canary islands

My Re-Introduction to Yoga

#thecanaryislands #aroundtheworld
Yoga retreat on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. Managed by AzulFit.

"Practicing yoga is not about becoming flexible...it's about finding your inner peace."

This was one of the first things, Sara, our Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga teacher, said to us at our yoga retreat on the Canary Islands.  I've taken yoga classes in the past and I tend to focus on getting the poses right.  I suppose I've been treating it as a sport rather than an experience.  I'm super thankful for having Sara as our teacher and for her guidance in helping me reset my attitude toward yoga practices.

 

practicing along with nature's soundtrack

Morning Sunshine  Every morning, we are greeted by the warmth from the rising sun, sound of the waves, and a clear blue sky.  My favorite poses are the ones where we would lay on our backs - Instead of staring at a popcorn ceiling at a gym or yoga studio, I'm looking at just pure blue, and the sensation going through my body is incredible.  During the whole trip, even though I wake up much earlier than I'm used to, I do not feel tired at all.  I feel the complete opposite - Very energized and awake for the rest of the day.

The backdrop of our morning yoga session.   Photo Credit: Sara at Ashtanga Vinyasa Fuerteventura.

The backdrop of our morning yoga session.  Photo Credit: Sara at Ashtanga Vinyasa Fuerteventura.

Evening Soundtrack  For our evening session back at the Lotus Lodge (the main hub of the retreat), we are greeted by the sound of the giant palm trees swaying in the wind and the changing colors of the sunset sky.  When I close my eyes now during my practice at home, I try to re-live these sounds and imagery as they have been such an important part of this experience.

We practice in the evening in this open space. As we move through our poses, we are gently pushed by the sounds of the wind chimes and the palm trees swaying above us.

We practice in the evening in this open space. As we move through our poses, we are gently pushed by the sounds of the wind chimes and the palm trees swaying above us.

 

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

The kind of yoga we practice is called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.  We learn a sequence of moves while paying close attention to our breathing and our posture (called the "bandha").  What's more important is that we also learn to pay close attention to how our body feels as we move through each pose.  I'm definitely not an expert as you can tell from my very novice poses in photos below.  Sara's Facebook page is a good resource if you're interested in learning more - Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Fuerteventura

 

The "Victorious Breath"

The one thing I will always remember is the "victorious breath" that Sara guides us through.  It is a critical component in this yoga practice.  The key is to change from our usual chest breathing to breathing with our diaphragm.  Chest breathing (chest moving up and down) is often caused by emotional and physical stress and results in shallow breaths that ends up delivering less oxygen to the body.  On the other hand, when we breath with our diaphragm, our lungs expand and release waste more efficiently.  Our body, as a result, receives more oxygen.  I never notice how I breath before Sara pointing out that most people do chest breathing in today's society.  It still feels weird to breath without using my chest, but I can feel the difference when I do.  If you're interested in reading more about this, here are some resources - Livestrong, BreakingMuscle

Another key thing is to over-emphasize the sound made as air flows through the throat.  It takes me a while to understand the power of this small adjustment.  Especially during meditation, this heavy throat sound becomes very soothing and helps me stay focus during the session.  There are many You Tube videos that demonstrates this technique, here's one with KinoYoga

 

About the Lotus Lodge

Lotus Lodge is the main hub of this yoga retreat.  Most of the guest rooms are located in this main lodge and we do all of our group activities here - eating our meals, practicing in the evening, just hanging out.  It is run by AzulFit - A company that specializes in wellbeing trips where participants get to treat themselves to a healthy and relaxing vacations in awesome locations (The Canary Islands-Spain, San Diego-California, Santorini-Greece, and Cornwall-England). 

Lotus Lodge is not a big fancy place, but it feels surprisingly cozy and welcoming.  We often sit in the living room or outside to read, to chat, and sometimes to nap.

