Saturday, September 21, 2013

All Around Ibiza [in a Kayak]

Eighteen people, eleven kayaks, one small boat, and one great goal: one island, one week, and by the end of it all, 136km achieved. That is the surface summary of my trip to, and around, the island of Ibiza. But to just leave it at that would be a horrible injustice to what the experience really was, and what it taught me.

The moment I opened the email from my friend describing Vuelta Ibiza Kayak back in March or April, I made the decision to do it. I decided right then and there that the offer was too aligned with what I wanted to do, and just the right “extreme activity” for me to add to my summer. I hadn't ever really kayaked before, but I’d done a bit of yoga, and loved nature, so I figured overall, it was a perfect fit. (Morning yoga classes were in the description of the trip. I didn't just decide that my practice was somehow a qualification for this activity. haha) Little did I know at the time what I was signing up to do. Months passed, and finally the time came for me to go to Ibiza to begin my one-week around-the-island adventure.

When I got to the airport in Madrid over an hour early for my flight, and found out that it was delayed, I was thinking that maybe something was going to go wrong in Ibiza and I shouldn't board the plane. I quickly pushed these fearful thoughts aside, and boarded the plane with a stomach full of nerves and doubts. Now, these are two emotions I rarely experience before my trips and travels, but this was different. I was going by myself on an organized trip with a bunch of strangers who likely wouldn't speak English, to kayak for one week, in the ocean, around an island. Just writing that now causes the words “somewhat extreme” to appear in my mind. And that is exactly what it ended up being. . .

I arrived in Ibiza the night before the trip was going to begin. I had found a place on the Couch Surfing website to crash for the night, and made my way there by bus. It’s always a strange feeling, being in transit to your host’s house. You don’t know them aside from the brief interactions you've shared to arrange details of the stay, and yet you are going there to sleep and stay. It’s definitely a time to think and consider. You consider what they will be like, if you’ll get along, and in this case, hope that the house is close enough to where you have to be early the next morning, so it’s convenient to get there.

As my host and I walked to the house, I asked him how many people lived there, and it took me about ten seconds to pick up on the fact that I was headed to a squat house. Now, coming from the States, I had it in my mind that squat houses were places that people busted into and stayed at because they had nowhere else to go (mostly true). They were for junkies to hang out, get loaded, and have orgies (sometimes true). With all these media and news-fueled preconceived notions filling my head, I entered the house, with as open a mind as I could. I told myself that there was a reason I was going to this house, and that if I remained open to it, I would learn and grow. And that is such an understatement about what happened during my short stay there.

I fell in love pretty instantly with the people, the setting, the idea, and the whole lifestyle. Granted the house was a 5-star squat, with running water and electricity, but the people living there are what really changed my mind. It wasn't a bunch of scum who were too busy getting high to have a life; it was an eclectic and international family, with some of the most amazing energy I've ever felt. It was a bunch of people from different countries, who had all ended up in the house at some point in time, and turned it into a real, loving home.

Some of the people have been there for over three years, others have come and gone over the years, and some were recent additions to the family. The Hippie House of Love, as it was appropriately called, was just that. A beautiful group of people, somewhat outcast from society by choice or chance, coming together to live in love, and share that love with whoever came through the door. I was welcomed instantly, and immediately grateful that I had remained open to the experience. 

The next morning I woke early and was on my way to the meeting point, a bar called Sun Sea Bar, in Sant Antoni. (The Magaluf of Ibiza, for all you reading this in Mallorca.) As I walked through the town at 8am with a backpack on, I passed by many people who were still drunk and making their way home from the night before, and it put my life into perspective for a moment. I stopped and sat on a bench for breakfast, and said a little prayer of thanks to God, also asking for His protection and guidance over the coming week. I had no way of knowing at the time what He had in store for me that week, and it is probably a good thing, or I would have just stayed in the Hippie House instead.  

Gradually everyone that would form our family for the week arrived. We ended up a group of 18, formed by a family of four (dad, mom, two sons, 15 and 12-years old), their family friends (a couple), a group of five girlfriends (probably in their early 30’s), another couple from the north, a woman from Valencia who also came alone, the friend of the gal who runs VIK (Vuelta Ibiza Kayak), and myself. I was the only one in the group that wasn't from Spain, and surprised not to be the youngest.

