The idea of “getting away” doesn’t have to be complicated, or necessarily involve traveling extreme distances. Perhaps it is just a matter of leaving your daily routine to assess your life from a different angle. Not only can you gain perspective on all that you have, but you can also see where you might want to make some different choices to tune in more, benefiting your health, and ultimately improving your life at home.
I recently returned from an “Organic Vacation.” I call it this because the goal was to eat organic food, surround myself with open-minded loving people, and be out in the most organic setting of all: Nature. Like many of you, I travel a lot, and when planes are on time, I actually enjoy it. But this time I thought driving to my destination sounded like a stress-free plan. So I decided to accept a lovely invitation to Baja Mexico, from the new award-winning Hotel Encuentro Guadalupe, in Baja’s gorgeous Valle Guadalupe wine country, just inland from Ensenada off HWY 3, and a mere 90 minutes from the US/Mexico border.
The hotel features sleek, groovy, cool eco-cottages dotting the hillsides, with views to live for! Each cottage is ultra-contemporary, nicely appointed with plenty of pillows, comfy linens, vaulted ceilings, big view windows, heating and air-conditioning, private patios, and high-speed Internet. I was also thrilled with what it did NOT have—no television and no telephones. Using walkie-talkies to reach the front desk and other rooms, Encuentro Guadalupe is marketed as the “Anti-Spa Resort.”
Once you step out of the 4-wheel drive vehicle that delivers you to your cabin, you understand immediately that this destination is not about being pampered, but is more about “rediscovery,” drawing energy from Nature, eating great food, participating in outdoor activities, and embracing the beauty of the location itself.
Our trip was organized by my dear friend Shirley Yi, creator of the newlyformed Practikal Arts Academy. Designed to bring people back to center through artful workshops, experiences and activities, PAA is now based at the Dona Lupe Winery, owned by Shirley’s family, founded by her beautiful mother, Dona Lupe, and located just across the road from Encuentro Guadalupe.
We ate lunch daily outdoors at the Dona Lupe Winery, enjoying organic fresh greens, vegetables, and herbs, all grown right there, and tossed with their own mouth-watering organic olive oil and spices. The food was so energizing that I was reminded yet again of the power of eating local, fresh, and organic.
The group experienced love and gratitude in each dining experience, appreciating both ingredients AND preparation, as we consumed our “fuel for life.” Borrowed from my Tai Chi practice, I call this “Path of Least Resistance” eating—and it merely means staying keenly aware of the beauty of farm to table to mouth to stomach—relaxing into the flow of a most-natural multidimensional food experience.
Speaking of a multidimensional culinary coup—as we ventured off of our mountaintop (which we all must do) to explore the rest of the Valle Guadalupe, another spectacular experience awaited us as we bounced down a bumpy dirt road to a place we had heard about called Corazon de Tierra (Heart of the Earth). First of all, there are no lights on the road, and it was quite dark, so we kept thinking: “Is there REALLY a restaurant out here?”
I am so glad we stayed on task because we arrived at this rather stunning, casually elegant restaurant with beautiful, thick, rough-hewn wooden tables. Five ultra-varied, double-delicious, farm to table courses later, we were ready to sign up as farm hands to eat like this EVERY day. No kidding, the food and service were worldclass. The last time I had a pleasant surprise like this was in the south of France, arriving for a white tablecloth lunch in a Provence country chateau.
Corazon de Tierra served a salad that had something on it that surprised me: bougainvillea flowers! “Shirley, are these edible?” I asked. She said “yes,” that Mexico has always used the flowers in salads and, like hibiscus flowers, they can also be made into a tea. I thought of all of the bougainvillea flowers that our gardeners blow away daily. Instead, the Mexicans use the flowers in salads and teas and in so many ways. They are still so in touch with Nature while standard American culture tends to be afraid of things that don’t come in a box or a can.
This made me think more about what we have in our backyards that we are not utilizing, or that we could grow easily. So I came up with the Top 5 Backyard Surprises, inspired by my Baja trip. Of course, I have to give a pesticide disclaimer to you before utilizing any of these plants, fruits, or flowers, so MAKE SURE there are no pesticides or dangerous chemical sprays being used on the plants being harvested.
Top 5 Backyard Surprises (inspired by Valle Guadalupe, Baja Mexico)
1. BOUGAINVILLEA LEAVES are listed as “toxic” on some lists, but the flowers are not, and they have been used in Mexican and Middle Eastern recipes for generations. I would use them as salad accents, sprinkled with arugula, etc., and do your own research. I ate two of them and survived. The flowers are the bright solid colors (pink, red, orange, gold), so don’t get confused with the two-tone green or yellow leaves.
2. HIBISCUS FLOWERS can be used as is or dried and used in a tea (Agua de Jamaica). Hibiscus is a natural diuretic, so make sure you understand the qualities of any herb or flower you are utilizing. Again, do your research, and I recommend trying the tea in small amounts mixed with filtered water until you find the perfect mix for you.
3. ALOE VERA is one of the most available under-utilized plants around, both in Mexico and in our Coachella Valley. My yard is full of them, and I like to blend up the inside “meat” with a little Meyer lemon and mint to use on my skin. You can add filtered water to dilute and blend it up, but aloe vera can also be applied straight from the plant to the skin for sunburns and cuts. I cut my foot the other night and applied the aloe right on it, and it healed almost immediately. Aloe can also be taken internally to improve digestion, but read up on it and understand which varieties are best for internal consumption.
4. ROSES, ROSES, ROSES! Rose petals are used in Mexico all the time, on salads, in jams and jellies—the fragrance combined with the soft delicate taste is so beautiful. I bought a Rose Petal and wine jam that is absolutely delicious.
5. And finally, the obvious, CITRUS!
We have citrus fruits going to waste in our own backyards, so let’s use them. Grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, lemons, Mexican limes squeeze them into your water, or into your guacamole; and remember, it is better to eat the whole fruit rather than only drinking the juice. The exception would be the lemons and limes as they are mostly used as accents. My salad dressing of choice is organic olive oil and lemon — done deal.
My trip to Baja reminded me how much there is to learn about health, infusing me with an even higher desire to live more organically. Shirley, the Dona Lupe Winery, and Encuentro Guadalupe are an inspiring trio indeed, but you can create your own organic experience at home by cultivating beautiful friendships, getting in tune with Nature, and creating life-affirming rituals.
Rising with the sun and going to bed early with no technological distractions, we convened each morning to practice tai chi, yoga, and meditation, sometimes by the pool, sometimes high up on the rocks, and even explored Watsu massage in the hot tub. Holistic health expert, Andrew Mackey, led us in a beautiful astrological movement class, and we all gathered together at night to view the stars before retiring to our cabins.
Getting away from my routine inspired me to learn once again the value of quiet, the stellar beauty of unspoiled Nature, the necessity of fine friendships, how much I love Mexican hot chocolate, and how refreshing it is when I asked for “jugo de papaya.” The sweet man behind the counter smiled, and began cutting up a real papaya to blend up and proudly serve… mmmm. Once you Go Organic, it is hard to go back.
Featured on The Doctors, LIVE with Regis and Kelly and The View, Scott Cole is the creator of America’s top-selling Discover Tai Chi series. His latest DVD, Discover Tai Chi for fitness (taped here in Palm Springs) will be available nationally in March 2013. Visit www.scottcole.com