The rest of Toronto

Sunday was originally going to be CN tower day but the weather was grey and being a Sunday, queues seemed likely. Instead I decided to go to a yin/yang yoga class at the Yoga Sanctuary in the morning. This was a great class! The first half was an up tempo flow and I got into an arm balance I’ve been failing at for ages for the first time, yay! The second half was yin poses so we did one back bend, held for several minutes then a bunch of back bends which was perfect got a Sunday morning. Afterwards I headed back to the hostel to have lunch then went for a walk.

The walk led me to Queen Street East which is home to lots of high street chains. Sort of like a slightly more pleasant version of London’s Oxford Street. My eyes drew me straight to French Connection which had 40% off everything in store. My purse definitely felt it! After that I called it a day in the interests of preserving my credit card.

Monday was again going to be CN tower day but when I arrived it looked like this.

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I retreated to Starbucks and ended up staying for a couple of hours. Things didn’t improve so I headed back to the hostel picking up lunch and the latest Marie Claire on the way. It’s amazing being able to buy magazines here! I hung at the hostel for a while then headed to another yoga class. Sadly when I arrived I was told the class I wanted to go to wasn’t on because it was Monday and that class was on Tuesday (I blame all the snorers I’ve been sharing my dorm with for making me tired!). Luckily there was another class in an hour so I hung around for that. It was good!

I was determined that I was going to get a good night’s sleep in spite of the snorers last night so I stocked up on nytol, ear plugs and prepped the white noise app on my phone. Sadly the snorer was still audible over the white noise and had joined forces with some annoying other room mates who thought packing at 11pm and chatting at full volume was a good idea. Eventually it fell quiet but I’d got into such a rage with the snorer that there was no way I was going to sleep! Eventually I remembered something I read in an article about sleeping through noise – “it’s not the noise that keeps you awake, it’s your own anxiety” so I decided that rather than try to ignore the snoring I was going to embrace it and make it a kind of study (the rest of this is going to sound a bit odd, bear with me!). I relaxed as much as I could and listened to the snores, noting how the sound changed from snore to snore, when they stopped and so on. When I got extra agitated rather than giving up I brought my focus back to the snoring and tried to relax again. Kind of like a snoring meditation! Anyway, I’m not sure if it was my  new approach or the sleeping pill finally kicking in but the next time I woke up it was 6am at someone’s alarm going off. Mission semi-accomplished. 6 hours is better than none!

Today is my last day in Toronto and I started it with a sad farewell to the Planet Traveller breakfast. With 6 types of bagel, bread and 16 types of cereal plus peanut butter and jam it has been good to me. I think I might turn into a bagel before I leave Canada.

Next was another yoga class which was unexpectedly great. The teacher gave a good little talk at the start about non-violence to yourself being the start of being non-violent to others. Non-violent meaning in the sense of not bearing ill will to others, loving everyone and all that. He also asked everyone why they started practicing yoga then had us share our answers with the class. This never happens in yoga, and I mean never! I’m only to happy to remain silent from the time I walk in the studio to the time I walk out but actually I enjoyed this part. His point was that you can practice for many reasons but really we’re all there to break down our ego and learn to stop doing things because we think they impress others, to stop bearing ourselves up when we think we’ve made mistakes and generally to stop indulging the ego. When we can do that we can really learn to love ourselves and everyone else. When we find that the other stuff like flexibility and crazes comes naturally when the body and mind are ready. I love it when yoga teachers make me think! He also told me I should do Chaturanga on my knees for the next 30 days until I can get my arms fully to 90 degrees. At the moment I can’t get my arms fully to 90 and I haven’t made progress in a long time. Noone has ever picked me up on it before and I feel like this could help me make progress yay.

Afterwards I headed to St Lawrence market and the Distillery district for a walk around.  The market was a little disappointing. My lunch was a sad burrito, a cheese blintz that I threw away because it wasn’t nice and a raw and vegan nanaimo bar that was just average. The Distillery district was pretty and worth an hour or two to walk around if you have a spare afternoon.

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For the rest of the day I’m going to be killing time until my 12.30am bus to Montreal which means I’ll be in my last city and only a night away from seeing Ben. Not long to go now!

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.

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.