Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ojai, Moon Village

Chris chose Ojai. We were in bed looking at Southern California on Google Maps for a Valentine's weekend destination and were thinking of going to Santa Barbara when he suddenly came up with Ojai. We wanted somewhere close enough to the beach for Chris to get in a surf session and far enough away from the beach that it wouldn't be all surf all day (not on Valentine's weekend, you guys) and Ojai fit the description: a "village" close to Ventura Beach but nestled in a green valley surrounded by mountains.
We stayed downtown, lodging we found through airbnb. Our hostess was a charming woman named Liz, a former salon owner who converted the back of her house into a private, feng-shui studio with a zen patio where she had a bottle of Shiraz waiting for us when we arrived and made us a light vegan breakfast every morning. It was in the privacy of the studio where I had a reflexology massage and a Reiki treatment and blissed out for two uninterrupted hours.
Ojai is known for being a spiritual town. It's a popular destination for those who want to breathe the fresh mountain air and relish in the quiet and calm of a little town with a seemingly magical and serene feel. So on the weekends this tiny town of 8,000 people doubles in size, but not enough to take away from the peaceful atmosphere (even if the steady stream of cars cruising down Ojai Avenue makes it nearly impossible to turn left).
One such quintessential Ojai experience is Meditation Mount, where we took advantage of their Saturday morning meditation walk to clear our minds and be in the present moment. Our mediation guide walked us through the International Garden of Peace, stopping every few feet to contemplate the inscriptions carved into boulders set along the path, inscriptions like Goodwill, Right Human Relations, and Group Endeavors. 
After rejuvenating our spirits with meditation we headed back downtown in search of sneakers because we planned on going on an evening hike in the Topatopa mountains and I had forgotten my sneakers at home, right by the garage door where I had strategically left them. Downtown Ojai is tiny; its shops, restaurants, a park, an elementary school, the post office, the library, and the museum are all on the same street within blocks of each other. We walked around admiring the Spanish architecture, window shopping, and had an impromptu "high-fashion" photo shoot on an oak tree in Libbey Park. You know, the usual...
I found sneakers for $5 at a thrift store. There were four thrift stores all within minutes of each other, which seems like a lot for such a small town, but lends itself perfectly to the hippie, New Age vibe that Ojai is known for. And wouldn't you know it, there was a vegan cafe right across the street. When we walked inside to order we were the only customers at the counter but when we sat down to wait for the food a line formed out the door. I had the jackfruit carnitas tacos with a side salad and Chris had the Reuben with pumpkin soup. The food was delicious! We were so happy with our meal that we ordered food to-go the next day for the drive back to San Diego.
Later, wearing my "new" shoes, we went on a moderately challenging three mile hike on the Cozy Dell Trail in the Topatopa mountains of the Los Padres National Forest. The climb up was steep and immediate but the oak trees along the lush trail protected us from the heat of the sun and within an hour we were at the top of a ridge with a panoramic view of the Ojai Valley below us and mountain peaks at our sides. 
The original inhabitants of Ojai Valley are the Chumash Indians who settled in the area at least 12,000 years ago and called it Ahwa’y, which means moon. Hiking in mostly silence on the Cozy Dell Trail surrounded by nature as the sun descended I couldn't help thinking about these ancestral people and their beliefs about the sacredness of the mountains because it's a feeling that I got, too - that tingling you feel in your soul when you realize how small you are compared to the majesty of the earth. A feeling that, for me, is always brimming inside.

After our invigorating hike we were headed back to the studio to get ready for Valentine's dinner when we passed a huge field bursting with yellow wildflowers. Chris parked at the high school and we walked over to what we discovered was the Ojai Meadows Preserve, a former wetland that had been destroyed by construction, the planting of non-native Eucalyptus trees, and plans of becoming a shopping center. Luckily the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy worked hard to get the rights to the land and restored it to its natural habitat, which is now a safe haven for many species, particularly birds. Naturally I totally geeked out over all of it.  
Ojai, you truly have your shit together, no wonder you're so popular. We'll be back. 
Happy weekend everyone! 


Mami said...

Beautiful! Happy you discovered and enjoyed this gem! Hope to visit some day.

coot said...

Muy cool!