 

my first taste of vegan meals

The food at the Lodge is something else.  Valeria is our all-in-one personal host for the week and her vegan cooking skill is A-MAZING.  I don't follow a vegan diet, but Valeria is just that good.  She makes every dish so tasty that I often go for seconds.  And she makes me enjoy my food that much more because she makes everything with so much passion and so much love.

Her most popular dish that week was her Banana Pancakes (so good it deserves capitalized letters).  Notice I have no photos of them - As soon as Valeria set her pancakes down, they were ALL GONE within seconds.  No joke. 

Vegan meals at yoga retreat on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. Managed by AzulFit.
Vegan meals at yoga retreat on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. Managed by AzulFit.

 

nameste

Yoga session on the beach.

It's very hard to summarize the 10-day experience in one post and it's even harder to verbalize the sentiments, the emotions I've experienced and the connections I've made on this retreat. 

I can leave you with something Sara said to us that has really struck the cord with me - Have compassion for yourself - Short, sweet, but very powerful.

Happy faces on our last session with Sara

Happy faces on our last session with Sara

Thanks for letting me share this experience with you!
Have you also had a good experience at a yoga retreat? Do share with me!

FROM THE CANARY ISLANDS SERIES


Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant

#thecanaryislands #foodtour
Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant

I've been exposed to food with a Portuguese influence since I was little because my mom was born and raised in Macau, a Portuguese colony in Asia.  We'd spend our summer vacations there and I'd be eating my three favorite things almost everyday - Grilled bacalhau (cod fish), caldo verde (potatoes and kale soup), and pastéis de nata (custard tarts).  On our first day on Fuerteventura, The Canary Islands, we ventured to the neighborhood around our hotel.  When we came across O'Fado Restaurante Portugues, I was beyond excited!  

The Owners - Two Kind Souls

O'Fado looks empty when we arrive during lunch hours.  We hesitate just a bit because of that, but I'm so glad that we've decided to go in.  Americo and Helena make up the husband and wife team here.  I start chatting with Americo and realize he's Portuguese, so I share my childhood stories about Macau with him.  He is super nice and friendly, always have this slight smile on him, and seems happy to bump into someone who knows a little about the Portuguese cuisine. 

The Atmosphere - A Small Taste of Portuguese Culture

The atmosphere is very relax, with soft Portuguese music playing in the background and wide windows allowing loads of sunlight to come through.  Portuguese tile art can be seen adorning some of their walls, along with personal touches like a painting of a Lisbon cable car.

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant
Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Portuguese tile art as part of the decoration.
Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant
Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Painting of Lisbon cable car as part of the decoration.

The Food - Serving Up Authentic Portuguese Dishes

Although O'Fado does not have caldo verde on the menu, I still enjoy my dishes - Grilled fresh fish and their version of the acorda alentejana.  

The grilled fish is great - Simple seasoning with mainly olive oil sprinkled over the fish and is garnished with a salad and the Canary Island's famous wrinkly potato dish.  Fish at its freshest and simplest...Add a dash of fresh lemon juice, I am in heaven.

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Grilled fresh fish seasoned with olive oil; Canarian wrinkly potatoes side dish; a glass of sangria.

The acorda alentejana is a soup-like dish cooked with garlic, coriander, olive oil, vinegar, eggs, along with sliced bread.  Americo explains that this is a staple in a Portuguese family meal.  I love garlic, and the strong garlic flavor in this soup is right up my alley.  The taste of olive oil is also very prominent.  Overall, another simple yet flavorful dish.

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Acorda alentejana - a soup-like dish cooked with garlic, coriander, olive oil, vinegar, eggs, along with sliced bread; a glass of sangria.

My friend orders a vegetarian dish and it's just called grilled vegetables.  We assume it would be served in slices on a plate.  Well, when the dish arrives, we collectively let out a "wow". 

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Grilled vegetables on a iron skewer.