We went through the usual introductions and small talk, and then began to prep our kayaks and things for the week. We took one change of clothes, a towel, swim suits, cameras, sunscreen, phones, sleeping bags, mats, and that was about it. Our clothes went into a small black waterproof bag, and everything else that absolutely couldn't get wet went into a different waterproof container that would be attached to our kayaks. After breakfast and a debriefing, we went down to the water to get a little guidance on how to kayak, and then began to load up.

Less the blue backpack and the white bin with a blue lid, that was all I had with my for the week.

The winds were really high that day, so Adela (who runs VIK) had decided we wouldn't be going as far as they usually go on the first day. At first I was thinking, “da igual” (whatever/to me it’s the same), but soon was thinking, “Thank God!” Now, I don’t know if you've spent much time kayaking before, but I hadn't. I went into the trip thinking that it would be a really, lovely, relaxing time. I would spend a week on the ocean, in a kayak, just going with the flow, enjoying the scenery, and getting deep with mother earth before I entered a likely-intense week of fest-ing out. But holy mother of pearl had I thought wrong!

Kayaking is not easy stuff when you are in the ocean, I don’t know how many feet deep, fighting the wind, trying to hold your posture, and having no rhythm at all. So it goes without saying that the first day was rough, and we only did about 8km. The silver lining came when we stopped at this beautiful little beach, which would be our home for the night. It was a small place, but not too crowded, especially since we got there around 18h or so, and it was just lovely. I ran into one of the guys from the Hippie House while I was there, and that was a much needed smile-session. The seasickness I've known before had crept up during the kayaking, and I was off to an almost bad start.

Breakfast and dinner were included in the trip, and provided by the Sun Sea Bar. A friend of Adela (or Dani, her boyfriend) would deliver the food to us wherever we were camping out that night, and we made our dining table and benches out of kayaks. We would eat, they would drink wine, we’d all talk, Rebecca would play the accordion, and then we would pick our spots, and go to sleep.

The mornings were somewhat similar, but only with the added pleasure of Adela leading a yoga class to kick off the day. Yoga was followed by breakfast, and then we would pack up and head out onto the water once more. And aside from the second day, which proved to be straight out of hell for me, it was a beautiful pattern we were following.

Day two had to be a long day since day one had to be so short. We had a lot of ground to cover, or sea if you’d rather, and when I say a lot, I mean like 30km nonstop a lot. We were at a part of the island that didn't have any beach or cala (cove) for us to stop at, so we just had to keep going, and going, and going, and going. For three and a half hours we went without stopping on land. One pit stop was made mid-sea, but one of the women got sick in the sea, so we hastily left the spot to continue on.

My head was a mess that whole time. I was cursing every single thing I could think of – the ocean, God, nature in general, myself, the entire group, and the kayak more than anything. I swore I would never kayak again. That I hated it so much, it was so, so stupid and that it was the worst thing I could have ever spent my money on. I was spiraling down, down, down the rabbit hole of negativity, and didn't care to come out of it. And things only got worse as the seasickness increased. With each wave of the sea, my empty stomach did flips and twists. I was fighting back the upchuck for so long, and then finally, gave in and let it go.

Now, I don’t know if you've ever tried to throw up out of a kayak before, but it’s not easy. If you lean over too far, you flip over, if you don’t lean over far enough, you’re sitting in your own vomit and have to get out and in the water anyways so you can clean it, and getting in the water while you are feeling like a sumo match is going on inside your stomach, is not an appealing option at all. So there I am, a solid distance behind the rest of the group, sitting like a duck, trying to manage puking outside of my kayak, while simultaneously yelling about how freaking awful the whole thing was, and writhing in pain. (I’ll admit, a little puke got inside. And I didn't get out to clean it. I just sat there, trying to shovel it out with my hands, while more stomach acid came pouring out my mouth.) It was quite a scene, and only God got to enjoy it. Thankfully. Now I crack up as I read and write this, but man I tell you, at the time, I was in turmoil, and I really hated life. And that kayak. How I hated that kayak. I thought I was actually going to die at one point. I didn't have any water, so I couldn't re-hydrate, and all I could feel were convulsions happening inside my stomach. And I couldn't stop dry-heaving, so I couldn't catch a proper breath. I was so scared I was going to be too dehydrated and too out-of-air, out there alone, and just die in that stupid, wretched kayak. 

