Nestled on 8 acres in the Costa Rican mountains, one hour west of the capital city of San Jose sits AmaTierra – A rural, eco, wellness retreat centre offering life-enhancing facilities for retreat leaders and their groups. Soul Seed Media spoke with the owners of the centre Bob and Jill Ruttenberg to find out how they ended up in Costa Rica and found their dream Costa Rica yoga retreat center.
Bob and Jill: Tell us how you ended up in Costa Rica?
After raising our two daughters, Amanda and Tara (the inspiration for the name AmaTierra) in Southern California and Arizona, we were looking for a new experience. Our love of travel and our desire to live in a foreign country was combined with a growing awareness that life in the United States was spinning at an inhuman pace. Facing another four years of George Bush as president of was not a pleasant thought, especially after Jill had worked on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign in southern Arizona. Jill had also been working as a professional herbalist, massage therapist, and yoga instructor for many years and wanted to expand her vision of wellness and create a place where people could take time out from life, de-stress and heal themselves.
Bob, meanwhile, was seeing the writing on the wall after 40 years of marketing in the music industry, watching digital downloads replace record stores. He too was ready for a change, and the Ruttenbergs started making plans to leave the United States. “It was just becoming bad medicine for me, feeling so frustrated every day” Jill says of that time. “I felt the U.S. was asleep, and I wanted to go somewhere that was more in line with my beliefs, a place where I could actually make a difference.”
We had heard good things about Costa Rica. They have no army and will never declare a war, a refreshing thought for Peaceniks while the Bush/Cheney duo was destroying Iraq and Afghanistan. Friendly people, and a stable democracy who actually cares to educate the populace (with 96% literacy rate), medical care given to everyone, and a concern for the environment (26% of the country is national park or forest land with a successful reforestation program in place). These were all encouraging factors.
Our daughter Tara was already planning to spend her junior year of college at the University of Costa Rica, so we sold our house receiving a full price offer the in just the first week and in June of 2005, the four of us jumped on a plane to Costa Rica for a two week journey all around the country. We looked at land, since the idea was to build our own center, visiting coffee farms, funky Tico cement houses with bare lightbulbs and dangerous wiring strung across ceilingless rafters. We visited coastal areas with crazy potholed roads and growling howler monkeys (too hot for healing, we decided).
Confused but excited, we went back to the United States to a message from a young Israeli couple who had built a place we had not seen, which is now AmaTierra. Since our daughter Tara was already in Costa Rica, we sent her to scout it out. She called us from the hotel: “Mom”, she said “when you see this place, you’re going to want to do whatever you can to buy it”. And Tara was right! In September we went back to Costa Rica, accompanied by our friend and psychic advisor Veronica, to see the place, feel its energy and check it all out. And we fell in love! We didn’t have enough money (does anybody ever in these situations?) but we scrambled enough to learn about how to find investors – talking to friends, lawyers and financial people. A big learning curve! In the end, we raised the minimum amount we needed, and just eight months after we first set foot on rich, fertile, Costa Rican earth, we were the proud owners of a 10-room retreat center. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Where does the name AmaTierra come from and what does it mean?
Before we purchased the retreat center it was called La Finca que Ama, which translates to “the Loving Estate”. When Jill meditated on the land she kept hearing “Ama, Alma” which means in Spanish Love, Soul. We knew then that Ama needed to stay as part of the name. Then she realized that our two daughters’ names, Amanda and Tara, could be incorporated into the name of the center. After playing with it for a while, we came up with AmaTierra, which one could translate as Beloved Earth. We take our job as stewards of this land very carefully and we respect the delicate ecosystems here.
Tell us about the special energy of Costa Rica and what draws people back?
Costa Rica is so unique for many reasons. Its biodiversity, 6% of the world’s species of animals and plants live here, there are more types of butterflies and hummingbirds than any other place on earth, people are peaceful and happy, and socialized medicine works pretty well here. The energy created by all the lush foliage, trees and Spirits of the land is extremely effective in healing one’s whole body. The land at AmaTierra has an especially healing life force which many people can feel as soon as they walk down the steps and take in the fantastic mountain views. Costa Rica is truly a Paradise on Earth.
Do you have a story of transformation you can share with us about a particular teacher who has gone through a healing process after spending time in Costa Rica?
