Keeping up a yoga practice while traveling

I wanted to keep up my yoga practice as much as possible while traveling. Firstly in order to stay strong and flexible for my teacher training, second (and most important!) because I love it and I was excited to have time to go to class rather than squeezing online classes in around work.

In reality I’ve been hit and miss depending on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing but I managed to fit something in most weeks. Here are the things that helped:

Don’t worry about not having the right equipment

I knew that I didn’t want to carry a yoga mat with me. They’re heavy and take up a tonne of space! I find I can practice on most surfaces effectively with a bit of improvisation. Carpet works well, for harder surfaces like wood or tile I just use the pillows and blankets from my bed or my own clothes to pad my knees and other parts of the body that have a hard time with the floor. Yes it’s easier to grip with a mat but I found practicing on slippier surfaces helped me to engage my core. Just be careful not to fall over!

I like up work with props and found that my pyjama bottoms or a scarf worked perfectly instead of a strap. For a block I’d grab whatever I could find in the room eg chunky doorstops or books, or even my 1.5l water bottle where I knew I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on it.

Make the most of local studios

These weren’t always available but when they were I made sure to take advantage of intro offers and practice as much as I could fit in. They will almost definitely be a fraction of the cost back home. The best I found were:

– Buena Onda, Buenos Aires: run by US expats, the classes happen on beautiful studios around central. These English speaking classes ranked among the best Vinyasa Flow classes I’ve been to and there was a really friendly vibe in the classes. From memory it was about $10 per class including mat hire.

– Pure, Granada, Nicaragua: Pure has a great range of classes and a pretty good gym. The yoga classes cost about $8 a time,  a bit less if you have your own mat. They also run various workshops and the staff are superfriendly. Classes are in English and seemed to be mostly intermediate vinyasa flow.

I stopped at others along the way and Cusco in Peru was another hotspot (I can’t remember the name of the place but Google turns it up at the top of the list). A couple of times I walked into a class that was fully on spanish but don’t worry too much about this. It’s a little awkward for he meditative/closed eye bits but if you put yourself at the back of the class it’s surprising how little you need to understand the verbal cues.

Yogaglo/other online subscription services

I pay about £12 a month for yogaglo and there are hundreds of excellent classes on there. When I had a private room/my dorm was empty and there as decent wifi I’d stick a class on and practice. This was hit and miss given the up and down wifi out here but in Peru and Central America I usually found the signal good enough.

Learn Ashtanga primary series (or other self practice)

I found that if I tried to put together my own sequences I’d do the postures I liked and give up after 20 minutes or less! Having the predefined Ashtanga sequence meant I was more likely to see the practice through to the end and get a rounded set of poses.

Use open spaces in hostels/outdoors and don’t be self conscious

This is something that I haven’t 100% cracked but every hostel I’ve been in has space to practice. I was spoiled with my first in Buenos Aires which had a huge roof terrace but every place I’ve stayed has had a corridor, patio or other space for practice. Where I haven’t used it, it’s been my self consciousness that held me back. I’m pretty sure people either wouldn’t care or would be interested so my advice here is don’t worry, just go for it! And if you’re really struggling book a private room for a night. In most of South and Central America this won’t break the budget for one night.

And finally, don’t worry if you miss a few days or even weeks

Relax, you’re travelling and yoga should be enjoyable not a source of stress. There were times I took a couple of weeks off or only managed 5 sun salutations every so often. My body didn’t forget how to do it and everything came back quickly when I reached the teacher training. Sure, some things were tighter, some were more open but it was fun exploring those changes and seeing what new things opened up to me during the course of the training.

Getting from Granada to Leon

I came to Leon with high hopes of lava. I’d heard a lot about Volcan Telica and was excited by the prospect of seeing lots of the stuff! I was excessively nervous about taking the local transport to Leon so I thought I’d write about my experience in a bit of detail here in case it helps others. I’m not a strange to local transport and I’d taken several chicken buses in Belize and Sri Lanka with friends on previous trips but somehow the prospect of going it alone filled me with an unreasonable amount of dread!

