Barbara Adam ventures into dangerous new territory at a fitness retreat. Photos by Angeli Castillo.
Like the cliched Hollywood villain, Miss JoJo had an Eastern European accent, a special costume and a name that her mother didn’t give her.
She was definitely bad news. But I knew she was merely an enforcer.
The true evil mastermind in this plot was right next to me, sweating in the sun with a fistful of sand in each hand. And, as you’d expect, the evil mastermind of this Bond-ish scenario was from New Zealand.
I was determined this pair of baddies wouldn’t get the better of me. So I forced myself to do play their nefarious game, while I bided my time, plotting victory. Or a cunning getaway of some description. In a silver Aston Martin. Or a jetski.
These were the thoughts churning through my head during my second fitness session of the weekend. I was sweating and puffing on the beach in front of Ho Tram Beach Boutique Resort, three hours drive from Ho Chi Minh City.
The event was called Escape Saigon, the very first getaway organised by a new Saigon-based company, HyperFit Travel.
On this weekend, the enforcer was JoJo of CrossFit Thao Dien. And her workouts did make me quite cross (and sweaty).
The organiser, Vickie Helson, also made me cross, smiling and chatting through the beach workout. Both obviously evil to their well-toned cores.
After performing the required number of stretches, lunges, burpees and “climb-the-mountains”, and carrying a bag of sand along the beach for no good reason, evil Miss JoJo finally released me from my ordeal.
I hobbled to breakfast to recover with the other hostages. I mean, retreat guests.
There were 14 of us on this first Hyperfit retreat. We’d signed up for a weekend involving four fitness sessions (two yoga sessions and two beach workouts) and a succession of sumptuous meals. I’m not sure any of us ended up with a calorie deficit by the end of the retreat.
In between fitness sessions, there was a lot of lounging by the pool and long walks on the beach. I had planned to check out the resort spa, but accidentally had a nap in my room instead.
There was a photographer on the retreat, recording every drop of sweat, every grain of sand and every sneaky gin and tonic. Guests get a photo package after the weekend.
Vickie (who I called Vickie the Villain in my head during the fitness sessions) came up with the idea of combining fitness and travel while recovering from burnout brought on by years of working for tech start-ups.
“I just wasn’t doing anything I loved,” she said. “I was working long hours, stressed and unhappy, and I wasn’t taking care of myself: not exercising, drinking too much, and sick all the time.”
“I hit rock bottom last year which was really hard, but in hindsight I probably had to go there to come back from it.”
Vickie decided to break up with her unhealthy career and lifestyle, and she spent most of last year recovering and rebuilding her health. She realised she really enjoyed getting back into the fitness scene. (She’d previously trained to be a personal trainer but ended up working in IT instead.)
And once she came up with the idea of fitness retreats, she started exercising the entrepreneurial muscles she spent 17 years building in the start-up industry. Within four-and-a-half months, she had recruited a team of experts, including a “tame Millennial” to do social media, and was hosting her first Hyperfit retreat.
The concept of fitness travel emerged about five years ago, Vickie said, and in Southeast Asia most companies only host yoga or bootcamp retreats in Bali and Muay Thai retreats in Thailand. A long-time resident of Asia, Vickie wanted to showcase the beauty of other countries, such as Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as different forms of fitness training.
“I wanted to innovate,” she said. “I have a different attitude because of my background in the start-up world. It’s all about having an idea, researching it, testing it out and seeing if you — and the market — like it.”
Hyperfit’s next retreat is the seven-day “Blood, Sweat and Temples” retreat in Cambodia’s Siem Reap from June 25 to July 1. There’s another planned for August, and the Hyperfit team are also planning a retreat in the Philippines.
The Siem Reap retreat includes many meals, including buffet breakfasts, and daily fitness sessions, including yoga, Kun Khmer (Cambodian kickboxing) and outdoor activities. Several cultural excursions are also included, including temple tours, eco-tours and a secret swimming spot.
But back to Ho Tram and the Bond girls turned bad scenario.
We’d been promised a weekend away from the noise and the pollution of Ho Chi Minh City, and we certainly got it. The beach workouts were definitely tougher than I’m used to, but the rest of the time was blissful (and not just because I left the kids at home).
Even Villainous Vickie relaxed enough to admit she did indeed have a secret agenda (aka evil plan): “My mission is to give people the most uniquely fun, healthy and inspiring holiday possible.”