Where do you go when your mind and soul need the biggest getaway?
Benjamin knew life was never going to be the same within eight hours of taking his first ayahuasca trip — and he was right.
Having pitched up in Iquitos, Peru, as part of a seven-day retreat, the former Google employee (who we have agreed to refer to on a first name basis only) had already factored in that ingesting the potent, psychedelic South American tea might alter his viewpoints on a few aspects of his life.
“But what I wasn’t prepared for was how totally willing I was to completely rearrange my life, right after taking my first trip,” he muses to the Gazette, adding that within days he was already making plans to quit his job, break up with his girlfriend and go back to school in a completely different field.
“I knew that I’d signed up to go because I needed a change,” he says. “I didn’t know that the change I needed wasn’t just changing myself, it was changing everything in my life that was making me unhappy.” He pauses. “That was heavy,” he says, three years later and still brighteyed at the memory of six hours of purging, hallucinations and “nirvana” after drinking the native vine.
Ultimately, Benjamin didn’t wind up quitting his engineering job at Google, but he did break up with his girlfriend and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy now. “I wouldn’t have made those steps if it hadn’t been for those seven days in Peru,” he says. “It changed my whole life.”
The sign of a great retreat vacation is when you forget the year you did it but not the experience, the place, the fresh air, the people, nor the transformation it elicited within you. It’s the same enlightenment that shone on me (Christine) when I traveled to Ilha Grande, Brazil for The Island Experience 12 years ago. There were just five of us women, all solo travelers from around the U.S. for this particular stay. A cohesive group who didn’t know each other before hitting the island but all with the same common adventurous spirit.
Yoga began each day on the outdoor deck as we faced the ocean and the morning breezes. Later, trekking through the rainforest trails with our friendly guides. Picnicking on white sand beaches with our healthy vegan food cooked daily and packed by the staff nutritionist. Some were eager to snorkel and kayak. My perk preference was the daily massage by their on-staff massage therapists. And the private room I had in their lodge gave me respite to enjoy the veranda with an ocean view. The group would join again for afternoon yoga, and then dine with our hosts over freshly cooked Brazilian entrees that also served to detox our bodies.
When your mind and body are at peace surrounded by this type of bliss, a bit of freedom from the usual stresses in life is a given. Not all credit goes to nature nor the sunny days nor the exercise — many times it’s the people you meet who can affect a revolution inside your mind as well. In fact, it was the Brazilian friends whom I had met years earlier that inspired Brazil to be my must-go destination.
For Kate Dennison, an interior designer from the U.K., it was Nepal for some meditation and to focus on yoga. While at home in England one day, she says, “I literally just Googled ‘yoga retreat Nepal.’” She ended up clicking on Sadhana Yoga Retreat and off she went in April of this year. “I
wanted some self-reflection to calm down and chill out, relax and connect with myself. … I was so touched by creating this sense of happiness in my life that comes from inside rather than outside. There are a lot of solo travelers that just found their way here by some kind of amazing accident.
Everyone here has that interest in a spiritual side, but not a cliché spiritual side: A genuine interest in finding something more than what they currently have.”
Joy Ravell — founder of Purusha Yoga & Purusha Seva Project Joy Ravelli —organizes, markets and leads retreats, some in Costa Rica, Mexico and Nepal. The forces of nature sometimes don’t cooperate with the best of intentions. Her June retreat was cancelled, she sighs, because “the beloved place that we go to the Kalani Retreat Center on the Big Island Of Hawaii is surrounded by lava. And they closed.”
However, when all the fates align, she remarks that “her guests usually arrive at some sort of emotional breakthrough. They have had some physical breakthroughs. They have met some really cool people. They see a part of themselves that might be the blossoming artist or inspire a project that they haven’t looked at since their 20s.”
For some travelers, the drive is neither self-improvement nor relaxation, but art. As local photographer Richard Vanderlippe explains, “Many years ago, I saw some photographs and I said, ‘Where is that?’ It was a photograph of Torres del Paine in Patagonia. I’m a photographer and I love photographing landscapes and mountains. The mountains looked incredible and I just said, ‘I want to go there.’ So we just tried to figure out how to do it.”
Vanderlippe and his wife Sandy are both artists. They didn’t want to do any group travel because his interest is photography and his wife likes to draw and paint sans too many people around.
“It’s called Patagonia but it really is both Argentina and Chile,” he says. “There’s some logistics of
getting around that I didn’t quite feel comfortable with. Every other time I have traveled, I have done everything myself.”
Vanderlippe found Patagonia Travel Adventures online and was surprised to find that the owners, Elsa and Marcelo Martinez, happened to live fairly nearby. After meeting up in person, and considering their recommendations and arrangements, the Vanderlippes booked a custom tour a year and a half in advance. This past April, they began in El Chalten/Fitz Roy in the Los Glaciares National Park, located in Argentina on the border with Chile. Their second week was spent at an elegant base hotel, Explora Patagonia, in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Their room had a view over Lake Pehoé.
“It’s like a picture,” he enthuses. “I still remember when we walked into that room, both my wife and I went, ‘Oh my God!’” he says. “I paid a lot for this room with its great view because my wife was thrilled as she sat there and painted all day while I went out and hiked around for my photographs. We spent our last five nights at the hotel … $800-a-night rooms. I’ve never spent that much in my life.”
Vanderlippe’s early mornings were key, hiking to reach an overlook to catch the sunrise. One morning, he adds, “I just caught an absolutely fabulous one. It was worth it, even with all the pain, a hurt finger, and all the rest. Every time I look at those photographs I remember everything about it. It’s great to share them with other people but they’re really a personal way of kind of remembering things too.” He wants to go back, even though he claims it was the most expensive vacation he’d ever taken. However, “This was sort of that trip of a lifetime approach. I said, ‘Let’s just go for it.’”
There’s also more traditional ways to ‘find yourself’ abroad. For almost all major religions, there are trips to discover experiences like completing the Haj, a Muslim’s trip to Mecca, or others with a Biblical focus, such as Tourist Israel’s 13-Day Christian Holy Land Israel and Jordan Tour. All the arrangements are made ahead of time, with travelers visiting sites such as Jerusalem, Nazareth, Galilee, Petra and landmarks some have only read about in Bible, Koran or Torah texts.
The bottom line: There are many means to a Finding Yourself Vacation. Perhaps taking a moment in a quiet place, to contemplate what your ideal healing, awakening or inspiring journey might be and where. The options are there, one must just reach out to receive.