Ambition Tightens Hamstrings 

Thus ends my first ever month of early mornings on a mat, bending and stretching at a yoga shala. To be honest, walking towards the shala that first day, I would of laid a bet on my attendance being 50%, tops. 

“I’m so happy that you’re joining me for yoga”, the GF smiled me that smile. 

“I’m proud of you”, she added with earnest, “and actually, it’s kind of romantic”. Wink, wink.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Romantic, but I am also a realist. Surely there would be atleast one sneaky sleep in, a handful of hangovers and a couple of can’t be f**ked’s throughout the month. But, 30 days later, I can honestly say that I went the distance, and I’ll also let you know that it was neither a problem nor a big deal, but a real pleasure and a lot of sweat.

I started as a COMPLETE novice (I now consider myself a beginner), but I was able to pick up a thing or two about yoga along the way.

Firstly, yoga is not just for girls or the incredibly athletic posers of Instagram. Gawking around the shala on my first day, the diversity of students was obvious. People from all over the globe, of every shape and size, every age and colour, all together sweating and bending their way to bliss. Some stretching with the finesse of a Russian gymnast, some struggling to touch their toes (me). There is an oft quoted saying thrown around Mysore, “Yoga is for everyone, that is everyone EXCEPT lazy people.” 

Also, yoga is not a religion, nor a cult. Yep, there’s chanting in a dead language, Sanskrit of all things. Weird right??? Any weirder than ten thousand blokes standing around every Saturday at Stamford Bridge, all in unison yelling, 

“Blue is the colour, football is the game. We’re all together, and winning is the aim.” ???
Not really. 

Sure, yoga is full of philosophy and advice on how to live a better life, much like religion. But, hey, I’m always open to suggestions. As Alain De Bottom noted in his book, Religion for Atheists :

Some people can remain a committed atheist and nevertheless find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling.” 

And so it is with yoga. I’m open to ideas on becoming more mindful of how to eat, consume and act. I’m not too proud to acknowledge that I need some good advice every once in a while. Yoga offers a great opportunity to hang out with a lot of flexible, considerate and super healthy people.

As the GF always says,”Be part of it. practice yoga”.

Mysore in September


(Photo KPJAYI Main Shala, Mysore. Courtesy Instagram@briana.nicholson)

Back in July when organising flights from A to B, the GF pointed out that since we were flying over India anyway, we would be mad not to touchdown for a yoga fix in Mysore. The GF is full of good ideas, and I was happy to agree.

“This time, you should practice yoga with me,” the GF added, after the flights were booked.

“Hmm……”

Well every healthy relationship needs some give and take, and always willing to try something new, I bought myself a mat, a pair of Lululemon shorts and jumped on the yoga bandwagon. In for a penny and all that. I was to learn that we had signed up for a month of Ashtanga yoga, at the ‘source’, KPJAYI. 

If you don’t know what Ashtanga is (I didn’t) I won’t bore you with the details other than to let you know that it is a flowing set of moves (asanas) that stretch and bend you for about an hour a day (longer if you’re better). But, you NEED to know the moves, so before jumping on the plane a crash course in Ashtanga was needed. Thanks YouTube!

Arriving in Mysore in the ‘off’ season the GF and I realised we had stumbled on a secret. Gokulam, the suburb where most of the yoga shalas are situated, is super quiet. Tranquil even. We had been here before, in the high season when the town is busting at the seams, with lines for restaurants, hotels over booked, Insta-famous yogis everywhere. Not the zen place that you’d expect. But now……well ‘shhh’, don’t tell anybody, because it’s bliss.

The head of Ashtanga’s lineage, Sharath is out of town. He’s touring abroad, but his mum, Saraswathi is still holding class. Both classes are packed to the rafters over the high season. Sharath holds class in the main shala, a big, beautiful room that is the epicentre of Ashtanga, a place where yogis worldwide need to wait and wait and wait to register for a place months in advance to get the chance to practice and improve. Saraswati has another shala around the corner. But with the head honcho outta town…. 

The GF asks Saraswati, “Are we practicing in the main shala for ALL of September?”, a little over excitedly.

“Actually”, Saraswati replies, “it is MY shala. I just let my son use it when he is here, but he is not here, so we will practice in MY shala”. 

Big smiles all round.

Portugal Beyond Lisbon – Alentejo

 Visit Portugal’s Alentejo region for an outdoor adventure complemented with fresh local produce and breath taking walks.


