Barefoot in Costa Rica

I consider myself rather well-informed in the world of wellness. Cardio is part of my daily routine; I keep my gut healthy with probiotics, adaptogens, and a strict avoidance of dairy, get plenty of sleep, and spend what many would think is a ridiculous amount on pricey but all-natural skincare. My weekly vocabulary includes the buzzwords ‘celery juice,’ ‘turmeric,’ and ‘vinyasa.’ Following the guidance and advice of many gurus, health experts, and real life women, I work hard to maintain a lifestyle built upon the premises of balance and self-care.

So when the opportunity arose to visit a wellness retreat in the rolling hills of Costa Rica, I saw it more as an opportunity for a tropical vacay than as a necessary physical and spiritual reset.

Packing my bags for Kinkara, an 800-acre property north of the country’s capital, I brought the essentials — sneakers, lots of Lululemon, a few swimsuits, and some sundresses. I’d had little background on the property itself, but I knew it was remote, and that hiking, swimming, and plenty of yoga were on the two-day itinerary. Perhaps I’d learn a bit more about gluten-free cooking and finally make it to a successful headstand. But what I most looked forward to was returning to the city sun-kissed and well-rested.

Upon arriving at San Jose’s bustling airport, we boarded a seven-seater Kodiak for the 30-minute flight to Mount Chirripo, the country’s tallest mountain. As the runway fell further and further below us, treetops soon replaced the cityscape we’d only just left and continued to stretch as far ahead as I could see. After some minor turbulence, we landed safely, albeit bumpily, on an open patch of grass that appeared suddenly amongst the lush topography. Climbing out of the teensy aircraft, I was greeted by a 30-something man who introduced himself to me as Moisés and welcomed me with a broad smile and quick tour through the property’s beautiful main pavilion and community center, Casa Bulu.

Contemporary furniture (like swinging hammock chairs, eclectic tiled flooring, and colorful globed light fixtures) offered a comfortable contradiction to the stunning and unruly jungle surrounding the property. I learned that it would be here that we would enjoy all meals and relax during downtime, whether to catch up on emails thanks to the property-wide fiber optics, or to flip through any one of the library’s eclectic collection of books on photography, spirituality, and wildlife. Taking a glass of chilled watermelon mint juice from the barista bar, I followed Moisés to my room — one of roughly 20 luxury canvas tents situated around a network of garden patches, a central open-walled pavilion, called El Moren, at its center.

After dropping my things in my tent, I joined the other 20-odd visitors, where the property tenants, TKTK and TKTK, led us through the garden, explaining the complex system of plants, herbs, fruits, and vegetables that the culinary team drew from each day to create their farm-to-table menu at Casa Bulu. I came face-to-face with the in-ground form of some of my favorite ingredients, like turmeric and ginger root, for the first time, along with newcomers like the winged bean, which TKTK explained as being a nutritionally-superior cousin of soy, far richer in protein than the better-known legume.

Soon, we were privy to the culinary experience at Kinkara, delving into a multi-course lunch under Casa Bulu’s tented dining room. Draft kombucha, pineapple basil juice, and peanut-butter kale smoothies accompanied plates of wild-caught salmon dressed with dill and mustard, fresh garden greens with apple and pear, roasted cauliflower, and raw banana-and-cilantro curry. Hardly hungry to begin with, I ate my weight in all of it and felt surprisingly light.

The afternoon wrapped up with a restorative yoga session in El Moren, overlooking the flourishing garden and magical valley of treetops beyond. Surrounded by nothing but the sounds of birds, I drifted into a deep savasana that could have lasted for minutes or hours. Before I knew it, it was time for dinner, but not before a shower in Kinkara’s five-star bathhouse, where open-walled showers came with organic hair products, fluffy white towels, and sounds of the river rushing by below. It was the first of perhaps too many showers for the next few days, and the first in far too long that I saw it not as a perfunctory step in my daily regimen, but as a luxurious act of self-care.

Dinner breezed by as deliciously and organically as had lunch, and conversation flowed easily under the sparkling night sky with the help of Costa Rican Malbec and housemade cocktails featuring the juice bar’s magical elixirs of ginger, turmeric, and mint. Before wandering sleepily to our tents, we gathered once more in El Moren, where elders from the local indigenous tribe explained the core of their belief system to us: the idea that the path on which we are all traveling is an ancient one, and has always been and always will be a humbling reminder of our own insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe and the triviality of our mortal worries.

