makes you stronger (cue Kelly Clarkson) by strengthening your immune system.

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Plants grown at The Yoga Forest.

After that unexpected incident, Mom and I went on a permaculture tour of TYF property led by one of TYF volunteers! That was much more enjoyable than being stung by a scorpion. We were guided to the goat pen, where we got to hold the baby goats that TYF gets their goat milk from. They were SO SWEET.

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We viewed the terraced gardens where the lettuce and herbs for the salads come from.

We interacted with the ducks at the small duck pond, and I got to go into the chicken coop and hang out with the chickens who provide the eggs for breakfast (for the non-vegans)! One pecked my toes because it thought they were food. There were also adorable bunnies.

Finally, we trekked up tall steps to see the “cave” (it was just an open but acoustic space next to the mountain). After our tour, I got to have a deep tissue massage as a spring break treat. It was just what I needed.

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At 12:30, the gong for lunch rang so we sang the chant and proceeded to enjoy the best lunch we had at TYF. Homemade falafel with the tortillas I helped make, salad with zucchini, avocado, and greens from the garden, hummus, and homemade dill sauerkraut!

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My mom got a massage after lunch so I decided check out the “contact dance jam” I’d seen posters for around TYF. Never again. It was just too different for me- it made me feel uncomfortable. I walked up to the pavilion where the dance was taking place to find three people- the instructor, our new friend Katie, and an older man- rolling on the floor. The instructor invited me to join them, so I did because I didn’t want to be rude. We rolled on the floor to “warm our bodies up,” then we got up and moved around organically, pretending to first move like we were filled with clay and then pretending to move like we were filled with water. Then we had to interact with other “bodies of water” (others in the group)… and we had to make random noises as we bounced off each other. This was fine, except for when I had to bounce off the older man. He was very physical and very into it. I was not. After this exercise, we partnered up. I immediately ran over to Katie, the most normal person in the group. We both whispered to each other, “What did we get ourselves into” and “Can we leave?”

For this exercise, I had to be a “tree” and Katie had to be an “explorer,” so she had to place different body parts of hers on me and then I had to react (don’t worry, it wasn’t dirty- she just put her elbow on my knee or her hand on my shoulder and I moved towards her touch). Then another woman from San Marcos joined our jam and whipped off her shirt. Basically after that happened I was like “I’m out” and I told the instructor that I had to go to the bathroom… and then I left. It was such a strange experience. Afterwards, I went to my second yoga class of the day- gentle yoga from 4 to 5:30. Yoga > contact dance. Contact dance is a cool idea- good for you if you’ve tried it and like it! It just was NOT my thing. At all.

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After yoga, I went to the warm sauna again and showered outside for the first time (pictured above)! It was so cool. Then it was dinnertime: lentil veggie stew, rice, tortillas, hummus, and a giant green salad with tahini dressing. Mom and I loved getting to know the others staying at the yoga forest at dinner. After dinner we got ready for bed and read until “lights out.” I read three books on the trip!

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A really awful picture of a really delicious meal.

Join me tomorrow to hear about the second part of my adventure since the trip recap is too long to fit into one post!!

xx Ellie

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