Portugal strikes back! After nearly a decade in the clutches of the GFC, the South West Coast of Portugal is striding forward towards a new future with an invigorating push into Nature Tourism, well supported by the local community and council. The houses and buildings in every street have been given a fresh lick of paint, bright white with blue, orange or pink trimmings so that when you enter a town you feel like you’ve stumbled onto a film set.

Forget the Algarve for a beach break, the Alentejo region is full of activities for those looking for outdoor adventure. The jewel in the Alentejo crown is the Fishermans Trail, a four day walk along the Atlantic Coast line that, from north to south, starts at the market square in the old town of Porto Covo and finishes on the tranquil beach of Odeceixe.

EAT and DRINK

Add to your time here fantastic fresh seafood, affordable local wines and cheeses, plenty of municipal markets (mercados) and a bounty of Portuguese patisseries, there is more than enough fuel to keep you going along the trail. Keep an eye out for the rated DOC cheeses (queijo) from Nisa, Evora and Serpa regions, all made from sheeps milk with their own regional flavours. Wines from Enoforum, Herdade dos Grous and Cartuxa are all high quality and affordable made from the lesser known grape varieties grown in Alentejo. Broadly, the whites are light, zingy and refreshing, perfect for the local seafood, whilst the reds are mostly full of fruit and also enjoyed young.

WALKING  THE FISHERMAN’S TRAIL

The first stage of the walk from Porto Covo to Vila Nova de Milfontes, is a 20km trail that should take about 7 hours to complete. Start by heading south from the Porto Covo fishing port onto the trail that twist and winds along the Atlantic, passing pebbled beaches and sandstone dunes. Expect to see endemic plant species that have survived the poor soil conditions of the area and exist nowhere else on Earth. Pack a lunch with drinks for this stretch as you will have the place to yourself with no conveniences on the way. From the market in Porto Covo’s main square you can pick up ripe local tomatoes, fresh bread, a small wheel of queijo and a tin or two of Portugal’s famous sardines for a picnic along the way.


(Porto Covo)

Vila Nova de Milfontes is a sleepy seaside town facing south, over looking the mouth of the Mira river and home to great restaurants and cafes. Nestled on the banks of the Mira is Quebramar Beach Bar, serving local fresh seafood. On the dunes is Conversar Comsal, perfect for sunset, with Super Bock on tap (1euro a glass) and ‘Catch of the Day’ (7euro) it’s a popular local favourite. If you plan on spending a few days here, there are surf schools, bike hire and yoga at Love Ashtanga Yoga to keep you busy.


(Overlooking the river mouth at Vila Nova de Milfontes)

Follow the trail from Vila Nova de Milfontes to Almograve, a 15km walk along the coast. First, you can go out of town and cross the bridge and head back towards Furnas beach or knock a couple of kilometres off the day by taking the ferry straight across the river. From here head down the acacia laden path and watch local fisherman on the rocks and keep your eyes out for the small Stone Age quarries in the dunes. Turn into Almograve for another feast at one of the wonderful local seafood restaurants. There is also a ferry service from Vila Nova de Milfontes that continues all the way to Odemira for those not wanting to walk the whole ‘Fishermans Trail‘ (25 euro one way). 

The third leg from Almograve to Zambujeria do Mar is the only leg with paths wide enough to allow for bikes. This 22km stretch of trail is high and hugs close along the 100mt red sandstone cliffs, giving fantastic views down the coast. Lookout for birds nesting in the craggy rocks and keep heading to the lighthouse at Cavaleiro where you can stop for lunch. The trail leaves the cliffs edge at Bacra, where a taxi can be ordered to take you into town avoiding the last 3km straight stretch of road. Handy if you sampled the impressive list of local wines available at the Restaurant a Barca which is highly noted for their seafood soup (3euro).

Zambujeria do Mar has a magnificent beach formed by the erosion of the cliffs over the millennium. It’s a great place to stay, and you can enjoy dinner at Restaurant Rita who serve big pots of Portuguese Octopus Rice for two (19euro), and have magical sunset views over the town church and Atlantic. Local bars on the Main Street have impromptu Fado musicians throughout the night. 


(Sunset at Zambujeria do Mar)

The final leg of the trail is 18km from Zambujeria do Mar to Odeceixe where many nocturnal mammals will be at rest. Burrows and footprints can be seen on the trail, the signs of the local otter, Egyptian Mongoose and Beech Marten population. Carvalhal beach is also home to a private African zoo, a hundred metres above the Surf School and Bar. From the town of Odeceixe there are kayaks available to paddle the last couple of kilometres to the beach.


