Saturday, October 25, 2014

Blissed Out Retreat - The Final Day

Our final day of our retreat was a bittersweet one - a day of savoring each moment we had left together in one of the most beautiful places in the world. My last morning began with a splendid yoga practice.



We discussed our plans for the rest of our moments on the island over breakfast (some ladies were lucky enough to be able to stay extra days!).


Sitting in the outdoor restaurant area of our resort, chatting with my new friends, made for some of my favorite memories of the trip. As we chatted, one of our hostesses, Lori, showed us how to peel some of the lovely local fruits:



This last one is snake fruit! The outer shell looks just like snake skin and the inner fruit resembles a humongous garlic bulb. The fruit itself tastes sort of like pear, but very much like a tart candy. Yum!

We gathered for a discussion on metabolism, also presented by Lori. There is so much to love about the retreat - gaining knowledge from fitness/health professionals was one of the many, many perks!


Lunch consisted of our favorite mango-dressing-drenched salad, sweet fried tempeh (my personal fave), rice with tofu, steamed veggies, and roasted root vegetables. Topped with either peanut sauce or both hot sauces, of course...

The remainder of the afternoon I took time laying by the pool with a book. Now that's my idea of vacation! The weather was perfect - sunny and gently breezy.

We all made our way to our final dinner together - another cooking class at the home of one of our beloved resort staffers. Together, we created splendid tofu dishes, a spicy soup, greens in a savory coconut milk sauce, spring rolls, and more...





As we reveled in our masterpiece of a meal, each of us took time to share our reflections on the past week together... there were many laughs, many tears, and many kind and inspiring words. The energy felt between everyone was so strong - I am so grateful to have met and connected with each of the amazing women on this retreat.

Parting with everyone was so bittersweet. With promises of maintaining connection with each other, sealed with warm hugs, we wished one another well in our respective travels.


What a life-changing, humbling, beautiful, exciting, relaxing, and inspiring experience!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blissed Out Retreat - Day Five

Day Five took us out of the mountains and down to the beach. We fueled up with our ever-delicious, traditional breakfast and piled into a van, which took us on a ride through rice paddies as well as urban parts of the island.

During our trip, we stopped at one of the local temples. Reverently wrapped in sarongs, we took in the beauty of the architecture, and the dedication of those giving offerings around us.


Our hostesses had booked us a lunch at the Whacko Beach Club, a posh location which overlooked the ocean. Modern decor and the striking effect of the infinity pool made for an environment which truly felt like paradise.




Lunch was a seemingly endless spread of colorful dishes and varying flavors - I cannot express how truly impressed and grateful we have all been when it comes to the food!


We started with a stellar potato leek soup - a taste of fall and home.

The rest of the dishes arrived in a flurry of colors and aromas. We were so eager to dig in!










Relaxing in or by the pool was the perfect end to our delightful meal.



While kicking back, we heard some commotion from other guests... It turns out that there was a pile of puppies who had been given a makeshift home underneath one of the beach benches! We all rushed over and completely melted at the sight.




Three boys and two girls - each cuter than the next! The staff informed us that the pups' mother had stopped coming by about three days after their birth and that the staff had been caring for them for about three weeks.


We took turns feeding them after it was clear by their finger-suckling that they were hungry!


In an inspiring, collaborative effort we remembered having stopped in to a storefront in Ubud for BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association), which cares for stray animals on the island. They were contacted and it was arranged for the babes to be picked up at our resort when we returned with the cuties later that evening. It was a truly happy ending for these little love-bugs, even though most of us wanted to stow one or two away in our purses to take home to our respective continents.

We were then reminded of a certain enlightenment about the nature of the universe maintaining balance earlier in our retreat experience as some of us were faced with a harsher reality of life in the islands. Five of us opted to take a snorkeling trip while we were at the beach. Having had a surreal experience snorkeling off of Key West a few years before, I was eager to engage in underwater exploration in Bali. Unfortunately, the beach area was not very clean. We spotted some pieces of trash floating by during our adventures and, overall, I would not recommend it to others. There was no instruction, no aftercare advice of washing off saltwater once we were finished, and no admonition about not touching or disturbing the wildlife.

