Rock Island, Tennessee
Wooooowwweeee, Tennessee you did not disappoint. In fact, I am a little heartbroken that you were only a pit stop on our journey, but I will be back at some point. Steven and I made our way down to Rock Island State Park just to the right of McMinnville to stay for a few days during the week before driving to North Carolina to see a friend. We were recommended Rock Island State Park by a couple that we had met in Kentucky while we were staying at Land Between the Lakes. We were able to stay in the tent camping area of the park because Tennessee state parks provide water and electric at each of their campsites. We scored with a restroom/shower house facility right next to us and were able to stay for $35/night. Do not mistake me though, I do love a good squat in the trees and washing in the lakes. It was perfect to get grounded again in nature after spending some time in the city of Louisville. Rock Island was filled with short, breathtaking hikes right next to the Great Falls Dam that lay above the Caney Fork Gorge.
Our first night we settled in with a fire and some freshly made dinner. We retired to bed early to prepare for hiking in the morning. I was so excited because we hadn’t gone hiking yet and it is probably one of my favorite ways to spend time outside. I get so connected to my inner worlds as I navigate through the timber with a keen eye and sharp awareness. It feels like my body is being vibrationally attuned to the liveliness that surrounds me. As my brain settles into the present moment and I let go of expectation, all of the wonders in nature present themselves to me. Our first trail that we hiked was called Blue Hole Trail and it was a half mile climb down a steep hill that drops off into the gorge. We crossed through the water and onto rocks as we made our way down. If you do not like to get wet, then this trail is not for you! It was stunning, there were many cascades that rippled down the rocks and a whole deck of water trickling off the steep edges. The roaring waterfalls were near the top of the trail, but could not be seen until you made your way down and out of the tall trees. As we made our way to the end of the trail, we were met with the most beautiful setting. Waterfalls were pouring over the rocks’ edge all along the gorge with tapering trees surrounding the water. I looked back at Steven and stated “this is a magical mermaid land; I can feel the essence of mermaids and fairies living here.” Afterwards, we headed to Eagle Trail, a quick 1.4-mile trail that runs from Blue Hole picnic area to another picnic area near the swim beach. Steven and I had a good time learning the names of the different trees that lay in the forest and were surprised to find out that Tennessee has one of the most assorted forests when it comes to tree diversity. We listened to the distant waterfalls crashing into the rocks and the sparce rustling of leaves from squirrels running up and down the trees. We finished off the day scoping out where we would be hiking next.
We decided on Collins River Nature Trail, a 3-mile loop along the outer edge of the Collin’s River Peninsula. The following day we rose out of bed early with the whole day to look forward to. Steven and I started the day with a guided meditation that I lead him through. I wanted to share some of the meditation techniques that I had found in practicing Kriya Yoga. We then serendipitously met our neighbors that morning, who must have shown up in the middle of the night as their spot was vacant when I had gone to sleep. They told us that they were going to the Isha Institute, a world-class yoga center featuring hatha yoga, holistic ayurvedic medicine and meditation. The yoga center was built in McMinnville, Tennessee and was founded by Sadhguru, a mystic who has been traveling around the United States on a motorcycle exploring Native American healing and spirituality. I was preparing to spend some time stretching and performing light yoga to loosen up my glutes and hips for the trails, but our neighbors thought that I must be attending the workshop at the yoga center when I asked what their plans were for the day. I was intrigued with the idea of the yoga center and couldn’t believe we were so unknowingly close to such a popular, spiritual hotspot in the United States. I definitely took this as a sign from the universe to keep following the divine bunny tracks that have been presented before me in the last couple of months.
