After a full day of traveling, however lovely the destination, it’s always a bit of a wrench when you hear the alarm going off first thing. My alarm is set to sound like angels playing a harp, but it’s still a sound I dread – awaking cursing those angels and their annoying twangy harps, regardless of the day, location or circumstance. Particularly having only had about 3 and a half hours sleep the night before, I really did want to stay in that supremely comfortable bed for a while longer. But we had promised ourselves to take our stay at Amchara very seriously and this meant attending the twice daily yoga classes as much as possible.
The first class of the day is at 8am. I can’t even remember what my name is and where I live until about 11am and after I’ve had my porridge. Here in Gozo, porridge was but a distant memory and instead I awakened to a distant cockerel, familiar from my stay here last year in my sister’s apartment, and the twittering of local birds in the palm trees. The pleasant hollow binky bonky sound of bamboo wind chimes near the pool reminded me that I was really back here, this time with my man by my side. I’d made that determined dream come true and I smiled.
Shaking André gently awake, we literally flollopped into some baggy clothes for class, and I led André round the resort to the tranquil gym above the spa. The light in the gym is always gorgeous, whatever time of day or night you come here. A gentle warm golden light that creeps in rather than blasts you from the very large windows overlooking fields and distant hills.
We were greeted by several other guests who were already performing stretches and yoga poses on the purple spongy mats. They informed us that Jana (pronounced Yarna), today’s yoga teacher was feeling poorly (heat stroke – she’s new to the island and not yet used to the heat) and so class was cancelled. Part of me was disappointed and the other lazy part of me secretly cheered at the idea of an extra hour in bed before our first breakfast juice. But then lazy me had to shut her face because a rather gorgeous, bendy looking guest remarked that she’d just qualified as a yoga teacher and would be happy to take the class if nobody objected. Her offer was very welcome, and André and I set about trying to copy the breathing, stretching and genuflecting that our pop-up teacher demonstrated.
I was rather impressed with how easily Andre could do most of the moves. At least all the ones where his T-Rex arms and bulging biceps don’t get in the way. But even more than that, I was proud that he managed to hold in his farts. I won’t go into my fear of yogic farting here as I’ve covered it extensively and comprehensively in past blogs, but anyone who has attended a yoga class regularly is lying if they say this is never an issue.
Truth be told, I have never encountered a single out of place fart at Amchara. There are reasons for this. The first, most sensible reason, is that farts are the gas produced by mostly ‘bad’ bacteria in our gut, after they have ‘feasted’ on the kind of food that they love – sugary things, rich meat, high protein stuff. So when you cut that kind of stuff out, you notice an enormous reduction in farts. The second reason, just my theory, is that the elegant people I’ve met here so far have toned their sphincter muscles in the same way they have toned their gorgeous arms and thighs – practising yoga, interpretive dance or sky diving or something on a daily basis since they were a foetus. I expect there is even a Sanskrit word for ‘holding your farts in and then letting the farts out (at the right time of choice)’. It’s probably called something like ‘breath of life’ if you translate it back to English. I really should get around to asking the various yoga teachers I know one day.
After yoga, we felt pleasantly and surprisingly refreshed, and very excited to get on with the day. So I showed André round to the dining area where our breakfast ‘Green Goddess’ juices were waiting for us on trays bearing our names. The juices here are always a real treat, especially to the very hungry, and the breakfast juice is sweet and creamy and frothy and the colour of pistachios but full of only good things, not rammed full of fructose like a lot of smoothies back home.
The dining area is a place of awe, adventure and envy. While some of us are choosing to juice fast, some people have opted for a healthy eating plan of expertly prepared and delicious vegan food. When you first start on your vegetable juice detox plan, it would be quite understandable for some people to feel like they fall into the camp of the ‘have nots’ and want to kneecap some poor blighter to steal their carrot salad or cucumber soup from them.
But those of us eyeing up the meals of those lucky sods on 3D food were soon put to shame by the arrival of Peter, a sweet-faced financey clever person who is undertaking the ultimate detox challenge – the Water Fast. After word spread of Pete’s determined mission to deny himself any oral/gastronomic pleasure whatsoever, the whole resort felt a collective sense of protectiveness and nurturing towards him. I don’t think many of us (possibly any of us) understood his reasoning for being quite that strict with himself. But I promise you it was a choice, and he says he does feel better afterwards. Maybe in the same way if you smack yourself in the eye with a sea urchin repeatedly and then don’t, you feel a lot better after you stop.
