The tropical yoga retreat experience – a time to get away, rest, and reconnect. Costa Rica has become a primary yoga destination for people from around the world. What really happens in the retreat setting?
IAYB sponsor Anamaya Resort in Montezuma, Costa Rica is situated on a cliff in the jungle looking over the Pacific Ocean. The three-year old resort, with a capacity for about 40 guests, has worked hard to develop strong ties with the local community.
I could have asked Anamaya co-owner Geoff McCabe about the centre’s yoga retreats, spa services, yoga teacher trainings or the infinity pool (which I’m kind of obsessed with). But I wanted to know how they’ve integrated into the community and how they support local businesses.
McCabe, who has been living in Costa Rica for nine years, generously shared Anamaya’s business practices, some current projects and his dreams for creating an eco-village. Here is our email conversation.
IAYB: There are many many yoga resorts and retreats in Costa Rica. What’s different about Anamaya?
GM: What probably sets us apart the most is our amazing food. All the owners are very nutrition and health-conscious and from the onset we saw this business as a way to help encourage and teach about healthy eating. We use primarily organic ingredients (what we can find, which is most of our produce), which is something we’re very proud of, and I don’t know of any other yoga businesses or hotels doing that here. We serve local fish and organic chicken, but no red meat, no sugar, no milk products (except butter), and no processed food, so our cooking doesn’t easily fit into any particular category such as “vegetarian” or “vegan.”
In addition, we have our own organic farm, Rancho Delicioso (http://ranchodelicioso.com), and every month a larger percentage of our food comes from our own local source. Rancho Delicioso is more than just an ultra-local ingredient source. We’re building a learning center to educate the local community about organic farming, which is nearly non-existent in the Southern Nicoya Peninsula where Anamaya is located. We have volunteers coming who are helping us, and we’re now in research mode, trying every kind of seed we can get our hands on, trying to discover a great group of plants that love the local soil and growing conditions. We’re publishing our findings on our website, and once we’re ready, will begin to install organic gardens for local schools, government buildings, churches, elderly people, and poor families that need the help.
IAYB: Sounds like a cool project. How has the community responded to it?
GM: In general the Costa Ricans who have seen the farm have been thrilled by it. The Costa Ricans love organic everything, and are very proud of their country’s reputation as one of the world’s greenest and most sustainable places, but most have little knowledge of organic growing techniques, or believe it’s impossible. We’re going to show them it’s not, by finding solutions to make this easy, fun, and “cool”.
IAYB: Can you tell me about the area where Anamaya is located?
GM: We are in Montezuma, which is simply the coolest and most beautiful town in Costa Rica. It’s a super cute beach town that’s been a small hippy/eco/surfer village for over 30 years. It’s very much a melting pot culture, with people from all over the world living and working here. Many are second or third generation immigrants who are intermixed.
So it’s hard to say, in many cases what makes someone a “local’? Who is more local, a Costa Rica who has moved to Montezuma three years ago, or an Italian who was born here in Montezuma and has two passports? There are many dozens of foreign families living here who have kids born here, and Montezuma, more than any other beach town in Costa Rica, has a blend of cultures from everywhere… not just tons of gringos like many places in the country. The peninsula is so strikingly beautiful that it would surely have been over-run with tourism and development if not for the fact that it’s a minimum 4-hour drive from either of Costa Rica’s international airports, and most people take a ferry. That has really saved this area from being ruined.
IAYB: What kind of relationship does Anamaya have with the “locals”?
GM: They love us! We are one of the best places to work, first of all. Most places lay off most of their staff during the slow months or even shut down completely, and we’re the only place operating all year. We pay good salaries, and the vibe here is super fun. In fact our current manager, Albert, owns a local travel business (Cocozuma) with three offices, and quit his own company to work for us. We also have the best parties and gatherings, and invite the whole town. We’ve never refused a request to do a fund-raiser. We raise money for schools, to pave the roads, etc. We have circus parties, fashion shows, full moon yoga, or basically any other excuse to have fun gatherings so that people in the town get a chance to come up here and experience Anamaya.
IAYB: How else do you support local businesses?
GM: We run all our tours through the best of the best local providers, such as Young Vision, which is a surf school run by two locals who used to work for some Gringos in another part of Costa Rica, but moved home to Montezuma to start their own company. Whether it’s horseback riding, scuba diving, or trips to Tortuga Island, we work with various local companies that we feel provide the best service and most fun. I also own a bunch of websites that promote tourism here, such as montezumabeach.com and malpaisbeach.com, and I provide free advertising and links to all the local businesses.
IAYB: Would you say that foreign-owned businesses are revitalizing the local economy?
GM: It’s a strange question because local economies don’t need “revitalization.” They are already growing steadily, with a mix of ownership. Many are owned by foreigners who are married to locals. Or foreigners who are naturalized Costa Rican citizens. Some are owned by Costa Ricans who recently moved to the area from the capital city. Businesses like Young Vision learned their business skills from foreigners and put them to great use, becoming the #1 attraction in Montezuma on Trip Advisor. They have received help from people like Anamaya and also their clients who they trade lessons for website help, photography, etc.
In general, it’s good for local economies to have more investment in them, but of course the flip side of that coin is over-development, which is an even bigger problem. Foreign-owned businesses tend to be more “green” oriented than the local ones, which I think has mostly to do with Costa Rica having such a reputation as a green country, and it attracts eco-minded people in general. For example, the owners of 5 of the 6 local “portal” websites are all very interested in sustainability, yoga, green-building, wildlife conservation, etc.
It’s an unfortunate trend that multinationals like Trip Advisor are taking over because Google has shifted the way it ranks websites, now heavily favoring large corporations over local resources. One of the biggest coming threats to the area is big money investors, both foreign owned and Costa Rican. Once a place becomes popular, they look for opportunities to come in and build tower condominiums, mega-resort hotels with golf courses, etc. They have no connection with the area and are just here to make as much money as quickly as possible. Some businesses have tried to do that, such as one that tried to create a big development selling California-style McMansions. Luckily it was a total flop and they went bankrupt, because this part of Costa Rica doesn’t attract the type of people who want to live in a US-style subdivision.
Most foreigners are here with their families as settlers/immigrants, with no plans to leave. They’re having kids who are Costa Rican citizens, and after seven years the parents can become citizens as well. The money they make stays here in the local economy. So the issue isn’t about where the money comes from, it’s what they do with it and where the profits go. My personal dream since I’ve moved here was to create an eco-village, which I now have going here with Rancho Delicioso. Now my focus is broader, and I hope to continue the trend of turning all of Montezuma into one big eco-village, and to be known as Costa Rica’s hottest spot for ecological thinking, organic foods, yoga retreats, and healthy lifestyles in general. With the amazing people who live here, and more coming all the time, we’re well on our way.