The next morning, I woke before the sun, feeling rested despite only a handful of hours of sleep and three glasses of wine the night before. The day’s plan included a trip to the beach for surf lessons, which featured a surprise visit by two humpback whales and ended with drinking fresh coconut water procured from the treetops by our charming local guides.

Refreshed by the salt water swim and the sheer sense of peace on the otherwise empty stretch of sand, we boarded our bus once again and headed back on winding jungle roads to our second destination: las Cataratas de Nauyaca. Here, our mode of transport changed to the open-air flatbed of a truck, and we bumpily rode through arching palms to a jungle trailhead, which we descended on foot before stumbling into a magnificent 45-meter waterfall… like something straight out of Tarzan. I tried to compare the height to something recognizable from home, but the soaring towers in Mexico City seemed cold and unimpressive in comparison.

The juxtaposition of the scenery — the rushing water, jagged rock formations and unruly tree branches — was refreshingly haphazard, untouched, beautiful, and dangerous in its wildness.

We picnicked at the shore and swam in the smaller falls before heading back to Kinkara, to another soothing evening of restorative yoga, luxurious showers, and sunset cocktails. Looking around at dinner, I considered the people with whom I’d spent the last two days laughing, breathing, and recharging — they were a diverse mix of strangers, ranging in age, geographical home base, and career, all feeling inexplicably connected after hardly 48 hours.

Perhaps it was the bonding experience of being outside of our comfort zones, away from our regular routines, our social media feeds, and the endless responsibilities awaiting us back home. Perhaps it was the vulnerability of being surrounded by only the wilderness, engaging with the elements on muddy jungle trails and adventurous river swims, falling asleep under the stars and waking to the sounds of the same birds sharing our appreciation for the beauty that surrounded us at each meal, meditation, conversation, and excursion.

Returning back to the chaos of a massive city, impending work deadlines, and a myriad of social obligations, I felt a sense of renewal and ease inspired by my time in the trees and the new connections I’d made along the way. I had learned about love lost from a 60-something guest who’d been widowed unexpectedly decades before, who still felt the overwhelming love of her late husband. A single mom and yoga instructor shared the woes of raising mischievous teenagers, and I felt both grateful for and bemused by the similarly patient and trusting approach with which my parents had raised me. A cancer survivor, young mother, and fellow writer laughed with me about her recent adventures with her four-year-old son in my former hometown of San Francisco, and lamented with me the struggles of finding balance in a creative career.

Unpacking my suits and sundresses, I smiled at my expectations for the trip just days earlier. I’d returned with no new recipe for a superfood smoothie, and despite all the wonderfully restorative yoga, my hips were still a little tight from my habitual morning runs and the long flight home. But I also had a clearer understanding of the fodder for wellness tourism, the industry-shattering trend that has gained more traction in recent years than ever before.

Need we a physical journey to forge a spiritual one? Maybe it’s less about disconnecting from our day-to-day, which can still be filled with all things well and good, and which might not actually be so ugly or overwhelming that we need to go to extreme, kale-munching, and digital-detoxing measures to escape.

Maybe it’s simply about stepping away from our jam-packed iCal and daily commutes to reconnect with the world in its most raw and unpredictable form, with people and experiences we wouldn’t necessarily encounter otherwise — those who can introduce new perspectives into what we might consider an already well-rounded life.

The intentional choice to get out of our everyday reminds us to also appreciate it, to introduce to it a little more fresh air, and to remain creative in learning to balance responsibilities to others and to ourselves. If we remain open to it, there is endless inspiration for ways to structure our lives in incredible and fulfilling ways, whether it takes road-tripping to a local hike, or going down-dog in a jungle to find it.

Marie Salcido is a freelance writer based between Mexico City and San Francisco. Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the middle of seven children, family has always been a top priority, though her appetite for new places has pulled her far from her Midwestern roots. Whether posted in her home cities or exploring new locales, Marie’s keen interest in people has accompanied her throughout her travels, reaffirming her belief that the more you see of the world, the smaller it gets. Find her on Instagram at @mdsalcido.

Comment