Right before I left for our trip, I was given a going away present by my dear yoga teacher, Craig, at Lava Yoga in Lawrence, KS. He gave me the book, The Autobiography of a Yogi, written by Paramahansa Yogananda. This book contains some of the mystic wisdom and philosophies that Yogananda encountered in his search to find a guru. He later became a monk and established his teachings of Kriya Yoga meditation in the western hemisphere. His book is profound and enlightening, I personally find inspiration and joy from the book as I am deeply interested in the presence of eastern philosophy and the ways in which its influence could transform some of our western ideologies. I haven’t finished the book yet, but I have begun practicing some Kriya Yoga techniques that I was sharing with Steven that morning. Not moments later, I run into a couple who thinks that my main intent on staying at Rock Island State Park is to go to this yoga center founded by an Indian guru (Sadhguru) who is teaching some of the principles found in Kriya Yoga meditation practices. I instantly felt this inner calling to attend the yoga center. I love the way in which the divine unfolds the interconnectedness of the world through synchronicities so destined to be that you just know.
I really wanted to go to the yoga center but I knew that we were tight on time and hadn’t planned to have that in our itinerary. Not moments later our friend called from North Carolina. He had called to figure out the logistics as we would be arriving at his house in the next day or so. I still had this inkling of hope inside of me as I interrupted Steven on the phone and called out “don’t forget to tell him that we are trying to go to a yoga center before we leave here!” Steven replied “stop talking!” I quickly shut down and became enraged with anger. First off, because I really wanted to go to the yoga center and thought that would be such a cool experience. Secondly, I thought to myself “if I were anyone else then he wouldn’t have spoken to them that way.” I got really sad about this as I started reflecting on some of the ways in which I had been talking to Steven as well. There were many times that I spoke to him in a way that I would not speak to anyone else. So why does he deserve that? He doesn’t! I had been short, demanding, irritable and frustrated towards him over things that were entirely out of his control. It is so easy to use others as our punching bag so that we avoid looking at our own shame and guilt of our behaviors and words. We were finally getting to the point in our trip where we were settling in to the comfort and chaos of spending a ton of time together. It is easy to respect each other when you aren’t spending every moment of everyday together. It is a little harder when that person becomes like family and all those maladaptive ways of coping and communicating with one another surface. I am sharing this part of our story in hopes that you, the reader, understand that there is bliss, love and wonder in traveling with your partner and there is also pain, confusion, and limiting beliefs that arise in the face of the stress and planning that traveling requires. Traveling has opened my heart in so many ways, and some of those parts have made me painfully aware of my shadow.
We spent most of that day spending time with ourselves and working on our own stuff for our businesses as a way to cool down from the heated experiences we had faced in the morning. It is a terribly uncomfortable feeling to be in such beautiful places and want to play and frolic, but feeling hindered by your emotional body. In the afternoon, our new neighbors across the road from us had arrived from Florida. They were a small hippie family with a packed up white van. Krystal was a down-to-earth mama with curly hair, a few wrapped up dreads, and some big, beautiful, stone plugs in her ears. I could have talked to her for hours, we had similar interests, core values, and an inner drive to keep growing. Kevin had a kind and comforting energy and was very attentive to his son’s explorative nature, I can tell he is a good teacher because he is a good listener and an ardent observer. Their son, “Ju Ju” or Jayden, was the most adorable 5-year-old with a matching haircut to his dad; shaved half of the head with the rest of the hair at shoulder length. As soon as they got out of their van he wanted to come over and say hello to the dogs. We sparked up conversation with them instantly and each of us shared our recent traveling experiences. It is pretty easy to tell between those who travel or camp often and those who are on their family vacations. Their presence lightened the mood of our day and we were able to find peace and pack up our stuff to hit the 3-mile trail that we had been planning to hike that day.
