Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was in Tulum, Mexico, last week with the hot yoga chicks who were trying to talk me into doing this Mayan sweat-lodge thing.

“You crawl into this little stone igloo and then they throw these super hot rocks into a pit and throw water on it,” one says. “It gets really hot and you stay in there for like an hour or more.”

“Yeah, and then you chant and pray and sing, but I don’t want to give it away,” says the other. “But it’s a-MAZE-zing.”

They both squeal and smile wide and squeeze my hands tight, their eyes sparking with the thought of another adventure – it’s a look I’ve seen many times before. It’s usually a look I equate with a red flag or maybe a red light.

I ponder the idea of being trapped in some dark, hot, oven, clawing for the front door just like those people in Arizona who died and go, “Let me think about that for a second. No. Definitely not something I’m interested in.”

The Temescal was one of many excursions the girls had planned for us during our weeklong journey to Tulum for a yoga and Synergy retreat. These are my girls, my sisters, my friends for life who I went to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training with in Honolulu in 2007. They are young, they are beautiful, and they embrace life and all that they do with so much passion and joie de vivre that I’m tempted to use French even though I don’t speak it. Suffice it to say since we met, they are what keeps me connected to my health, wellness and my youth despite my best attempts to let go of it.

So I’m not at all surprised when, from the moment we arrive at Tulum, there are all these naked people on peyote from the property next door doing yoga on the beach, the sound of drumming as constant as the crashing waves. Seeing all those body parts flapping in the breeze gave an entirely new meaning to the word “view.”

We started each day with an 8 a.m. Bikram Yoga class in a palappa on the beach overlooking the ocean. The water on the Yucatan Peninsula such a deep, delicious shade of turquoise that sight alone doesn’t feel adequate enough to process it. You want to eat it or smell it or rub it all over you or hear what it would say – not the water, per se, but its color. There is something about that kind of intrinsic beauty that really does startle you into being the moment no matter how severe your case of ADD really is.

It’s impossible not to get sucked into the magic that was promised us in the retreat brochure, even if the yoga teacher couldn’t resist the urge to say things like, “focus on one spot in front of you and try not to be distracted by the naked guy on the beach doing headstand splits,” in the middle of class.

After yoga, we’d go straight into the ocean for a quick dip before breakfast. There is nothing like floating in salt water immediately after you exercise to give your muscles a little hug and kiss.

The really amusing thing, though, was seeing what happens when groups of people from the mountains come to the beach to relax and then end up having all these issues because of the shock on your system from going to the tropics. First everyone was constipated and then two days later they had diarrhea, with ongoing reports of what was going on with everyone’s bowels. There were the mosquito bites and the sunburns and two swollen eyeballs on account of an allergic reaction to touching a mango. There was the occasional crab that paid a visit to our room (I’m talking big suckers – these guys had eyeballs) and one iguana that found a nice spot to sun itself on our bookshelf.

Yes, these are the perils of travel, but the rewards always far outweigh these relatively mild discomforts of being a little bit outside your comfort zone.

Like swimming through the Cenotes for example, a labyrinth of fresh-water caves that looked like something you’d see at a Disney theme park, only it was real. I followed Amanda through the maze, her long blonde hair trailing behind her like a mermaid. I followed her blindly even if that voice was in my head going, “What if I smack my head on a rock? What if we get lost? What if we come to a spot that’s too deep to come up for air? What if one of those bats flies smack dab into my forehead?” I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Scare yourself a little bit every day.”

We also visited the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, which, while having been somewhat sterilized in becoming a major tourist attraction, remains a tangible glimpse of an ancient civilization with wisdom so acute it’s haunting. Especially when you begin to ponder the possibility that we too could disappear, leaving behind only the rubble of our greatest cities for future generations to ponder. Despite the tour buses and the crowds there is an energy there that makes the hair on your arms stand up, making its presence known, even to a kid like me who was raised by Atheist Jews and has nothing in the way of spiritual guidance or training.

Which brings us back to the beginning of our story, the Temescal. If you would’ve told me I would have chanted in the dark, clapping my hands and singing to the top of my lungs praying for my future child I never would have believed you.

But like the shrink likes to say at the top of the hour, “Time’s up.” That’s a story we’ll have to save for next week.