A recent teacher/leader said this about her recent trip to AmaTierra:
“Visiting Amatierra was a magical and profoundly healing experience for me and the small group of yogis I brought for a yoga retreat in January of 2014. I have been leading yoga retreats in beautiful places on the planet since 1994, but I found Amatierra to be uniquely supportive to the healing and spiritual focus of my yoga teachings. The outcome of this synchronicity was a magnified unfolding and blossoming in the personal experience of my students. The owners and hosts of Amaterra, Jill and Bob Ruttenberg were warm and welcoming. We felt like family, understood and loved. The cuisine was nourishing to the heart and the body, as well as superbly prepared and presented. The staff was part of the family, obviously honored and respected. They beamed with happiness and were always willing to help.
The ground itself vibrated with healing energy and beauty in a tangible way. The healing work given by Jill and other visiting therapists was deep, restorative and truly transformational. I personally experienced a life changing breakthrough. Every aspect of Amatierra supported healing. I will be back. Thank you Bob and Jill and all of your staff. Thank you Amatierra!” Neva Ingalls, Yoga teacher from Maryland
What makes AmaTierra the perfect place to host a retreat?
The yoga shala, for one, has been called the most inspiring in Costa Rica with a hardwood teak floor, open air and dome in the center to watch the clouds go by in Shavasana. We have magnificent views of the forest and mountains. Guests rave about the food here, truly; healthy and delicious; our organic gardens; mango and coconut trees; we take care of all the details and provide a safe and nurturing environment so that even the leader can relax and enjoy him/herself. I believe this is what sets us apart from other retreat centers that may not be as organized or as sensitive to the needs of the guests.
Can you tell us more about the type of retreats you host and the groups that come here?
We host yoga retreats, teacher trainings, recently an ITS Tribal Dance group came (such fun!), workshops in spirituality and self-development. We also host our own detox retreats every other month which are becoming more and more popular because of our customized approach, creating individual programs for detoxing.
What are the different seasons like in Costa Rica?
We have two seasons, wet and dry! How much rain depends on where you are in Costa Rica. We are in the lower mountains where we have sunshine all year round all morning long, and May through November clouds and some rain in the afternoons/nights. September and October are the rainiest months in this region.
Is there a favourable time of year to come?
Most travellers from Europe/North America like escaping winter and coming between November – April. It is still lush and green in December and January and the first part of February, so we like those months as well as May – August where fruits and flowers abound and the landscape is truly stunning.
How accessible is it to travel to from various parts of the world?
Very! More and more flights are being added every month including a non-stop from London and one from Madrid. In the US, Southwest Air has just added a non-stop from Washington DC/Baltimore area. All major airlines come to Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. We welcome guests from all parts of the world. Now there are several non-stop flights each week on British Air from London to San Jose International Airport in Costa Rica, and also to Liberia Airport starting in April 2016.
What facilities do you have at AmaTierra to make for a comfortable and relaxing stay?
Comfy, queen sized beds in spacious rooms, tubs in each room, a relaxed homey atmosphere, a gym, DVD players with over 300 movies (free) to choose from, a swimming pool, hiking trails, the Biomat which we make available free for groups, an array of wellness services directed by a professional nutritionist and herbalist.
Tell us about the delicious and organic food your provide on the retreats?
We serve as much organic food as we can find, including greens from our own garden, wheatgrass, fresh fruits grown on the property, our own fresh eggs (hormone free). We grow Organic Tumeric on the property as well, and use it in our cooking and sell it to guests. We serve hormone free chicken and sustainable fish and incorporate local Costa Rican flavors and exotic tropical fruits into the menu. One need only read our reviews or check out our cookbook to be convinced of the freshness and deliciousness of our food. Our coffee is grown at a nearby farm and is organic, we serve organic wines as well, and local beer.
What eco and sustainability models do you have in place?
The short answer is we are certified by the Institute of Tourism in Costa Rica, with an award in Sustainable Tourism as you can see by the emblem (CST) on our web page. Our water comes from a natural spring (pure and healthy) and is gravity-fed to the rooms, we use all non-toxic biodegradable cleaning products and no chemicals on the land. We are careful to conserve water and energy, using passive solar hot water heat year-round.
What’s your vision for the future of AmaTierra?
To continue to provide an oasis for healing, a place where people can escape and transform. It is truly beautiful to watch people shed their stress and worry and get in touch with the Peace of Mind and Light-hearted Spirit we all have inside of us.
We’re happy to share that it’s easier than ever before to travel to Costa Rica from the UK! British Airways now offers direct flights to San Jose International Airport, as well as Liberia Airport starting in April.