After the hike, our spirits had lifted and Steven and I were back in harmony with one another. We made dinner and hung out with the little family that we had met earlier in the day. The next morning, we rose early to run the 3-mile trail that we had hiked with the dogs the previous day. I love working out before traveling in the car because it makes my body more limber before sitting for an extended period of time. I am grateful for this period of time; it has given me a bird’s eye perspective of my life and purpose and also mirrored to me the things that I still need to continue to work on. Until next time, Tennessee.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
We drove from Tennessee to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to visit Chief Mojo, a friend that we met at a festival back in 2015 at Electric Forest. Funny thing is that Electric Forest 2015 is one of the first experiences that I had with Steven, and where we initially fell in love with each other. Chief Mojo, better known as Erick or as I have come to find out ‘Sharky,’ is an indigenous Mexican with long black hair and bald sides of the head to compliment a stellar mohawk. Chief Mojo got his nickname from Steven, who was listening to a song called LA woman by The Doors (one of his favorite bands) with lyrics that sing: ‘It is the mojo rising.’ Steven thought that Erick looked like the chief of a tribe with his heritage, aesthetic and character so he was given the full name of Chief Mojo Rising. Which was later shortened to Chief Mojo. Chief Mojo is a kind, loving and conscious caregiver.
The moment we stepped foot at his door we were met with his fantastic hospitality. He quickly began assisting Steven with cooking dinner, stating that “mi casa es tú casa. You can utilize the washer/dryer and we have a shower too if you need it.” He pulled out a couple of bottles of wine and dished a glass out to everyone. I sat at the table and introduced myself to his partner, Karen, who he is living with in their new house. Karen is a professional photographer and mostly shoots weddings, but is now opening up for boudoir. She is full of life and has a firey, big personality, full of love and compassion for others. She has an ability to really see the big picture with a big heart and eyes of empathy. Karen and Chief Mojo are both immigrants from Mexico, but from two entirely different parts. Karen is from Acapulco, Mexico and Chief Mojo is from Tamaulipas, Mexico. Karen has a twin sister and grew up in the city, a more privileged part of Mexico, before her parents decided to come to the United States. Her parents entered the United States with false paperwork. When Karen’s parents came to the United States, she and her sister moved to the villages where her extended family was living. Karen indicated that the village was more primitive and would be considered 3rd world living. She mentioned that there was only one phone in the village, so when she got a phone call from her parents there was a microphone that would shout out her name to come to the store to answer the phone. Karen and her sister were being taken care of by their grandma who was also raising her cousins. Karen stated that her cousins took some time to accept and warm up to her and her sister because they were considered “city children” and were raised with different opportunities. She explained that by the time she left the village she had become “one of them.”
Karen and her sister were 8 years old when a man arrived and said that it was time to go, these men are called coyotes. Coyotes are the men who help families cross the border. Karen said that she did not have time to say goodbye to her grandma or extended family and had to leave in that moment. When I asked her if she was super sad or heartbroken that she had to leave, she replied “I wasn’t, I was excited to see my parents again. It was a journey and there was so much to take in and experience. I felt safe and cared for the whole time and we were never without food or water.” Karen did mention the freezing nights in the desert mixed with the heat of the day becoming taxing on her body. She stated “I had to wear sweats and hoodies during the heat of the day to prepare for the freezing temperatures in the night.” I asked Karen what it felt like to be reunited with her family after not seeing them for so long. She replied “I think my parents were in shock and feeling guilty when they saw my sister and I because we showed up skinny, had burnt faces and cracked lips. They didn’t cross the border the way that we had to.”
I was amused and in disbelief that I was sitting in front of someone that had gone through great lengths to be able to have basic human rights, access to resources, greater civil order and more opportunities for financial freedom. Something that I have been gifted and taken for granted as this privilege is all that I have ever known. I had so many questions that I wanted to ask, but I also was trying to digest the story that had presented itself to me. I’ve only come into contact with documentaries about people crossing the border, I had never actually met someone who had done it. I asked Karen how she was able to go to public school, if she would ever be able to see her extended family again, and if she was scared of being deported. Karen explained to me that you do not need documents to attend public school so she was in classes as soon as the next school year began. She stated that her dream is to be able to go back to Mexico and see her family and to be able to travel to other countries and be able to come back to her home. Karen mentioned that when Obama was in presidency, he created a program called DACA for immigrant children like her, who had crossed the borders to be reunited with their families and who had not gotten in any legal trouble during their stay here. This grants her the ability to have documents here in the United States that allow her to buy a house, a car, or have a credentialed business. When Trump went into presidency, he put the DACA program on hold, so many Latinos have been stripped of their ability to legally maintain their financial income, apply for housing, etc. It makes me so sad to see the way in which these people are treated like second-class citizens, as if they are not real human beings with worth, value, and feelings. They are the backbone of America; this is their land and we won’t even allow them to touch foot in “our” dirt.
