Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Week at Anamaya Yoga Retreat - Pura Vida at its Best

In November 2012, I opened my Gmail account, like I usually do first thing in the morning, and noticed an email from an unfamiliar address. I wasn’t expecting anything from anyone but this email didn’t look like spam. So I opened it. I read it. It took a while for it to sink in.

I often enter contests on the internet and many of them are travel related. Many of them turn out to be scams and many of them get so many entries that it would be pure luck to be the one chosen to go on an all-expense paid trip. But lo and behold, this official-looking email did have to do with a contest I recently entered and it stated that I had won a trip to Costa Rica. The information in the email sank in, excitement ensued and than doubt set in. There was no way this was true…but it looked so official. Research commenced immediately. I searched for scams dealing with the company hosting the contest. I searched for complaints against the company. I searched for others who had won contests from them in the past. I searched for the retreat I would be staying at for complaints against them. Heck, I even searched for the person who sent the email to see if there was anything sinister being said about them. Nadda. Everything turned up squeaky clean but I was still in doubt. I responded to the email to get more information. Again, everything seemed very official and all the pertinent information was there with no hidden undertones that this was fishy. And they didn’t ask for my credit card number and that told me that this could be the real thing.

So when it was all said and done, I did, in fact, win a trip to Costa Rica and I have already been there and back and believe me, there was nothing sinister about my stay at Anamaya Yoga Retreat in Montezuma. I had an amazing time and this trip provided me with the opportunity to do something else while I was there; I took an extra week, on my own time and expense, to explore a country that is said to be among the most beautiful in the world.
I left Halifax airport in late April during a snowstorm and made the almost 24-hour journey to San Jose, Costa Rica. No, it does not usually take that long to get there if you are picky with flights but I’m not picky so I chose the longest route with hopes of seeing a city I had never visited before, Houston Texas. I had a 12-hour layover in the city and lets just say my plans to go explore the city didn’t work out well and my failed attempt at making the most out of a layover resulted in me nearly starving to death (everything was closed the entire time I was in the airport), sleeping on a very uncomfortable bench in a noisy area and being bored out of my mind. Unfortunately, I booked the same route home and had to repeat this entire process all over again two weeks later. I arrived in San Jose to the sun splitting rocks. When I had checked the forecast before leaving home, I was disappointed to see that the entire week called for rain in that area of Costa Rica. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day and I don’t think I saw a cloud or raindrop the entire time I was there and the temperatures remained very hot the entire time. That was just the beginning of my good luck on that trip. The beginning of the adventure started the next morning when I checked out of my hotel and boarded a shuttle to Montezuma and Anamaya Yoga Retreat.
After a long drive and long ferry ride to get to the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma soon appeared. Anamaya was located on a hill above the village. A very steep hill that is not fun to walk up in the searing mid-day heat, so I learned on my first excursion into town. I had no idea what to expect before I arrived at Anamaya but what I was met with far exceeded my expectations from the get-go. I arrived around noon and was greeted by a very friendly staff member who led me to the pool area where I could wait and meet the other guests I would be staying with me over the course of the week. That was one of the best things about Anamaya; there wouldn’t be busloads of new recruits coming in every day, it would be the same twenty-something people from all over the world staying there together for a whole week. No one leaving, no one coming in. With a welcome cocktail in hand, I made myself at home around the infinity pool and introduced myself to the people who were already there waiting. The first thing that caught my attention was the view. It was one of the most spectacular views I had ever seen. The Pacific Ocean lined with miles of rocky and mountainous coastline and the infinity pool strategically laid out in a way to allow bathers to relax in the saltwater pool while taking in that sight. I just couldn’t wait any longer to experience that for myself and the heat was enough to make one want to jump into any body of water that presented itself. How could I not want to jump right in and stay there for the rest of the afternoon? And that is what I did. Others followed and soon we were all relaxing in that pool, a group of people, each from a different part of the world, who just met a few minutes earlier, sharing our first of many wonderful experiences that transpired that week. By that time, I knew the place was special and I was about to have a week-long experience that I will never forget as long as I live. If you have ever seen the movies "The Beach" and "Eat, Pray, Love", than you have an idea what my time in Montezuma was like if you take the main points of both of those movies and combine them.
After our little meet and greet/swim, registration and receiving the keys to our rooms, we went off in various directions with a request from staff to meet in the common area in an hour for the official run-down of our week at Anamaya. There were various buildings around the grounds that housed themed rooms but mine was located on the top floor of the main house. I knew I was staying in the cheaper accommodations because I had won the trip but my room was incredible in every way possible. My roommates had not arrived yet so I had first pick at a bed. Of course, I chose the one that faced the glass patio doors that overlooked that view of the pacific ocean. Imagining the sunrise the next morning was instant motivation to wake up at the crack of dawn. I did, however, find one problem with the room; geckos. Not that I have a problem with geckos. They are the cutest little things that stick themselves wherever they please and don’t really bother anyone…except when they show up in weird place like right above your bed, in your bed, or in your luggage. They were even on the walls of my closet and, out of fear of accidentally bringing one of the tropical creatures back to not-so-tropical Canada, I made sure to keep my luggage closed tightly.
I felt immediately at home at Anamaya. There was just something about the atmosphere of the place. It was so happy and positive and inviting. Maybe the surrounding scenery, the smell of fresh ocean air the sound of waves crashing of the rocks below us had a lot to do with it. Whatever it was, I instantly liked the place and when dinner arrived, I liked it even more.
During my first evening at Anamaya, I discovered that dinner was an elaborate, social event at the retreat. I entered the dining area and was met by dim lighting and candlelight, elegantly set tables and light music to set a relaxing ambiance. More than twenty people who had just met a couple of hours before took their places and instantly started the process of learning more about each other. What choice did we have in such an intimate setting? By the end of the night, it was like we had known each other all our lives.
Then there was the food. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that the seven dinners I had at Anamaya rank in the top ten dinners I’ve had over the course of my life so far. There were four courses every night – soup, appetizers, main course and dessert. All the food was made right there at Anamaya by local chefs, all the food was organic and some of it was even grown nearby, all meals were healthy and I had the choice to request all vegetarian meals for the entire week. Alcoholic drinks were not served at Anamaya except for the last night but we were permitted to purchase our own at the supermarket in town. That was fine with me as there is nothing worse than a vacation spent listening to drama, fighting and stupidity caused by over-drinking, not to mention wasting half of it in a drunken stupor and the other half with a hangover. I was completely fine with there being no alcohol except for the occasional bottle of red wine bought in town to be shared between everyone while winding down before bed.
The first morning at Anamaya started off with me waking up at ten to five (without the help of an alarm clock) just as the first rays of the sun were beginning to appear on the horizon. I walked the few feet to the balcony and quietly took my place with the geckos and strange-looking tropical bugs (that may or may not have been poisonous) and watched it come up over the Pacific Ocean and shed light on the surrounding mountains. Our first yoga class started at 8:00 but I tiptoed downstairs quietly only to discover that almost everyone was already awake and eating the fresh fruit that was served a few minutes earlier. Since returning from that trip, my main staples at the grocery store have been pineapple and papaya, two fruits I had never taken much of an interest in until I went to Costa Rica. There was still a little more than an hour until yoga, plenty of time to send a few emails home and take a quick swim in that luxurious infinity pool.
I understand yoga. I know how beneficial it is to both mind and body. I have even tried a few beginner classes in the past and sometimes practiced the basics at home. I soon learned that the people who actually booked and paid for their vacation at Anamaya came for the yoga. It was a yoga retreat after all. For some reason, that connection didn’t click with me until that morning and I just assumed the classes would be for beginners. Well, this was not the case and let’s just say my first advanced yoga class was an epic fail in so many ways. Trying to keep up with those guys with all the bending in ways I didn’t even think were possible in that 40 degree heat equaled me, semi-conscious in the pool suffering from pain and near heat exhaustion. I didn’t attend anymore yoga classes for the rest of the week.
I missed the delicious-looking breakfast that was served right after yoga because I had zero appetite. By mid-afternoon I was feeling well enough to finally get out of the pool, get a shower and make myself look presentable to go into town for a bit. Presentable enough I should say. No amount of product or straightening would tame my usually straight hair in that heat and humidity. I was a bit worried about the heat by that time and thought about my disastrous past experiences with heat exhaustion in hot climates and that was when I realized I had left my hat at home. First on my list when I got to Montezuma? Buy a new hat and stronger sunscreen. Since I was in a beach/surf town, finding both items was pretty easy and with SPF 75 (I didn’t even know they made the stuff that strong!), I wouldn’t have to worry about getting sunburned.