The veggies are cooked just right, with a sprinkle of salt over them.  And even though it's a plate with just veggies, the pieces are cut into thick chunks.  My friend has a hard time finishing her dish.  Our other friend has ordered what she calls a "normal dish" - She jokingly says that she now feels left out as her dish does not have the wow factor like ours.

Needless to say, we're pretty full by now.  We ask Americo for the check and he surprises us with a full plate of pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) along with a whole bottle of Portuguese port wine, on the house!  It's nothing fancy, but it's a very thoughtful gesture for sure.

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant. Pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) and Portuguese port wine.

Highly Recommended

I ask Americo and Helena for a photo because I just love their hospitality and their food so much.  And Americo stops us for a moment, grabs his heart-shaped pillow and says, "'we need to add this" while his signature smile is all over his face.  The next night, as we walk by O'Fado, Helena waves hello and comes out to chat just briefly.  She knows we have already dined at a different place, but she's not concerned about that and just wants to say hello to us.  Just amazingly kind people.

O'Fado on Fuerterventura...Highly recommended.

Canary Islands Food Finds - O'Fado Portuguese Restaurant - The owners. 

 

Getting Here

One thing to note is that the address for O'Fado listed on websites such as Trip Advisor is incorrect.  Unfortunately, I do not have their exact address.  It is located in the town of Antigua on Fuerteventura, the second biggest island among The Canary Islands. 

Below is a visual guide based on two properties that are listed correctly on the web - the Barceló Fuerteventura Thalasso Spa Hotel and Fado Rock Steak House.  We will use the Barceló Hotel as the starting point (follow green arrows).

1) From Barceló , turn right at the first cross street that you will see on your right side.

2) Walk along this tree-lined street.  Walk two blocks of this street.

3) At the end of the second block, you will see O'Fado on your left side, right at the corner.

4) For reference, O'Fado is: a) Next to Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant.  b) Across the street from Fado Rock Steak House (Has an outdoor patio).

Thanks for letting me share this food find with you!
What are some of your favorite food finds from your travels?

FROM THE CANARY ISLANDS SERIES


Just Sand - National Park of the Dunes of Corralejo

#thecanaryislands #aroundtheworld 
The famous sand dunes and white sand beaches at Corralejo, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  National Park of the Dunes of Corralejo/Parque Natural Dunas de Corralejo.

I am one of those super organized travelers who plans out the entire itinerary in advance, googles all the local attractions (and their historical significance), and has a daily schedule that maximizes the 18 waking hours we have everyday.  So when my friends asked me, at the last minute, if I wanted to join them for a trip to the Canary Islands, I surprised myself by saying "yes".  I said "yes" mostly because I knew it wouldn't be easy to find a travel companion for another trip to this island chain off the cost of Africa.  Plus, it's living the island life for 1.5 weeks...why not?

Islas Canarias, as it is known in Spanish, consists of 7 major islands.  We were on the second largest island called Fuerteventura for a yoga retreat.  The retreat was absolutely wonderful with daily beach yoga, homemade meals, massages and just pure relaxation.  And we met some of the kindest, warmest people who traveled to or moved there from around the globe.  Saving that for another post.  Fuerteventura's landscape is mostly very dry, covered with volcanic materials, except this one part of the island where you will find its famous sand dunes and its endless white sand beaches.   

 

Parque Natural Dunas de Corralejo (Nature Park of the Dunes of Corralejo)

Visiting the Sand Dunes, Corralejo, Fuerteventura, The Canary Islands

Preservation  The sand dunes at one point were at risk of being spoiled by hotel developments.  The local government recognized the significance of the dunes to the environment, to the culture, and to the tourism industry, so a national park was established to preserve the area, so that everyone would get to enjoy this natural wonder for generations to come.

A White Sand Desert  We step out of our parked car.  We try to look toward the end of the beach where it would meet the ocean, but we can't see the water at all.  The white sand beach is miles and miles deep.  At one point, I stop and look around - I feel like I am in the middle of a desert where all I can see is white sand in all 4 directions.

