Yoga & Hiking retreat, El Chorro, 11-16 of May, 2019
Updated: Jun 16
Mountains of El Chorro hold a very special place in my heart. During the past few years, I have spent countless months climbing on limestone rocks, hiking along the pine forests and simply being in the nature over there. That place became so familiar, so close, yet the beauty of those mountains never stopped to amaze me. I also had an opportunity to meet wonderful owners Mel and Gary of the Olive Branch Guesthouse who put so much love, creativity and energy into creating a paradise home in El Chorro. When I was visualizing the location for my first ever Yoga & Hiking retreat, it didn't take me long to decide that I want to do it in El Chorro. At the Olive Branch Guesthouse in particular. I was confident that this will be a perfect place. I knew that those mountains will become special for those who will be part of this Moonlight Yoga Retreats adventure. And it did. El Chorro became special for them, too.
Day 1 of the Retreat, Saturday, 11th of May Arriving. Grounding. Rooms and premises are clean and fresh. Goodie bags and timetables prepared. Stillness is lingering in the air. With anticipation, waiting for everyone's arrival. I took of my shoes and decided to walk everywhere barefoot. To feel the earth and massage my feet on the natural surface: pebbles, soil, grass and rocks.
The driver waited for the girls in Malaga's airport, picked everyone up and drove all the way to Olive Branch. It was in the late afternoon when they arrived. We hugged, met each other for the first time and went inside for a short welcome meeting. It was such a lovely international group of yogis - Spain, Italy, Portugal, Lithuania and The Netherlands. Time to settle in. Later in the evening Opening Ceremony and After Flight Yoga session followed. This Yoga Shala is the most beautiful space I taught yoga so far. Open air studio surrounded by nature. Views of mountains and gardens, that we never got tired of admiring. There are fairy lights on the ceiling, birds gently chirping and big windows that can be fully opened to let the fresh breeze enter. And when the sun is setting and the sky is illuminated with countless shades of orange. and red. and blue... Time stops. Sometimes, I would have to pinch myself. I am not dreaming - this is really happening!
20:00 Welcome Dinner Our first welcome dinner was wholesome and delicious - as all the rest through out the retreat! Noan is an amazing chef, always kept surprising us with his thoughtfully prepared, nutritiously balanced and creative dishes. I felt so lucky to have him on board, as good, healthy, inviting, veggie food is a very important part of the retreat for me. I wanted every participant to be content with the food, to eat well and to feel nourished with freshly prepared, home food. Thanks to Noan, it was all fulfilled! While eating dinner that evening (which was zuchinni fritters, roasted vegetables, hummus and beetroot salad) we started to get to know each other and had a brief overview of the upcoming days and adventures. Exciting!
Day 2 of the Retreat, Sunday, 12th of May Our usual day would start with a cup of Yogi tea and an early sunrise yoga session at 07:30 am. That morning we focused on our lower bodies. After one hour and 30 min of energizing, dynamic yoga practice we would all be ready and eager to eat breakfast that fuels and nourishes us for the upcoming day. For our second day of the retreat we embarked on a hiking adventure to the top of the Arabic Staircase. In total, it's around 8 km of hiking starting from the Olive Branch Guesthouse all the way to the top and back. For part of the trail, there are literally ancient stairs made of stone that lead up the mountain. It feels so surreal to encounter them in the middle of nature, far away from cities. Legend says that Arabs built them in around 15th century, therefore the name... the Arabic staircase or Escalera Arabe, in Spanish. In May we had blue blue skies and sunny days. I felt so proud of all the yogis hiking in the heat, in the early afternoon's sun with huge smiles on their faces, sharing stories, dreams and fears. Kudos goes to Naima especially, who had a fear of heights, but nevertheless confidently hiked until the top.
Weather is usually very warm in El Chorro, even in January, in the midst of winter, I remember that we would be rock climbing in T-Shirts during the day. This was another reason why El Chorro is a perfect place for a retreat - I wanted people to enjoy the sun and warmth while being in the nature and not feeling cold while practicing yoga early in the morning in an open air yoga shala. Hike up to Escaleras Arabes is a beautiful trail with spectacular views along the way and from the top of the mountain! If you are hiking it during the summer, make sure to leave early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the heat and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. Have a look at this video below of those magnificent views from the top of the Arabic Staircase:
After our hike we had a kombucha tasting at the Olive Branch. Thanks to Equinox Kombucha we had various flavors of organic, raw and vegan kombucha to taste: from ginger to pink grapefruit & guava. Kombucha was cold and felt so refreshing! Even though all were delicious, we decided that the winners were Wild Berry and Raspberry & Elderflower kombuchas.
Lunch would start at 14:00 and we would eat inside, as it was cooler in the main dining area. For lunch, we would usually have a soup, a big salad and some pastries or tortillas made again by the chef Noan. Lunch was different every day and same like food during our dinners - kept surprising us every time!
After eating lunch, talking and sharing the highlights of our day so far, we would all go our own ways: wether spending time by the pool, taking photos, chatting with each other, reading a book, journaling, taking a siesta or going for another hike in the area.
