Obonjan – Getting into the Now
STOP MULTI-TASKING – one of the many simple yet potent life lessons I came away with after two weeks on Obonjan island in Croatia this summer.
This particular snippet of genius was delivered by Kate Taylor, a guru of “Up Coaching” (tools to “design and create your best life”). Kate, amongst an impressive list of experts in fields such as mindfulness, healing and wellbeing, was visiting Obonjan to share her knowledge on how to survive, and thrive, in the modern day world. (Multi-tasking, I was reminded, is not one of them.)
Dubbed on their website as “your perfect summer holiday with a festival twist”, Obonjan is a new and exciting concept for a summer getaway that promises to look after your mind, body, and soul. Opening its “doors” for the first time this year, the new project brings music, art, crafts and wellness into one stunning location – a tiny Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea.
The music line-up over the 6-week-long party is impressive to say the least, with big name DJs arriving daily to entertain visitors on the various music stages set in ambient locations across the island, including a stunning ancient amphitheatre and cool Trance vibes Forest Bar. The pull for many though – and what makes Obonjan so special – is a packed daily Yoga schedule, healthy food, and plenty of stimulating and nourishing mindful activities to occupy your stay. From hypnosis, silent disco yoga, crystal healing and movement medicine, to talks such as “How to live a Native Lifestyle in a City”, this was the line-up that caught my attention.
Once used for training local Scouts, Obonjan was uninhabited for ten years, until the team behind popular festivals Unknown and Hideout, also in Croatia, set their sights on it. With a 45-year lease now at their disposal, company Sound Channel, along with partners Croatian travel operators Gratiosus and CMT, and events firm Otok, promise to deliver “a low impact environmentally friendly destination” on which “to create and to protect, to explore and to have fun.”
My partner Nick Gynn and I were thrilled to be asked to share our healing gifts with wellbeing-conscious sun-seekers on the glamorous eco chic spot that dreams are made of. We’d be working in the “Zen Den”, the healing sanctuary on Obonjan, giving our transformative Raynor Massage treatments to anyone in need.
While the promise of working in paradise was simply irresistible (a quick look at the website and I was in!), we departed with a few hesitations after sporadic correspondence with organisers in the weeks prior to our departure left us wondering if the whole thing was just a mirage. (We later discovered that lack of electricity and running water on the island delayed the launch by a week, much to the dismay of holiday-goers booked in, and no doubt, their investors.) Nevertheless (last minute being our middle names), we set off with high hopes for the fortnight ahead.
One stressful rush-hour journey, an obligatory argument at airport security, and a claustrophobic Whizz Air flight later, we were relieved to see a smartly dressed Croatian gentleman at Split airport arrivals holding a sign reading: “Nick and Olivia”. We’d arrived, and our ride had air-con. Winning!
An hour later at Šibenik, a small coastal town a short boat ride away from Obonjan, a swish branded flag swayed in the wind to indicate our vessel’s departure spot. Soon we were sitting arm-in-arm atop the deck of a James Bond-style speedboat. As She glided through crystal-clear waters, passing lush green islands with pebbled beaches, not a soul in site, the sky morphed into pink and orange hues above us as day turned to night on the Adriatic Sea.
Our first impression of the island was, simply, “wow”. Lit in the darkness by tasteful street lamps, we took in the spectacle. In front: an Ibiza-style waterside chill out bar, with elegant wooden decking scattered with oversized grey and cream cushions and sun loungers for relaxing day-to-night. As guests sat around drinking sun-downers a DJ played deep electronic beats from the decks above and cicadas chattered in the trees. The smells of fresh sea air, rich pines, and Mediterranean food cooking in beachside restaurant Bok tickled our senses, and I felt immediately that I was somewhere very special.
Soon we were drifting off to sleep in the most luxuriously comfortable mod-con chic bell tent I’ve ever seen!
The two weeks that ensued were hard work – much harder than we anticipated, in all honesty. Between us we gave over 80 massages, which given the intensity of this healing work, is a lot. Many days we were tired, sometimes cranky (in private of course), and boy did we feel it in our thumbs and shoulders.
But, when you wake up to THIS everyday, you can’t complain about much, right? (What follows is loving constructive observation, not criticism, I assure you!)
