When not in class, the participants — from several states and countries including Mexico, Canada and Israel — could explore the lush surroundings, swim in the Pacific and walk along Playa Guiones (which is part of a turtle refuge), lounge in the saltwater infinity pool and look for iguanas in the overhanging trees, indulge in spa services or take off-campus excursions.
The genial and bilingual Costa Rican staff was accessible and made us feel at home on the gated grounds. My non-air-conditioned room was pleasant, with a ceiling fan and screened windows, which made it easier to hear the charming 4:30 a.m. monkey wake-up roars (“They sound like tigers with laryngitis,” said a woman from California). Our group was there during the first week in December, the beginning of Costa Rica’s dry season. With low humidity and daytime temperatures in the 80s, it wasn’t hard to unspool.
It was also possible to enjoy wine, fancy coffee, cookies, smoothies and juices at the Blue Spirit cafe, where a blackboard suggested letting go of “material and mental clutter.” The $7 “green detox” juice (a liquefied salad of celery, cucumber, parsley, ginger, spinach and apple) was fantastic, as were the vegetarian meals. They included various proteins, fruits, vegetables and Costa Rican staples such as corn tortillas and gallo pinto (rice and black beans with bell pepper, onion and cilantro). Balsamic watermelon salad was a highlight, along with copious amounts of juices such as blackberry and tamarind.
This kind of diet, albeit a bit spa-ified, is a trait of the Nicoya Peninsula, as described by National Geographic researcher and fellow Dan Buettner in “The Blue Zones,” in which he identifies regions known for happy and long-lived people. According to the book, a 60-year-old Costa Rican man is about twice as likely as an American man to reach 90. Nicoyans also share such lifestyle traits as a focus on family life and social networks, and having a plan de vida: a purpose in life based on meaningful work and serving others.
Blue Spirit’s founder, Stephan Rechtschaffen, who also co-founded the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., said that he’d fallen in love with Costa Rica two decades ago. The radiant happiness is “one of those things you feel in the people,” he said on our first morning at Blue Spirit, during the orientation session in the Sky-Mind Hall, the treehouse-style room where we had our afternoon classes. At Blue Spirit, he aims to reflect some of the country’s hallmarks — a thriving democracy, a dedication to ecological sustainability and a commitment to minimizing the “footprints” of tourism and development.