Fitness Retreats are a fascinating concept. A little holiday yoga is always nice and endless hours kicking it in the ocean are great. But running shoes and parallel squats? As far as I’m concerned, these can be left for the drudgery of real life.
And so when, a few weeks back, I was offered to join NicaFit, an aptly named Fitness Retreat in sun soaked Nicaragua, I agreed purely under the safety net of my journalistic liberty. I figured most of my time would be chewed up observing from the sideline, taking numerous photos and scribbling in my notebook. Not actually breaking a sweat and feeling the full effects of my own body weight.
When I first met the birth mother of NicaFit, Lauren Polivka, at the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, she immediately broke the stereotype of your typical Fitness Instructor. I was looking more than a little disheveled and moaning and groaning aloud about the kilometer walk across the border and the weight of my backpack. She sympathised, took my backpack and elevated my misery with talk of a “cocktail hour at El Timón”. I had expected judging eyes and a look that said, “Honey, you better brace yourself”. But not from Lauren, and not on this Fitness Retreat.
The town of San Juan Del Sur greets us with the perfect scene for a regular beach holiday – white sand, cocktail bars, cheap sarongs for sale. It would be easy to erase a few weeks here without any discomfort, without any new friends and without any new experiences. But that wouldn’t be half the challenge, and it certainly wouldn’t be half the fun.
After years alternating between Nicaragua and the States, Lauren knows San Juan like she has been there since birth. We head to the markets where the best mangoes can be found, we learn how to hustle taxi drivers and we sit at the perfect table to catch the sunset – Cerveza Toñas in hand.
On night one we make our way to a small bar where Lauren’s friends are watching – and playing in – a live Spanish band. Mario, who accompanied Lauren to my border collection, has now reappeared as a bongo player. He’s joined by a guitarist called Pirate, who moves his fingers with ballerina like perfection, and a base player called Giovanni, who beams enough to happiness to cater for everyone in the venue. Amidst the perfectly fitting music and the intoxicatingly balmy night, everyone devours a giant pan of paella.
The next day we pile a tribe of 14 into two four wheel drives, stacked high with surf boards and aimed for a secluded beach, fringed by cacti and surrounded by barren desert. Despite the early hours of the day, we’ve brought along enough alcoholic beverages to sink at least 3 of our boards, and it is at this point that I finally start to relax. It’s safe to presume this is not a real fitness retreat, and we will be giving today’s workout a miss.
But as sunset approaches and talk of “changing clothes” comes up, it becomes clear the whole “work out” thing might still be on the cards. I shiver in my scorching hot thongs and wish I could take back those last few swigs of vodka. We trek back home, the sports bra comes on, and we head back to the beach for our daily repent.
We sweat, we squeal and we crunch parts of our body we didn’t know existed. I learn the terror of “sandbagging” and discover I can’t do a real push up. But shortly after the blood sweat and tears, we rinse of our feet and reach for a beer.
On a Fitness Retreat, I learn, meals feel more deserved; drinks feel a little cooler; and days go on forever. And I’m happy to discover that not every work out is a murder scene – we go zip-lining, stand up paddle boarding, and trek up to a lookout towered by a statue of Jesus Christ. Every small challenge conquered proves more exhilarating than imaginable.
In amongst the beach lounging, bar hoping and breaking out in sweats, we partake in community outreach programs and visit local schools. It is at this point that it becomes obvious that Lauren Polivka is successfully hatching her own breed of Fitness Retreat. Balanced, culturally immersive and perfectly challenging, it makes a week of cocktails on the beach look like time wasted at a bus stop.
The final night of Fitness Retreat leaves me begging for me with bonfire at the beach, dancing under the stars and twirling coloured lights. If heaven had a postcode than San Juan Del Sur’s would be it, and the only way to see this heaven is with Lauren Polivka.
Interested in heading to San Juan Del Sur for a fitness retreat experience of your own? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and get involved with NicaFit Retreats on Facebook.