André really liked his Green Goddess juice, and in general he was starting the adventure with a really positive frame of mind. He even downed his regular quota of psyllium husks which help fill you up and act as a ‘Bowel Broom’ (there should be a groovy little cartoon to go with this explanation but you’ll just have to imagine it) to sweep detritus and crud through your intestines and out out out. At least that’s what they do in other people, like André. In me they seem to get kinda stuck en route, cling to my insides and plug me up in the same way pine needles block my hoover pipe after Christmas, so I don’t try to overdo it with the psyllium husks. Maybe I’m just not a husk kind of girl. I try to imagine my hunter/gatherer ancestors and what they might have eaten in the wild when food was short. Psyllium husks don’t even look like food. They look like those annoying little bits of grassy shit we have to pick out of the dog’s paws after Spring walks.
So I was merrily purring as I supped my juice in the dining area, just cherishing the moment – being back at Amchara, the lovely warmth of Gozo, the sounds and smells and sense of peace – when I heard a voice call out my name in surprised delight. I turned round to see Helena, one of the guests I had bonded with on my last trip out here in September. I’d had to leave without saying goodbye last time and therefore we didn’t get to swap numbers or emails and I’d been so sad about that. I’d tried to track her down online but all I knew about her (apart from her eating habits and bowel movements and a collection of delightful personal stories and shared memories) was that she was called Helena (and I didn’t even have the spelling right last year because the H is silent) and she edited a blog. Not much to go on at all, and yet I had tried to track both her and Glen the roofer/builder that we hung out with for some time with no luck at all.
I just couldn’t believe that we’d both booked to come out again for the same week without knowing anything about it. Even my sister didn’t know because Helena had booked at the last minute and my sister had been off work for a week on a break so hadn’t seen her name on the list. Helena and I hugged the warmest of hugs. When you think about how hard it is to coordinate meeting a friend for even a half hour coffee or an evening out together, trying to pin down busy business women to compare diaries and find just any time at all that they could even begin to plan a trip away together, you realise that this coincidence was really quite something. Quite spooky really. Although spooky suggests a negativity when this was absolutely the most fabulous surprise I could have hoped for because I had genuinely thought I would never see her again. And for us to pick the one same week out of 52 possibles to come again was just magical. But I swear to you, the whole place has a magical vibe, and I had been day dreaming since I booked the trip that such a miracle might occur even though I never thought for a single moment that it would happen. Some of my friends would say I ‘willed it to happen’ or ‘asked the Universe’ and it delivered. Luck or fate or magic, I was just happy to see a friendly face I thought I’d lost forever.
But I wasn’t the only one grinning. André took to Amchara like the proverbial duck to water (and I truly truly apologise for the lazy clichés in this blog but time is short for writing and I just want to get on with the story, not impress you with poetry). He has been walking about with a big toothy smile on his face since he woke up this morning. I myself am in turn grinning at his grinning so much. We are the grinny twins, the Grinsters. I am happy to be back here amongst the lovely palms, pool, sea walks, beautiful landscapes and incredible people; and André is experiencing it all for the first time just like I did 9 months ago. It’s perfect. And something about the loveliness of the place and people here makes you feel so safe. And something about feeling that safe has already had a huge impact on one of Andre’s sticking points:- sleep.
At home, sleep (or lack of it) and bed time (or lack of it) is one of our most recurrent arguments. I need sleep and André (thinks he) doesn’t. Until it’s morning and we need to get up for work, when suddenly André realises the bed is good, lovely and his friend and he wants (another) ten more minutes. At night time, sleep and bed are his enemy, there to cheat him out of precious minutes on his computer – ‘researching’ as he calls it. ‘Facebooking’/’Youtubing’ as I call it.
