Reconnecting mind and body in the Rio Cangrejal valley

For those accustomed to Cayman’s elevation, or rather lack thereof, the uphill walk to the yoga platform at the Omega Tours lodge in Honduras can be challenging.

Walking the steep and at times rocky trail, you will likely feel it in your thighs first: that reminder that in Cayman, we enjoy our vistas at sea level.

The quick forest trek, however, offers plenty of excuses to take a breather and just observe.

More than a trail, the path opens to a lush garden of fruit trees, medicinal and edible plants, and ornamental flowers bursting with color.

At the top, a sprawling mango tree welcomes visitors to an open-air yoga platform that overlooks Pico Bonito National Park.

The surrounding space flutters with life: the buzz of hummingbirds, the sound of toucans, and at night, the sudden flash of fireflies.

Here, nature offers an ideal backdrop to contemplate a week that promises to challenge the body and awaken the spirit.

The scenery here in the Rio Cangrejal valley is a major reason Cayman-based yogi Danielle Henry has been bringing groups back to this place for seven years.

When she lived in the Bay Islands, this was one of her favorite places to visit in mainland Honduras. Now, as the founder of Thrive Fit in the Cayman Islands, she organizes annual retreats that often return to this location.

Just an hour’s flight from Grand Cayman and a short drive from the La Ceiba airport, the valley is like a portal to a new world.

“I decided the Rio Cangrejal was a great spot for me to organize my first yoga retreat back in 2011 because it offered what Cayman did not have: mountains, rivers and waterfalls along with a wealth of [new] culture,” Henry says.

“It is a great way to clear the mind and connect to the heart.”

On her most recent retreat in October, Henry was accompanied by fellow Bliss Living Yoga instructor Manuela Izaacs.

Together, the two certified instructors opened and closed each day with a guided yoga and meditation practice. With the rest of the week packed with physically intense activities – from ziplining to white water rafting to hiking the Pico Bonito range – the hour-long sessions offered much-needed time to unwind and contemplate the abundance of the Honduran jungle.

“I hope to offer students the space to get to know themselves, their physical bodies, how they function and can also disfunction. [And] the subtler parts of themselves, like their emotions, how and why we do the things we do, the importance and power of their breath, how controlling our breath can help us control or thoughts, emotions and actions,” Izaacs says.

“Being in nature rebalances us on so many levels. It allows us to find and feel simplicity, wholeness, fullness and contentment. It awakens a very deep but existing consciousness inside us that makes us feel connected to everything around us.”

The idea behind the open-air practice centers around reconnecting with the elements – earth, fire, water, air and space – before diving right into them.

The retreats offer an opportunity not just to disconnect but also to address fears. While Henry takes the stress out of vacation planning through careful organization of her retreats, she also wants attendees to push out of their comfort zones and abandon their regular routines.

“The retreat is a wonderful combination of play, practice, self-reflection, re-connection and inspiration,” she says.

With a mix of Honduran and international guides, Omega Tours creates the comfort to explore and rediscover nature in a place very different from home.

For many of the local guides, the Rio Cangrejal is their backyard and their playground. They navigate both the river and the forest with ease – and they are definitely who you want to have around in a pinch.

Guides like Darwin and Reynaldo will teach you how to safely swim across the river, which plants may prove useful, like the flower that can be lathered into soap, and which tree trunk to bang like a drum, should you become lost in the woods.

In addition to guided rafting and hiking trips, the tour company also offers camping trips to El Bejuco waterfall, horseback riding, botany and chocolate-making lessons, and excursions to the coast, beaches and mangroves.

For those looking for a more relaxed experience, the eco lodge itself is an ideal place to kick back.

“We like to make our guests happy and comfortable so they can fully enjoy nature and safe adventure tours in a beautiful and eco-friendly environment. We try to create an environment where everyone is able to relax and/or experience adventures in nature, with local people, flora and fauna,” say owners Udo Wittemann and Silvia Stern.

“But also we accommodate to those who just come to relax enjoy the freshwater pool, well-marked hikes on the property, the hammocks and great healthy food and drinks from our Restaurante La Jungla.”

La Jungla’s kitchen stays busy throughout the day, starting with hearty Honduran breakfasts of fresh local eggs, tortillas and avocado, and ending with traditional cuisine from both Honduras and the owners’ home country, Germany. There are no bad options on La Jungla’s menu.

This hidden piece of paradise began taking root in 1992, when Wittemann, then a kayaker on the German national team, embarked on a white water trip through the rivers of Guatemala and Honduras. That is how Wittemann first paddled up the Cangrejal river and decided to return, to start a rafting tour company.

“Udo started planting every fruit, ornamental, medicinal or eatable plants that he could get a hand on right from the beginning. This is why we have very old plants on the property,” the owners say.

Later, Stern would come into the picture, training the kitchen and hotel staff. The lodge would evolve from simple cabanas to include warm, welcoming accommodations, designed for comfort.

Next October, Henry plans to return once again to the Rio Cangrejal with another yoga group. She also has her sights on returning to Copan, Honduras, where she previously took a group overland to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Her next retreat, however, will be much sooner.

In January, she will take her 15th retreat to Little Cayman with Britta Bush from Saucha.

“The three-day weekend offers participants a chance to unplug from their day to day and learn a ‘hands on’ approach to whole body health. You will be introduced to cooking with local/seasonal ingredients (raw and vegan), making natural body treatments and detoxifying and relaxing the body with yoga and meditation,” Henry says.

“The result of the weekend is a completely refreshed feeling throughout the entire body and mind.”

Complemented by Henry’s warm, relaxing demeanor, the getaway promises a truly refreshing experience.

For more information on upcoming retreats, visit www.thrivefitcayman.com or email Henry at [email protected] Henry also teaches a monthly restorative yoga and meditation workshop at Bliss Living Yoga, where Izaacs teaches regular classes. For more information on each teacher’s schedule, visit www.blissyogacayman.com. For more about Omega Tours and to book, visit www.omegatours.info.

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