And so it went like this for the next week. Early wake-up, fruit, breakfast, swim, lunch, go into town, return for dinner and relaxing in the common area…just minus the Yoga. I decided I was not advanced enough for the classes and exerting myself in that heat would be too risky. When my final day at Anamaya arrived, I regretted not jumping into it because I heard everyone else talking about how great they felt. I guess I will forever go down in Anamaya history as the “rebel” who played hooky during Yoga class and went to the beach instead. But I did take something to do with yoga home with me; a new found interest in it and the desire to learn more and even enroll myself in a beginner class this winter.
Although it sounds like every day at Anamaya was the same, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, parts of the day were structured but no one was obligated to take part in any of the activities. However, most of us took part because the atmosphere was so relaxed and everyone became so close that we enjoyed doing things together. Every day saw a new and exciting activity. One day it was surfing lessons, another day was ziplining and the last day was a mini road trip to another nearby town to have a bonfire and drinks on the beach. If all all-inclusive vacations were like the ones at Anamaya, I wouldn’t mind them so much. I had free-will to do whatever I wanted at all times while still having scheduled and planned activities available if I wanted them. No one tried to talk me out of wandering into town, no one tried to scare me into thinking it was too dangerous to wander around alone and no one tried to sell me any tours or try to persuade me to participate in a planned activity. I felt free at Anamaya. Free to think how I wanted, free to express my opinions, free to do what I wanted and…just free in general. This is a feeling I am not used to back home in Canada. I often feel judged by others who loathe my sense of adventure, my “flighty” (as they call it) attitude that sees me embarking on many adventures and never turning down an opportunity to do something new, my minimalist lifestyle and preference to gather experiences rather than material things and my hatred towards television. At home, many people think of me as weird or abnormal…an outcast. But in Costa Rica, I met so many people like me. People who love life and want to fill it with as many experiences as possible. People who gave up all their material possessions to live in peace and harmony on a beach in Costa Rica. In fact, that sense of freedom was felt everywhere in the country. The people are so happy and their top priority is living life to the fullest and not letting negativity or fear get in the way of that. You can be whoever you want to be in Costa Rica and no one judges you. I guess that is where the Costa Rican saying “Pura Vida” comes from. The Pure Life.


Rachel said...

It's like you won in a lottery to have long-week stay at Costa Rica in a very fine hotel, with amazing view,. that would have been such a great experience. And your photos envies me more. :>

Rishikesh Yoga Retreats said...

We like your presentation and we would like to share about us that we provides special Yoga and Meditation retreats India especially for Foreigners, and very excited to see your next post.


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