I’m lying on a hammock staring at the vast Pacific Ocean, a sight so bright and beautiful that it makes me want to haul out a word like “cerulean” to describe it.
But I’m trying to quiet my mind, to listen only to the roar of the waves, feel the ocean breezes on my skin, and let it sink in (despite lingering stress, guilt, and my own fish-out-of-waterness) that yes, I’m spending a week in Eden.
It’s late afternoon, and we NextTribers—18 feisty women and our fearless leader, NextTribe founder Jeannie Ralston, have just checked into the Present Moment Retreat on the beach in Troncones, Mexico.
It’s good to be present. Looking around at the group, I’ve forgotten about “aging boldly”—or even aging at all.
Join us for fun, camaraderie, and peace on one of our two beach weeks in Troncones in March 2024.. For more info and to claim your spot, click here.
As assembled, we are Julie, Jenny, Jeannie, Judi, Geri, Cathy, Jan, Tammy, Margaret, Lucie, Laura, Lesley, Amy, Kim, Mac/Kim, Wendy, Bridget, Beth et moi. And like Mouseketeers jumping out to announce our names with a flourish (anyone remember that?), it’s hard not to feel like excited kids.
After a day of non-fun travel, being here is like entering a divinely designed, richly landscaped oasis, with thatched-roofed casitas cradled around a fantasy pool. And did I mention the hot pink bougainvillea? The indigenous materials built into the landscape? Plus, every inch of the place faces the beach, which for miles is secluded and beautiful.
There’s pretty good wifi, too.
Actually, I see our descent on the Present Moment as the opening of a heist movie—a group of disparate (not desperate!) women from all over the country, with different interests, outlooks, strengths and back stories, gather to pull off a mission. We haven’t quite decided on what that is, but it’s unifying and brings out serious teamwork. But it’s the opposite of a sting or a con job—it has something to do with endless self-reinvention, adding joy and more connection to our lives. Of course, for the movie version, we’d have to forget all that and knock over a drug ring or something.
But back to my hammock. Along with the ocean tides, I’m hearing something. It’s the distant cackling of my NextTribe sisters who’ve already gathered at the lagoon-shaped pool and are sharing laughs and margaritas. It’s my new siren song. I put a toe in the water.
Not Apologizing for Leaning In, Paradise Division
My morning starts with gentle yoga on the open-air, beach-facing platform. It’s a session led by Kim, a poetic yoga instructor and beautiful soul who’s part of our NextTribe group. Then there’s a delicious breakfast that seems to be made of stuff plucked from a vine in the previous 12 minutes (plus, pancakes!) then a massage from an inspired young masseuse on staff, then a swim, a walk with new friends on an almost empty beach, and a healthy dinner and Mojito with the group at sunset. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take an afternoon siesta, but really, who has time?
“It’s impossible to be stressed while looking at the sea,” says my friend Jenny, a delightful writer/performer from NYC. And it’s true. I’d forgotten how profound it is to look straight out at the earth’s history and future rolling in and out and be reduced to a teeny speck in nature’s cycle. Paradise present.
And at the Present Moment, it’s also reassuring to have come with two other New York friends, Lesley, a repeat visitor and writer/teacher who forgot to bring her make up and then remembered that she glowed without it, and Laura, a brilliant, funny editor who’s up for anything.
It’s also inspiring to hear new voices and stories. Take Bridget, an Irish crackerjack nurse now living in Indiana-near-Chicago, who broke her leg hiking on this very trip two years ago but stayed on, buoyed by the other women and occasionally letting the waiters carry her around. She’s back, and going to Kenya next.
Many of the women are returnees. The group includes among others, another nurse who now works in tech startups, a director of an assisted living facility, a fashion executive, writers, teachers, a former employment lawyer-now writer, a photographer/event planner/jewelry designer (and our yoga teacher is another designer/hyphenate). We all contain multitudes.
We get to dip in and out of conversations, with different people in different constellations.
During Covid, Jan moved from New York to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Julie and her husband bought an Airstream and are touring the country. We’ve had careers (some several) made and moved homes, raised kids and a few are now grandmothers. Several are long married, some recently widowed or divorced, or like me, long-divorced. We trade stories about the bizarre world of superannuated online dating, always good for a night-time chuckle.
But the focus for me, without getting too woo-woo, is on self-acceptance—getting calmer and stronger, to be better in the world.
Meanwhile, a second Kim, whom we therefore call Mac, from Seattle, a repeat visitor who is a pleasure to talk to because she’s so sharp and clear, tells me, “I’m gay, I don’t identify as either gender. I don’t wear dresses, I’m not interested in jewelry. I’m not like a lot of the women.” Still, she says she deliberately chose not to go on an LGBT vacation, and instead to re-up with this one.
And that’s part of the unexpected beauty of the trip. As the week unfolds, just as we get to pick from a list of activities (meditation, boogie boarding, sunset horseback riding or repatriating baby turtles to the sea, anyone?) or do nothing, we also get to dip in and out of conversations, with different people in different constellations.
This reminds me that here at night, the stars truly do put on a show for free, thank you Carol, no roof necessary. It’s so clear here that you can make out the Big Dipper with the naked eye. This is show time. I don’t miss Netflix one bit.
And under the stars, it’s super-stimulating to talk to women you may otherwise have never met. It’s also a great way to drop preconceived notions that you didn’t know you were holding. I thought Tammy of Sugarland, Texas, might be a country western star and it turns out that she’s a lymphedema specialist who hails from New Jersey.
