In our last sojourn, we had just arrived at the Retreat at Altos del Monte, a new, secluded, eight-acre mountaintop estate just 45 minutes from San Jose, Costa Rica.
The focus here is on restorative health and wellness—mind, body and spirit—built around gradually leaning into more natural, clean eating through a primarily vegan-raw vegan diet. And although over the past two years I have changed my diet to fit around a generally vegetarian and vegan diet, with fish, seafood and sometimes meat thrown in on occasion, I had absolutely no intention of coming here to make any kind of a major dietary lifestyle change, and certainly not raw eating.
But as the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
THE ONLY THING CONSTANT IN LIFE IS CHANGE
The “teacher” that gently tugs all of these elements to center here is Diana Stobo. Looking at this natural beauty who is 5-feet-10-inches tall, with long dark hair, a body resembling that of a model and a radiant face and smile that lights up a room, you would never know that not too long ago she weighed 100 pounds more than she does now and ingested a mountain of prescription drugs for a variety of ailments on a daily basis.
One day she looked in the mirror and asked, “Who am I?” This question turned out to be the catalyst for what eventually became not just her life’s work, but her passion: to inspire others to take control of their bodies by changing their minds about the food they eat, which would in turn bring optimum health to our minds and spirit.
Today, Stobo (www.dianastobo.com), at age 50, is an internationally renowned health and wellness expert and speaker, a culinary artist, a raw foods advocate, an award-winning author and now owner-operator of the Retreat at Altos del Monte.
“At the Retreat we show people how weight and size are not just about exercise, but primarily about what you put in your body,” she explains. “People have come here with all kinds of mental, physical and dietary issues and experienced profound transformations, whether or not they adopted a vegan or raw vegan lifestyle. Our goal is to teach people how they think about food, life and nurturing themselves, despite our everyday stresses, and how they can live simply with elegance and grace. There is no better place to experience this than in Costa Rica, which embodies living a ‘Pura Vida’ (‘Pure Life’) lifestyle.”
Guests at the Retreat typically stay for three, five, seven or 10 days, experiencing a short relaxation with a desire to stay longer, an extended time to “get into the groove,” noticing a shift taking place, and a deep desire to fully integrate these lifestyle practices at home, respectively. According to Stobo, “Everything here is perfectly imperfect, allowing whatever comes about to be deeply personal for one’s own self-care.”
NO MEAT, DAIRY OR GLUTEN—OH MY!
Despite my dietary lifestyle of late, I have to say that I have always been a bread, sauce, cheese (and lots of it!), pasta, rice, potatoes and vegetables girl. But honestly, if you didn’t tell me that about 95 percent of the meals I enjoyed here during my five-day sojourn were primarily raw vegan, I honestly would not have known. Take for example, the absolutely delicious sprouted quinoa moussaka with goat and sheep’s cheese, eggplant, tomatoes and a yogurt Bechamel sauce, the savory cassava soup with kale croutons and rosemary lentil soup, the fresh mixed greens with papaya or balsamic dressing, the sun-dried tomato and walnut pesto or the fresh almond milk.
And then there were the crispy mini rice cakes with mango chutney and olive tapenade, and Italian “pizzas” with avocado, olives and fresh herbs appetizers. One night, for dessert, we enjoyed a creme brulee made with all raw ingredients, including tumeric and macadamia nuts that tasted just like a smooth custard made with milk.
Even their fresh juices, smoothies and signature cocktails were created using ingredients cultivated via renewable resources from a self-sustaining ecosystem and prepared in such a way as to maintain their enzymatic properties for complete body nourishment.
A fairly large amount of these ingredients are sourced from their onsite gardens, including cucumber, celery, cilantro, limes, coconuts, bananas, wheatgrass, mango, honey, chili peppers, tomatoes and lettuce, among others. At each meal—served buffet-style for breakfast and lunch and as a three-course plated meal at dinner—we were gently educated on the properties of each of these elements, such as weight loss, digestion, strengthening bones, adding natural antioxidants, balancing levels in the stomach, pancreas and brain, boosting serotonin levels and so forth.
“Our body systems have been conditioned through our eating, life, stress, etc., to accept things that are not good for us, so when you make a major change in your eating, you are allowing your body to tell you what it needs,” says Stobo. “If our life is like a wheel, at the center is food, and the spokes are relationships, career, finances and love. The one thing we can control is our food, which feeds into everything. It’s the catalyst for change and integrative. Then the law of attraction really takes root. Once you feel it, your body never forgets.”
The dishes were creative, flavorful and nutritious, and after the first two days, those going on day excursions from the resort didn’t want to eat anywhere else, but rather get back in time for the next meal. This group included the staunch meat eaters!
And for those who still desire to eat meat, fish, poultry or seafood, Stobo and her staff encourage you to look for natural or grass-fed animals, because the care taken during raising will come through with great benefits for the body.
Working in tandem with these incredible meals were the variety of wellness activities, including daily nature walks, yoga, meditation, community circles, breath work sessions and spa treatments.
Together they create an incredible experience that leaves an impression, not only on your body and your mind but also on your heart. And that is what “Pura Vida” is all about.
Lysa Allman Baldwin is a freelance writer and the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades, offering “adventures for the mind, bod and belly” (www.amazingescapades.com).