Originally published on YOGANONYMOUS December 14, 2016
They say you are what you eat, and really, who wants to be a greasy plate of French fries on a yoga mat?
And that's coming from a self-diagnosed French fry addict, too. Of course, there's a time and a place to treat yourself, and you deserve those treats every now and then, but before yoga practice probably isn't the best time to make a pit-stop for that guilty pleasure.
French fries are my safe food and my comfort food wrapped in one—really crappy work week? Friday night french fries help. On vacation in a foreign land and need a safe meal? French fries to the rescue. In most cases they're both vegan and gluten-free, making them an easy go-to for me when I'm away.
When I embarked on a week-long wellness retreat in Costa Rica I had a feeling that French fries would likely not be on the menu. They're not exact the pillar of health. When you're someone who follows a pretty strict diet, with dietary restrictions, traveling can be difficult, to say the least. I came to find, though, that this wellness retreat not only offered a ton of options for me, but some of the freshest and most delicious food I'd ever tasted, too.
I came home from Costa Rica with a serious addiction: Gallo pinto. It's a traditional Costa Rican meal that's really quite simple—rice, beans, peppers, and some spices. I was told that gallo pinto is often served for breakfast to give people a hearty meal to power through the day's activities. At the eco-chic Iguana Lodge gallo pinto was served daily for breakfast alongside a plethora of fresh fruits and juices. Starting my morning with this dish kept me satisfied through to lunch—which is no easy feat for a grazer like me. Also, as soon as I returned home I emailed the friends I'd made at Iguana Lodge for a recipe... Less than 24 hours out and I was already jonesin' for a fix. A testament to just how good gallo pinto is.
Oftentimes when you're on a retreat days are full of adventure, and schedules are pretty packed. It's part of the reason why breakfast is the most important meal of the day—to keep your energy up until you reach the promised land, a.k.a the lunch table.
The lush property of Hacienda AltaGracia offered beautiful trails for exploring, hiking, and horseback riding. Throughout the hiking trails there are chalets which can be used for a mid-hike restorative stretch and a place to catch your breath. Post-hike, we were rewarded with a juice (perfect to hold us over until lunch).
In all honesty, the juices I had throughout this trip were so incredible that they deserved their own category. Fresh, magically filling, nutritious, and unbelievably hydrating and refreshing—each juice I tasted was better than the last. An added bonus: juices were always served in reusable glass bottles and either sans straw, or with a compostable bamboo straw. Eco-friendly sustainability for the win!
The juices were blends that I would never be able to dream up, or recreate successfully (not for a lack of trying, though), on my own. Watermelon juice with basil—pure heaven—and pineapple, celery, and mint (below).
Knowing other activities loomed in the not-too-distant future (like surfing, yoga, or horseback riding), lunch tended to be on the lighter side—though still completely satisfying. One of the things I loved most about every place we visited and dined at in Costa Rica? Locally sourced, oftentimes organic, hand made meals. I swear just knowing things were grown right where you're eating them makes them taste better.
Finding gluten-free and vegan meals was not a challenge at all, and chefs were so accommodating and willing to supplement and make substitutions to meals to fit my diet. Grateful doesn't even begin to describe how I'd feel each time a mindfully made, incredible meal was placed before me. Hacienda Alta Gracia offered the most perfect light bites for lunch, even having a “Lean, Clean, & Green” menu section (a.k.a my favorite section). Their red quinoa and sunflower seed rolls (made with rice paper, zucchini, carrot, onion and sesame oil) were perfect, and exactly as promised—lean, clean, and well, somewhat green.
A buffet style dinner was served at Pura Vida Resort & Spa, and again meals were prepared with super-fresh, locally sourced produce. Delicious and nutritious meal options catered to all diets and ranged from DIY salads, to meat and fish, roasted veggies (squash and beets were AMAZING), and something I'd never had before—a vegan, gluten-free, stuffed tomato.
We also had the option to have a cocktail with our dinner, but trying to keep hydrated and healthy I opted out. A huge jug of alkaline water was perfect for me. To me, this was one of the most appealing things I'd seen out of all of the establishments we went to, it also happened to be the first time I'd everseen alkaline water offered in a restaurant. Though, I'll admit, if it were going to be anywhere, a yoga retreat would be it.
Treat yo'self options exist on yoga retreats, too. Huzzah! I really only have one thing to say here: if you've never tried yucca fries or fresh Costa Rican chocolate than you've never truly lived. Kidding. Sort of.
On a visit to Rancho Raices, a family run farm in Puerto Jimenez, we had the chance to see how to cultivate and harvest both cacao and yucca (cassava). We were also given the opportunity to learn how to make our own chocolate. Let me tell you, it's a lot harder than it looks/seems, but the effort makes tasting the final product even sweeter.