(Odeceixe)

Odeceixe is the perfect beachside town to stop and enjoy the fresh air blowing across the Atlantic and reflect on the adventure just completed. Bars, accomodation and restaurants hang off the cliff with mesmerising views over the river mouth and Atlantic Ocean beyond.

All photos nickisalwaysonholidays.
If you have any more information on the area PLEASE add a link in the comments.

Ola, Amigo


 (Photo Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

European Cycle Tour is a go-go!

Left Lisbon on the 25th, Foundation day in Portugal, coincidently ANZAC day for the antipodeans, and headed south. Because of the public holiday there was confusion about which ferries were working to cross the Tagus and we ended up at a different spot across the river than planned. Riding for ten minutes was enough to be totally lost in suburbia. Shit! Should of bought a MAP!

Did circles trying to find the right road south to Setubal and finally attempted to take the freeway until a car slowed down and, with my rough Portuguese translation, told us to ‘get off the fucking road you dickheads’, with a wave of the middle finger. So we pushed back to the closest patisserie and had a much needed espresso and Portuguese tart. Too much riding in front of us for the preferred cerveja. 

Met a keen cyclist soon after who spoke enough English to help. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and Santos was happy to take us south with some added stops at his favourite lookouts if we cared to join. A private tour guide! Luck was favouring the brave.

I asked how far,  and our new amigo replied ‘four’. OK, we can do this. 45 minutes (and further than the four kilometres we were expecting) plus a few steep hills later we reached a magnificent view over the Atlantic and the sprawling coast of the Costa da Caparica.  Then a relaxing roll down the hill and through the national park.

I enquired how far our amigo usually rode in a day.

‘Six’ Santos informed me. I worked on this maths problem as we left the beach heading back into the hills. Were we on a northerly route. Oh no.

Lesson learnt. A person wearing a zootsuit’s perception of distance should always be quieried.

We arrived back to where we first met our amigo, three hours and twenty photos since our initial encounter, nearly five hours since the ferry. A big fucking circle! He said he would love to show us more but had to meet his mother in law. 

We reminded him we were trying to head south to Setublal.

‘Oh, of course’, he said and took us half a kilometre up a side road we had previously overlooked and dropped us at our turn off.

He checked his watch and warned us that the day was now getting late and Setubal was maybe too far. Perhaps to Sesimbra would be wiser after such a long ride.

Obrigado. 

Turns out Sesimbra is a beautiful port town with amazing cuisine, a place that we could of missed without the help of our amigo 

Month in Mysore

 (Photo: Instagram@briana.n.yoga)

This piece is an extract from the novel ‘Stretching Truths: Travels of a Yogini’s Boyfriend’.

Landing in India is always exciting, and I had a blissful month in beautiful Mysore to start.  You can always tell where the rich live in India because every second house is a private doctor’s residence and the locals have perfect teeth as there are dentists everywhere. Gokulam, Mysore  is such a place, but with the added bonus of housing the famous KPJAYI shala, the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga. 

There seem to be more foreigners than locals in Gokulam, visitors from over 60 countries come to practice, a figure the local guru proudly throws around. All are very fit and healthy looking, with the air of zen around them, a benefit that comes from keeping a dedicated diet and doing hard yards on the mat. My GF fits right in.

“Who are you practicing with?”, is the go to conversation starter in Gokulam. 

“What? No yoga??”, a baffled bi-sexual beefcake asks in disbelief, disgust spreading over his radiant face. I realise a better excuse is needed to justify my excistence, literally as there are ‘Yoga Students Only’ signs on the front doors of some hotels.

However, there is a loophole in Ashtanga yoga that I will share with you. Ashtanga, the mantra goes, is 99% practice and 1% theory.

“I’m here for the theory”, just believable enough to blend in, the best way to get out alive when immersed within a gang.

The yoga tourist does have an interestingly different type of holiday. I dove further into their world by picking up some volunteer (read ‘unpaid’) work at one of the local cafes. A dedicated yoga student will start their day in the shala EARLY and sweat it out, sometimes for hours, building up an immense hunger. 

The cafe is  all low tables and pillows, with soft sounds of the rainforest playing through speakers, as the Yogi’s and Yogini’s arrive, carrying mats of questionable smell tucked under their arms and sustainable glass water bottles at hand. Breakfast is THE event of the day, after the actual practice of course. 

Being a waiter gives me a ‘fly on the wall’ view of the daily life of the yoga tourist. Interestingly, although everybody is very health conscious, anal even, about what they eat, they consume a LOT for breakfast, an event that lasts for hours. The whole experience is a bit like watching floodgates open.

