“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~ Jawaharal Nehru
In September 2012 one of my soul sisters, Britta Aragon, and I embarked on what was to be a trip that would possibly go down as one of the most significant of each of our travels to date. I’ll set the stage to what lead up to our get-away. After a long and hectic summer, Britta and I knew that a change of pace and major dose of inspiration was what our businesses, souls and bodies were craving. Struggling from burn-out I wasn’t in the “trip planning” frame of mine. Thankfully for me, Britta took command of that ship and found an amazing yoga retreat package to Essaouira, Morocco. Little did she know, Morocco was a dream destination on my must-see travel list and before you knew it, we were booked and soon on our way to Northern Africa.
As we boarded our flight from JFK to Casablanca we quickly realized that our seats weren’t together. Instead of freaking out and thinking about the hours of girl talk we would miss out on we took our seats, settled in and waited to see what our next course of action would be. Well as the Universe would have it, there was nothing to fret we ended up keeping our seats and with that enjoyed the company of great looking, fun guys that kept us in conversation and laughter miles over the Atlantic and into the wee hours of the night. Air Maroc knew something we didn’t and that was, this trip was about to take its own course no matter how much we prepared or planned. And for me, well Stella was about to get her groove back for sure. I’ll let your mind wonder where it may… wink.
We landed in Casablanca to await our connecting flight to Marrakech, and I quickly say to Britta “Dorothy we aren’t in Kansas anymore” – one way to describe the terminal we came into is turn-of-the century. It was like no other airport I had traveled to .. and we loved every minute of it. Soon we were off to Marrakech where we would catch a driver to Essaouira. It was African hot, we were sweltering in the sun – dragging bags behind us to our car, our driver met us with a beautiful smile and eagerness to fetch and deliver us to our destination. We were off and on the road, 2.5 hours west of Marrakech is where we were headed, to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” ~James Michener
As we embarked on our drive we notice Marrakech was buzzing with life, so alive. Cars frantically moving in and out of traffic, women in full head scarves and men in djellabas zipping through the street’s madness on scooters, camels sitting in the sand for a break. It’s unlike anywhere I had travel too … every moment, delicious! The buzz of the city begins to wane, the trip becomes quieter – we stop off at street side vendors to eat local cuisine and inhale gallons of water, with excitement. Britta and I begin to talk about the trip, it’s already night back in the States – it’s sunny where we are and the heart beat of the day is just beginning.
Britta and I decided on this particular Holiday for three reasons; adventure, yoga, and a break from what had become our ordinary. Our plan was to spend a week in Essaouira with the yoga retreat and then back to Marrakech for a few short days of fun. Our yoga retreat was being held by a family owned business of a husband and wife team out of Ireland, called Yoga Traveller. Michael Moroney & Michelle Riordin fell in love with Morocco years before and had made it one of their top destinations for retreats – we found out this was Michelle’s 7th trip to Morocco already in 2012 – we couldn’t wait to dive into our yoga reprieve.
“The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind & the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
We arrived to our Riad in the heart of the Medina, checked in – got unpacked and rested for the evening. Michelle made us feel at home right away, she has this wonderful aura of peacefulness & calm. I felt something special about Michelle’s spirit and knew that we were in for a week of awakening and connection. She introduced the group of us and it excited me that Britta and I were the only ones from the States. I loved meeting others from Holland, Israel Switzerland, Ireland Spain – we were this eclectic melting pot of people from all over the world…a nice balance of men and women. Each morning I awoke to the traditional Islamic “Call to Prayer”. Male voices would ring throughout the city, at first a little haunting I must admit because it would begin in the wee small hours of the morning – while we were still deep in sleep. I would wake to meditate and/or pray myself and then back to bed to await our first of two daily yoga classes. As a collective we would all walk over to practice together in scattered groups. Our practices were held at another Riad, a perfect space for us. Brightly lit, windows overlooking the interior courtyard yet ceiling opened to the sky – it became our sacred space that week…our little desert oasis.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber
Each morning and evening Michelle held a 2 hour practice with each having their own intention. I’ve been to quite a few retreats over the last few years and have practiced with many teachers and you know when you have found a teacher that you can connect with. It was apparent that yoga is a deep passion of Michelle’s, that her heart was fully engaged in sharing deeper meanings into the poses and our overall practice. Each day she would move us through either a Hatha or Vinyasa style of yoga – depending on what her objective was for us to feel & experience that day…but my favorite had to be my first introduction to Yin . The intent is to hold a variation of poses for longer periods of time, really flowing deeper into each of the poses. The room’s temperature begins to rise as we all work diligently to hold the poses, shaking a bit in our stance … Michelle opens the windows, a desert breeze is soon a welcomed guest within our little oasis. I begin to hear, faintly, music coming from the lounge, I suspected, of the Riad. It’s a familiar tune, Sting’s Shape of My Heart. His voice makes me think of home, Aishwarya Rai’s amazing voice snaps me into recalling where I am in that moment – far away from home in a culture so different yet one I adore. My mind begins to recall the year and how I was feeling prior to arriving to Morocco. Michelle gently guides us through our practice paying close attention to our needs as she described that some of our poses are very “opening” – heart opening actually, feelings of vulnerability waif in and out of my body. I’m deep in pose and gently again, I hear Sting’s voice, then flamenco guitar… and realize it’s a song of his called Fragile. Oh Universe, my soul was speaking to you for certain. Tears began to flow as I truly begin to realize how fragile I am – how broken and tired I felt to my core. I begin to think that maybe I wasn’t alone with these feelings, maybe the other beautiful spirits sharing this precious time & space with me felt just the same. We all came here for a reason right? Whether it was to simply get away from the demands of work or to re-connect to the source, ourselves, I soon realized through my tears this trip had destiny written all over it. I was meant to be there in that moment at that time.
