Monday, 30 July 2012 3:36 PM
Kate Walker experiences a fitness and yoga retreat in the exotic island of Ilha Grande in Brazil
It’s 7am and my head is between my legs, attempting to pull off the ‘downward dog’. Lowering myself back down to the mat, as instructed, I take up the ‘child pose’. With my forehead to the ground, I contemplate the low GI and über healthy breakfast that awaits me.
I am on the northern tip of the island of Ilha Grande, located off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state in Brazil (about three hours south of Rio city itself); ensconced in a fitness and yoga retreat programme known as The Island Experience.
The prostrate souls surrounding me are all here for different reasons. Some just can’t kick bad habits, others are here to fight the flab and several are at a crossroads in life and need mental space. And, then there are a few like me, who are seeking a purposeful break – a holiday that doesn’t involve lying on populated beaches and trawling tourist hot spots. This very private nook in the world offers me stillness, hard physical activities and vitamin-soaked organic meals.
Each day begins with an hour’s yoga class. Not being a yoga fanatic I opt to partake some days and on others, to sit quietly with a ginger tea (I pretend it's coffee) on the lodge deck slowly waking to scenes of natural beauty. Being right up on the northern tip of the island, there are very few folk around. In retrospect, I think I met with more island dogs on the beaches and along convoluted walking trails, than people. It’s so quiet and having lived in the madness of London for some years, this place takes a day or so to get totally comfortable with.
By 9am I’m hauling my bright orange kayak down the beach, smearing on sun cream and eager to increase the heart rate. Our destination…well any island or beach really. After 30 minutes of paddling through transparent waters, with turtles visible beneath us, our small group eventually make it to The Blue Lagoon or Freguesía de Santana.
The Blue Lagoon waters are shallow, protected and it feels fantastic to plunge in with a snorkel and mask. And on Freguesía de Santana (beach) weirdly, you can lie under palm trees and stare up at resident vultures. An abandoned church (the oldest and most revered on the island) and a caretaker's home are pretty much all there is to this slice of the island. The sands, should you wish, can be all yours. Bliss.
Watery mornings turn to afternoons with plenty of liquid, filling low calorie packed lunches, sturdy shoes and some serious legging it along, up and over any of the many walking trails The Island Experience team know of.
During the first week of the programme, daily hikes are focused along the less hilly sections but by week two; Martin & Adriana - programme founders and directors - will have you striding and scrambling in their machete-wielding wakes as you bush-bash and fight your way through virginal vegetation to some amazing heights and views out over 'The Caribbean of Brazil'. If you want to push it, test your limits and experience insane personal highs and see a part of the world not a great deal of people get acquainted with; this is it.
Challenged and protesting muscles are inevitable but hey, this is why we're here. Late afternoon and dishevelled, sweat-soaked but elated programme participants wobble on back into the lodge and are met with more of Adriana's superb hydration cocktails and cleansing foods. Coconut water, pure watermelon juices, chopped honeydew/green melon with lime shavings are just a few of the many delicious dishes that make their way out of her kitchen.
For those that do hike, the late afternoons and evenings are eagerly anticipated. The dying sun brings with it down-time, opportunity to stretch it out once more in an evening yoga class and indulge in oil massages and Jacuzzi sessions. For those that decide to skip a hike or two, it means the last part of the day is theirs to do with as they will. One of my most memorable afternoons was spent sprawled on the deck, overlooking the beach with a good book and cups of green tea. 'Me time' is necessary.
The Island Experience team have what seems like a strict programme but in reality it's down to each participant to decide what they follow and how strictly. Should you start out on a low calorie eating plan and later want to increase this, you can. If within days of arriving, you want to push yourself harder, Martin and his team can easily devise a plan to support this. And finally, if half way through the programme you decide your time on the island is better spent lying horizontal - whether that be on a beach, floating in the sea or under the hands of a local masseuse - reflecting on life...why not?
Brazil's sun sinks quickly during the winter months. The bay and sea turn a silver purple, streaked volcanic sands shimmer black and gold and the entire lodge comes to a standstill. On my last night, I find myself sitting next to a silhouette, Martin - he's openly applauding the exit of one hell of a sunset.
By Kate Walker
For more information on the Island Experience visit the website.
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