Just a soy chai and plain toast to start, inhaled as it hits the table, followed by ragi flakes with more soy milk splashed on top, another chai. Pause. Something scrambled, usually tofu occassionly eggs if you’re a beginner,  and onto the first mug of black coffee. This is woofed down, ‘more coffee, please!’. Not a request, but demanded as the first hit of caffeine kicks in. Ragi pancakes follow, a dry heavy alternative to the fluffy style you may invision. This should be the end, even for the hungriest, but the glutten free chocolate cake comes out of the oven, and the crowd goes wild. Why the chef doesn’t bake two, or ten for that matter, is beyond me, but the cake sells out and those who missed a slice give me as evil a glare as somebody on a yoga high can muster. Not so much scary but INTENSE.

Eavesdropping is habitual for hospitality staff. Om shanti shanti, savasana, pinch-my-arse-ena, are all part of the lexicon. The dilemma of killing mosquitoes can become a heated discussion. The barriers to binding hands when your body is contorted in a box are high also high on the agenda. Kino McGregor’s latest Instagram post is always a hot topic.

The days can end after breakfast in Gokulam, as yogis have an afternoon rest, and then a liquid dinner at Anu’s, saving room for tomorrow’s morning feast.

Been to Gokulam? Did I forget something??

India taught me…

To travel is to learn, and learning is the greatest gift.  Discovering new cultures and new ways of life are the highlights of any trip. I’m coming to the end of my travels through India and these are some reflections on what India has taught me.

1. Yoga is a great way of life.

My GF is a yoga addict, so I kinda already knew this but for the first time, I immersed myself in the lifestyle. It’s hard not to in India, especially having spent a month in Mysore (the Mecca for Ashtanga yoga). Not to do yoga in India would be a travesty. There are studios EVERYWHERE, and most are by donation therefore suitable for every budget, so no excuses. If you are a complete novice, no problem! Remember that eveybody was a beginner at some stage, just start by practising savasana. 

  
(Instagram @briana.n.yoga doing her thing)

2. Train travel is the BEST travel.

Ok, I may reneg on this as I am three weeks off starting my first bike tour of Europe, but for now I’d rather catch a train any day. For long journeys you have to be a bit organised as train tickets go on sale 90 days before departure, and with a billion plus people they sell out quicker than you’d think. Over peak times and through popular routes, for the express trains book tickets at least a fortnight in advance. There are different class tickets ranging in comfort from deluxe suites to sardine cans.  On overnight travel, a second tier A/C ticket gets you a bed in a cabin of four, with three course meals provided for lunch and dinner, and tea/coffee/snacks  in between. Watching the country click click click by from a train is both romantic and hypnotic. Check out Wes Anderson’s ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ if you need any more inspiration. 

  

(Train to Udaipur,from Instagram@nickisalwaysonholidays)

3. Plastic sux. 

One of the first things to hit you on arriving in India is the rubbish. From talking to travellers who have been returning to India over the years, the problem seems to be getting worse, however there may be a silver cloud on the horizon. Beaches in Goa have installed bins and collectors, and nearly every town has shops that will refill your water bottles. Use these! Let’s say you drink 3 litres a day, on a two week trip you’ll go through 50 plus bottles. Pack a good flask with you and refill for a couple cents at convenient places alone the way. It’s a great service, use it to avoid a dis-service to our planet. 

4. It’s OK not to eat meat.

A highlight to visiting Japan is eating sushi, an assado in Argentina, paella in Spain, shrimp on the barbie you know where. So do as the Romans do, in India, go veg, it’s what the locals do. There are only two types of restaurants in India, veg and the less popular non-veg. These have two sub categories, North Indian and South Indian. You don’t have to follow the food chain too far to realise that the chicken in your tikka masala isn’t the quality you’d get back home, but the dhal fry is to die for. If you go veg on holidays in India you can not only eat as much as you want of the tastiest food, you may find a new and healthier habit forming.

  
(Traditional Rajasthanian thali, from Instagram@nickisalwayonholidays)

5. You are the 1%.

I’m not going to get into the problems of poverty, but one thing that is made loud & clear on any travel to India is that if you can afford the plane ticket over you’re financially more secure than nearly everybody on the street. Nobody likes to be ripped off, but maybe haggle a little lighter, buy some more chai, give away all your coins, and let the kids practice their English on you. Be a Good Samaritan.

India, thanks for the lessons.

n