As I began to travel to Nicaragua and post my pictures on FB and Instagram, I heard from my friends, clients and business associates:
“I want to go!”
“That looks like so much fun”
“Do you think I could do it?”
“You should do a retreat!”
This was such a frequent occurrence that I talked to Casey, the co-owner of Soma Surf Resort on one of my trips. I asked, “Sooo, if I wanted to bring down 11 of my most bad ass clients who have never surfed before could we create a magical adventure?”
She said, “Yes, absolutely.”
I trust Casey and Bill (her partner at Soma and in life) completely. These two have been married for 40 years and are just the best people. When the couple retired (Casey was an executive at Calvin Klein and Bill was an educator), he suggested they open a boutique resort. Bill and their son had been on numerous surf trips to Nicaragua through recent years and thought it was the perfect place. Fast forward to today… Casey pays attention to every detail no matter how small, and Bill (who runs the surf program) is the most patient man on Earth in and out of the water. Between the two of them, they have truly created a slice of heaven that I simply couldn’t wait to share.
During my September 2016 trip to Soma, Casey and I picked a date in March 2017 to host our first retreat. We put it up on the web site, and it didn’t even take 60 days to have a full crew heading down. How exciting!
I can tell you (as a person who has done a lot of retreats and spends a lot of time with women) that it is always a concern to put a group together in close quarters. As I watched the registrations come in, I couldn’t believe the women who said, “Yes.”
These incredible, smart, brave, funny, kick ass, rockstar women formed the most amazing group. Another thing I trust absolutely is the organic process of group formation. Just as I know whoever is going to be at SOMA when I go with my husband is going to be an open and most interesting group of people, I trusted that this group of women was going to be a real stunner of a group.
We had Emily and her two sisters (Elena and Katie), Kathryn (our photographer), Meredith (AB’s marketing director), Schell (a client of 7 years) and her sister (Lacey from Oregon), April (a long-time AB client and client-model), Kristen (a friend and business associate) and Jeena (a biz associate from WADC) and her friend Nicole. I had met nearly everyone, but most everyone else was meeting one another for the first time.
Seven of the 12 of us boarded the plane in Atlanta and met for the first time at the airport gate. As an added bonus, Bill just happened to be on our flight since he was in the States visiting family.
It takes a little more than three hours to get to Managua, Nicaragua if you fly direct on Delta. I will also occasionally fly Spirit (I KNOW… SPIRIT), but the flight is usually under $400 round trip so I put up with it.
After the quick flight, we recovered all of our bags, including my surfboard. If you didn’t already know, I had a leg tattoo done of a mermaid and had the same image put on my custom surfboard made by Valerie Duprat of Mere Made Surfboards. This was going to be my first ride on my board, so I was glad she made it to Nica in one piece.
The hotel shuttle picked us up and brought us to the Hotel Camino Real Managua. This is a classic Nicaraguan hotel near the airport, and I have stayed here nearly all my visits to Nicaragua. We gathered at the bar, as everyone got in and this was the first time the whole group had met each other. Before too long, it got really noisy and it was clear the bonding had begun. This continued as we went to dinner and took time to introduce ourselves around the table more formally.
Our van taking us to Soma showed up the next morning, and we all got in (luggage and all) and spent about 2.5 hours driving to the coast. This is where the slow letting go of the stresses of modern life start to happen. When leaving Managua, there are cars and bikes and motorcycles and typical city chaos before it all slowly fades into a landscape of volcanoes and sugar cane fields and dirt and cows and horses and oxes on the dirt road. Pretty soon (and really before you even know it) you are far away from American culture.
Upon arriving at Soma, every single one of our group agreed the resort was beautiful (even better than they had imagined it might be, in fact) and were thrilled they’d taken the chance to come on this trip. This is exactly what I’d hoped would happen!
We all took a little respite before heading out to our first surf session that afternoon. The girls met our instructors Allesio, Nando, Christina and Isabelle. We piled in two trucks and headed to our first beach outing in Astillero, which is a small fishing village with a wide beach and beautiful waves. This is one of my favorite places on Earth. For me, there was nothing better than seeing the girls’ faces as the trucks pulled onto the sand and drove across the beach past fishing boats and ox carts.
I know there was a lot of apprehension about the whole issue of surfing. I hear all kinds of concerns whenever I talk to women about it. We sat in a semi circle, and the instructors began talking to us about the fundamentals of surfing. All the issues, concerns and comments were addressed and then everyone went into the water.
