Full Body Relaxation

Story and Photography by Alley L. Biniarz

One of the first things I heard when telling my friends or family that I was travelling to Nicaragua was to “be careful.” Now, that’s been true for nearly everywhere I’ve trekked; I had to be mindful of pickpockets in Barcelona, I paid attention while on the tube in London and I continue to walk vigilantly at night in my own hometown. Statistically, Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America after Costa Rica and if I had let myself be deterred by travel advisories, I would have missed out on this off-the-beaten-path gem. 

Landing in Nicaragua was easy; getting there was the fun part. Those who have travelled through Mexico City’s International Airport will understand the frustration that can occur and that was before all their current construction. After a five-hour flight from Toronto’s Pearson departing at 1 am, my partner Dane and I landed in Mexico City, exhausted and ready for a meal. We had a four-hour layover, so we weren’t hurting for time to grab our first helping of local fruits available at a quaint breakfast spot in the middle of the airport. This was my first experience trying papaya and, although I wasn’t a fan of it at the start, spoiler: I had my fill and loved papaya by the end of our month-long journey in Central America. 

Alley and Dane with the sunset behind them at the Masaya Volcano.

We fully expected to see our gate up on the board by the time our breakfast was over, but even two hours prior there was nothing listed except the word, cerrado. This word roughly translates to “closed”, which is not something you want to hear when you’re sleep-deprived in a foreign country. “Perdón,” I frantically walked my way up to the information desk to ask them about the state of our flight to Managua Airport. “Si. Si. It’s not updated. Your gate is A16,” he replied nonchalantly. Relieved, Dane and I went to sit at the gate. 

Dane began to doze off in his seat while I kept an eye on the non-updating gate. 45 minutes to our departure, the gate had finally changed…to say that it was departing to Dallas, Texas. I shook Dane awake and saw the panic in other people’s eyes around us, who too thought they were in the right spot for a flight to Managua. After a few hurried whispers, we all proceeded to sprint all the way to our new gate: across the airport, down the stairs and onto a bus to finally catch our flight. We’ve since learned that this can be typical of Mexico City Airport and that if you’re a go-with-the-flow person (which we thought we were), this won’t put a damper on your travels. 

Landing in Managua Nicaragua, we were greeted by 30-degree weather and humidity. That’s just a fact: it is hot in the city. Thankfully we were headed a little past the surf town of San Juan Del Sur to a place called Eden on the Chocolata, a paradise retreat centre elevated and mostly sheltered from the blistering heat. 

During our three-hour car ride through Nicaragua, we saw how much of this country has been spared major development. Rather than sidewalks, there were trees to landscape the roads, volcanoes in place of skyscrapers and the homes were intimate and colourful, a welcome break from some of the mega-mansions we were used to seeing. Aside from the humidity it was a gorgeous time to visit; since we were coming up on the end of rainy season, we were graced with views of the jungles at their most lush. 

Arriving at Eden was jolting after 16 hours of mildly chaotic travel, where we were instantly met with bliss. I’m not talking about five-star luxury here but pure, unfiltered and natural bliss. The space itself had an impressive landscape with plants and vegetation that Dane and I as gardeners were eager to identify. Banana and plantain trees. Papaya trees. Avocados. Limes. We’d never seen these in person and were giddy at their discovery. 

Our sleeping quarters were bamboo and wooden structures with thatched roofs and there was a common area for us to lounge in, eat our suppers and access the pool. We would be here for 10 days, seven of which were reserved for a yoga retreat with other Windorites and our guide, Sarah of Solasta Healing Arts. 

The days leading up to the retreat were spent adjusting to the climate, where we were woken every day at 4:45 am to the song of Howler Monkeys. We learned that days are consistent in Central America, where the sunrise and sunset are the same year-round: 5:30 am sunrise to 5:30 pm sunset. And we were spoiled with local food during every meal, but the breakfasts were especially consistent with a serving of eggs with Gallo Pinto. 

Eden was also a stunning jungle walk away from the ocean; this 20-minute hike went through a protected park area and let out at the most incredible nook of a beach, where only a few locals would frequent. Here, we were protected from major waves and sea creatures and could bask in the greenery that filled this country. By the time the retreat started, and fellow Windsor friends joined in on the fun, we felt like pros —it’s funny how quickly that happens when you’re directly immersed with locals versus being in a gated resort. 

Our retreat consisted of yoga and healing work, which not everyone was familiar with. It was humbling to watch what the jungle and heat combined with community circles, meditation, cacao ceremonies and delicious food could bring out for all of us. In just a week, many of us broke open and surrendered to what we needed to learn and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable with each other. We quickly became a family, and this level of connection showed me the power of living and healing in community. 

In between yoga and meditation sessions we were able to squeeze in extra daily activities that allowed us to explore beyond Eden. The first day Dane and I opted to go horseback riding, which consisted of a three-hour tour of residential areas along with watching the sunset along three different beaches in the area and was an absolute highlight of the trip. Tuesday was reserved for the surfers which, as someone who is a decent swimmer but not a fan of crashing, I left to my fellow retreat mates. For those who are interested in surfing, San Juan Del Sur and the surrounding area is well known for its pristine waves and beginner-friendly lessons. 

The middle of our week was a treat that we all were able to experience: a full day trip to Grenada. The lot of us piled into a shuttle and headed towards the city with a pit stop at Lake Nicaragua, which despite being a freshwater lake is home to the Bull Shark. When arriving in Grenada, we got to witness some of their Navidad decorations since it was the end of November, as well as the Spanish-colonial architecture that the city is known for. We were also lucky enough to make it to the Cacao Museum where we learned the history of this beautiful plant, and had our fill of true chocolate.  

We had one more stop to make before heading back to Eden and that was to Nicaragua’s number one attraction, Parque Nacional Volcán Masaya. The volcano is breathtaking in its grandeur and was Dane’s favourite part of the trip. We ended our day watching a glorious orange sunset streak through a haze of volcanic ash, while the glow of the lava in the crater below lit up our noses with its magic. 

Despite our plans to travel to Costa Rica after these 10 days in Nicaragua, we didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to this part of the journey. The sense of community, friendliness, and relaxation that is found in this country was a privilege to witness. It’s the perfect destination spot for those who want to go down the road less travelled and experience a full-body exhale, where you can rest, rejuvenate and heal the deepest parts of you. 

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