It wasn’t set up as a pilgrimage or a life changing adventure, I just wanted to see the pyramids in Teotihuacan, Mexico. The invitation was to join a tour, a retreat, a “power journey,” and that resonated deeply. What I didn’t know at the time was that my intuition recognized the depth of the opportunity long before my mind caught up with reality. Those four days changed my life and although originally it seemed impossible, I dared to follow my travel dream. I’ll write about that trip more in the coming weeks as part of my August Blogging Challenge but first let’s not look past the elephant in the room.
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None of us knows what may happen when we leave our routine bubbles, especially in these Covid 19 (C-19) times. But I’ve confirmed that with transformative travel as the goal, it can be done safely by paying attention to current scientific recommendations and being vigilant about precautions like washing hands, using sanitizer, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds, especially in enclosed spaces. (Read more about that in my earlier post about taking a driving vacation this year.)
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I found a graphic that helps visualize how to take care of yourself during these C-19 times and reap the benefits of getting out of your living space responsibly. It’s from a group of,  “Experienced medicine, public health, and infection prevention experts helping private businesses safely reopen and intelligently resume operations after COVID-19 closures and restrictions.” Check out their bona fides here.

.Covid Risk Assessment Graphic

How to set up your own transformative travel

There are thousands of retreat centers, yoga sojourns, and pilgrimage treks around the world. Most are delayed for the time being or are being reconfigured to deal with the new health restrictions. In the meantime why not set up your own?

  • Identify what your goal is. Are you looking for health benefits, quiet time away from daily distractions, rest and time to contemplate?
  • Pick your location carefully No one can tell you what the most powerful site is for transformative travel. It’s personal. For the sake of example, Santa Fe New Mexico called to me last fall. I had been there briefly but never had the chance to go deep. On this trip I attended a conference and stayed in the center of town at La Fonda, a plush, historic hotel on the central square. The location gave me the freedom to wander, window shop and savor the architecture.

After flying into a city, taking shuttles or ride shares, then being dropped off at my hotel leaves me feeling un-moored, especially when it’s a new destination. I settle in then take a walk in circles for blocks around my lodging. No matter how much preparation or research I’ve already done, the stroll offers neighborhood insights and is grounding through the senses too. I note the sounds, the temperature, smells of food or industry, the way light falls across facades. Walking in circles keeps me from getting lost too.

I’ve always loved Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings and was intrigued about her life. In Santa Fe I picked up a book about her and it cemented my plan to visit the artist’s home at Abiqui and arranged to stay overnight at Ghost Ranch, where she had spent warmer months.

“My painting is what I have for what the world gives to me.” Georgia O’Keefe 1940

  • How to get there?

It may not be practical or advisable to fly at the moment but is possible and not necessarily dangerous health wise. Look at which airlines are doing the best to protect passengers and their staff on flights. Which are enforcing masks, food service, bathroom break strategies? At this point American Airlines is back to crowding as many people on their flights as pre-Covid times.

Sonia Marsh of Holden Safari’s, just returned from Europe and shared this on Facebook: “I was on a Boeing 777 that can hold about 320 passengers, and … we were only 40 or so passengers. Apparently they were only three in business class. I spoke with the Air France flight attendant who said that on a regular flight, that’s full, all the passengers in coach basically pay for the fuel costs of the flight, and the business class passengers make up the profit.”

So, it’s easy to see why airlines are trying to pack passengers back into seats. Look for reviews of the various airlines.

Georgia's home at Abiqui, New Mexico

Georgia’s home at Abiqui, New Mexico

I would consider train travel if that were the most efficient way to go and perhaps spring to have a private car for over night travel. My preferred travel method at the moment is to drive. Cars can be rented, vans as well. As I’m concerned about my carbon footprint and travel during C-19, I would most likely drive my hybrid car or rent one.

From Santa Fe, I climbed into a small shuttle that took me swiftly out of town and onto the vast Ghost Ranch property.

  • Get help with planning your dream travel  I firmly believe in getting assistance, having a guide or following a tried itinerary but that’s not always possible or affordable. It shouldn’t keep you from going. Read what you can about a place. There are many planning apps for selecting a destination. Look for a place that calls to you.
  • Set the Stage for a Transformative Travel Experience

Georgia O’Keefe rebuilt an old adobe building on a bluff outside of Ghost Ranch as a refuge during the deeply cold and snowy winters. There are tours of the home and I joined a curator’s small group. At that point I’d turned over the experience to a garrulous and protective guide. I was able to marvel at Georgia’s sense of interior design and listened to clues about how she lived and worked in the space. It was magical to stand where she stood before her canvases; to stand next to the clay pieces she created later in life; to step into the kitchen where she drank her morning tea. But I couldn’t settle anywhere to soak it up and ruminate. It wasn’t allowed due to careful preservation restrictions. I honored that and didn’t push against the boundaries.

The next night I checked into Ghost Ranch and the physical beauty of the place moved me beyond expectations.

  • Recognize what triggers your soul

Each of us know what thrills our hearts. It can be a perfectly presented meal, a rendezvous with a beloved, standing before a thundering waterfall.

Seeing the giant trees at Ghost Ranch moved my heart. I learned later that there’s a hanging tree outside the small cabin Georgia first stayed in before taking over a house on the outer reaches of the ranch. A group of murderous cattle rustlers met justice there long before she arrived. Georgia would walk the property for hours, strolling with a long stick to knock snakes out of the way.

I determined to get up before dawn and walk until breakfast. The light changed in waves. One hit a cliff then crossed to warm an icy stream. I watched ringlets of steam reach above the shallows and noticed a mountain lions imprint in the mud.

There are several sacred sites at the ranch. A labyrinth called to me and I walked the course after waiting for an earlier guest to complete his trek. There wasn’t time to climb to the famous pinnacle lookout but I noticed how Pedernal Mountain shifted from gray to purples as it rose in silhouette across the valley.

O’Keefe believed that if she painted Pedernal Mountain enough times that God would give it to her.

I guess it worked. Her ashes were placed there in a secret spot.

Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch a perfect transformative travel destination for nature lovers.

Box Canyon at Ghost Ranch a perfect transformative travel destination for nature lovers

Surrender

I had no expectations for the walk to become the best transformative travel experience of my time in New Mexico. That land and light moved me to deep silence. I hadn’t realized how much so until I walked into the dining hall. There I couldn’t speak to anyone but took a table by myself to savor the meditative space.

I’d hoped for something similar when I went to Mt. Shasta for my fiftieth birthday. There was an underground cavern, trails to walk and a sweet town to explore but I never connected deeply to what I’d been told is something of a power center. Perhaps that retreat needed a knowledgeable guide to point the way.

Georgia O'Keefe quote

Transformative travel can be like that. It catches you off guard or it doesn’t. Like the trickster raven of the Tlingit People in SE Alaska. You just never know what will happen or how your travel dream will materialize. For me that’s part of the thrill. While I returned home from Mt. Shasta well rested, I didn’t feel transformed. In retrospect I see that there I had much more work to do before finding a new beginning.

More about that to come as I continue the challenge to write a blog post each day in August. I’d love to know what your transformative travel dreams are and how they worked out.

Sunrise bluff at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

O'Keefe details in Abiqui, New Mexico