Watching a Light Show  There was also a nature light show, too, as the moving clouds continuously shift the sunlight across the sand, making it seems darker at times and brighter in certain spots.

Nature Light Show  - You can see a few brighter spots on the sand (toward the middle of the photo) and imagine these light spots keep moving along the white sand as the clouds above shift their positions.

Nature Light Show - You can see a few brighter spots on the sand (toward the middle of the photo) and imagine these light spots keep moving along the white sand as the clouds above shift their positions.

Keep Walking  - We each want to take a shot at the "top" of the sand desert, so here's me hiking up that incline. It looked to be a short distance, but it wasn't...I was out of breath by the time I got to the top!

Keep Walking - We each want to take a shot at the "top" of the sand desert, so here's me hiking up that incline. It looked to be a short distance, but it wasn't...I was out of breath by the time I got to the top!

Made It  - I had to do that victory jump...that hike was a monster.

Made It - I had to do that victory jump...that hike was a monster.

Island Essentials  -  Flip-flops, beach straw bag, and my Nikon 1 J5.  Just the basics...no fancy stuff required. 

Island Essentials -  Flip-flops, beach straw bag, and my Nikon 1 J5.  Just the basics...no fancy stuff required. 

Ocean, Finally  - We got half way through sand desert and finally the ocean comes into view...but there's still a long way to go.

Ocean, Finally - We got half way through sand desert and finally the ocean comes into view...but there's still a long way to go.

Nature's Painting  When the ocean finally emerges, the view is just spectacular.  The water is a true turquoise color, pinned against a blue sky and white sand.  It's perfect harmony of colors that just brings a smile to your face.

The famous sand dunes and white sand beaches at Corralejo, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  National Park of the Dunes of Corralejo/Parque Natural Dunas de Corralejo.   

Just Us & The Dunes  The sand dunes cover such a large area that you can come across parts of the beach that still seems unspoiled by human traffic.  The sand in this particular spot is so fine and so pure that it feels like walking with a pair of soft fluffy slippers.

The famous sand dunes and white sand beaches at Corralejo, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  National Park of the Dunes of Corralejo/Parque Natural Dunas de Corralejo.

Mutual Respect  The most amazing thing is how unspoiled this natural wonder is. At times, we were the only 3 people within a few miles radius.  There is also a mutual respect by the locals and visitors alike to keep this beauty as clean as possible. I don't recall seeing any trash at any part of the sand dune. 

Incredible.

The famous sand dunes and white sand beaches at Corralejo, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands.  National Park of the Dunes of Corralejo/Parque Natural Dunas de Corralejo.

 

Some Travel Tips

Getting Here  I will use Gran Hotel Atlantis Bahia Real (aka, "The Bahia") as a starting point because you'll find it on the map and it's considered a major landmark among the locals.  From there, head south on Av. Corralejo Grandes Playas toward FV-1 (this is a major highway).  Continue on FV-1 until you start seeing sandy beaches or sand dunes on both sides of the road.

Keep Driving Pass the Crowd  Most people stop at the first sight of the sandy area.  Don't get me wrong - We did just that and the area was lovely, but it was very crowded and the sand seemed a bit dirty from all the traffic.  I recommend that you continue driving down FV-1 to get to the more remote part of the sand dunes.  I'd say it's about 1.5 - 2.0km from the first sand dunes sighting.  Visually, you'll notice less and less cars parked on the side of the highway.  And, yes, your parking spaces are simply each side of the road.  Because we came from the north, we parked on the opposite side and had to across the highway - Please be careful as cars are going at full speed since it is a highway.

Bring On The Sun Protection  Sand reflects about 15% of UV radiation, according to the World Health Organization, in addition to the UV levels you are already exposed to by being in the sun.  And since the sand dunes is an open area with just sand, extra sun protection is essential.  Must-haves for you are sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and some moisten wipes.  And don't forget to reapply that sunscreen.


FROM THE CANARY ISLANDS SERIES