People claim that going to a zen buddhist retreat will cleanse your body and soul. I did not expect the saying to be so literal.
Adrienne, a fellow Fulbrighter studying comprehensive sex education in The Netherlands, has quickly become one of my closest friends and travel buddies. Back at orientation last August, we joked that we would be best pals because of our aligned research interests. Sometimes you speak things into existence. After attending multiple schools together and spilling our life stories in gezellig Dutch bars, we traveled to Valencia for a conference on education and technology. Following three days of polishing up our social media skills with Google workshops, we set out to explore the city. Here are some highlights:
Getting Tech Savvy at INTED 2018.
We watched the preparation for part of the Falles Festival in Valencia. Falles is celebrated during the month of March to commemorate Saint Joseph.
Main attractions of the Falles Festival include the burning of large monuments and setting off fireworks during the day.
Sipping on some of the potent agua de Valencia, a combination of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin.
You only need one glass...
I am the bird man.
The Valencia Cathedral, also known as Saint Mary's Cathedral, was consecrated in 1238.
One of the twelve towers that was used to protect the city back in the day.
Blue skies and California vibes.
Mercado Central has unbelievable food and a gorgeous interior.
Gulliver Park, nestled into the Turia River Gardens, has a large-scale model of Gulliver that children play all over.
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. Santiago Calatrava also designed the oculus in New York City. Can you tell?
Nothing better than a little bit of sunshine.
Our first paella, complete with some agua de Valencia.
Adrienne and I filled up on mariscos, dipped our toes in the Mediterranean, and drank all the delicious Spanish Rioja. Thursday, we packed up to begin the second leg of our trip to Barcelona. Since we managed to miss the train, we rented a car to drive up the coast of Catalonia. Around two, we stopped for lunch on the water and indulged in a phenomenal pot of seafood.
I learned about a new type of Bivalve: The Razor Clam.
This guy. We actually don't know who he was because the plaque was removed, but we're friends.
Lunch with a view.
On the road again!
Weaving through motorcyclists like a scene from 2Fast2Furious, we made it to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona with seconds to spare.
Spanish footwear is on point.
Growing up, I regularly attended Catholic mass. However, after I started playing ice hockey, the rink replaced Sunday school. Despite not being particularly religious, the basilica made me believe that Gaudi must have had some help from a higher power. Well, either that or he was on LSD. The way the architecture wove together nature and religion was remarkable. We wandered around the basilica guided by the audio tour in complete awe.
Let there be light!
After our tour, we headed to El Vaso De Oro, a hole-in-the-wall tapas restaurant recommended by one of my hockey teammates.
So in(tuna) with this dish.
The next morning, I purchased a bus ticket to Argelaguer, a small town at the base of the Pyrenees mountains. I spent the day in a cafe next to the bus station battling what I assumed was punishment for five straight days of eating seafood. My stomach did not feel great. I drank tea and avoided solid food until around 3 pm, when I decided to try eating a croissant. At five, I boarded the bus. I tucked a plastic bag into my purse, just in case the urge to vomit overcame me.
Around 6:30, I arrived in Argelaguer and was greeted by Tonda. Tonda and Barbara run the Bori Sa Zen Center. Tonda drove us up the mountain, navigating sharp turns on a rocky dirt road, using only the headlights and stars to guide him.
Arriving at Bori Sa, I hugged Anchorette, my friend who invited me to the retreat. We sat down to eat some lentil soup. After dinner, I went upstairs to unpack my bag. All of a sudden, a rock hit my stomach. I ran downstairs to the front door and almost made it.
Before my hand was able to touch the doorknob, I projectile vomited all over the entrance. I rushed outside and continued to cleanse myself of whatever biological toxin was the culprit of my food poisoning.
Walking back inside, profusely apologizing, Gloria— a woman attending the retreat— greeted me with applause, "You needed to get that out! Good job!" Tonda was busily mopping up my vomit, "Are you feeling better?"
Standing there mortified, I slowly started to relax.
A Zen Buddhist retreat has to be the most affirming place to vomit.
The next morning, I woke up at 5:00 am to complete 108 bows. I went on a solo hike and spent time reading up in the mountains. At night, everyone at the retreat ate together. After dinner, we chanted Kwan Seum Bosal in Korean. The beat of the Moktak filled my ears, as I focused on the powerful singing surrounding me.
Following breakfast on Sunday, we geared up to go on a hike. The arid climate, and the greens and blues of nature, brought me back home to California. I laughed at the comparison, noting that clearly there would be similarities— the Spanish settled California. I pondered about the differences in my life since embarking on the Fulbright experience.
With the exception of Adrienne’s company, my work researching has been independent. My schedule stands in sharp contrast to the daily grind of New York City, where I woke up before the sun and operated on minimal hours of sleep, scheduling out every moment. Traveling to different schools, interviewing teachers, and researching, I now have the headspace to contemplate things that never crossed my mind before. Learning about myself in such an intense way can be overwhelming. I am realizing that all the stress I experience is driven by my own need to achieve. The deep connections that I form with other people keep me going. And that there is nothing more important to me than making schools inclusive.
Between the barfing and the bowing, traveling to Catalonia reminded me I need sunlight, eating partially open mussels is a bad idea, and taking time to reflect should always be part of my schedule.
Sunrise at Bori Sa Zen Center.
Hanging out on a rock after a steep climb to the top.
Another day, another sunrise.
The den for chanting and meditating.
Anchorette and Tonda, two people I am so lucky to have in my life!
Besalú is a town in Girona, Catalonia. We stopped there before my bus left for Barcelona to grab coffee and take a look around.
Considering submitting this photo to Modern Dog.
Another view from Besalú.
Tonda swears this man used to be fat...I'm not buying it. Apparently, he is a famous Spanish rower.
My Bori Sa retreat family.
Thanks for following my journey!