Pizza and Enlightenment

Sivananda Yoga Ashram, Val Morin Quebec

By the time I got home on March 5 after 33 days in South America, it hit me that travelling is tiring. Somehow I'd forgotten this part of being on the road. Not only the travel but almost two months spent packing, cleaning up and renting out the house, moving, and getting my house/personal admin sorted for a year away had left me cumulatively exhausted. And I had given myself a day and a half turn around time in Ottawa before moving on to Vancouver, Seattle and Japan.

I took the unprecedented step of changing my plane tickets (two separate ones) to postpone my departure for three weeks. In between repacking, taxes and an ever-growing pile of personal admin, I took time out to go to a yoga ashram in Val Morin, Quebec.

I stayed 5.5 days at the ashram and did 18 hours of yoga, plus some karmic yoga, meditation and chanting Sanskrit verse. And snowshoeing! We had a major winter storm when I was there, and it was a perfect snowy winter wonderland. It was also snowy on my drive in and I managed to get stuck halfway up the hill blocking the ashram entranceway. A young Indian guy got the car unstuck and parked it for me – I found out afterwards he was the Swami.

I didn't believe it at first – he looks younger than his 30 years, is tattooed all the way up one arm, and just doesn't fit my Swami image. Age notwithstanding, he is responsible for the entire Sivananda complex in Val Morin (over 250 acres and capacity for hundreds of guests) and he is also the Director of Spiritual Guidance for Sivananda North America, which appears to be a quite large and wealthy enterprise.

I found out this ashram is more relaxed than most, particularly those in India and Europe, where they will come get you out of bed if you don't get up for the 6:00am Satsang meditation and chanting, which yours truly skipped, twice only. They also probably don't serve (Boston) pizza with french fries either, what we had for our Monday night dinner – two of my favourite foods! Also unexpectedly, the swami cancelled evening Satsang twice in the same week, to no complaints on my end.


Fellow yogis Joanne and Monique

On the Chanting

I had gotten more into singing along with the parts of the chanting I could follow as the week progressed, but it was a slow transition. I read in the verse book that the chanting was to be done with enjoyment, devotion and awareness. The first wasn't a problem, it was fun to sing. The second two had me questioning things – I couldn't consider myself devoted and I didn't know the meaning of the sanskrit. While flipping through the book I read that Rama's wife was so devoted she walked into the fire to show her loyalty, which was enough to make me feel outraged about gender inequalities in India.

I tried to ask about spirituality and yoga with some of the yogis and the students. 'Open vowel sounds', said Rob from Ottawa – he enjoyed the singing without bothering about the meanings. After her first and only Satsang one harried older woman from Montreal said “I've had it with the chanting!” She stayed for the second class of yoga and went home after dinner. A young blond American karma yoga staff member (full-time volunteer) said she didn't initially relate to an image of 'a bearded guy sitting cross-legged on a cloud' but was working on her spiritual path.

Perhaps the most helpful thing I learned about the meditation was from one of the older karma yogis. She said – 'No one meditates, it is impossible to clear your mind from thoughts. We practice trying to meditate.'

I haven't continued practicing meditation, but I am practicing new ways of doing other things this year, like learning about different cultures, keeping in touch across long distances, and learning how to take it slow.



Chile and Pablo Neruda


Pablo and the Sea


As uncouth as I am, I didn't really know much (or possibly anything) about Pablo Neruda before going to Santiago. I went on a walking tour of the city that ended outside one of his three homes in the country, and there my introduction began. In my roughly three and a half days in Chile I visited all three of his homes – Santiago, Isla Negra (my favourite) and Valparaiso.

Isla Negra

Me and P


In case you are likewise not aware, Pablo Neruda is considered the Mozart of Poetry, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and published his most famous work by age 19 – Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which I still have not read. He was a poet, a diplomat, and an unapologetic lover of women. He was obsessed by the sea but unable to swim, so he never ventured out into the water but designed all of his homes to resemble ships. The dining rooms are narrow galley-style, his study at Isla Negra is shaped like a prow, and there are wooden floors and narrow passageways, and views of the sea. He was a rampant collector of beautiful things – ship maidenheads, coloured wine glasses (which make wine taste better), bright blue butterflies, artwork, a large stuffed horse with three tails supplied by his friends. His house at Isla Negra, surrounded by tall windswept pines, overlooking a stony beige beach with dramatic dark boulders, is a wonderful museum, as it was intended to be, and lives up to the atmospheric location.


Pablo seemed to excel at play as well as work – he kept things from his childhood around him, to remind him of what it was like to play. 'A child who does not play is not a child, a man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.'

In Valparaiso

He also memorably wrote 'Love is so short. Forgetting is so long'.


I found Santiago to be a welcome change from Buenos Aires – friendlier, more manageable, more relaxed. Valparaiso was beautiful and I wish I'd had more time to spend there in the cafes and admiring the amazing graffiti. Isla Negra was a poetic delight.

Graffiti high and wide




Argentina’s Wine Country – Mendoza

Crossing the Andes

I took an evening bus through the Andes from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza – a closer trip than going from Buenos Aires. It was a full moon and the landscape was stark and beautiful – black and grey mountains with silver channels running in between, glowing in the moonlight. I met Vicky from England at the border crossing and we spent the next few days making the most of the activities around Mendoza. Highlights were an evening full moon horseback ride through hilly trails to a ridge overlooking the city, the night sky lit by the big orange moon hanging just above. The ride ended at a gaucho camp where we had a bbq, my vegetarian dish being a red pepper cooked with 4 eggs inside – points for originality, if not as much for taste. After dinner we were serenaded by the fire by Diego, the more fierce of the gauchos and the most passionate and talented singer, who sang traditional songs of the region.

Evening Horseback Ride

‘Emo’ Horse

How about some eggs with that?

Vicky and I did a bicycle wine tour of Maipu, outside of Mendoza, which involved biking down a busy traffic filled street with no sidewalk, with less in the way of wineries and more olive oil tasting places with chalky chocolate. We did go to see the fancy and large-scale Trapiche winery, which exports to Canada and around the world.

Termas Cacheuta Water Park

The third day was a trip to the thermal hot springs, a big and fun water park with a lazy circular river, a tall slide into a big cold pool, and a variety of temperatures and sizes of baths – one you could lie in like in a lounge chair underwater, it was perfect. Friday night was the start of the Mendoza Wine Festival, and we caught the parade, where the Queens from the 23 municipalities of Mendoza rode on floats, some which were roasting meat (Argentina’s pride and joy) and most with dressed up women throwing grapes and other fruit into the crowd. With one hand I snatched a bunch of grapes right out of the air! How impressive is that?

Red Wine Fountains!