Regular readers of this column might recall that, in stark contrast to my usual meat- and-whiskey-loving persona, I'm a bit of a closet wellness junkie. After years of attending retreats like Kamalaya in Samui, Shambala in Bali and The Farm in the Philippines, I've developed a different approach to food and exercise, and alongside it an awakening to other meditative practices like yoga and even a return to martial arts. It's had a snowball effect on my life and it's an area of business I'm keen to explore.
Which is why, in early March, I find myself on a recce of Costa Rica for Circle Haus, a new wellness retreat concept I'm involved in. Born out of a desire to encourage people to disconnect to reconnect, Circle Haus is a small collective that curates a select group of innovators and provides transformative experiences designed to foster self-discovery, inspire purposeful leadership and nurture personal intuition. As well as a holistic approach to health activities, such as sunrise yoga, meditation and sound-healing sessions – and yes even the martial arts – Circle Haus will host workshops taken by leading wellness practitioners and speakers from Fortune 500 companies. Our menus will be created from fresh local ingredients that energise body and mind and keep guests nourished, using carefully balanced recipes developed with the local cuisine in mind. Costa Rica boasts some really quite delicious food; fresh salads, tacos and ceviche, as well as some superb beers and rums.
Our menus will be created from fresh local ingredients that energise body and mind
This small Central American country also has some extremely progressive environmental policies. It is the only country to meet all five UNDP criteria established to measure environmental sustainability, with 98% of its electricity generated from green sources, and the government has committed to making the country carbon neutral by 2021. Due to its geographical position linking two large land masses, Costa Rica is also one of the most biodiverse countries in the entire world, containing more than 5% of the planet's biodiversity while (with a total area of 51,100km²) only accounting for 0.03% of its surface.
We fly into San Jose, or Chepe as it's affectionately known, where we spend one night acclimatising: it's only six hours behind GMT but the climate is warm and close. The following morning, after a breakfast of savoury tico beans, sweet plantain and eggs topped with pico de gallo and sour cream, all served with fresh tortilla chips, we head back to Juan Santa Maria Airport. Here we join a few more intrepid travellers heading west to Costa Rica's Nicoya peninsula, on a single-prop plane operated by a small, carbon-neutral domestic airline.
We're picked up on the other side by a 4x4, which takes a cross-country route through jungle and streams to Santa Teresa in Puntarenas Province; a small surf and yoga village, where zenned-out yogis wax their boards and surfers spend their mornings taming the powerful Pacific Ocean and their afternoons omm-ing to chilled-out tunes. On the beach, vultures pick at a washed-up sea turtle carcass, while surf boards rest against driftwood in the background. Nature, red in tooth and claw, is never far from sight here.
Zenned-out yogis wax their boards and surfers spend their mornings taming the powerful Pacific Ocean and their afternoons omm-ing to chilled-out tunes
Next day we drive to the beach town of Montezuma, where we catch a boat to nearby Isla Tortuga for a spot of scuba diving. Below the surface, whitetip reef sharks rest upon sandy banks next to the reef, and common rays and several species of sea turtle float by like otherworldly creatures. Octopus, langosta (a type of lobster), starfish, sea urchins, moray eels and puffer fish go about their business among the rocks. Afterwards, we crash on the beach with ice-cold beers and eat a simple scallop and oyster ceviche, thoughtfully supplied by a local fisherman from his boat pulled up on the sand. He opens the shells and washes the meat in sea water, before chopping and dressing with lime juice, onion and hot sauce. Served chilled, it's light and fresh tasting – especially paired with the local Imperial beer I seem to be quaffing in some quantity – and just for a moment it takes the edge off the occasionally oppressive Central American heat.
Costa Ricans traditionally use sea bass, red snapper or grouper, and at Product C Fish Market – a local bar and fishmonger manned by a pod of gnarly surf dudes – I eat exemplary ceviche made with a splash of ginger ale. This, it turns out, is a typical addition to the dish in Costa Rica, and the extra sweetness and the zing of the ginger really add something to the flavour.
The local tacos are equally delicious and addictive, and I daydream about opening a live-fire taco bar on the beach, before remembering I'm supposed to be here to work. There's still much to be done for Circle Haus, so it's back to Santa Teresa to look at villas, recruit staff, film video and pose for a photoshoot. Who knew being a wellness junkie could be such bloody hard graft?
For more of Richard's adventures, follow him on Instagram at @richardhturner