I was in fact planning to take a shuttle to Leon  (easily available from tour operators and hostels in Granada for $15). However, deciding to go on the kayaking trip with my roommates on the last morning forced my hand as the shuttles all left way before we were due back. I’m actually glad about that as the bus was completely fine. Very straightforward and not at all scary or uncomfortable. After arriving back from kayaking I had lunch then walked to the bus stop 5 minutes from my hostel on Calle Vega. I was nervous about my bags being allowed on but the bus guys are super efficient and I’ve never seen them turn down business so my bags were quickly piled up at the front of the bus and I took my seat to await departure. The bus took about 10 minutes to fill up and then we were on our way. It costs 24 cordobas (about $1) from the one hour-ish journey to Managua and apart from the inevitable close busily contact with strangers as people jump on and off along the route (don’t worry, people are very friendly and avoid squashing up against you if they can!) its a fairly comfortable ride in a mini bus. Although I’ve heard stories of aircon on the route my bus didn’t have it but with windows open it wasn’t too sweltering.

The minibuses drop you at Managua’s UCA which is the last stop and the minibuses to Leon depart from the same place. In contrast to most bus stations around the world (including the UK!) I found it very easy to find the bus to Leon. There are maybe 10 berths for the buses which are in a row, they’re clearly labeled with their routes and there are lots of friendly bus guys (I’m not sure what their official name is!) waiting outside shouting their destinations. If all else fails the buses themselves are also clearly labeled with their routes. Simple!

The bus standing at the Leon stop was full when I arrived so I joined a group of about 10 locals already waiting. It took maybe 20 minutes for the next bus to arrive. As soon as there was a sign of a queue forming I made like a good English person and joined it. I had to stand with my bags for about 10 minutes but when the bus arrived I turned around and the queue had grown by about 10 people behind me so it was worth it! This bus didn’t have an obvious place to put the bags so I followed the drivers directions to keep them on my lap and grabbed a seat at the end of a row so that my big backpack could go easily on the floor. This bus was full within 5 minutes due to the queue and then we were on our way again. The ride to Leon was about an hour and a half and included a lot of dubious overtaking. The road seemed to be one long queue of traffic with a lot of lorries on the route and the driver was determined to overtake all of them be it on straight road, blind corners or hills! I decided it was better not to look and happily we survived the journey. It cost 51 cordobas which is about ($2). Along the way we made a snack stop while the driver collected the fare and various local women surrounded the bus settling quesillos, frescas and other snacks that I didn’t recognise. You won’t starve on a Nicaraguan bus!

I thought about trying to walk from the Leon bus station to my hostel but on arriving the bus station is pretty chaotic and I didn’t have much idea which way to orient my map. I was immediately surrounded by taxi drivers offering to take me into town for 100 cordobas. This is way too much, I learnt later that a taxi costs 20 cordobas. In the end however I went with a pedicab driver who charged me 50 cordobas for what was a 15 minute cycle. This was probably still too much but for the novelty and the effort he put in cycling me and my bags on the potholed roads I didn’t mind.

So, there you have it. I made it to my hostel in Leon in about 3.5 hours for $5. The shuttle is undoubtedly more convenient but I got a nice “yeeeeeah, I can do the buses” feeling and it wasn’t so bad!

Granada

Granada is lovely. I ended up spending 7 days there doing yoga, wandering by the lake and enjoying Hostel Oasis (my favourite of the trip so far!) Here are a few of my highlights:

Yoga at Casa Lucia

Casa Lucia has to be Granada’s loveliest hotel. I found out about the yoga class there with a quick “yoga in Granada” Google and was thrilled to find twice daily classes for $5 including mat hire. The classes happen on a beautiful outdoor yoga deck in the Lucia garden and if you take the evening class they’re candle lit. The teacher Melanie was great. I tried lots of cool new things with her (including King Pigeon, something I never thought I’d be able to do!) and the classes were pitched just right to be accessible for beginners while offering enough substance for regular practitioners. I’d love to stay in the hotel! The morning yoga session is included with your stay and they serve breakfast afterwards on the terrace.

Volcan Masaya twilight tour

This was my first attempt of the trip to see lava. I booked with Leo Tours add they were the first company I walked past and they gave me a discount if I went that evening. It ended up costing $22, pretty good to see an active volcano!