Our week encompassed early morning meditation walks with Michelle leading the way thru the Medina, morning breakfast spent together as a group, cooking class, visits to the spa (traditional Turkish Hamam anyone, absolutely), walks and a farewell dinner in the fish market, days at the beach under the African sun, dining and sharing stories at delicious local restaurants, Britta and I making our trips to our favorite bistro and fresh, organic juice bar. We also ventured outside the city to visit a women’s co-op that harvests and makes Eco-Cert certified organic argan oil for beauty and culinary products. As avid beauty buffs we simply had to take in the experience. Kahina Giving Beauty, one of our beloved brands at the O&N Collective, works directly with these co-ops to foster, give back and to help the women who work so hard. We loved every minute of it, but what moved us most were the women who worked at the co-op. These ladies were a true inspiration and our afternoon with them moved mountains. They were women of immense strength & pride – working so hard to provide for their families. Their spirit and dedication to their craft was immeasurable, definitely a high light of our trip. Oh, and tea galore. This was a little slice heaven for me…as you know I adore tea and the fact it’s served everyday, all day – well I couldn’t get enough of it. Essaouira truly became like a home-away-from-home.
“The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” — Bill Bryson
Michelle designed such a lovely yoga Holiday. It’s no easy fete’ to bring people together from all over the world and coordinate an excursion like this. You are trying to please many different people with different desires and needs all while being the teacher and keeping in that yoga state of mind of flow, awareness, connecting, openness - oneness. Michelle has that gift and I know that gift attributes to why Yoga Traveller continues to grow as a business and has been so successful through the years. I felt a incredible bond to Michelle, maybe it was the name – ha! No, it was more than that, at her core she is a teacher and with her guidance I felt my practice and understanding of yoga deepened. I sat down with her to learn more about YT and her passion;
OC: What inspired you & Michael to start Yogatraveller?
MR: We have always been passionate about yoga and travel. Travel was my first love, really. Our dream vacation was one where we could explore unique and beautiful places and do yoga with inspiring teachers at the same time. Our lives up to that point had really been preparing ourselves for this. I worked as a scuba diving instructor and had traveled extensively and we have both had done several ski seasons in the mountains. We wanted to share these special places with people, while teaching yoga at the same time. It’s the perfect getaway, being inspired inside and out! By doing yoga so regularly, twice daily for a whole week, it really awakens something inside the soul and prepares our guests to absorb what’s going on outside of them. As I read recently, “travel is the only thing you spend money on that makes you richer”. Doing yoga and travelling at the same time is such a beautiful and simple concept and we know from the amount of positive feedback we get that it impacts our guests so positively. It was for this feedback that we set up Yogatraveller 8 years ago.
OC: What, in your opinion, makes Morocco such a special destination for Yogatraveller?
MR: We have been working in Morocco for over 4 years now. It’s been an amazing journey and over the years it’s the people that we have met, the amazing Moroccans who have opened their country, their minds and their hearts to us. Morocco, and especially Essaouira where we are based, is a tightly run community, and it is a supportive, respectful place where people meet each others needs with fairness and compassion. When we create a yoga community over there, and each retreat is made up of beautiful and unique people who have all traveled from all over to this exotic part of Africa, Moroccans respond. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. On top of that there is the culture, the colour, the beaches and the amazing Atlantic ocean. There are the shops, the amazing Moroccan cuisine and the decadent Spa’s where we get to be treated like royalty.
Our last night, after dinner at the local fish market – yes, it’s an experience you should have once, a small group of us met at a local club and danced to live Arabic singers and enjoyed every last ounce of Essaouira we could squeeze out of the city. I smiled to see one of my dearest friends, Britta, work the dance floor with so much joy – we needed this time away, we were surrounded by new friends and memories to hold on to for a lifetime. Sitting there at our VIP table, mind you it was pretty easy for our group of ladies to fetch a table right at the stage, I felt in that moment that all was right in the world.
“I travel light. I think the most important thing is to be in a good mood and enjoy life, wherever you are.” — Diane von Furstenberg
We said our heart felt goodbyes and left for Marrekech the next morning. My beautiful friend & renowned fashion photographer, Elina Simonen, referred us to La Terrasse des Oliviers in the Medina where she knew the owners and knew we would be taken care of. Our accommodations were divine and in the core of the craziness and orderly hecticness that is Marrekech. It was a serious change from the serene environment we had grown accustomed to in Essaouira but we were ready to turn the volume up a bit on the latter part of this Holiday. And that we did – attending hotel openings, lunch at super luxe & famous La Mamounia hotel, late night belly dancing, meeting with friends & chasing down taxis in the Medina, shopping, evening wine on our rooftop deck over looking the city … we experienced it all. Well, we did miss out on visiting the YSL’s gardens and a camel trek out into the desert…but there’s always next time. How could we possibly do it all in one trip! We were two exhausted ladies – but we got our groove back for sure. The trip re-awakened us to our core – we found ourselves back in love with life again, ALIVE, refreshed and renewed. Stella got her groove back in a big way and I look forward to sharing Morocco Part #2 with you after my next trip.
“Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” — Pico Iyer
Amen to that!
Be well & Travel Often ~ With Love, Organic Contessa