Just as Morning André wants 10, 20, 60 more minutes in bed, Night Time André wants 20, 40, 120 more minutes on Youtube. But here in Amchara, André is not resisting sleep. He fell fast asleep in the first yoga class at the end during the meditative relaxation cool down and snored loudly and unashamedly. And now between breakfast and his morning welcome consultation with the naturopath, he has fallen asleep again face down on the bed in his yoga pants, like a toddler in jammies. I do not wake him unless I have to. He has been working very hard lately and it is a joy to see him drift off completely relaxed and utterly trusting of his surroundings.
At our welcome consultations we talked through our medical forms/histories, were prescribed certain additional nutritional booster ‘shots’ (not the kind with needles but the kind you drink) on top of our juices, we were weighed (a lady never tells but let’s just say I still have a way to go), had our blood pressure taken (mine a little bit high), offered a DIY enema kit each (which I made André accept), and given the chance to ask any questions. All very standard stuff, except perhaps for the enema kits, which had André wincing before he’d even opened the packet. He was fairly relieved when I explained he’d probably need at least an hour to do his first one and there wasn’t time today. Especially since it was already time for our lunchtime juice, my absolute favourite of the day – the ginger, carrot and apple juice. Mmmmmm. If you’ve ever been to Wagamamas and had the raw juice, it’s like that orange one there.
This time the additional nutritional ‘shots’ were ready for us on our trays. The shots are little shot glasses full of ‘good’ things. I use ‘good’ in the nutritional sense rather than the deliciousness sense. These are an optional extra but we had decided to have them based on my previous experience of appreciating just about anything you are allowed to eat the first few days to help you cope with the lack of food. Plus they are good for you. Our first shots of the day were wheatgrass, a black-coloured mineral blend of some sort and aloe verox. I already knew which ones to neck quickly and which ones to savour, but I was keen to see what André, with his lack of sense of smell, diminished taste buds and yet ultra-keen sense of texture would make of these little glasses of stuff and things. You can see a video of his experience HERE. But basically his upshot was:-
Wheatgrass – “A glass of dirt” (to be fair it was powdered and later in the week they resolved a supplier issue for some fresh wheatgrass which was a whole different and much better experience).
Mineral blend – “Looks like something out of ‘Alien Covenant”, Tastes like the ‘“bottom of the kettle.”
Aloe verox – “Not to be sipped.”
But bless his cotton socks, he did as he was asked and downed them all, knowing the lack of food would probably hit him hardest today.
Straight after lunch each day there is a talk or workshop on a particular subject to do with health. These were one of my favourite parts of my previous visit to Amchara and I was really looking forward to attending some with André during our week together. We both love to learn and question. I’m still the model pupil (girly swot) who takes all the notes, tries to answer all the questions, asks too many questions myself and is probably a bit of a pain in the arse like I was at school. I make no apologies. Learning is fun. Today’s lecture is on the Benefits of Fasting.
It had never occurred to me before today when it was pointed out that all the major religions include some kind of fasting or deprivation as a means of increasing religious experience and deeper thinking/contemplation. Why? Because eating can actually influence how we think and feel. To remove this distraction allows you to channel your energy and thoughts to other things. Higher things perhaps. Not just thinking about how much you really want to eat all the things.
We learned that when we fast our bodies go into ‘repair mode’ which is why intermittent fasting is now believed to help fight disease, improve fertility issues, and all kinds of things, as well as helping with weight loss. Mice made to sporadically fast live longer than mice who just go on calorie-restricted diets (like Weight Watchers for Rodents I guess). Fasting balances your insulin levels. Fasting helps kill off the ‘bad bacteria’ in our guts which influence our food choices for the worse by driving food cravings, making normal eating and portion control so much easier. And when you find out that digestion takes about 70% of our daily energy you can understand how we can actually fare very well indeed on a lot less food than we are used to in the Western world.
Afternoon juice followed swiftly – and I actually found there wasn’t much time to get truly hungry on day one with so much going on. This one was a beetroot based juice – the colour of which was an extraordinary bright pinky purple. It’s so easy to forget how *beautiful* natural foods can be in terms of colour and smell until you shut out other distractions.
As my sister showed me once, now I showed André how to savour his juices more by eating the froth off the top with a spoon as if it were a pudding.
And after a bit of flooching about and chatting to people, we found that suddenly the second yoga class of the day had come around…along with a wonderful, wonderful surprise for me!