Obonjan is a true natural beauty – the positive effects of which on the mind, body, and soul, in itself, cannot be underestimated. Sounds of the sea, wind, and local insects became our daily soundtrack to life. In between treatments we took our pick of magnetic places to restore our energy – from a poolside deckchair to a super comfy cushion by one of the many secluded beaches. Obonjan delivered magic in every moment.
Paradise, it certainly was, although being a “Founding Member” of a project as ambitious as this was bound to (in retrospect) bring its challenges. Teething problems were apparent from the start.
On stormy days fresh food didn’t arrive from the mainland. While not a problem for meat-eating visitors who could enjoy tasty carnivorous delights at Bok or The Kitchen, for highly sensitive* (*demanding) yogis – myself included – when the green juices ran out, shit really hit the fan! There were grumbles too from early risers disturbed by disco beats during the night. Given that noise inevitably travels on an island, I’m not sure this can ever be resolved. It’ll remain to be seen in future years if Obonjan can cater for wellness and music freaks alike.
Relations between Croatian and British staff were visibly strained in the beginning, particularly at The Kitchen, the island’s trendy poolside restaurant serving Croatian Dolores’ vegan creations and world cuisine from the English team (both 5*). Myself obsessed with intercultural relationships found the whole thing fascinating to watch. But whether it was cultural differences or poor management “to blame” is neither here nor there. You could not fault the food. And, as I now understand, to pull off a project like this takes a lot of work. A rocky start was inevitable, one could say.
By the second week of our stay tensions seemed to clear and the service as a whole hugely improved. It was clear everybody was there to work and they soon found a way to come together. That was beautiful to watch. I was starting to become aware that we were part of a talented and creative community with an ecosystem all of its own. The island moved to its own rhythm, and the relationships, gossip, and upsets were all part of the parcel. Fears of us all turning on each other Lord of the Flies-style left my wicked imagination, and I began to really feel at home.
A highlight of our stay was the island’s “Green Bar”. Adjacent to the Zen Den, this little health food eatery became our daily retreat. Fuelling up on nutrients each morning before work, we devoured Peaches and Cream chia bowls, downed beetroot and ginger “Wake Up” juices, and snacked on protein and b-vitamin rich vegan energy balls throughout the day. The heat was intense, and we needed the energy. When we sat down for a proper meal, we’d savour – sometimes sharing as they were so big – the freshest, most delicious salads, all made by hand by the owner Dolores and her incredible employees each morning.
Our bodies were loving it – the food, the weather, the work; we were glowing. For that I’d like to take a moment here to thank each and every individual on the island who helped make our stay so incredible. You are all working so hard, and it shows. A special thanks to Dolores, a truly inspiring, talented and gifted woman doing some incredible work for this planet. I cannot wait to reconnect so you can teach me more about vegan food and sustainable living.
The best thing about Obonjan? It brought me into the present moment – into the NOW – and that is the only place one should ever be.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you’ll need to take a quick break from your screen. Follow these simple steps:
1. TAKE A DEEP BREATH
2. STAND UP
3. STRETCH YOUR ARMS UP INTO THE AIR AND STRIKE A POWER POSE!
This body language exercise was another of Kate’s brilliant tips on getting into the present and into your power. Raising your arms in the air, she explained, has been proven to increase testosterone levels (our power hormone, usually stronger in men than women) and decrease cortisol levels (a damaging hormone released by the body at times of extreme stress). Try it, it works!
Rather regretfully, Kate’s was the only talk I managed to make it to during my stay on Obonjan. I “blame” the scorching hot sun, cool sea breeze, and revitalising fresh clear waters for alluring me to a sun-lounger at every given opportunity between shifts. My body just wanted to be horizontal, and that’s OK. The beauty of this island is that the pace of life is up to you.
Obonjan has something for everyone, although that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Hardcore yogis looking for intense and disciplined practice, go to an ashram. For those wanting a full-power music festival party, you may be left unsatisfied. Obonjan is a holiday destination – one at its BEST.
With rumours of treehouse lodgings and an eco-friendly sewage system next year, the vision for Obonjan is impressively forward-thinking and environmentally-aware. I look forward very much to seeing how the project evolves in future years.
Cheers and namaste folks. Life is but a dream!