In fact, we were subjected to the horrendous witnessing of one of our two "guides" calling to the other (in Bahasa or Balinese), who jumped in the water and joined him, holding a long hook-like instrument. Watching underwater, I observed one of the men jab the spear under some coral and remove an octopus from its home. We were shocked. The water was choppy, my mind was trying to make sense of what I was seeing, and he did not surface often for us to get his attention. Eventually, after he had been dragging the animal back toward the boat for a distance, I was able to get his attention and ask him what he was doing. Of course, he stated his intent was to consume the octopus. We pleaded with him to set it free. He appeared confused, yet did oblige our request. Even though he stated that he thought he had killed the animal, I watched it make its way back under a shelf of coral after it was released. My only hope is that it was not too injured to make a recovery and that it may live out the rest of its life, unharmed.

The whole incident left an impact on those of us who witnessed it. I have never seen an animal being injured or killed right in front of me. I don't quite think my mind has truly processed the event, honestly, as it has only been a few hours. The beauty of the aftermath, however, was in the compassionate and empathic responses from our fellow retreat-goers. (Again, these women are amazing.) We discussed the difficulties in accepting others' cultural practices when every fiber of ourselves is screaming in protest to the basic injustices of taking another's life. It was a heavy afternoon.

During our trip back to the resort, we were able to refocus our energies on the puppies as we watched them wiggle and squirm over each other. This experience truly made the trip something much more than simply a wellness retreat; the hearts of these women led to action that forever changed the fate of five little lives, which is something I surely won't soon forget.

Dinner at the resort was another night of mind-blowing creations and, after a day in the sun, we were so ready to eat!


Lettuce cup with tofu and peanut sauce, roasted pumpkin, vermicelli salad, rice with ginger tofu and hot sauce, steamed veggies, and a big salad with mango dressing.


And a surprise dessert of coconut mango cake! Moist and decadent, this was truly a treat. The kitchen staff at Alam Sari have gone above and beyond our expectations, which is especially impressive because this is the first time they have worked with someone to arrange a totally plant-based retreat.

One more day in one of the most beautiful and inspirational parts of the globe and I am not ready to leave! See you all soon for the final recap of the Blissed Out Retreat 2014!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blissed Out Retreat - Day Four

Day Four has been a very laid back, more traditional, chill-out-in-paradise type of day. It began with a refreshing yoga practice in the Meditation Room with an excellent and attentive instructor.


Breakfast was the usual, delicious fare - except we had a surprising addition to our spread:


Coconut crepes! Made from rice flour, they were filled with fresh, shredded coconut and totally divine topped with palm nectar.

Shortly after breakfast, our hostesses held a discussion on developing fitness goals and building one's own exercise plans. The talk, along with all of the fresh food at every meal, got me jazzed about focusing on my own fitness goals when I return home by doing more healthy meal planning and checking my mental baggage at the door each time I do a workout.

The next few hours were filled with great conversation (and even greater laughs) with people I can now call new friends. I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's nothing like connecting with a group of vegan/plant-based/aspiring veg*n folk because there's already an unspoken connection based in compassion. I was hoping that this trip would be akin to the social experiences I have had at the Vida Vegan Conferences and my expectations have most certainly been met. These people are amazing.

We all sat and chatted and, before we knew it, it was lunchtime again!


Rice with corn and sambal hot sauce, curry tofu (BEST tofu dish so far!), steamed and stir-fried veggies, roasted & herbed potatoes with the best chunky-garlicky-mildly-hot sauce ever, and a big salad with beans, cashews, and an oil-free mango dressing.

My tummy needed to properly process the amaze-balls meal it had just consumer, so sitting by the pool in the hot sun (and refreshing breeze) was in order.


The afternoon had circuit training in store!


