With the movie Eat, Pray, Love about to be released around the world, those interested in culinary, spiritual and relaxation journeys will be reminded of how to savour life’s simple pleasures and travel the world while doing it. How appropriate that we were able to speak personally with Geoff McCabe recently, who is CEO/Co-owner of Anamaya Resort (which we wrote about not long ago) in Costa Rica, the world’s first ‘carbon-neutral’ country.
We were fascinated by the story behind the boutique hotel’s conception and wanted to get the inside scoop on it’s development and construction as well as the owner’s personal wishes for the resort. Afterall, not only is the resort a beauty to look at, a lot of thought has been put into it to make it the best possible experience for both guests and the environment surrounding it. You will be surprised after reading our interview how diverse a background Geoff has and how his idea for Anamaya became a reality…
Vidafine: Tell us a bit about your background. I’d imagine it to be from design and hotel management?
Geoff: Well, not exactly. I was studying “crystal growth” and around a lot of chemicals. I read somewhere that in the U.S., chemists have an average lifespan 10 years shorter than the average population so I decided I didn’t want to be doing that. Other jobs in Physics seemed to be mainly about building weapons, which I didn’t want to do either. Most of the professors seemed overworked and stressed and so academics didn’t look like fun either. Plus there were so few girls around. Did I want a life where I was around 90% men? I realized that I was creating a life that was destined to be out of balance in many ways and that didn’t sit well with me. So I left myself open to new opportunities. I had decided to move back to Seattle and become a bike messenger and see what happened. But the opportunity to get into jewelry came up first. I traveled on the Lollapalooza tour selling my jewelry around the country and was very successful, earning enough money to start a bigger business and open a factory in China. I was taking a lot of risks and a lot of people thought I was nuts to give up all that education and invest my life savings in China, which at that time in 1993 was very different than now. People my age with my lack of experience just didn’t do that. But I was young and had little to lose the way I saw it. I thought that big risk + really hard work = big rewards and so I jumped for it. And anyway, it was never a difficult choice to make. I learned that sometimes in life you feel very strongly about a direction you’re taking and destiny just draws you in. I felt the same way when I first drove into Montezuma, Costa Rica. I knew without a doubt that was the place I was meant to be.
Vidafine: Wow so from a science background to jewelry design, you are definitely multi-talented Geoff! I can totally relate to how you felt with your decision to pursue your passion. It’s a gut feeling that’s hard to describe, but like you said, believe in yourself and work hard and in the end it all falls into place! So how did your life as a jewelry designer lead you to the birth of Anamaya, specifically in Costa Rica?
Geoff: Well we were designing jewelry and gift products, and constantly studying fashion trends and looking for good new ideas. We spent countless hours looking at all kinds of fashion and design magazines every month. All that sinks into your brain and becomes the stuff that your intuition and creativity draw on subconsciously for inspiration later. So when it came to designing and decorating the house, I had years of background already in design, and all of that comes out. Of course it also depends on what you can find.
As for why Costa Rica, it’s because of its reputation as a beautiful and safe country. I didn’t do a lot of research comparing it to its neighbors. It was already Costa Rica in my mind because of recommendations by various acquaintances in the U.S., everyone always seemed to have good things to say about Costa Rica.
Vidafine: It’s funny, you can learn just as much through life experiences (if not more) as you would in academics. You mentioned “designing the house” in your last response. Did you live in the resort to begin with?
Geoff: Actually, we purchased the land that Anamaya is now built on in March of 2004. We built a small house after moving to Costa Rica in July, and that house is now one of our rental units, called “The Casita”. We loved that small house. It was designed and built by Rico Reolon, who would later build Anamaya. While living there, we designed the main house, later to be called Anamaya. I designed it with Rico’s help using free 3D design software called Sketch-Up, which is now a division of Google.
Vidafine: That’s amazing how quickly Anamaya has expanded! We know that Anamaya prides itself on being “green”. This is such a hot topic these days. What exactly does that mean to you and your crew and how have you incorporated that way of thinking into your resort?
Geoff: “Green” means very different things to different people. Some are focused on things like solar and windmills to generate local power. I personally don’t find that very green, because there’s so much embedded energy in the technology that’s used, as well as hidden toxicity. Others focus on carbon footprint, so they think a house should be built in a way that doesn’t put a lot of CO2 in the air; some like to use Bamboo or build earth homes. Others focus on toxicity issues, which is the direction I went. I tried to find building materials such as concrete that don’t give off toxic vapors, and can be painted with non-toxic stucco. Concrete is best too for creating an environment that bugs don’t like to live in, so we don’t need to spray poison to keep the insects at bay, unlike a wood or bamboo house. Concrete also lasts longest and is low maintenance. The house was designed to require little lighting and to have good airflow in every room, so Air Conditioning isn’t needed (although we have it anyway since some guests really require it). So when you consider what’s “green” in a house, you have to think about not just what it takes to build it, but what it’s like to live in it over 20-100 years. The whole lifecycle of the house needs to be considered, and for me, concrete seemed like the best way to go.
Vidafine: We love the way that you have differentiated your resort from the others around the globe. What is it that you ultimately want to achieve with Anamaya?
Geoff: Presently, we are moving it towards a healthier and healthier model, focusing more on a detox diet, and offering more health-related services so that our guests can come down here and not only have a great time, but leave much healthier than before. We will have cleansing and fasting options. Our 5-year plan is to expand Anamaya onto our lower lot, by building a much larger yoga space and adding additional rooms, so we can host larger yoga retreats by some of the best teachers, and we hope to be part of making the Montezuma/Malpais area of Costa Rica a world hub of yoga, green travel, and healthy food/lifestyle.
Vidafine: Do you ever wonder what life would be like if you ended up continuing in Science or Jewelry making?
Geoff: Not really, because when I made the decision to change my life, the choice was so obvious and compelling at the time, so I never looked back. Friends of course often thought I was a bit nuts taking such risks, because most people walk a much safer path in life, but for me the option to continue what I was doing was the scarier one. I do miss all the creativity that was involved in jewelry design, and the incredible challenge of the fashion industry. Predicting cultural trends is very brain-challenging.
Vidafine: Geoff, your life truly seems like a great adventure. Do you have any last thoughts for our readers looking to pursue something ‘out of the ordinary’?
Geoff: People often ask me about success and how I’ve been able to do what I’ve done. It seems like magic to many people. It’s not about luck, but more about having confidence in yourself and working really hard for a very long time, always trying to learn new things, make friends, listen to experts, and not giving up easily. There’s no secret ingredient – it’s just about continual focus and the pursuit of excellence. There are so many opportunities and good people along the way that will help you out with great gems of wisdom, but you have to take these bits of information and make them your own, because there are so many ways to be successful.
Thanks so very much to Geoff for taking the time for this interview. I think with the recent generation, many are considering careers and life paths outside of what is considered the ‘norm’. Your story captures the true essence of what it means to work hard, believe and change. For those wishing to visit Anamaya to get the real Costa Rican experience, you can find more information here.