Costa RicaCosta Rica

Welcome to the Sweet Gulf

Destination: Golfito

Our next stop was the Golfo Dulce's eco-friendly Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, an escape so isolated that it is only accessible by boat. The lodge backs up to Piedras Blancas National Park, which is known to contain a species list nearly identical to nearby Corcovado. As we stepped off the boat and onto the dock, sustainability coordinator Jodi Thomas greeted us as a giant manta ray floated beneath our feet. She had planned to take us on a sustainability tour designed to introduce the property, and educate us on how hotels can both provide for their guests and simultaneously live in harmony with our delicate environment.

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Anticipating clouds of mosquitoes, I was pleasantly surprised to find fewer numbers here than in Puerto Jimenez. Enormous trees and a rainbow of flowers lined the path leading to the reception area and restaurant. Along the way I caught sight of a skittish agouti, an adorable relative of the guinea pig. Currasows, gladiator frogs, and an array of birds surrounded us as Jodi explained the new standard of legitimacy in the eco-conscious world: the Certificate for Sustainable Tourism (CST), a country wide movement designed to categorize and differentiate how eligible companies manage their nature resources, preserve local culture, and protect Costa Rican communities.

After a brief discussion, we passed through Nicuesa's solar power center, recycling area, andwet-flower water tank. The lodge composts diligently, with waste divided into three groups. My favorite contraption was the solar powered drying room, which is an open air deck capable of drying 39 loads of laundry in as little as three hours. Having lived in this humid country for two years, I know first-hand the frustration that comes with clothes that never fully dry. Plus, from an environmental standpoint, the amount of energy conserved by eliminating the dryer is phenomenal.

The tour was cut short by an intense, hour-long thunderstorm, during which Vincent and I grew impatient and decided that it would be fun to kayak over to the nearby botanical garden in the rain. The hotel staff did not wish to stage a rescue mission, so instead of letting us drown, they offered a ride on one of their speedboats. We accepted, and set off just as the rain began to recede.

Casa de Orquideas is an enormous six-acre garden of hills, primary forest, and exotic plants. I felt like Alice in Wonderland wandering the colorful grounds. Of the 2,000 orchid species thriving in Costa Rica, over 100 are native to the area and found on the property. Unfortunately, there are only two guided tours per week and we had missed them. The self-guided pamphlet spoke of orchids, heliconias, bromeliads, palms, and aroids, but distinguishing one flower or plant from another turned out to be hopeless -- even after reading the packet cover to cover.

Moments after giving up on deciphering the map, I stumbled upon Casa de Orquideas' edible plant section. This area needed no explanation. Grapefruit trees, lemon grass, bananas, mangoes, avocado, peppers, and an assortment of spices thrived in one large, winding section of the park. I resisted the urge to sample; with no authority figure around to give their permission, snacking felt strangely like stealing. I worked my way back to the beach, where Vincent and the boat were waiting to take us back to Nicuesa for an afternoon yoga session.

Kri Blozie yoga was a completely new experience for me. Actually a subset of Kundalini yoga, which focuses on spinal twists and energy alignments, it is slower than typical hatha or vinyasa styles -- and I found the experience revitalizing. Going through unfamiliar stances, along with ones that I had plain forgotten, kindly demanded that my body stretch and open in ways that were unpredictable and amazing.

My teacher, Kristin Marie, shared both my middle name and genuine love for the practice. Originally from Massachusetts, Kristin studied at the Kripalu Yoga Center for one year, prior to further studies in India. To our delight, she combined the class with a bit of light massage, designed to increase circulation and encourage relaxation. The experience was so heavenly that she even convinced Vincent to participate.

We began the lesson in a meditative pose. Kristin came around the class and treated us to a third eye (the place in the middle of the forehead), face, and neck rub to help focus our minds. Funny names for different poses helped us to remember them, my favorites being cleaning the peanut butter jar for wide hip circles; "think Janet Jackson" for the dancing goddess pose; and the love handle annihilator for dancing cobra.

She ended the class with a foot massage, reminding us to remember that Savasana is "a receptivity pose to help us receive the gifts that we just created in our practice." After so much activity these past 12 days, yoga was the perfect remedy for our sore muscles.

Welcome to the Sweet Gulf in Pictures

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