Not long after this episode, Adela came back with the little boat they have to transport gear, and pulled me the remaining kilometers to our first stop of the day. And you know, it’s pretty strange how seasickness works. The instant that I was being pulled by the boat, the seasickness passed, and I was all laughs and smiles as I was taken on a wild ride in the wake of Inigo (the boat). After taking some time in a precious cala to eat and recover, we got back in our kayaks for the final push. One hour, and then we were at our beach for the night and the worst day of my life ((..exaggeration..)) was over.

During dinner, Adela said something that really resonated with me. She said people who get seasick often do so because they aren't focused on what they are doing, aka they are not present, aka they’re not just Being. And because they are not present in the moment, focused on the task at hand, thinking one row at a time, their mind slips away, and the sickness slips in. I took this to heart, and woke the next day with a fresh mind about it all. Truth be told, I think the yoga class really set me straight. I hadn't done it the previous morning, and doing it that second morning really got me centered back where I needed to be – grateful, positive, loving, and bright.

From then on, the flip was switched, and I was one of the kayaks up front. I was loving every second of it after that (well, not quite every, but mostly all…)! Singing in my kayak, talking out loud, dancing, grooving, and just soaking it all it. I embraced and released myself 100%, which enabled me to have maximum momentum and pleasure in all that I was doing. The view of land off the coast is an amazing one, my favorite one, and we had the best seats in the house the whole week. The page had been turned, and I was back to being positive, happy me. Loving life, loving God, and loving all that was going on! Of course there were still moments where I was thinking, “Ok, that’s enough, I am done here. I would rather be at the squat house chillin’ than working my butt off in this kayak in the heat.” But as much as I might have wanted to give up at times, I thought about how proud I could feel after I did it all, and rowed onward. And you know what? I am stinkin' proud!!

To be 24-years old and be able to say that I have kayaked around Ibiza (except for a fairly good chunk of the island that we couldn't pass in kayak because of heavy boat and ferry traffic), have seen the entire Ibizan coastline, and experienced a multitude of her beaches and calas, is such a sensational feeling. That island has so much more to offer than most people will ever know or see, and I feel so blessed that I have. There are so many hidden treasures along that coast, and I can’t wait to return to some of them. 

The experience that I had in that week is unique to me, and for me. No one else that ever has gone or goes on a trip with Vuelta Ibiza Kayak will have the same experience as me, and I think that’s part of what makes it so cool. The time you spend in that kayak is yours. You can spend it smiling, crying, or a bit of both. (I almost broke down in tears sometime after I had my puking episode on the second day. But then actually started laughing at myself, because I realized how ridiculous I was being.) You make it what you want, and it will shape you for the better if you let it.

It’s a beautiful thing to spend so much time with nature,and  really, really in her. Experiencing her in a unique way, becoming one with her. You find the rhythm of the sea, and then you are one, as we should be. You assimilate yourself and your kayak to the water, and you tune into the universal language. Seven days of kayaking, six nights of sleeping on beaches, one timed, paid shower with shampoo and conditioner, two or three water-only showers, carbohydrate overdoses nightly, living in a swim suit and on the sea, and sharing a grueling, but glorious experience with a bunch of strangers you’ll likely never see again -- it’s utterly remarkable and wonderful.


That week I spent kayaking around Ibiza was without a doubt the most trying thing I have ever done, both physically and mentally. I had to overcome the negative thoughts and emotions that tried to take over almost daily, and I did. I had to push through kilometer after kilometer, one row stroke at a time, and I did. And when I was on that plane, leaving Ibiza, looking down at the island I had conquered in a kayak, I had a feeling and sensation I can’t even try to describe. Just writing this now and going back through the photos sends waves of accomplishment through me, and makes my eyes water to know what I've been a part of. It was one of the most powerful experiences I think I've ever had, and I am so grateful for it. Our little equipo (team) worked so hard that week, and came together so well. I will forever remember El Que Va Solo, and be proud as can be to be a part of it!

Sending out the loveliest vibrations of blessings, love and light to all those who were a part of it, and wishing everyone the brightest and best of lives! Thank you for sharing some earth time with me, you are precious souls, always to be remembered!

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