Voyages: In Nicaragua, rejuvenation on the Pacific | AspenTimes.com

Voyages: In Nicaragua, rejuvenation on the Pacific

by Lauren Glendenning

It's early February at 7 a.m. on my first morning in Nicaragua. My toes are pressed in the silky sand and I can see the mountains of Costa Rica off in the distance. The sounds of crashing ocean waves remind me how far I am from Colorado, and also how relaxed I expect to feel in the upcoming week.

I'm walking down the aptly named Playa Colorado, a wide-open pristine beach with world-class surf breaks located adjacent to the beach and golf community of Hacienda Iguana. My connection to this place began more than 10 years ago, even though this is my first visit here. A college friend from Boulder, Lindsey Sherman, moved here about 7 years ago with her husband and they now run one of the largest vacation rental businesses in the area. It's because of her that my best friend from college, Kevyn Zeller, ended up visiting a few years ago and decided to host a Pilates and wellness retreat on this beach.

Fast-forward a few years, and I'm here not only experiencing the retreat as both a friend and a guest, but I'm also helping Kevyn plan some of the details for her wedding, which also will be held here in September of this year.

As a Colorado girl for more than 15 years now, the outdoors, health and wellness are undoubtedly familiar to me, however spending an entire week focusing on just these things is not. I glance over the itinerary and feel overcome with joy and anticipation of what this week will do for me. As someone with a high stress job as a daily newspaper editor, to be able to turn all of that off and focus on myself makes me the perfect type of client for Kevyn's retreat.

The rest of the guests arrive Sunday afternoon and we get to know each other over dinner, cooked by Kevyn's fiancé Scotty Craig, an incredible private chef. He'll prepare all of the healthy meals for the week alongside a couple of sous chefs — Nahvae Frost and Sheelagh Regan —who have traveled here with them from New York City.

On Monday morning, breakfast kicks off the day with a spread of quinoa porridge, topped with beautiful rows of dried fruit, sliced jalapenos, shaved coconut and nuts, accompanied by a side of hard-boiled eggs. Smoothies made with local papaya, melon, greens and citrus fruits are served. This breakfast sets the tone for the week of restorative nutrition and fitness that lies ahead.

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Thriving in Nica

I immediately click with a woman named Gina, who won a spot on the posh retreat because of her volunteer service work as a nurse in Haiti. Kevyn and Scotty take applications each year for a service award and it was immediately clear why Gina had won. She was grateful to be there and so dedicated to her week of wellness. As a pediatric nurse in Philadelphia, she made me second-guess the levels of stress I often think I experience at work.

Leading the retreat was Kevyn, supported by the team of chefs and Holistic Therapist Eric Pettigrew, who lead the group in meditation, yoga and provided private massages.

Suddenly there we all were, on this retreat designed to help us better ourselves. We immediately bonded through the gratitude we each felt and to the calm that took over us.

A palapa to the side of one of the gorgeous beachfront homes we were staying in was the scene of most of the classes. Kevyn lead a Pilates basics class to start the week, followed by several Pilates mat and flow classes throughout the week, supplemented by yoga, meditation, cooking and aromatherapy classes. Long walks on the beach got our bodies moving in the mornings, while afternoon hikes to nearby hilltops provided additional fitness. Local surfer India Reinartz, of the surf and yoga retreats called Papaya Wellness, provided a group surf lesson on a smaller break down the beach, invigorating those who took it as we all popped up on our boards and caught waves.

Back at the luxury beachfront homes were infinity pools overlooking the Pacific Ocean, which became our zen spaces during breaks between classes.

Morning swims in the refreshing ocean helped many of us start our days before the beach walks or Pilates. Body surfing was a thrilling end to the day, followed by my favorite: a watermelon mojito at the local beach club bar and the nightly ritual of watching the sunset.

After a week of this, it's hard to explain how your body, both physically and mentally, feels. I hadn't felt such peace and pure relaxation in years, or maybe ever.

Side trip to Granada

To top off the trip, I left Hacienda Iguana with an extra day and a half to spare in order to check out the sites in Grenada, a Spanish colonial city on the northwestern shore of Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. I arrived on a hot, sunny day and immediately set out on a walking tour of the city, wanting to see as much as I could before night fell because I was traveling alone. I walked to the shore of the lake and bought a ticket to walk out onto a long pier. It was exceptionally windy that day and the waves in the lake resembled rough ocean waters. The white caps contrasted the lake's ominous dark gray hue, providing an almost eerie backdrop to the city. It felt stormy out on the pier, but back on the sidewalk walking toward downtown Granada the sun beat down on this charming historic city.

I climbed to the top of a bell tower at the Iglesia La Merced, which provided panoramic views of the city, the volcanoes in the distance and Lake Nicaragua. I could have stayed up there all afternoon, watching the city hustle beneath me as I enjoyed a rare quietness from above.

But it was easy to leave in order to head to what appeared to be, according to my research, Granada's best fine dining restaurant, a steakhouse called El Zaguan. Lucky for me it was open for lunch, so I dined in the lush patio courtyard on a succulent piece of tender beef, topped with the most flavorful chimichurri I have ever tasted. I started the meal with a fresh ceviche made with a white fish from the lake, citrus, corn and avocado, served with plantain chips. It all paired perfectly with my favorite Nicaraguan beer, Tona.

I walked around the city a bit more and made sure I was back at my room by sunset. I felt mostly safe in Granada, but there were times where a few stares caught my eyes and made me uncomfortable. Luckily, a yoga studio less than a block from my hotel had an evening class taught in English. I attended that and then sat at the hotel bar for some fish tacos and one last Tona — OK, three, actually — chatting with the bartender about life in Granada. It was a storybook ending to an unforgettable trip.

lglendenning@aspentimes.com

If you go:

Playa Colorado at Hacienda Iguana

Where to stay: Iguana Surf Rentals, iguanasurfrentals.com

Where to eat: Pili’s Restaurant at Colorados Beach Club, contemporary and Basque cuisine.

What to do: Kevyn Zeller Wellness Retreats, for Pilates, clean eating, yoga, massage, surfing, hiking and more, Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2017. View an itinerary and reserve your space today at kevynzellerwellnessretreats.com. Price ranges from $2,750 each for double occupancy room to $4,200 for a single, ocean-front master suite.

For surfing and yoga information, visit http://www.papayawellness.com.

How to get there: Fly into Managua, then it’s about 2 hours by car. Or fly directly into the Costa Esmeralda Airport via private planes and limited commercial service connecting from Manague or Liberia, Costa Rica.

Side trip:

Granada

Where to stay: Hotel Alhambra

Where to eat: El Zaguan, fine dining steakhouse

What to do: Walk to the shore of Lake Nicaragua; visit countless colonial churches; take a day trip to the Mombacho volcano; take a boat tour of the Granada Islets, or Las Isletas, on the lake.