Don’t go on a Fasting Retreat with Chocolate in your Pocket.

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A Fasting Retreat? For a week? You’ve got to be kidding. The whole concept was as remote as refusing a giant piece of pavlova.  ‘Fast’ to me, was a way of moving, the speed of my bike, the passing of time. I never for a moment had considered going on a ‘fast’. This was something Jesus and Moses did in the desert, Muslims recognize as an essence of spiritual cleansing, and Hindi gurus propound.

However, in a moment of madness and of perceived fatness I allowed my good friend Julie to persuade me to join her on a Fasting Retreat. Indeed, her excitement when sending me the link to a Aio Wira Retreat was hard to ignore. “It’s so good for you” she said, “It’s been known to improve brain performance, lower risk of diabetes and so many other benefits.”

The pre-fast information sheet advised us to moderate eating in the days leading up to the retreat, stick to salads and vegetables, cut out the caffeine and alcohol (are you getting the picture?) By preparing our bodies it would be easier to slide into the regime of daily juices, herbal teas, body brushing and giving ourselves enemas. Yes. You heard me. Enemas, not enigmas, nor the pretty little anemone flowers! There is nothing pretty nor enigmatic about an enema.

Aio Wira Retreat Centre is just 40 minutes from Auckland and tucked away on four hectares of native bush in the Waitakere Ranges. Founded in 1970 by a group of yoga students, the centre which is not based on any fixed spiritual philosophy, has developed to become a centre for many types of, body, mind and spirit gatherings and holds workshops from yoga, pilates and meditation to Qi Gong, mindfulness and wordless weekends. So many wonderful options for seeking and finding physical health, spiritual wellness and self-fulfilment, which leaves me wondering how I ever ended up on the fasting retreat.

Before arriving on a Thursday night, we stopped and had our last, light meal at the closest café to the centre. The last solid food for five days, then drove the last ten kilometres before turning onto a short gravel road. It was late but never too late to be greeted enthusiastically by the woofer (seasonal worker) and a fasting regular who had returned for his fifth fast in that many years.

We were shown to a row of homely rooms set up with wool blankets, crochet covers, cushions and hot water bottles, (or were they the enema bladders?) While unpacking, I happened to find a lost, lonely row of dark chocolate. Honest. I’m not kidding. They were not hidden there deliberately. Those four squares of chocolate were to test my willpower like nothing else. Well, nothing except the fact there was no cell phone coverage. I contemplated the best course of action. I could quietly eat the chocolate straight away, but, strictly speaking the fast had already started. To eat them would be to cheat. Wouldn’t it? I could tell the others and they would keep me on the straight and narrow or, they might make me share it! The final choice was to just forget I had it, which is what I tried to do.

We soon settled into the routine at Aio Wira beginning with a lesson on how to use the enema kits, accompanied by nervous giggles from those of the 17 participants who were first timers.  A daily timetable was hung up detailing sessions for yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and sharing sessions with empty spaces for signing up for other optional health regimes including seaweed wraps, posture alignment and counselling offered by independent consultants.

By day two the growling and squeaking of empty stomachs dominated the sharing sessions along with more personal reflections of how people were coping. Strangely enough after the first 24 hours I felt no real desire to eat. The fruit juices and evening broth were doing their job. However, by Day Three, I was getting hangry and restless for contact with the outside world.  All the talk of people’s bowel habits and enema encounters was becoming too much. It was time for a drive to Bethells Beach in search of wide open spaces, cell phone coverage, a coffee cart perhaps and, maybe, just a nibble on the chocolate. Gosh. I was beginning to behave like a teenager sneaking out after dark. Fortunately, I was not alone in my cravings and clandestine escapades.

By Day Four I had little energy for anything, even contemplating unwrapping those four squares of delicious, dark chocolate was exhausting. I began counting down and dreaming of the date-filled baked apple they had promised us for breakfast as a gentle breaking of our fast.

Tuesday morning began with much excitement. The thought of food made it difficult for me to meditate. The morning walk was just a mere stroll as we drawled over what we would eat when we left. And then it was over.

In small groups we took ourselves off to our cars and headed home. How many of the women would jump on the scales and how many of the men would down a quick pint was anyone’s guess. The only thing for certain was that most of us would be on cell phones as soon as we were in signal and that the four squares of chocolate wouldn’t last much longer.

bty

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New Plymouth-You Rock!

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It’s been forty years since I was last in New Plymouth. The hometown of my first love.  Oh how I remember those clandestine snogging sessions parked up by the Fitzroy Life Saving Club. However, the love was not reciprocated, and life moved on. New Plymouth is now memorable to me for all the right reasons:  scaling Paratutu, the peaked rock jutting from the coastline, Mount Taranaki giving us a shy glimpse of her beauty from beneath a veil of cloud, the ever-so-shiny, rolling, convoluted curves of the Govette-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre with it’s mesmerizing, shaking, quivering, oh-most-famous art work “The Blade”, and those 200+ parks and gardens full of rhododendron and other exotic species. It is no wonder that New Plymouth was voted Lonely Planet’s Second-Best Region in the World to visit in 2017.

There is nothing about this area that doesn’t enchant and energise me. Art adorns walls and buildings in the form of giant murals and towering Len Lye kinetic sculptures, historic buildings like The Gables in Brooklyn Park give a hint of the past and opportunities for exercise are everywhere: yoga in the lupins, cyclists and walkers vying for position on the 11km coastal walkway (although I wonder if it is aptly named as the cycles far outnumber walkers), nippers paddling surf skis furiously and surfers alongside stand up paddle boarders riding long swells.

