Friday, September 19, 2014

Island Resorts

Latin America: Isla Jicaro – A Spiritual Sanctuary in Granada

Found on the pristine shores of Lake Nicaragua, this singular ecolodge offers guests luxurious suites, serene beauty, and a path to wellness for both body and mind.

(Image Courtesy of Jicaro Island Ecolodge)

When Karen Emanuel visited Granada on holiday in 2007, inspiration wasn’t difficult to find – the area had an opportunity-rich emerging economy, and the setting, particularly around Lake Nicaragua, or Colcibolca, was a natural paradise of untouched forests and stunning lake views. A sign posted in a local restaurant – “Island for Sale” – was all it took to change her life forever. After touring the island and lake with the owners, and feeling the winter chill back home in London, the deal was sealed. Within a few weeks, she had wired the owners a deposit and begun planning.

(Image Courtesy of Jicaro Island Ecolodge)

Trained as a geneticist at Leeds University, entrepreneurial Karen had never quite found the challenges she was seeking in academia, and after starting two successful companies – one in real estate, the other supplying the music industry – she was ready again for something new. A project that would satisfy her need for adventure; and her dream, since childhood, of having a job she loved so much that it didn’t feel like work. The development of Jicaro Island Ecolodge would have many bumps in the road – but it would be more than worth it.

In September of 2007, Nicaragua had just suffered a major ecological disaster – Hurricane Felix, little reported in the media, had laid ruin to more than one million hectares of rainforest. Surprisingly, the lodge on Jicaro was born out of this catastrophe – through partnerships developed between local businesses and government organizations, there was a major campaign to reclaim fallen trees for construction and other uses. The island’s lodge was built entirely out of the hardwood timber felled by Hurricane Felix, as are many of the crafts and pieces of furniture.

(Image Courtesy of Jicaro Island Ecolodge)

The island takes its name from the Jicaro tree, a beautiful and astonishingly hardy plant that was sacred to the Mayan culture. The trees grow prolifically and wherever a small patch of land and a little sun can be found, and, much like the people of Granada, have an incredible ability to bounce back from hardships. The theme of sustainability and union with nature runs throughout the carefully-planned resort – nine low-impact casitas, or little houses, all provide tranquil lake views, and even the linens, towels and bath products are eco-friendly.

In this peaceful setting, many guests are inspired to feed their soul and heal the stresses of modern life through Jicaro’s yoga and wellness programs. Meals are composed of fresh, locally produced ingredients, like fish caught from Lake Nicaragua, locally farmed chicken and beef, and a plethora of vibrant fruits and vegetables. Through the open kitchen, guests can watch the island’s expert chefs prepare simple and light fare like rum-banana pancakes, homemade red bean chilli, or pulled chicken and tamarind sandwiches.  Visitors can work up an appetite with lake-front yoga classes, a brisk swim in the pool, and rainforest excursions.

(Image Courtesy of Jicaro Island Ecolodge)

Karen’s blog, at www.karensisland.com, details the many trials and tribulations of creating the resort and learning to navigate a still-developing country – everything from Customs delays to learning Spanish and training the staff members, who had no experience with Western hospitality, to set tables and serve guests. With all of this stress, it’s no wonder that she created the cenote. A traditional groundwater well, concentric circles of stone gradually step down into a pool of water, the level rising and falling with the seasons, mirroring the water table of the lake. A place for tranquility and quiet contemplation, to sit and watch the wind ripple across your reflection, and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Visit the Jicaro Island Ecolodge website at: http://www.jicarolodge.com/

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