Pursuing My Vacation, Er, Inner Peace

    No internet. Forced quiet hours. Howling monkeys. Is inner peace even worth pursuing to a Costa Rican paradise?

    Illustration by Kevin Reed
    Illustration by Kevin Reed

    The first morning, we wake with a start to the roar of howler monkeys. My phone reads 4:22 a.m.

    “Waaaaaaaaaaaaa! Woooooooaaaaaa!”

    The howls, deep and resonant, sound like angry—or horny—velociraptors.

    My wife and I huddle in our bed behind thin mosquito netting in an open-air cabin in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest. We came here for inner peace. A yoga retreat. Ommmmmm. Seriously?

    Neither Jane nor I were that into yoga, but when friends invited us on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, we thought, That’s just far enough from our comfort zones to sound exciting.

    The trip would be led by our mutual friend David Corder, who runs Perfect Fit Wellness Center in Falcon. He regularly takes groups to the prettiest places on the planet to practice their Angry Cat or Pissed Off Possum, or whatever you call those yoga poses. (Next trip Peru, perfectfitwc.com.)

    David is an alum of the traveling singing troupe Up With People, and he has retained that too-much-enthusiasm-to-be-contained-in-one-body thing. His high-pitched laugh sounds like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.

    We caught up with David and the rest of our yoga team after a long flight to San Jose, Costa Rica; a white-knuckle puddle-jumper flight to the Osa Peninsula; then a tooth-rattling drive to the resort, Blue Osa. (Costa Rica really should get a GoFundMe page for some road paving.)

    If you’re into the tropical paradise thing, it doesn’t get much more paradisaical than this. You can sit on the Adirondack chairs framed by coconut palms overlooking the beach, as squirrel monkeys chatter and toucans right out of a Fruit Loops commercial fly by.

    The Blue Osa want guests to disconnect. I discovered they take this literally, turning off the internet in the morning. That would be a real problem for me, as I like to plug into all the national news first thing, so I have stuff to fume about all day.

    There’s even a “silent time” rule here; you’re not supposed to talk before 7:30 a.m. This was tough. In fact, Beth, a soft-spoken staffer from NBC News, rebuked more than a couple of my hearty “good mornings!” with a finger to her lips.

    “Oh, yeah, forgot,” I said, which earned me another stern look.

    This was going to be a long week. Here’s the thing I learned about yoga retreats, and it may come as a bit of a shock. There’s actually the expectation that you’ll be doing yoga. David would ring a bell, and we were all expected to grab our mats and head for the yoga studio, yet another slice of paradise in the center of the resort compound: shiny natural wood floors, floor to ceiling open-air windows overlooking swaying palms and surf. Again, if you like that kind of thing….

    There were about two dozen of us, mostly women, mostly from the Springs, sitting in a circle. David welcomed us and asked what we hoped to get out of the retreat. Most said something about peace of mind or greater self-awareness. I said, essentially, I was here for a vacation. More stern looks.

    Then David walked us through the theme for the week, based on Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare. Interesting. I’ve always identified with the rabbit. Sure, he lost the race, but he ended up rested and well fed.

    Still, I got what David was saying. The yoga, the idyllic setting and even the excursions he had planned were designed to put us in a different frame of mind, to slow down our racing thoughts. Not a problem for me. I had very few worries—except, maybe, some upcoming work deadlines, a strange sound the car had started making, that strange ache in my neck and shoulder, and did I leave on the Nespresso machine when we left? The neighbors would have called if the house burned down, right? And did anybody respond to my latest Facebook post? OK, my mind tends to race a bit. I’m from New York.

    After yoga on those first few days, I tried to practice my meditation in one of the many idyllic shrines around the property. Focus on your breath. Breathe in. I think I heard a fly come in, and my breath is kind of shallow. Breathe out. Should it be that shallow?

    It was hard to sit still that long. Fortunately, David had some activities planned to keep my must-do-stuff mind and body busy. We went on zip lines over the jungle canopy (getting in touch with our inner rabbit). We participated in a turtle rescue (getting in touch with our tortoise sides), which turned out to be much more emotional than I’d anticipated, watching those baby turtles waddle to the surf.

    Every day, yoga became easier, less of a chore and more like what my body actually wanted to do. Meditation also got easier. Breathe in. Breathe out. Even the howler monkeys became less annoying.

    I also felt a bond with the fabulous people who were on this journey with us. As we took turns jumping off a ledge into a jungle swimming hole, the cheers for one another was about more than the courage of the leap. It was about how far we’d all come.

    On the last morning, I saw a group of my fellow yogis and heartily shouted, “Good morning!” Of course, I received an admonishing finger to the lips. But I swear I saw less animosity there.

    When we returned to the Springs after an exhilarating but exhausting week in paradise, I slept so well in my own bed. Strangely though, I jolted awake to the roar of howler monkeys. My wife had recorded them. She laughed her head off.

    I closed my eyes, thought ommmmm, and then a very un-yogi thought came to mind: I will get her back. It’s what a hare would do, after all.

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