Yoga Retreat: Day 1

Last year I went on a Pilates Retreat in southern Turkey. It was the result of a wine-inspired bucket list. That I was sober when I signed up for the two two-hour sessions of Pilates a day option (count them: FOUR hours EVERY DAY) just goes to show you that even without wine, the grey matter isn’t always firing on all cylinders.

This year I opted for a yoga retreat. Unlike the Pilates retreat, this adventure was inspired by common sense. I needed to earn credits toward my PT re-certification. The retreat would tick this box (or part of it), as well as introduce me to one other area of Turkey.

(Plus, I could join the mid-morning session of a writing retreat being held at the same time, by Stephen King’s British editor, Philippa Pride. How cool is that?)

The yoga (and writing) retreat was held in southern Turkey, near Gocek. The general area accessed by Dalaman Airport appears to be the place for retreats. Probably because things like tents and outhouses can be passed off as rustic and charming, a part of a whole get-zen ambiance (a concept that definitely wouldn’t fly in the ‘burbs of Chicago, for example).  

Of course, as the time for my little adventure approached, I was a bit nervous about the whole rustic, charming and tent (or yurt, as they are called) thing.  Yurts are basically tents, the distinction between tent and yurt being that the former is on moveable poles, and the latter is on a cement platform.

(I didn’t yet know about the outhouse factor.)

I had signed up for the course a bit late, so all single yurts were taken. Which meant not only would I be staying in a semi-permanent tent, but I would also be sharing it with a stranger. Sleeping, for me, is an incredibly private and personal thing. It was hard enough signing on for shared accommodation ‘til death do us part. Sharing my sleeping space with a stranger was something I hadn’t opted for since my dorm days a few decades ago. What if I snored?

I flew from Istanbul to Dalaman (leaving the house at the ungodly hour of 5AM, an idea that seemed brilliant when I booked the flight and was thinking to avoid traffic and long airport lines, but seemed ludicrous when my alarm went off at 4AM). Because I was the only one arriving into Dalaman so early (I wonder why?), I was alone in the hotel’s shuttle bus. If the retreat’s hosts hadn’t warned me beforehand, I would have been a bit concerned when the driver turned onto a gravel road (and I use ‘road’ loosely) and headed up into the mountains and into a sea of green strikingly absent of any signs of civilization.

We bumped and jostled along for about eight minutes before we arrived at Huzur Vadisi, the hotel and site of our retreat. The hotel is nestled in a small nook of the tree-covered hills. The first building, large and long with open sides, make up the kitchen and dining area. It greets the guest with wooden beams, large ceramic pots,  long wooden table, and a lounge area with brightly cushioned couches and pillows. Kilims with myriad patterns and hues are scattered over the wooden floors and add to the area’s warmth.

A stone path leads from dining area to showers, then to a wooden, open-aired building (whose name starts with a ‘k’ but I can’t find it on google at the moment), whose cushion-and-pillow-covered floors beckons to one to just come and take a load off, physically and mentally. Beyond that, down stone steps – and past the bottom half of the building beginning with a ‘k’ and a critical stock of wine, beer and other thirst-quenching goodies – is a lovely little pool and the large indoor/outdoor yoga space.  In the background are the yurts, extending from the ground like over-sized mushrooms.

(One also finds the bathroom and shower facilities, all strategically peppered throughout the area to ensure that middle-of-the-night jaunts to the loo are not too treacherous.)

(You might have guessed by now that our yurts didn’t come en suite.) 

While we are on the topic of infrastructure, a bit more detail about the toilets and showers is warranted…

…like the fact that the shower and toilet huts – all but one – are connected together…

…with doors that are open on the bottom and on the top…

…allowing sounds to go out…

…and creatures to come in.  

Bottom line: Not only had I signed up for 7 nights, 8 days of a shared yurt, but I also had to embrace outhouse-styled shower and toilet facilities (albeit, thankfully, with running water). I am not sure which worried me the most: the shared tent or not having ready and private access to sound proof, bug-repellant, and gender-designated bathrooms.

Still, if you can’t expand one’s comfort zones during a retreat – especially a yoga retreat – then when can you?

In any case, soon the sound of leaves rustling in the soft breeze, the enthusiastic singing of birds, and the all-round peaceful atmosphere calmed my angst, and concerns about tents, snoring, and middle-of-the-night journeys to the toilet receded.

At least for the moment.

I was warmly greeted by the hotel’s manager who, despite my having arrived 6 hours before check-in, bustled me off to my room that had been prepared for me in record time (given me just enough time to indulge in a full Turkish breakfast). I threw myself onto the delightfully comfortable bed in my rustic and charming yurt and fell asleep to the sounds of nature and the soothing flapping of the yurt’s plastic rain cover.  

(A note of explanation: A yurt is actually built like a tepee, with a hole in the middle of the top. When not raining – not the case when I arrived – the hole is open to permit one to see, from his/her horizontal position in bed, a glimpse of the sky.)

I woke up in time for lunch – delicious, yummy, homemade food, fresh, healthy and satisfying – and to meet my instructors, Ken (yoga) and Philippa (writing). Like the hotel manager, they were warm and welcoming. After lunch and a bit of digestion, I went for a run (i.e. slow crawl). I was told that if I got lost, to scream because it would echo thru the valley and they would be able to find me (the phone reception was almost nonexistent, thus, the need for screaming at the top of one’s lungs). 

After my run, I decided to take advantage of the queue-less shower stalls. Our group wouldn’t be complete until late at night, when the last stragglers rolled in. Therefore, despite the cool temps from the rain and open-air, unheated bathroom facilities, I planned to capitalize on our partial occupancy state and take a semi-leisurely shower in one of the heated showers.

(Most showers are solar heated, so if there is a lack of sun – like when I arrived – there is no guarantee of warm water, a risk that I, already a bit chilled, was not willing to take.)

As it turns out I took one of my fastest showers ever. When I opened the door to the first shower stall, a brown spider the size of my palm greeted me (apparently, he is still there, none of us having the heart to dislodge him from his favorite spot…the heart or courage, take your pick). Even though I didn’t spy any leggy friends in the second stall, the thought of the spider-on-steroids next door, as well as the cold air, didn’t invite lingering.

Shower adventure complete – and, thankfully, with no more close encounters of the creepy crawly kind – I joined the then, almost complete group, for more delicious, vegetarian food and get-to-know-each-other conversation. And, along with dinner and chit-chat, we shared one of those key things that draw people together, no matter what…that great common thread of humanity…that thing which bridges personality, cultural, professional, and life divides:

Good wine.

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