Many people ask us “How did you end up in Costa Rica?” “What’s Your Story?” We know that you are curious, and some of you might be dreaming of taking a similar path someday, so we’ve decided to write it all down.
After raising our two daughters, Amanda and Tara (the inspiration for the name Ama-Tierra) 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 good ol U.S.A. was spinning at an inhuman pace. Facing another 4 years of George Bush as president of the U.S. was not a pleasant thought, especially after Jill had worked on John Kerry’s campaign in southern Arizona. All of these things combined propelled Jill to expand her vision of wellness and create a place where people could take a time out from life, de-stress and heal themselves.
Bob, meanwhile, was seeing the writing on the wall after 40 years 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 U.S. “It was just becoming bad medicine for me, feeling so frustrated every day” Jill says of that time. “I felt the country 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.” But where was that place? The family had traveled often to Mexico, but options for growing organic produce and becoming self-sustaining there were not realistic. And what about the water? Not drinkable in most parts of Mexico. And land ownership, the government, not so stable, and very corrupt.
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 cared to educate the populace (with 96% literacy rate), give everyone medical care, 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 U. of Costa Rica, so we sold the big house in Tucson, got a full price offer the first week (talk about the Universe supporting us—WOW!) and in June of 2005, the four of us jumped on a plane to Costa Rica for a 2 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). Bob remembers: “One day I’m standing in the pouring rain with mud and cow pies under my tennies, watching Jill actually smiling as she talked to the owner of this coffee farm as he stood next to his cows and I’m thinking, God, what have I gotten myself into?”
Throughout the particularly rainy 2 weeks (our family of 4 became experts at gin rummy and mostly kept our sense of humor) Bob kept asking: “When are we going to see that Finca que Ama place?” It was a small hotel that a young Israeli couple was selling. We had read about it in an online journal called “Escaping America.” “Don’t you remember? It’s out of our price range,” Jill said. We dropped Tara and friend Keenan off at a little makeshift studio apartment down an alley in the seedy town of Jaco (parental fear reaching new heights: “Do NOT EVER walk home alone!” we made her promise) and went home to Arizona to digest all we had seen.
An email awaited us, from the couple at Finca Que Ama, which means “the loving estate”. “If you are still interested in our property, we have lowered the price and are willing to talk terms” it said. Hmmmmmmmmm….Bob’s intuition was right. But darn, we had not seen it! Ok, but Tara is there, we thought, and she’s even closer to the owners’ age than we are. Let HER go see it! Neta, the smiling young short-haired 27 year old and her husband Arbel, the bearded artist who loves Reggae, were gracious hosts the very next week. Tara 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”. Wow. In September we went back down to Costa Rica, accompanied by our friend and psychic advisor Veronica, to see the place, feel its energy, check it all out. And we fell in love.
We didn’t have enough money (does anybody ever in these situations?) but we scrambled to learn about how to find investors—talking to friends, lawyers, financial people, a big learning curve. Learned how to write a business plan, and make projections. 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 hotel. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, Co-Owner & Wellness Director of AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica, is a professional nutritionist, certified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and clinical herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild. She is also an experienced massage therapist, energy healer and Hatha yoga instructor. The Wellness Center at AmaTierra is Jill’s living dream, the fruition of decades of training, practice and experience in natural medicine and the healing arts.