And then at 18:00 we would all meet again in our yoga shala for an evening Yoga practice. Usually our sunset practice would be quite the opposite from the sunrise yoga session. In the evenings - a meditative practice where we spend longer periods of time in each pose, and letting tension in our body and nervous system go away with each breath. This time it was Sabrina teaching a beautiful, calming and meditative Yin class. Day 3 of the retreat, Monday, 13th of May 07:30 - 09:00 Yoga Session 09:15 - 10:15 Breakfast And then 10:30 am some of us went horse-riding and others embarked on another, this time circular hike of around 7km: The Olive Branch - Poema de la Roca cave - El Chorro village - The Olive Branch In the photos below you can see Sigute on the left scrambling up the rocks in Poema de la Roca cave. I met her one week before the retreat, on the plane(!). I was reading a huge meditation manual 'The Mind Illuminated' and she inquired if I am practicing meditation myself. And that's how our friendship has started. She also spontaneously decided to join us on the retreat and was always up for anything with a huge smile on her face. True, ture inspiration! Photo on the right was taken from the inside of the cave, more or less from the place where Sigute is standing in the photo on the left. There are many rocks in the cave to sit or lay on, enjoy the view, stay in silence or put the meditation manual skills to practice!
Below, in the photo on the right meet Cristina, Marina and Iris. These super lovely girls came to my first yoga session in Southampton and at the Portsmouth Vegan Festival when I just moved to the UK and we all kept learning and practicing yoga ever since. They so enthusiastically and eagerly joined my first ever yoga retreat in south of Spain and trusted in me, which I am feeling very grateful for. It was so so beautiful to have them there in El Chorro and to be part of their yoga learning journey!
After this beautiful hike we went back to the Olive Branch guesthouse for a swim in the pool and lunch! Few hours to rest and then as usual at 18:00 o'clock we met at our yoga shala for an evening yoga practice. This time upon request I designed a yoga session for Back Health. Meditation. Savasana. Dinner. Day 4 of the retreat, Tuesday, 14th of May We left early for El Caminito del Rey hike. Unfortunately, when we arrived the wind was too strong and El Caminito del Rey was closed that day due to safety reasons. We confidently decided to try tomorrow again and went to explore Alora lakes instead. The Alora lakes are three huge, turquoise lakes artificially created by a dam built across a river gorge. This peaceful area is perfect for swimming, hiking, kayaking or having fun by doing some yoga postures and taking photos... Like us, below! On the right it's Sabrina with her awesome handstand skills (she led an inversion workshop during the retreat, too!), on the left it's me eating an apple and doing my favorite dragon squat and in the middle - our group of amazing yogis by the Alora lakes!
Going back home to the Olive branch. Lunch.
Free time or optional rock climbing session on the real rock with a professional instructor Hannah and her huge, lovely, black dog Gaston. Five of our yogis went climbing and they all did great! El Chorro is a world class climbing destination and it is something not to be missed!
18:00 - 19:30 Vinyasa Flow yoga practice where we deconstructed all the elements of Crow pose and practiced different yoga postures that strengthen, prepare our bodies and eventually lead to Crow pose/ Bakasana. I had a huge smile on my face to see so many of yogis flying that evening! Some - for the first time ever! Dinner. 21:00 - 21:45 Yoga Nidra meditative experience led by Sabrina. Sabrina has attended a 50 hour Yoga Nidra RYT and created a beautiful 'Dare to Dream' session during our retreat. Day 5 of the retreat, Wednesday, 15th of May Winds were calm and El Caminito del Rey path was open! Yay! El Caminito del Rey or The King's Pathway is a spectacular walkway pinned along the steep walls of a gorge and hanging over 100 meters up on a vertical cliffs. Some parts of the canyon are only 10 meters wide and 700 meters deep! Just imagine that for a moment! It used to be the most dangerous hike in the world, but more than four years ago was reconstructed into a safe path, welcome for all. In total - around 7 km of impressive hiking.
Lunch. Free time. I shared a Yoga Session where we focused on core strength, both physical and symbolic and then we had an Inversion Workshop with Sabrina afterwards. Before jumping into a handstand, we explored various drills and techniques to strengthen our wrists, shoulders and upper body overall. Sabrina designed four stations to work on that in pairs. And in the end, with the help of Sabrina everyone did a proper handstand by the wall!
Last dinner together. Day 6 of the retreat, Thursday, 16th of May So many things happened during the last week together. Days filled with nature, yoga practice, smiles, mountains, delicious veggie food, beautiful company, space for ourselves, to unwind, relax and recharge. For our last morning together I created a yoga session on gratitude where we focused on opening our chest and shoulders. We also explored how to safely and sustainably practice backbends. Afterwards Sabrina shared with us more about gratitude and we all wrote down 10 things we are feeling grateful for. Not only our chests were open, but hearts as well. Last breakfast together. Swimming pool. And our last lunch together. Pick up from the Olive Branch and drop off at the airport. Hugs. Farewells. Until next time.
Afterword: Gratefulness within Feeling grateful to each and every one who was part of this Yoga and Hiking retreat Feeling grateful for these strong women. Women who uplifted and empowered each other. Feeling grateful for their trust. For their smiley eyes after all those yoga sessions. And a contagious positive energy. Feeling grateful for lovely and knowledgeable Sabrina joining and co-teaching with me during this retreat. Grateful that she beautifully held space for the others to feel welcomed and looked after. Feeling grateful for my collaboration with Mel from the Olive Branch Guesthouse, who took care of all of us so well. Grateful for each and every one of the team who works at the Olive Branch and for the chef Noan who created amazing and delicious vegan dishes during the retreat! Feeling grateful for the inspiration and motivation to continue visualizing my dreams. To continue sharing what I am passionate about. And to continue uniting strong, beautiful, inspirational people together in my dear, dear Spain. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. With love, Ieva Luna