I believe Karen has been granted divine grace throughout her life and is a wise, old soul. She understands the limitations that have been innately put on her life and decides to live her life to the fullest anyways. She does not get stuck on the ‘what could have been’ or ‘how can I fit in.’ She honors her roots, her culture, her ancestors and has found her place in the melting pot that we call the United States. Karen talked about the ways in which others who have come from the same background as her have struggled. They have lost sight of their roots and tried to mold into “white or privileged” culture and been spit back out. Some come with a dream and expectations that will never be fulfilled because they are not able to go to college or get a job without a degree from a university. They become depressed and their limitations become the evil that strips them of their happiness. Karen and her sister are creative and have used those talents to become their own boss. They have fully taken advantage of the opportunities that have been presented in their life and are able to see and embody the happiness and well-being that can be felt by all who align with their purpose and allow themselves to keep growing and be GREAT.
Chief Mojo had not met his mother until he was the age of 8, when he crossed the border with false paperwork. Chief Mojo was raised by his grandmother until he crossed the border, he shared that his mother and him had to learn how to co-exist with one another after not spending the first years of his life together. He mentioned that they did not see eye to eye or get along with each other when he was younger. He stated that it wasn’t until he got older that he began to respect his mother more. Chief Mojo said “now my mother is a saint in my eyes and I respect her so much. She was so strong and brave for making the sacrifice and decision to leave me after I was born to create a better life for the both of us.” Chief Mojo is not eligible for the DACA program that Karen was able to utilize because he used false paperwork and got into legal trouble a few years back. Like Karen, he utilized the opportunity to have a career doing something that he loved. Chief Mojo runs a remodeling company and turns houses into works of art. He stated “I love to work with my hands and be on the move.”
Our first night with Chief Mojo and Karen we made some fire tacos with ingredients we had in the car and were tickled to find out that they had a mortar and pestle. Chief Mojo showed Steven how to make guacamole in the mortar and pestle and stated that it is called a ‘molcajete’ in Spanish. Molcajete’s are the Mexican version of the mortar and pestle and are made from volcanic stone to grind ingredients, commonly salsa. Grinding the food releases more aromas and flavor from the items rather than merely chopping it up in the blender. It also gives the food a slightly different texture than blenders and I believe that it makes it tastier because your efforts were put into the food. No pain no gain, right? We spent the rest of the evening deep in conversation. It was such a cool experience to have met someone, but not really know them or their lifestyle until you actually go and stay in their home with them. Steven and I got pretty lucky to have met some awesome people with such a rich cultural background.