Using a 40:20 interval program with all sorts of movements meant we got a total body workout in less than 25 sweaty minutes. These ladies are so much fun as workout partners!

A group of us jumped in the pool afterward to cool down and pass the time before dinner. Today's weather was cooler during the day and the pool was the perfect temperature for an early evening dip.

Dinner was Indian-themed tonight and the menu, again, boasted fresh ingredients with flavors that popped.


Dal soup, roasted sweet potato (so simple and YUM), tomato and eggplant salad, tofu in a mouth-watering turmeric sauce (which gave the curry tofu a run for its money...), "chana masala" that was made more authentic-tasting by eventually adding the same chunky-spicy sauce from lunch, and steamed veggies.


And for dessert? Black rice pudding with coconut milk! Wow. So different, but so satisfyingly yummers.

My night was rounded off by a hot stone massage and a relatively early retirement back to my room in preparation for a day at the beach tomorrow. After spending so much glorious time in the mountains, I am ready for some sand and snorkeling! Stay tuned. :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blissed Out Retreat - Day Three

Day Three of the Blissed Out Retreat consisted of a full day in the nearby city of Ubud. Morning yoga, sadly, did not take place as planned, yet the breakfast spread continued to be a fantastic array of fresh fruits, red rice porridge, and bread with jam.


Once we arrived in Ubud we went straight to the local shops to bargain hunt. The sun was beating down on us, but the company was wonderful and we located some portable fans to cool us down as we soaked in the sights of the busy city.




We stopped at some Juice Ja Cafe for a cold beverage and were impressed to see a small grocery with organic specialty items.



I chose the Ginger Tamarind Lemon Cooler!


After another few hours of walking about the city we hunted down one of the only all-vegan (and all-raw!) cafes, The Seeds of Life. The atmosphere was peaceful and inviting - perfect for unwinding. The menu was full of intriguing meals and we opted to share some appetizers, including raw bruschetta (which I did not like) and raw pizza with olive tapenade, fermented cashew cheese, and wilted spinach (which was BOMB).



Our entrees were even better! My new friends, Danielle and Maria, ordered the Mediterranean plate - raw falafel, hummus, and Harissa spread with crackers.


The live zucchini pasta dish was topped with raw marinara, pesto, and fermented cashew cheese... and was the most amazing dish I have had during my trip, thus far ! We spoke about the practicality of purchasing both a spiralizer and a dehydrator and were in serious talks of each investing in both...


Even though our bellies were already happy, we decided that we couldn't let the raw dessert case go neglected... We shared a banana caramel cream pie slice, which wad divine!


And each ordered our own truffles. Cocoa date ball, and chocolate covered lavender and spirulina mint truffles. Bliss!


The most amazing touristy aspect of visiting Bali is the affordability of everything. Our entire, gluttonous meal was just over $30, total. We also had foot massages for less than $5. Even though the traveling time is extensive for North Americans, once you arrive in Bali you will find affordable accommodations, food, and luxurious spa treatments.

It was approaching dinner time and our hostesses had intricately planned an incredible meal at The Elephant.


This restaurant is absolutely divine. The main dining area overlooks the mountainside and we welcomed the view, and the evening breeze, eagerly.


We dived into either passion fruit and lemon coolers or ginger lime (with huge chunks of ginger!) and canapés: smokey eggplant spread, hummus, and beetroot spread.





Also: beet fries and sweet potato fries... and "smashed" potatoes!

We had our choice between three appetizers: spring rolls with sweet chili & peanut sauces, larb with spicy fried tofu, or creamy pumpkin soup.




The entrees were either coconut noodles in a broth, "White Tiger Salad" with tempeh, pumpkin, edamame, and nori, or Pad Thai (which initially was served with egg, ahh!). All of the food was fantastic - almost as great as the company and conversation.


We all drive back into the city to enjoy traditional Balinese dance in the Ubud Palace - truly an unforgettable experience.


Afterward, we were more than ready to retire to ginger tea, scrubbing off layers of sunscreens and sweat, and resting up for another day in paradise!