And yes, while we are a privileged, self-selected group, we’re all resilient and committed women who’ve worked hard and lived through some stuff. Nevertheless, we persist.
A funny thing about “Wisdom.” It’s actually the name of my cabin. This place is planned as a yogi community, and all the casitas have names like “Serenity” and “Renewal.” No numbers. When the waiters come around with drink checks after dinner, we identify ourselves by our cabin names. Although my friend in Renewal keeps forgetting and calling it “Rehab.” Same difference.
Naturally, I think Wisdom is a bit of an eyeroll, but am secretly chuffed about being assigned here. I am Wisdom, hear me roar. The secret to having wisdom is to know you need more.
Nose-to-Nose, an Adventure
It has come to my attention that a good number of my NextTribe mates are strong athletes/adventurers who have hiked, biked, surfed, and sailed the world, sometimes on other NextTribe trips.
I have not.
At the risk of seeming pitiful, it was a big deal for me to sign up for kayaking.
I’ve never done it before, but figure now is the time to try, especially since the outing is guided by a local bird and tree expert. (And watching the birds fly in formation or land in the ocean is thrilling.)
Our guide, Rodrigo, is waiting at the hotel gates. He’s a young(ish) Uruguayan who sports a hearthrobby, son-of-Harrison-Ford vibe. Looking at him, I’m reminded of “Death in Venice”—I’m shocked to think that suddenly I’m a creepy old person, taken by his beauty.
We manage to Lucy-and-Ethel our way into the bay in the kayak.
Turns out that Rodrigo’s knowledge of birds and trees is awesome. But he is rather light on the instruction and/or safety portion of our program. (Helmets? Safety vests? I laugh in your direction!) We basically just get out of the van and gather ourselves into the two-person kayaks, whether we have ever kayaked before or not, and launch into the beautiful bay. Thankfully, Laura and Jan (like Laura, Jan’s a natural athlete and traveler) are old hands at it; Laura shows me briefly how to work the double-bladed paddle (which I call an oar.)
Luckily, I am in the same boat (literally) as Jenny. We somehow decide that she’ll take the back as the “engine” and I’ll be up front “steering”—or is it supposed to be the other way around? We never do figure that out, but we manage to Lucy-and-Ethel our way into the bay, where we discover that two people trying to steer a tandem kayak is a recipe for disaster—and in our case, hysterical laughter.
The bay is calm and beautiful, but we do take on some comic speed bumps in the form of the bullrushes on the shorelines. (Go down, Moses.) And each time our kayak’s snubby nose somehow ends up in them, and I hear the loud, crunching sounds that come with mowing down centuries of Biblical shrubbery, I just scream-laugh. It’s so freeing.
Trying to extend a paddle, the phrase “stick in the mud” gains a new meaning for me.
And Jenny gets us outta there, and we start to do pretty well.
When Rodrigo asks the group whether we want to add a visit to a local Iguana farm (I like the little fellers but didn’t feel a need to go) the rest of the group says yes.
He does caution us that unlike navigating the wide and beautiful bay, the waterway to the farm is much narrower and overgrown, allowing only for one kayak at a time. So, when Jenny and I quickly end up trapped, once again crunching in the ancient vegetation, I think of Baby Moses and dub it “The Birth Canal.”
And when our new friend Wendy, from Orange County, (who is miraculously piloting her kayak alone, although she’s never done it before) bumps up side-by-side with us, our two vessels get stuck together in the canal. We laugh about a twin birth requiring a Caesarian.
I discover that physical adventure does not have to be serious, which opens the door for other explorations.
Thus, I discover that physical adventure does not have to be serious, which opens the door for other explorations. Amen. The farm was sweet, too.
I also laugh at the role reversal that comes with trying new things at this stage in life. Afterward, I text my grown son, ”I just kayaked! It was fun!” as if I were writing to my mom and dad from summer camp.
He responds like a good parent with, “That’s great, Mom! I’m so proud of you!”
As for the heist, we did experience a moment of Bond girl heat at the end. While we were in a convoy of cabs, heading to the airport, Cathy, who had left in the first wave for an earlier flight, discovered when she got to the airport that she was missing her cell phone. We furiously group text each other in the various cabs to coordinate communications with the drivers, the hotel, and Jeannie, who was with Cathy. Suddenly, three of the drivers pull over to the side of the road. Then a cab that had dropped Cathy and crew at the airport comes racing down the road from the other direction and pulls over on the other side.
It’s a sweet metaphor for the amazingly tight teamwork and coordination we achieved as a group.
Leaving her car door open, the driver, carrying the new-found Job-sian treasure in a baggie, sprints over the median to meet a driver from our side in the middle of the road. It couldn’t have been more perfectly choreographed or cinematic if the driver who found the phone had arrived by helicopter, dangling off a ladder. Cathy waits for us at the airport, receives her speedy delivery, makes her flight, and the whole town celebrates.
It’s a sweet metaphor for the amazingly tight teamwork and coordination we achieved as a group while interacting with each other over the course of the week.
As it happens, our seamless teamwork sure comes in handy on the way home, as we group text and discover that a few of us are under the weather. It’s now a week later, and our phones are still lit up. We’re constantly checking in, commiserating about being back home and having to uh, werrrk, and cracking each other up.
There’s much talk of returning next year.
As for me, I’m determined to come back with greater wisdom and a much stronger paddle game.