Early in 2011, into my sophomore year of college, elbow deep in work I had no hunger for, following the traditional track toward university and career; soon I would defer my acceptance to Bastyr University, sell my car, quit my job, and buy a one way ticket to the Canary Island of Fuerteventura.
I found Azul in the back-page directory of Yoga Journal Magazine. In a 1”x2” advertisement, they highlighted themselves as a yoga and Pilates retreat in the sun with dedication to nutrition and wellbeing. I knew this was my place. I circled the ad, and sent Jamie and Karissa an e-mail. I explained how I heard about the retreat, my studies in nutrition, my recent yoga teacher training certification, and my own dedication to wellbeing. Months passed, I continued with my studies, my job at a local cafe, then one day in April, out of the blue, I got an e-mail back from Karissa. She asked me to send my resume, and we set up a Skype date to speak a little more. Within three months I had sold my car to pay for my ticket, deferred all plans for school, and left my job. I was on a plane, leaving my home, close to Seattle, Washington, crossing the Atlantic Ocean for an unknown adventure.
Driving through a stretch of underdeveloped land en route from the airport I was filled with curiosity but could manage to do little more than gape at the landscape outside my window. Having never left the United States on my own, much less eight time zones away from the west coast, I had never seen anything quite like Fuerte. Culturally Europe, but geographically Africa, a rocky wind-swept terrain stretched for miles. The roads were small, lined with stone barriers. Everything seemed sun-bleached and life seemed to move at a slower pace as if completely disconnected from the rest of the world.
In the midst of the volcanic desert of Fuerteventura, exists a haven for yogis and foodies alike, this is Villa Azul. With a staff that comes from London, Glasgow, Denmark, Italy, and Spain this already felt like the cultural exchange of a lifetime.
My days were spent preparing brunch with a sweet lady, Idaira, who’s English was about as good as my Spanish. She taught me the way that mornings worked at Villa Azul and I taught her how to make healthy pancakes.
The rest of my day was scattered with light work, cleaning up around the Villa — my cafe job mentality was put to good use, my old boss, Donna’s, voice echoing in my head, ‘There’s always something to do’.
I would attend yoga and Pilates classes every day, loving a sweaty vinyasa flow with Emma, and welcoming the hardcore challenge of Pilates with Jamie. I got to teach a few yoga classes in my time there as well.
My favorite work was always in the kitchen. I would make lunch and smoothies for guests, and help Jo come dinner time. I learned so much from her in the way of food preparation. We talked about the benefits of fermenting foods, soaking grains and legumes, combining grains and pulses to create complete proteins. She taught me to use the benefits of whole foods to enhance flavors and nutrition of dishes, always working with fresh herbs, fresh ground spices, using dates to bind and sweeten desserts, never refined sugars. Coming from a culture of ‘non-fat’, ‘sugar-free’, ‘gluten-free’ and ‘diet’ everything, I found her take on nutrition to be fresh and inspiring. Imagine, eating real food– whole foods and combining them in such a way for optimal nutrition, no egg whites and cardboard crackers necessary.
A year and a half later, as I write this, I’m sitting on my patio, just down the road from Villa Azul. I’m back again, this time in a concentrated kitchen position. The role of the kitchen has expanded incredibly and it’s so exciting to see. We’re now preparing brunches all from scratch, making granola, muesli, yogurt, breads, ghee, fresh fruit salads, and of course, pancakes. We are in constant rotation making nightly meals and prepping for the week ahead. I share the kitchen with Jo and my great new friend and room mate, Manuel, who teaches Ashtanga yoga and makes a mean vegan paella. Between Jo’s new cookbook, Truly Healthy, Truly Delicious, nutrition workshops, and recent catering events, we’re cooking up big things in the Azul kitchen.
And while my stay this year is coming to a close, I look forward to coming back again. The relationships I’ve formed at the retreat are those that will last a lifetime. I’ve found a wealth of resources and knowledge. I hold Azul in my mind as a reminder that anything in this life can happen, we just have to take the first step.
About the author
|Stella Hutson started her yoga journey at just 15 and has found her world opening up ever since. She’s a much-loved guest member of the Azul team and has travelled to the Fuerteventura retreat all the way from her home in Seattle, America, to teach yoga and explore her love for nutrition and food in the Azul kitchen – all with an inspiringly can-do attitude and the aim to help others as much as possible. Visit her online at Savouring Stella where you’ll find a mouthwateringly juicy combination of beautifully photographed, wholesome food recipes and empowering stories about her journey to step up to the challenge of playing it big in the world.|