Last year I decided that instead of going back to the UK for Christmas with my family, I wanted to challenge myself to travel solo. As I’ve only done a few solo trips in my life, I decided that a yoga retreat would be the perfect balance between being out of my comfort zone but also not feeling terrified for my safety. I wanted to go somewhere with sunshine, somewhere near the US and somewhere that was Spanish speaking, so I decided on Costa Rica!
My adventure started with a VERY tearful goodbye to Layla, who spent 8 days at the WAG hotel in San Francisco. I was so nervous dropping her off, but I must say the staff at WAG went above and beyond to calm my fears and ensure she settled in. My flight was at 5:55, so after a few hours of fitful sleep I made it to the airport. At this point I’d pulled myself together and managed to find some excitement for the trip and was busy reading the Gabby Bernstein book Spirit Junkie, which helped me to stay positive in my thoughts during traveling. I’ve been a very fearful flyer since I was a child, but in my adult life i’ve been determined not to let it hold me back. I used to take a combination of drink and sleeping pills to calm me during the flight, but since I stopped drinking alcohol I've been trying to use meditation as a tool to help me manage my racing heart during the flight. The flight went smoothly, including a stop in El Salvador, but when I arrived in San Jose Costa Rica there was a HUGE line for immigration - I’m talking +2.5hr delay! It could have been torture, but luckily as I had been practicing my meditation technique I was determined to just let it pass over me and look on the bright side (at least i was off the plane safely!)
In the end, the delay turned out to be a blessing. Turns out that someone who was also held up in the line was also heading to my destination, Judy from Canada! We met outside with our driver and instantly I knew that I had met a kindred spirit, as we are a similar age and both have a passion for living life to the full and challenging ourselves. With Popo at the wheel, we headed to Amatierra, about an hour from the airport (including over a sketchy looking single car bridge and many many bumpy roads!)
Amatierra is a health and wellness retreat run by Bob and Jill, an American couple, and it sits up in the Costa Rican hillside in San Pablo, Turrubares, surrounded by trees and nature. The site includes the main house which has the kitchen, living area and patio area for mealtimes, plus a swimming pool with loungers and a shaded relaxation area. The guests stay in their own little houses that are positioned at intervals down the hillside. But the absolute highlight is the yoga studio, a beautiful wooden, open-sided, circular structure which is situated at the top of the property overlooking the country below. Because the yoga studio doesn’t have walls for 2/3 of the way around, plus a skylight, you really feel like you are practicing in nature.
Every day we would begin with 7.30am yoga in the studio, taught by one of the Amatierra teachers. At Yoga on day one, Judy and I met Letizia who had just arrived from New York, and we quickly became new friends. I was so impressed with the standard of teaching as well as the availability of good quality props in the studio. I felt like I could easily have been taking a class in one of my favorite SF studios. After yoga my favorite part of the day - BREAKFAST! I love breakfast at home, and at Amatierra the breakfast everyday was a huge tray of fresh fruit, almond milk oatmeal, granola, fried plantain plus rice and beans (and an egg dish for the non-vegans!)
The weather for the first 5 days of my trip was exquisite, very hot temperatures meant I was layering on the SPF 50! Our days were spent laying out by the pool, reading books and sharing stories and experiences with each other.
There were also around 10-12 people staying at Amatierra, and I met some amazing people from all over the world. Everyone’s intentions for the trip were slightly different but there was plenty of flexibility for people to do whatever they wanted to do. I choose to do 2 day trips out of the 6 full days I had there, plus 1 day of wellness treatments.
On Christmas Day, Judy, Letizia and I decided we would do the Waterfall hike, where you drive about 10 minutes from Amatierra to get to a waterfall. We didn’t know much more than that, but when we arrived (Popo drove us again) we were met by a local guide.