Strangely enough we chose to visit New Plymouth for none of these reasons. We came for the Floatation Sanctuary, a chance to experience the sensation and healing therapy of floating. Not that either of us are unwell, just that we like to experience different things. Eleanor of the New Plymouth Floatation Centre welcomed us into her very professional premises. We filled in a few forms, listened to her briefing on the benefits and processes and then were taken to the floatation room. In the subdued lighting emanating from Himalayan Salt Lamps was a large ‘egg-like’ capsule. I immediately envisage Robin Williams in the ever-popular series “Mork and Mindy” stepping out of his egg space capsule and saying ‘Nanu Nanu”. My little chuckle was fortunately interpreted as nerves by those present. While my partner had the first session I used the time to bike the short distance back into town for a wonderful tea drinking experience at the Empire Tea Rooms. If you ever go, they have the most amazing cinnamon pin wheels which I will pretend I didn’t eat as it is best to ‘float’ on an empty stomach. Back at the centre it was sooon my turn. I began with a thorough shower, ridding myself of any grime or beauty creams or in this case the grim that had stuck to beauty creams as I climbed Paratutu. Then cautiously lifted the lid of the capsule. An alien glow illuminated the water. Ever-so-carefully, I step in. It’s not deep, just deep enough to float in and float you most certainly do, aided by 30kg of Epsom salts which will help replace minerals lost. Just a tad nervously, I pulled the lid down and when I felt safe in this wee nest, reached for the button and switch off the light. Even with earplugs I could hear the hypnotic music being played, soothing me, calming me, lulling me into nothingness and sending me floating into space. I was not aware of when that music stopped but once deprived of all senses and supported by the water my mind shut off and there is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sometime later I become aware of where I was, music played once more, it was time to emerge from my cacoon, wash off the mineral water and burst forth into life with a renewed energy or …..not.

Like having a long bath in the middle of a summer’s afternoon I felt the need to go back to the bus and sleep. And I did. A deep exhausted sleep. The effects and benefits of Floating are said to be varied and many, for some they are instantaneous, for others, it takes a while to recognize the benefits. Whether it was the float or the sleep afterwards, I was soon ready to head into the city again to experience more of its culture, history and people. I loved it.

There is an air of affluence about New Plymouth but not in any poncy way, it simply feels like a city that knows it’s past, knows where it’s going and has a positive outlook for the future.

New Plymouth, you rock!

 

The Road to Whangamomona

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It’s a strange thing when you realise that you’ve become caught up in the BookaBach system and suddenly, in the middle of everyday life, have to pack up your stuff, put the things you need in the camperbus, secure any personal items in the lock up room and head out of your house for nine days, or whatever period it might be. But that’s how it’s been with us for the holiday periods. The income generated pays for our next holiday as well as, in most cases, leaves us with a surplus.

So, here we are, on the road again, this time heading for New Plymouth via the Forgotten Highway. It’s a bit of a round about trip from Rotorua but there is a place I’ve always wanted to visit, Whangamomona. I’ve been saying it for years, I can spell it and I can even pronounce it properly and now, it has become a reality. There are a few teething problems as we consult google on the best route but eventually we decide to head to our destination via Bennydale. Where you ask? It’s a little hard to describe, hidden away in the middle of nowhere, miss and you blink it. Just a few scattered houses and the Wooden Heart Café which is having peak rush hour when we arrive. A dozen foreigners speaking a language I fail to recognize, are trying to decipher the chalk-board with the help of a heavily full-face tattooed local who gives them a local experience which money can’t buy and which they will take back to whichever country they come from.  We are not surprised by the fact that we are the only New Zealanders in the café (apart from the staff) 75% of the traffic we have seen has been campervans, caravans and farm quad bikes.

The area which has been little known for so long, is now part of the Timber Trail, a section of bike-riding on the NZ cycling circuit. A route following old tramlines and special cut tracks from Pureora to Ongarue, which you’ve probably never heard of either.  Accommodation is limited but among the few local houses and their flaking paint which peels off and blows in the wind, there is an immaculate wee house, the BikeaBach which caters for cyclists, and others.

We pass old pongas with their old leaves falling like brown skirts, moss -covered fence posts, musters of sheep and stop for a spot of blackberry picking by the side of the road and finally arrive at Ohura, yip, I’d never heard of it either. No one is at home in this town. The main street is wide, every shop is closed, we stand in the middle of the road feeling like displaced people. Suddenly I see a familiar sign, toilets, I wander down a side street to a water tank kitted out as public conveniences, they are meticulously clean, so someone must live here. There is a bunch of plastic flowers placed on the floor by the toilets, the kind that you see faded in cemeteries, or by the side of the road.  I wonder if someone is “repurposing” them or maybe they are genuinely there to brighten the place up.

The drive through gorges and saddle roads opening out to spectacular high country scenery is stunning. It is real heartland New Zealand.  And then we arrive. Whangamomona. Permanent population of 12. IT is everything I imagined. This tiny village is its own republic, complete with president and it’s own passport and fast becoming added to many backpackers bucket list.  We arrive in the late afternoon and as we pass the hotel it’s hard not to notice all the patron’s heads turn and follow us as we turn towards the Camping ground.

The manager is a man of few words. Like those in the Australian outback he appears to be a stranger to polite conversation and pleasantries but speaks volumes without actually saying a word. He takes our payment and points towards the carefully manicured grounds and hedge along which we can hook to power. The facilities are in an old school house and are ever so clean. In the ‘ladies’ there is a set of scales. One can only assume that the weight conscious must arrive with regularity. Me, I have done nothing but sit in our camperbus and eat all day so the scales will have to remain unemployed for tonight at least.

It is a still night filled with stars and a moon so bright we have to pull the bus curtains. It is the kind of night that you only find in a place like Whangamomona.