The tour started at 4pm when we met at the office to be driven to the Masaya crater. This took about an hour and on arrival we were given 20 mins to look around and take photos before our guide arrived to show us around. It was very cool, you’re at the edge of the crater a the sun is setting and every so often as the wind blows the smoke away you can look straight down into it

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The clouds of gas are pretty thick and I recommend that if you’re given a gas mask, use it! We were told we could leave ours in the car but I existenced a nasty feeling in the back of my throat while I was breathing around the crater and by then it was too late to go back.

Unfortunate you can’t see lava here, the guide told us a ledge from which you used to be able to see it collapsed a few years ago. I was happy anyway, I live volcanoes! We climbed a bit higher to watch the sunset and the guide told us more about Masaya and the surrounding volcanoes. Apparently they’re connected in a line all the way down the Americas and if they all went if together they’d wipe out the whole continent he also pointed out the now dead crater of a volcano that used to be active here. It was huge!

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After sunset we walked to some nearby caves to watch the bats that live there heating out to feed. This was incredible, there were hundreds of them flying overhead. The your guide encouraged us to use our flashes to take pictures, I really wish I hadn’t as I’m not sure this is good for the poor bats! Otherwise I loved this tour and thought the Leo did a good job of arranging it.

Laguna Apoyo

This your was organised by hostel Oasis which has a sister hostel (Paradiso) at the lagoon. I went on a whim as a girl I’d met earlier told me she had a great day there. I’m so glad I did! The day trip costs $12 and you get to use the Paradiso facilities including lockers, kayaks and very comfortable deckchairs. They were incredibly well organised with someone meeting us on arrival, showing us around and giving us tab cards for drinks. The lake is beautiful and has a nice cooling breeze which was amazing after the great of Granada. We spent the next 4 hours alternating swimming with drying of on the deckchairs and trying out the very nice and reasonably priced restaurant. I was so sad when it was time to leave, I wish I’d spent the night there!

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Brunch buffet, Chocomuseo

I intended to head her for brunch then do the chocolate making workshop. Unfortunately I ate too much brunch and the last thing I wanted to do was make chocolate! The buffet cost $7 (including tax) and included local options (rice and beans, fried bananas, cheese and tortillas) as well as fruit, yoghurt and anyway eggs. You could even get pancakes or waffles if you wanted! It was great value.

Kayaking

Another whim which I did on my last morning in Granada. One of the girls in my dorm had arranged it and after some trepidation (I’m not a good kayaker, I went on a couple of school/guide trips as a teenager and was always the one who got stuk in the reads!) I decided to go for it. I’m so glad I did, the lake and islands are so beautiful it was like I’d fallen into a dream. In those 2.5 hours I saw more wildlife close up than I have on whole days of boring rainforest boat rides. Our guide was great and the company was so much fun. The highlight was the assistant guide (who was on his first day, bless him!) capsizing his kayak, being unable to get back in and having to push it to shore so that the main guide could help him back in! You can see the islands by boat but we saw several go past and I was so pleased to be in the kayak getting up close rather than on the noisy boats. By the end I was so tired as my arms are very weedy. I was incredibly proud of just making it back to shore after 15 minutes paddling open water and also happy to discover I’m not totally awful anymore (just very slow). It was a great morning and I’m so glad the girls convinced me to sign up.

General wandering around

If you can deal with the heat you can spend a happy day just looking at the city. Here is what I mean:

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Traditional funeral carriage

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Sunset

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Down by the lake

Accomodation

I ended up staying in 4 different places as everywhere was crazy busy. I had a couple of favourites: La Mexicana which had a friendly owner, fairy lights, a private room for $14/night and home made Greek yoghurt at 20 cordobas a pot. I left after 1 night thinking I’d find something better. I did not.
Hostel Oasis was where I finally got to stay a few nights after 3 days of moving every night. For $10 a night I got a comfortable bed with a fan right next to me, all you can eat pancake and banana breakfast, a well equipped kitchen, free filtered water, tea and coffee all day (and actual milk for the tea)!, good wifi and a tv room.  There was also a strictly enforced 11pm silence time and a swimming pool! It really was the best big hostel I’ve stayed in and was incredibly well organised. I miss it!

Eating

Go to Pita Pita. I had the falafel and chicken breast pitas. They were both huge and delicious.

I also liked Cafe Sonrisas. The waiting staff are all hearing impaired and the money for your meal goes towards helping them. They were all super smiley and the food was nice and well priced.