The following day Chief Mojo and Steven headed into town to work out together and then pick up a mocaljete at the Mexican store right down the road from the house. When Steven came back, I could see the excitement in his eyes, he was elated to have found the pestle and mortar he had been wanting for the last couple of months. Later that day, we made our way up to western North Carolina in the Appalachian Mountains to visit the Pisgah-Cherokee National Forest. We drove a good way up the mountain, which was breathtaking, so the climb up was short and we were quickly met with sublime views. We arrived in the late afternoon and were treated to an overcast, making the green foliage and trees pop against the light gray skies with running fields of flowers. Mountains circled around us, creating an infinite view of distant rock and trees. It felt like there was nothing but nature to breathe in and out. I was encapsulated by the forests as we walked through them to reach the top. When the sun started to set, the mountains became tinted with a dark blue shade that appeared to almost mist off the tips, rubbing away the sharp edges of the mountains. Our dogs were able to come with us and enjoyed the exercise and freedom to roam with little distraction and lots of new smells. Jazzy was ripping through the fields and rolling her back into the grass with her mouth open and tongue hanging out. I don’t think a dog can express more genuine joy than that! As we made our way back down the mountain, we had built up a serious hunger. We decided to go out for some dinner at a restaurant that Karen had recommended to us. She stated that they had amazing fish and we were eager to try it out. Unfortunately, upon our arrival we were informed that they were no longer serving their full menu for the evening. At that point, we didn’t really care what we were having because we were so hungry. We ended up trying a few things and supplemented with coffee and dessert. Karen was an absolute angel and treated us to dinner.
The following day we were able to meet some of Chief Mojo and Karen’s friends. We ended up with a beautiful surprise, one of Chief Mojo’s friends, his name is JP, is a carpenter and had a beautiful piece of finished wood hanging around for later use. It was a combination of some walnut, oak and cherry tree that had been glued together in a chevron design. He was kind enough to let us have the piece for FREE and Steven got the opportunity to complete his own cutting board. Chief Mojo cut the edges off making the most beautiful, long and intricate cutting board we have owned yet. Steven sanded and polished the block to make it sleek and food-safe. I can’t believe the serendipity nor the divine timing. There were so many times when Steven and I wanted to go the easy route and hit up a local shopping mart and just buy a wood cutting board at World Market. But we persevered and held onto our vision of getting a custom crafted cutting board to fit our cooking desires.
Later that day, we went to a local park where a stunning waterfall and creek lay. It was such a cool experience; all of their friends were so nice and relationship oriented. To top it off, they were all interchanging between Spanish and English which I thought was super cool and interesting as it is my dream to become bilingual at some point in my life (I’ve taken about 3 semesters of Spanish). Steven and I pulled out our slack-line and showed their friends how to walk on the it, a couple of them were really into it and spent a while trying to get the hang of it. I told them not to worry as I couldn’t even get up until my third time trying out the slack-line. Our last day with Chief Mojo and Karen we cooked up an awesome brunch with their friends a.k.a. ‘The Crew,’ and spent the day chilling at their house. The brunch featured queso fresco (so delicious) with an egg and chorizo mixture, tortillas, hot sauce, serrano peppers, a pork shoulder and some fruit. These people love their spice!!! It was nice to wind down and prepare for upcoming travels again, we were able to get everything organized, our clothes washed and spend our last moments with Chief Mojo and Karen at their house with their people eating authentic tacos from a shop down the road. They were so accommodating and treated us like we were family, I felt so comfortable being at their home and can’t wait for them to come and visit us!
I am deeply moved and find that there are no coincidences in my life that go unnoticed. I hear the call to practice more Spanish and continue along with my interests in Native American and indigenous cultures, not sure where that path leads, I just know that it makes my life richer. The cutting board and mocajete are a confirmation that the divine is always listening if you will just wait and allow things to unfold as they are supposed to. I feel even more held in community, in openness, in discovery and know that I gained a valuable perspective from this trip. Los Mexicanos tienen corazones fuertes y manos suaves (Mexicans have strong hearts and soft hands). I believe that Mexican’s have a strong heart, they take on some of the hardest jobs that we have in America and yet they are gentle, loving and caring. La familia es lo más importante (family is the most important thing). Mexican’s pierce through the veil of doubt, fear and pain with their love of family and relationships. Without people to share your life, your culture, your love with, then there is not much else to look forward to. Hug those people that you care about real tight because they are the co-creators of your reality. Thank you for taking the time to be here on this journey with me. I love you guys, being able to share my perspective means the world to me. Here’s to more fun, more love, more discovery, more growth and more relationships. Aho!
Next stop -> -> -> Acadia National Park (Maine)