My Yoga Vacation in Nicaragua

Gone are the politically turbulent days. Nicaragua has become an enticing retreat destination.

By Margot Dougherty
Photograph: Photo: Brown Cannon III

The first few days were free-form—reading, swimming, yoga. Sara, our instructor, organized each practice around one of the five elements: air (vayu), fire (agni), water (apas), earth (prithvi) and spirit (akasha). Without the usual distractions of quotidian living, I found myself finally absorbing age-old instructions. By moving my hands closer to my waist for up dog, I really could open my chest without crunching my lower back! One morning at the resort’s storybook farm, a few of us tried milking a cow (there’s something creepy about yanking on an animal’s teat) and slipped warm eggs from roosting hens (who couldn’t have cared less). Doña Candida, the farm’s proprietress, scrambled the huevos and served a feast—­Nicaragua’s national dish of gallo pinto (rice sautéed with red beans), homemade feta-style cheese, fresh fruit, sliced avocado, pico de gallo and tortillas we’d patted out under her supervision. After we’d stuffed ourselves, we begged to put off our morning yoga session, but Sara asked to meet at the beach in an hour.

Trouble in paradise. I was getting a kick out of finding critters all over my bungalow. Those tiny purple crabs lodged in the rivets of sliding doors. A giant black spider I named Ben (as in Big), a good two inches across, that clung to my shower wall each morning, discreetly disappearing when I turned on the water. But other yoginis weren’t feeling the love. Shauna, a jazz singer on the trip, came back from dinner one night to find her bathroom floor obscured by an infestation of ants. Marilyn, our resident life coach, was kept awake by a howler monkey hanging upside down and peering in her window. Others encountered snakes and scorpions. The collective lack of sleep was taking a toll. As we sat in a circle on the yoga platform, Sara proposed moving to a new hotel in the nearby town of San Juan del Sur. We’d still be near the beach, but we’d be able to walk to shops and restaurants, and the rooms had telephones, flat-screen TVs and air conditioning. Plug-in appliances weren’t exactly what I’d been hankering for, but group serenity was at stake. We agreed to the move and left to pack up.

By lunchtime, we were seated under a canvas awning at Pelican Eyes Hotel & Resort, a village of white stucco casitas and tiered infinity pools cut into the hills above San Juan’s tranquil bay. One of the world’s largest statues of ­Jesus—known as Jesus of Divine Mercy—­extended an arm to us from a distant cliff. While I was happy to get out of the Morgan’s Rock cocoon, our spread of lobster BLTs, Greek salads, cheeseburgers and Chilean sauvignon blanc made me feel as if I were at a ladies’ lunch on Sunset Boulevard. Where was the spirit of the Nicaragua I’d encountered on my last trip, a country fighting for its identity and against bourgeois smugness? All smooth, comfortable curves where I wanted an edge, this resort felt less Latin than Miami.

We were paired up in two-bedroom,  two-story casitas with super-equipped kitchens, and balconies upstairs and down. Amy, a well-traveled lawyer and a hoot to be with, was my casita mate. (Perhaps predestined: We’d brought identical Tommy Bahama bikinis.) After lunch we took a stroll through town, a sleepy grid of cobblestone streets and simple buildings painted in sun-faded shades of aqua, yellow, rose and cerulean. Families lounged on folding chairs in front of unlit shops selling woven wallets and headbands, rayon pants and tops, carved turtles, etched pottery. A board-shorts and flip-flops crowd filled the open-air bars and restaurants.

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