The guide and Popo led us to the start of a steep and rocky climb towards the waterfall which we could see ahead of us. The “trail” was lined with ropes attached to trees that you had to hold onto as you climbed, as the risk of slipping seemed pretty high! Although it was slightly terrifying in places, when we arrived at the waterfall we definitely felt a sense of achievement. Now it was time to get in! The water was pretty cold but I went for it and waded int the water, with the girls close behind me.
As we started swimming towards the gushing mouth of the waterfall, Popo swam ahead and waved to us (in a mixture of Spanish and English) to follow him into the waterfall! Popo’s used his brute force to pull us up behind the waterfall, which was so cold and so powerful that it took my breath away! As we continued to climb up behind the waterfall, I realized that it would be impossible to climb back down because of how slippery it was….but luckily Popo had a plan for us to get down - jumping out into the water. I was terrified, but Judy lept off the rock face as soon as Popo showed her where to land….One by one everyone jumped until it was just me and Popo left. “Popo, yo tengo miedo!” I cried out (6 months of Spanish tuition worth every penny), to which he just replied “No”. So off I went! The girls clapped as they could see I was pooping my pants!
We had the best day, and I was so inspired that I let Judy and Letizia talk me into going surfing the next day at the beach, something I never thought I’d have the guts to do - as I’m also scared of water especially sharks!
The following day we woke early and headed on an hour drive to the jungle, where our guide Viktor met us to take us on a 2 hour trek. We saw Sloths, Monkeys (Howler and White-faced), Maccaws (like parrots) and loads of other animals I had never seen before. It was such a magical place. Viktor took us to his favorite tree which is apparently very old and is a sacred tree for the people of Columbia. Viktor told us that when he was 19 he had a brain tumor and he would come to the tree every day to pray and hug the tree. We all hugged the tree and said our blessing which was a special moment.
From the jungle, we drove 25 minutes to Jaco beach. After fueling up on tacos at Tacobar (delicious), we did some shopping and headed out for the beautiful beach for a few hours of chilling before the big surf lesson.
I was pretty nervous when our surf time arrived, but when we met Gustavo our surf instructor and had a few tries jumping up on the board I was feeling more confident. After a little photo shoot where we pretended to be surfers, it was time to actually get in the water. I was remarkably calm as I got in the sea with my board. We went out to waist height at which point Gustavo told me to get on the board and then jump up as we’d been taught when he said the word. I couldn’t believe it when I stood up on my first go! The session wasn’t without incident though, as I managed to land on the shore on my knees as I didn’t know how to stop and hurt my left knee pretty badly. As I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to stop, but i’m still paying the price for my knee! Hopefully it will heal soon. All of us enjoyed surfing a lot and are dreaming of following up with a surf school in 2018
Every day at Amatierra we finished with meditation at 5pm before dinner and an early night, except for one night where we had a Salsa class with Popo who has snake hips and another night where we had a guitar and vocal trio performing for us! Meditating in the yoga studio was another highlight for me; the teachers led us through a variety of guided meditations including using color imagery to help us to release some of our chakra energies. I left each meditation feeling rejuvenated and completely relaxed.
The other notable event from my week was my energy healing session with Tanya the local Shaman. A Shaman is a healer who can feel energy blockages within other people and help you to release them. I’d never experienced anything like that before, but I was excited to try. The whole experience was amazing; terrifying in parts but also thrilling as I could feel the energy moving in my body and releasing upon Tanya’s command. At the end of the session, Tanya gave me advice that I need to keep opening towards people and experiences rather than shutting down in an attempt to protect myself. She recommended that I practice heart opening meditations which I’ve been doing since the session and I am feeling more able to access and release my emotions as a consequence.
Overall, I can’t recommend the experience at Amatierra enough. The people, the food, the weather, the yoga/meditation, the trips - everything by far exceeded my expectations. Costa Rica is a beautiful country with wonderful friendly people and I’m so grateful I got to experience it for myself. The trip has reinvigorated my desire to see more of the world, and I’m already planning an exciting roadmap for 2018.