The replacement teacher for our class was the beautiful, wonderful, glorious Earth-angel of a person that is ‘Ina’ (pronounced eye-nuh) from Ireland. Ina was one of my favourite members of staff to work with and hang with on my last visit and I had been sad when months ago I was told she had left the resort to go off and do other things. I didn’t think I could be more happy than when I was reunited with Helena earlier in the day, until I saw this wonderful bright spirit with her warm smile at the front of the yoga studio, in what have to be the world’s most fantastic harem pants.
Ina is the kind of woman I wish I was, and aspire to ‘grow up’ to be like. She has a youthful spirit, even though I’m fairly sure she’s older than me. She has the magic of a fairy and the wisdom of a white witch. You can totally believe that in secret she has either wings or a mermaid tail or possibly both. She oozes sensuality, cleverness, wit, kindness, love, strength and independent awesomeness. And I just *love* her. I’m going to show you a photo of her now so you can see how truly lovable this woman is, because it just radiates from her eccentric and gorgeous little frame.
I think having Ina back there for our visit probably magnified the happiness of my experience by at least tenfold. The world needs more Inas. If Amchara could distill, bottle and sell ‘Essence of Ina’ in liquid form they’d make a fortune. We could spray it on President Trump or any football hooligan or drunk brawler you came across and they would melt into peaceful four part harmony singing with whoever they were standing with.
Yoga was utterly fabulous – I like the afternoon sessions better because they are gentler and more about relaxing and breathing and of course because they aren’t just after I have woken up. Ina has the most gorgeous creme caramel tone to her voice – soothing and melodic. She’s the sort of person you’d want around if you were dying to talk you into the light. She could make even death seem like a nice holiday. If she told you to let go, you’d go – probably skipping and humming as you went. She just makes everyone feel *safe*. She has a lovely turn of phrase – regularly telling us that what we were doing in class was ‘beaaaauuuuutiful’ and when André fell asleep again during her guided meditation and snored really loudly, giving me the giggles, she commented on the ‘beaaaauuutiful sound of humans letting go completely and relaxing’. She calls your buttocks your ‘booootox’ which makes me giggle. Ah, Ina. How I wish I could pop you in my pocket and take you home with me and get you out on days when my inner chimp is bat shit crazy with stress. Ina should be available on the NHS. I’ll shut up now before you think I’ve developed a crush.
After yoga, our final ‘meal’ of the day was a savoury broth (aka a healthy vegetable stock) which sounds rather dull but is surprisingly tasty and welcome after a day of juice, water and more water. Every little variation in what you get to eat/drink here is savoured, cherished and appreciated. It makes you realise how little we need to be happy and how much we actually have that’s wasted usually.
After broth, Ina led the group on an evening coastal walk, across fields, down swooping sandstone cliffs and back around again to home. Nothing can explain the beauty, stillness and peace and quiet of this place.
You can look out to sea on those cliffs and not see a single boat – like the sea was all brand new. You know the way a swimming pool looks when no one is in it and the sunlight just sparkles on the surface and it looks so pure and inviting, like a new jar of peanut butter before the knife goes in. (Mmmmm peanut butter, stop thinking about peanut butter).
Anyway….it’s like looking at a new planet, a fresh start. You can just breathe and soak it in and feel like you too are being given a fresh start. You can be 15 minutes walk from the sea edge and still hear the waves because other than bird song there is no noise at all. And lovely Ina, with all her witchy wisdom, would stop at interesting plants and herbs and pluck a bit to rub in her palms for us to smell, or pick a posy to stick in our hair. She knew what everything was and how to use each of the plants to make them sound delicious in food. And who knew that caper berries grew wild and have such incredibly tarty flowers?!
By the end of the day, we were already so relaxed and happy, I genuinely didn’t think it could get better than this. And then André remembered the infra red sauna and outdoor jacuzzi. The jacuzzi of my dreams pummelling my shoulders, the man of my dreams (when he behaves himself) by my side, at the place I’d dreamed of for the last nine months. Even the knowledge that tomorrow was enema day couldn’t take the edge off how wonderful we felt. We were too happy to even remember that we were hungry.