Healing at the Hacienda
After a family bereavement, Olivia Lichtenstein found some peace thanks to yoga, massage, chakra realignment and craniosacral therapy in a beautiful Costa Rican hideaway.
When Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson need to unwind they nip over to paradise, otherwise known as Hacienda Dorada in Costa Rica. It's the perfect place to escape the paparazzi and relax. Yoga and complementary health specialist, The Life Centre in London, has introduced healing holidays for ordinary mortals at the resort, and badly in need of getting my chi together, I signed up at once.
My fellow 'healees' were an assorted bunch of burnt-out, high-flying, financial types, entrepreneurs and a smattering of Americans. Some were there to heal a broken heart, others to recharge their batteries. As for me, I was struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of my father.
Things did not start well. After a tortuous journey: diverted landings, missed connections and arrival at the wrong airport, (which doubled the normal travel time to 30 hours), I had no choice but to apply the Pollyanna principle and rejoice in this unforeseen opportunity to see more of the country on the unscheduled long drive. It was the start of the rainy season and the land was turning green. The roadside was lined with guavas, mangoes and papaya for sale, far removed from the dehydrated specimens that arrive in Britain.
As we drove, I beefed up on essential facts: Costa Rica is an isthmus - a narrow strip of land connecting two larger masses, Nicaragua on one side, Panama on the other. It hasn't had an army since 1948, which, although cheering, is not as brave as it first seems, since with the USA as its close ally, it is a bit like daring someone to hit you when your 6ft bodybuilder friend is standing next to you.
Hacienda Dorada is located on a 500-acre private estate on the Nicoya peninsula on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Set in a sprawling jungle full of monkeys, iguanas and miniature, leopard-like margays, the resort has its own beach and three exquisitely designed and furnished houses built by the charismatic Abraham 'Abby' Lelchuk, a Jewish Chilean of Ukranian extraction who runs the show. He's the sort of man you'd quite willingly run away with into the Costa Rican sunset: handsome, charming, intelligent and good at DIY!
He bought the land with American partners 14 years ago. 'I sat for two hours on the beach and knew that I had found paradise,' he told me.
Abby's sidekick Olger is a gregarious manager prone to the odd flash of Hispanic moodiness. Together, they cook and feed the guests at a hilltop restaurant, although all of the houses also have their own kitchens. Here and there are discreet photos of Abby snuggled up to Goldie Hawn and standing behind George Harrison. My room in an idyllic thatched cottage, an annexe to one of the houses, played host to the smaller inhabitants of the jungle: bugs, beetles, lizards and crabs became my constant companions. Insect phobics would have a problem here, but I like the way these creature asserted their rights over their territory. On the first night to our mutual astonishment, I shared my bed with a lizard (better to sleep with the lizards than the fishes I guess).
It reminded me of africa, where I was born and raised until the age of seven: the same humidity, fierce, brief rain, the same smells and sounds and glorious, star-filled skies. We rode horses on the beach, did yoga at sunset, had bonfires, barbecues and went fishing. We saw dolphins leaping and giant sea turtles lolling, some with birds perched nonchalantly on their shells.
Building is carefully regulated throughout the country and there were no unsightly hotels or any overt signs of Western tourism, only shacks on the beach with hammocks to lie in and sip - for us, holy healees - our alcohol-free Pina Coladas. Here and there the odd bar offered karaoke. I can think of no finer place to belt out 'I will survive'. England, work, spouses, duties and obligations, what were all of these in such a place?
Morning and evening yoga were the only fixed points of the day. Most of us beginners, yoga guru Liz Lark got us breathing and stretching. 'Yoga helps untangle the threads of the mind leaving you with a tabula rasa, and although you get new footprints, perhaps they're fainter and then yoga can erase them once more,' Liz explained.
Individual healing sessions punctuated the afternoons. Russian bio-energy healer Alla Svirinskaya realigned our chakras and auras. Healing goes back at least five generations in her family on the maternal side. She has a thriving London practice with patients ranging from the Duchess of York to Donna Karan. She treats her patients by running her hands above their body, as she believes that illness, injury or stress all start in the energy field first before affecting the physical body. 'I listen to my hands and read the Braille of the body. each organ has a certain charge of energy around it with its own frequency and vibration,' she said. She told me my energy was blocked in my heart chakra, which is consistent with grieving. I felt lighter and stronger after our sessions.
Craniosacral therapy was on hand from Jenny Smith. This is a gentle, non-invasive form of bodywork that influences the brain and spinal cord. Much of the session is spent with her hands cradling the back of your head. I felt little immediate effect, but she certainly released something, as that evening I found myself in floods of tears as we did yoga on the deserted beach. The beauty of my surrounding was a fitting place to release my sorrow in losing a much loved and loving father.
Frequent massage was provided by local girls who had been trained by Richard Jordan, an American therapist who came to the nearby town of Nosara a few years ago.
Now you may think this is all so much gumbaggley - my husband's word for anything smacking alternative eastern mysticism - but we all felt better with each day that passed: calmer, more relaxed and less wrinkled both inside and out.
We ate deliciously and healthily; succulent fruit, salads, ceviche, beans, vegetable bakes and fish. The mahi mahi was divine, although I was a little put off when Abby told me that they are fish that mate for life and when you catch one, you simply have to wait for its partner to appear to double your catch - is that why you have to say its name twice? There's something unseemly about eating things that can fall in love.
In a spectacular act of subversion, one of our party released the bilingual resident parrot Tuesday from her cage. She showed her gratitude by falling in love with him and jealously attacking his fiancée whenever she came near. It looked like the wedding might be off.
And so we passed our days in healing pursuits, eating temple food and resisting the temptation of alcohol. Abby taunted us with the glowing ruby of his wine glass and, without succumbing, we all hungrily sniffed the cork of his bottle. Who says we holy types don't know how to have fun?
The week passed without a quarrel, apart from an ugly spat between a margay and the parrot. Beg, borrow or steal the money to go, or indeed, earn it and save up; this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. I can't remember seeing such an unspoilt and beautiful country. It's expensive and it is a long way away, but it's worth it and so are you.