This was a dream come true! To watch these spectacular women get in the water and practice wave after wave, laughing, giggling, yelling and cheering for one another was beyond explanation. I could not have been more satisfied in my soul.
The sun began to set and we headed back to Soma where Roberto (the kitchen manager) greeted us with the drink menu. Mojitos in the pool– don’t mind if we do! And for food… Tostones! Fish Tacos! Cowboy Burgers! Churrasco! The food is part of what is so wonderful about Soma. It’s all locally grown (this is an agricultural community), and there is love in this kitchen that is so apparent. There is even a menu, which is just incredible since most resorts like this give you only one or two things to choose from each meal.
We all ate around the community table, and the conversation and laughter was enough to make anybody smile who could hear us carrying on. We finished every meal with caramel crack (a dessert) and 18-year-old Flor de Cana rum. This is a very special rum. I had everyone pick up a bottle at the airport. We shared a glass from each person’s bottle at every dinner. This rum is probably the BEST rum I have ever had because it is processed with real sugar cane instead of molasses like most rums. This makes it more difficult to produce, as it has to be made in small batches lest it go bad before it even makes it to processing.
Every night, we toasted the magical moments of the day and the courageous actions each one of us took to get up on the board or at least attempt to make that happen. What I didn’t realize would happen when I first conceived of this retreat was that there were going to be some serious breakthroughs. We broke through fear, physical limitations and a lot of personal self-limiting beliefs. What we all got at the end of the week was some serious freedom and 12 of the best friends EVER!
The week was full of activities that were designed to balance out the surfing because surfing can be physically pretty challenging. Nearly every day, we had magical yoga sessions with Z who guided us into restorative postures, and one day we went for a tidepool walk and got to do yoga on the beach for a sunset session.
We took a cultural tour into the villages of El Remate and Ajul with our wonderful guide, Harold. We watched men making bricks pretty much by hand, learned about Comales– traditional pottery used to make tortillas (we even made some ourselves), rode on ox carts, milked cows– which is way harder than it looks, and made tortillas from scratch while visiting the home of a local family. It was fascinating to learn about the REAL Nicaraguan village life and witness firsthand how a day in the life here is lived. From limited running water (they just got their first deep water well) and difficult access during the rainy season (one of the river passes actually swept away at SUV last year), to simple school buildings (and long walks to school for the teens) and a truly agricultural lifestyle, this is the kind of life you simple can’t imagine until you’ve seen it with your own two eyes.
Our last night at Soma, we had a bonfire at the beach. It was a gorgeous evening, and we enjoyed it with a few cold brews and some gratitude. We all went around and acknowledged Casey and Bill and the instructors, as well as one another for the experience that now was a part of who we are and will stay with each of us forever.
The last day, we left Soma and headed to Mombacho, which is one of the nearly 20 active volcanoes in Nica. We visited Canopy Tour Miravalle and spent a few hours zipping through the trees at the base of Mombacho as a group. It was really fun, and our attentive yet free-wheeling guides made it even better!
After our ziplining adventure, we headed up to the rim of Mombacho with another stellar guide, Fred, and spent a few hours on a short hike to truly experience the beauty and nature of this unbelievable place. From this vantage point, we could see crater lakes and Lake Nicaragua. It was absolutely stunning.
Our last stop before ending our adventure was to Granada, an old Colonial city dating back to the 1500s! We stopped in churches, and our guide shared with us the incredible history of this fascinating city. We ended our tour with an delicious meal and headed back to Managua to catch our flight out the following morning.
I want to end with letting you know that this week was truly life changing. I didn’t have any expectations as to what the week was going to bring. I just wanted to facilitate a beautiful experience to a otherworldly place and (hopefully) see some of these kick ass women ride some waves.
All that happened and more! I don’t know if any of you reading this went to camp as a young child. But at that age, I like to say, before the distractions of boys and hormones, there is nothing but laughing and discovery and bonding and singing! This was the essence of our week in Nicaragua. It was pure joy and magic. And, as a result, every one of us plans to head back for a reunion next year.
But, in the meantime, I once again have a lot of women reaching out asking how they can go. We will have one more retreat this year in November and are scheduling three for next year. If you are interested, please click here to join our Facebook Group and receive updates. Registration is open for November, and you can see the details on the retreat page on the Soma web site. If you want to go, I encourage you to just say, “Yes.” We will sell out quickly. All it takes is a deposit. ☺
If you missed parts 1 and 2 of this 3-part series, please click through to read Meredith’s overview of the first retreat and Aly’s blog post about how she found surfing and Soma.
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