I know what it feels like to be up early in the morning, the way the buildings are colder and stronger, the way the steam dances out of the street and off the chimneys of roofs so pure and innocent, untouched by the pollution of the day’s bullshit and congestion. I love that peaceful handoff, the glowing clock of night dimmed and sleepy passing on time to the sunrise of day. The bar flies finishing the last swig of beer, drunkenly caught between yesterday and today, already smelling of tomorrow’s disasters, hazily lost in this seamless transition that has been happening for an eternity. How small we are. How worried we get around the details of our seconds and the price of the ground we stand on. Just look at the sunrise and you will feel like one lucky soul in a moment that is already gone, floating on a place we call earth, that little blue dot among a whole universe of wonder…
Of all the activities Juma Lodge provides, my favorite was the jungle walk, a serious hike through the Amazon Rainforest. The breathtaking flora and fauna, the steamy nature of the air around you, the wild views of dense tropical rainforest reaching stories high above your head to the fallen leaves under your feet. It was – in one word – BEAUTIFUL. Leaving the lodge by boat, we ventured to a new part of this dense forest. I loved when our boat would enter into the tree canopies; it was like entering a magical world full of natural secrets. We started by clearing the path through the jungle with a machete, then learned how to climb Acai Trees like the natives by making rope out of leaves, how to communicate far distances with a stick and a tree, that Babasu Gongoin (beetle larvae) tastes just like coconuts (and according to our guide, Bill Gates loved them on his walking tour!), and how to separate palm leaves in order to fold them into forest crowns. Not your typical Monday activities in Manhattan!
After a refreshing swim at the end of our hike (remember it’s like 100000% humidity) we had lunch cooked over an open flame and took a dip to cool off. That evening we went fishing for piranhas which later became part of our family style meal. The journey to get here, the monkeys, and being forced to disconnect from the rest of the world will put this place, deep in the heart of the Amazon, forever deep in mine.
and FYI- Manaus is only a 5 hour flight from Miami, what adventure you take from there is up to you!
All the greatest adventures require a great journey to reach them. This would be the third time, after Safari and Patagonia, I have dedicated over a day just in travel to reach a destination… but it is worth every transfer. Two flights, two buses and two boats and halfway through there, we said goodbye to WiFi and cell service. After passing pink dolphins, and navigating through large trees jutting out of the water, we motored up to the Juma Lodge just as the sun was setting. Being so far removed from modern civilization, we had ventured into an unknown world.
On Juma Lake in the Amazon River, we climbed the stairs to our treehouse bungalows. Our first night spent in the rainforest, we lay on the deck looking up at the night sky, almost bursting with stars of every size and color. We started to live by nature’s standard – it was such a funny thing, the moment we took away the every day technologies, we were all in bed by 10pm and up at 7. And what a wake-up call it was. Each morning we would hear a “knock” on our door, up and down all the cabanas, only to find a monkey waiting outside, climbing up your limbs to be cradled in your arms or sit on your shoulders. It was an awesome experience. We would swing in hammocks on the deck, suspended high above the waters below, and relish in a afternoon thunderstorm that brought a bit of relief from the humidity.
I think back on this experience and I can’t believe it lives in my memories. To see a part of the world so untouched, still so mysterious, and so influential in our modern day medicines and sciences, it almost felt spiritual, like we were sleeping close to ancient gods and all they could do was smile down upon us.
Where the two rivers meet – the above image illustrates the Rio Negro (black water) and the caramel-colored Amazon River flowing side by side but not mixing due to the different makeup and temperatures of the two rivers. This was the last Instagram I got out before we lost service!
I remember that photograph. It was instantly synonymous with American style, American royalty, and that fairytale wedding to Prince Charming. I never forgot that image, the beauty of the moment, the elegance and intimacy of the chosen venue. Such an interesting choice to make for such a famous last name. Fast forward nearly 18 years later, and I’m standing on the steps of the First African Baptist Church on Cumberland Island thinking about all the dreams that one photograph gave me as a child. I remember reading about how the guests stayed at the Greyfield Inn where the reception was held but as time passed these little details faded away, now those faded details are a part of my very personal memories. Cumberland became more than a dream, but a cherished experience.
The day is full of delight with the kind of youthful energy and discovery you find in a F. Scott Fitzgerald book. We went on hour long hikes, took bike rides to old cemeteries and rode around horses grazing beneath the ruins of the Dungeness mansion. We rode for hours down the seashore without ever seeing another person, finding seashells and chasing horses. One of the most charming rituals of the Inn is how they make their guests picnic baskets for lunch everyday you can take with you on your private adventures. On our second morning we rode with the house naturalist on a tour of the island where we visited that famous church, saw the house where President Jimmy Carter ate at multiple times, and discovered Plum Plantation which took my breath away. The history and nature, preservation and privateness is so far beyond anything I have ever experienced that I can only describe this stretch of land, twice the size of Manhattan, as magical.
If you ever need to find that corner of the world where things just are… where you can sit in the natural silence of the world alone and breathe in the sunlight, taste the salt of the sea and feel that life is just simply beautiful… then come to Cumberland Island. My heart will be there waiting for you.
While we were in California last year, spending the day photographing Lake Tahoe with our friends, Adam Katseff and his wife Amy, they told us about the Greyfield Inn…the magical place they stayed on their honeymoon, one that they knew I would LOVE (turned out to be a major understatement). I knew the name sounded familiar, and once they mentioned it was on Cumberland Island, it all came back to me…an enchanting wedding, an all-American couple…but more on that tomorrow…
After hearing about it, I knew I had to see Greyfield Inn for myself and with the trip down to visit SCAD, it was the perfect opportunity. I’m an extremely visual person and I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you that I quite often dream about the way life looked “back then”. I think walking through the doors of Greyfield will be as close as I will ever get to knowing the way it might have actually looked…
You leave your car on Amelia Island and Mitti, one of the four owners and inheritors of Greyfield and the Carnegie property, takes you by boat to Cumberland Island. Walking up from the dock the giant, old live oaks seem to wave at you with their long fingers of Spanish moss, diffusing the afternoon sun into a sparkling haze underneath their centuries-old canopy. Then, from behind the trees you catch the first glimpse of the four story white mansion they call Greyfield. Built in 1900 as a wedding gift to the Carnegie’s daughter, Margaret, this home is still furnished with many of the original pieces of that era but with exceptional modern day comforts (ummm…air-conditioning). As you walk up the grand staircase to the second floor porch lined with rocking chairs and swinging daybeds, you regret how short your stay is. Now, up in the canopy of live oaks, you overlook the property of white picketed fences and fields of grazing wild horses and as they offer you organic rosemary lemonade, if you’re like me, you think you’ve died and gone to heaven.
The house, grand as it is, still holds a very sweet intimacy. At night, sitting out by the waterway looking back on her, she stands a soft pearly white in the light of the moon, framed by Spanish moss draped trees with a golden light glowing out of every window, so warm and welcoming you would swear the evening was meant just for you. The charm extends to the inside with its historic clawfoot bathtubs, immaculate upkeep, full service bar, organic meals, classic high quality southern linens and L’Occitane toiletries. Every evening, men in dinner jackets and ladies in our sweet southern dresses snack on hors d’oeuvres and classic Southern cocktails (recipe for my favorite below!), awaiting a dinner bell around 7:30 where we all move into the formal dining room for that night’s seasonal meal which at times can harvest ingredients from Greyfield’s own impressive garden.
I know on busy New York days or times when I’m caught in a blizzard, I will think back on this memory and my soul will fill with the warmth of these sunny afternoons, lost on Cumberland Island in a dream called Greyfield…