The tide is moving in—splashing black sea urchins cleaved to gray rocks—as I lounge on Hermosa Beach in a hammock strung between palms. I am at Pranamar Villas, an eco-friendly resort in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. World-class surfing and yoga, lush waterfalls and a monkey-canopied forest are some of the charms that have summoned me back to these sunlit shores for the third time to adventure with Women’s Quest, an outdoor fitness vacation for women.
A brief flight from San José to Tambor and a quick taxi through rolling countryside bring me to this little slice of paradise, where everything is, well, sexy. Oceanfront villas dot the lush garden, surrounding a crystal blue pool. Open-air bathrooms are quirky and exotic. Everywhere I look, nature stuns my senses. Bananas, mangos and baby monkeys hang from the trees, and a laidback iguana camps out in my shower. No wonder Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen own a home here.
Questers’ days start early. Picture the beautiful sunrise. Picture this: A dozen male surfing instructors wait along the beach, their buff arms and rock-hard six-packs tanned to a golden perfection, giving us middle-aged women a thrill.
We forget our real-life problems upon arrival, and by the first fantastical evening, the filters fade and everything is open for conversation—though we’re relative strangers, this is the definition of fast friendship.
“Can you believe she made out with him in the pool?” I hear myself ask, referring to a fun sight I witnessed a few moments before—starring two players I scarcely know.
“OMG! I mean come on,” someone says.
“Wait! I need details.”
“Is that guy named Stig or Stick?”
“I think it’s Steak, but I’m just going to call him Sausage,” my perky blonde roommate, Michelle, declares with a wink.
“Asses out! Spread your legs!” The women mimic our instructor, Ricky, tittering like schoolgirls.
Colleen Cannon, founder and three-time world triathlete winner, laughs right along with us. After 25 years leading these empowerment retreats, her method is proven. She exhausts her guests physically and fills them up spiritually. And she’s pleased to be part of the post-workout frivolity. (Please note: Steak/Sausage was making out with someone not associated with the Quest.)
For me, these journeys offer a respite from reality and a chance to test my physical limits. Women from all over the world come with strategic reasons: well-deserved adventure, self-discovery, fitness and rededication to the latter. Then there are those who don’t know just what they are looking for. No matter. By the end of the week, they will have found it.
As we surf together at the start of the trip, I’m transfixed by Penelope, a pretty woman who has arrived buttoned up tight. In her late 30s—and still somewhat mired in an unraveling relationship—Penelope is dressed for the beach like she’s going into combat. I watch her struggle to wade into the gentle waves on our first day, wearing huge flippers, a floating device and goggles. Her hair is pulled back in a severe ponytail, a helmet positioned on her head. I’ve never seen anyone with so many clothes on attempt to swim—let alone straddle a surfboard.
Thank goodness her Argentine instructor, Ricky, is gentle—coaxing Penelope with his wickedly bright smile (he’s got to bleach those choppers) and quiet comments the rest of us only wish we could hear.
By the second day, Penelope has removed her fins and vest.
They get to talking more, and she goes from pretty to positively stunning—her smile better than his.
From here, she sheds like a blue crab casting off its shell. Off comes the helmet, freeing long tresses of gold. Next, she loses her safety glasses, casting away the last remnants of a look that no longer fits.
With nothing to hold Penelope under, she begins to disappear.
What I mean is: She misses dinner at Koji’s, a fabulous Japanese-inspired restaurant in Playa Hermosa. Though we enjoy Penelope’s company, the fiercely athletic ladies and I, we barely notice her absence thanks to pitchers of mojitos, succulent sushi, gorgeous grilled fish and heaping plates of charred octopus.
The next morning, as we sip melon smoothies before a big breakfast of warm tortillas stuffed with eggs and roasted vegetables at Buddha Eyes restaurant Penelope is missing again.
“Is this good or bad?” asks my roommate, Michelle.
“Good,” I say softly.
Later this morning, Penelope seems pensive as we zip line through the jungle —it’s not an easy feat—but I watch her dive off a cliff at the waterfall, plunging into the deep, cool water before she emerges refreshed and grinning her great wide smile.
On our fourth evening, Penelope pulls an all-nighter and the gossip swirls.
“What is up with her—is she boy crazy or obsessed with a book she brought?” asks Michelle.
Since I acted the same way after my divorce, I believe she has met someone she needed to meet, and I inform our team.
“She’s having the time of her life,” I say. “Let’s celebrate for her.”
But obviously Penelope is too happy to care what ideas the rest of her crew is brewing about. She stays gone much of the trip, and I don’t blame her.
Since my days of rebound romance, I am older, wiser and happily married—but also living vicariously. From my hammock lookout, where I loll with sore limbs, I’m hoping to get a peek at her new admirer.
Finally! As Penelope saunters down the beach in her new barely-there Dkoko surfing bikini, her crocheted sarong thrown over her shoulder, her skin bronzed and glowing, I see him. They walk slowly, his hand tucked in hers and a smoldering look upon their faces. And as she waves a wistful goodbye, her long, loose curls blowing in the wind, I know what she has rediscovered in Costa Rica.
But even more importantly, she has found herself.
How to Renew:
Embark on a Women’s Quest retreat to work out righteously and party wild when the sun goes down. All-inclusive trips range from $1,795 to $4,500 (depending on location and duration). womensquest.com
Where to Crash and Splash:
Enjoy the resort’s pampering (try an oceanfront custom massage), surfing and yoga, all in one. pranamarvillas.com
Where to Shop for Sexy:
Dkoko bikinis are surfer girls’ perfect suits, with patterns that flatter and a secure fit that stays on, even amid rolling waves. dkoko.com
Where to Dine and Dish:
Koji Hyodo’s sushi shack—known for their orgasmically tasty spicy tuna roll, homemade ginger beer and excellent service. Phone: 506-2640-0815.