Grand stretch in the evening
Campfires are the only light around, and the pounding sound is the Pacific surf breaking on the shore. This is literally the end of the road
Yoga by the seashore in Costa Rica. Photograph: Getty
The Celeste Waterfalls in Costa Rica (Catarata Celeste). Photograph: Getty
On the first evening, I wear hiking boots to dinner. It gets dark soon after six this close to the equator and the path from the main house to the kitchen isn’t lit. I’m carrying my torch and watching out for snakes. Apparently they like to snooze in the leaves around the trunks of trees. The fer-de-lance is the most dangerous: if you don’t get anti-venom quickly you won’t die, but you might lose a leg . . . Unknown creatures scurry into the undergrowth as I pass by, but I make it safely. And then feel pretty silly: everyone else gathered around the big communal table is in flip-flops, or barefoot.
The Yoga Farm is on the edge of the forest in the far south of Costa Rica, a full day’s journey from the capital San José. The bus from Golfito takes three hours to cover the last 60 kilometres, most of it unpaved. Narrow wooden bridges cross rivers, full, we’re told, of crocodiles. It arrives just after sunset. Campfires are the only light around, and the pounding sound is the Pacific surf breaking on the shore. This is literally the end of the road. It’s another 40 kilometres or so to Panama, but you would need a horse or a boat to get there.
When the old American school bus stops, the last remaining passengers – Guaymi Indians in colourful clothes, who are among the last of Costa Rica’s surviving indigenous tribes – melt into the forest with their bundles. For visitors to the yoga farm it’s a steep 15-minute climb up a dirt track with a backpack and a torch.
In the rainy season, parts of it are regularly washed away. Christy, who runs The Yoga Farm with her partner Patrick, says everyone has a similar look on their face when they finally make it, what she calls their “what the hell am I doing here face.”
The Yoga Farm is an intentional community, dedicated to a yogic lifestyle in harmony with the environment, but its message is gentle and gradual. Every day our teacher Dana sets an intention for our practice – gratitude, care for others, care for the earth. Class is on a beautiful wooden deck with a view of the sea. Food is mainly vegan/vegetarian and alcohol in moderation is fine, away from the main house. The people here are a mix of volunteers and guests, mainly Americans and Canadians, but with a smattering of Europeans. Once a week Christy teaches yoga in Spanish for the local community.
Guests can go horseback riding on the beach or in the forest. I spend a morning with Clyde, the wildlife guide at another lodge, who introduces me to poison dart frogs, capuchin monkeys, and shows me how tent-making bats make “tents” out of palm leaves to hide from snakes.
Costa Rica is one of the world’s top ecotourism destinations but few places carry their principles through to this extent. Christy and Patrick don’t have a car, horses bring supplies up the hill and the farm is off-grid, with solar power for lighting. There are no fans or air conditioning, but the house is designed to be cool in the centre with breezes blowing through. Showers are cold water only and there are compost toilets. Humanure goes to the fruit trees, kitchen compost to the vegetable plots, and the 16 or 20 of us here generate very little rubbish.
Life is simple and idyllic, but it is neither easy nor lazy. There’s time to lie in a hammock with a book, but living this way also involves physical work in a hot climate.
Friday is harvest day, when dinner is made, insofar as is possible, from the produce from the farm, which is run organically. It’s still early in the growing season, but Christy and I dig taro, pick chillies, Brazilian spinach and herbs, and have a lot of fun trying to knock down limes and starfruit from the trees and catch them before they fall.
Becky, who is on kitchen duty, rustles up a Thai-inspired curry involving taro, a salad – including starfruit, and there is fresh limeade.
When it’s someone’s turn to cook they have to see what’s in the cupboard or ready to be picked. There is no running to the shops for ingredients or out of season produce, though they get a regular supply of basics such as coffee, rice, beans, flour and condiments from the supermarket a couple of hours away. A truck comes through once a week with fruit and vegetables from other parts of Costa Rica.
I make use of the abundance to make carrot cake and banana bread, which is not as easy as it sounds, because the four hens who live down the hill don’t always deliver eggs on schedule.
We talk about the hill a lot; who’s gone down, who’s coming up, what birds we saw on the way (scarlet macaws, stunning blue green motmots with bronze chests, pelicans skimming the waves), and whether we have the energy to go down a second time in a day to see the sunset. Somehow we always do. At the beach we gather in little groups, sitting on driftwood, having a last swim, surfing a final wave, (nearby Pavones has reputedly the longest left break on the planet) sipping a beer, or a smoothie made from guanabana and pineapple.
Some evenings, the sun is a brilliant orange ball, and when it’s gone, rapidly sinking into the curve of the earth, it leaves disco-pink streaks in the sky above. On others it disappears behind the clouds before it reaches the horizon, but a pale light still wraps every branch in a golden glow.
Here the sun rules our days. We wake with it, the food on the farm grows because of it, the solar panels produce the only electricity we have, and at the end of the day as it slides into the Pacific we marvel at the beauty of it and hope it rises again tomorrow.
On my last night, Patrick fires up the pizza oven and we have a feast. Guests, volunteers, friends and neighbours gather around in the jungle kitchen. The stars are out, and the forest is alive with evening sounds. There are only a few places on earth I can remember seeing such stars – northern Afghanistan, southern Sudan – but nowhere so unspoilt and peaceful, so blessed with life in all its forms.
By the end of my stay the toads outside the shower are just a nightly visitation, the howler monkeys waking the dead my alarm clock, the egrets’ appearance a reminder it’s time for yoga.
When I find poo on my rain jacket I figure one of the bats that used to visit my room must have been using it as a tent. Walking down from dinner in flip flops, the vine snakes and iguanas crossing the path are just sharing the same sacred space.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to San Jose with United via Newark or Delta via Atlanta.
Irish citizens are allowed to enter Costa Rica for 90 days. An ESTA is needed for transit through the US.
Tracopa buses leave San Jose for Golfito at 7am ($15) and connect with the 3pm bus to Punta Banco ($5). You can also fly with Sansa or Nature Air to Golfito.
Stays at The Yoga Farm start at US$260 a week, including all meals and yoga classes.