Confession: I’ve had more boring conversations with friends about “health issues” over the past couple of years than I’d like to admit. When a friend suggested it was time to see what a week at a spa could do for my health, I found myself at Rancho la Puerta in Tecate, Mexico (an hour from San Diego). Started in 1940, “the Ranch” was originally a summer camp with a philosophy of “a simple faith in the value of living in harmony with nature,” and had evolved over the years into an award-winning destination spa facility.
I disembark from the airport shuttle bus at the Ranch, and nibble on some fresh pineapple before I’m greeted by the concierge who leads me to my room along winding terracotta paths through a landscape dotted with indigenous plants that require little water in this semi-desert. My accommodation is a Mexican-style casita with its own fireplace (hard to believe this is essential in winter months, when today it’s 38 degrees Celsius), and a private patio that overlooks the sacred Kuchumaa mountain.
After a tasty pesco-lacto-ovo vegetarian lunch, I ease into the fitness schedule with a gentle stretch class. The most complicated thing I must think about today is which of the three pools to chill out at, and what classes I want to do over the week. I fall asleep listening to the sound of frogs and the wind blowing through the eucalyptus trees.
There is no WiFi or television in rooms and a “no electronics” policy, except in designated lounges. It’s nice to be unplugged and easier to get to bed earlier – helpful, as I’ve signed up for a four-kilometre Woodland hike at 7 a.m. this morning.
We meander along sun-baked paths, past grape arbours, beautiful but deadly Jimson weed with its large bell-shaped white blossoms, and through small woodland copses like the one called Narnia, where small statues are scattered among the Western Sycamores. At this time of day, the birds are active, and I spot hummingbirds, scrub jays, spotted towhees, and Eurasian-collared doves making their soothing, cooing sounds.
By the time my first class of Pilates finishes at 9:50 a.m., it’s already hot outside, so I’m thankful the yoga studio, my next class, is cool.
Before lunch at the oak tree-shaded labyrinth, the instructor explains that this is an exact replica of the one at Chartres Cathedral in Paris, a classical 11-circuit design floor labyrinth, and a metaphor for our journey through life. She says that brain studies have shown labyrinth walking moves participants from beta waves (normal thinking consciousness) to alpha waves (deep relaxation state).
After my made-to-order omelette by the pool, I try a Feldenkrais class, which I remember was popular in the ’80s. With its very subtle movements, I decide it’s not for me, but next is yoga with Manuel, a gregarious teacher, who leads us through poses, emphasizing his directions often by saying “hashtag just sayin’” that has us laughing throughout the class.
But the real highlight today is my first ever Gyrokinesis class, with its undulating wave-like motions, which feel so good to my spine, led by a petite, graceful instructor who tells us this style was developed by Juliu Horvath, an injured ballet dancer.
A close second is the healing sound class with Maya, who teases sounds out of quartz bowls, as we lay on our backs and let the sound waves wash over us, each bowl directed to a different chakra in the body. I’m so relaxed after this that my body feels like jelly. But I need to stay focused to get to my Metal spa treatment, a mix of skin brushing, massage and aromatherapy, based on ancient healing practices to balance and restore Qi energy.
Because we are what we eat, after morning classes, I go to a presentation by Ranch executive chef, Denise Roa who advises, “Farm to table is easy to find in Mexico because it never left the Mexican culture.”
Dinner is extraordinary with a choice of two entrées (Pan-Seared Shrimp over Herbed Wild Rice and Mango Chipotle Sauce or Florentine Lasagna with Black Lentil, Haricot Verts and Marinara Sauce) or, for the indecisive like me, a bit of both. I am amazed that even the creative desserts like lemon zest cheesecake and figs in phyllo pastry (spa-sized portions, of course) are low-fat, low-sugar cuisine. With all this exercise and healthy eating, my body is starting to feel strong.
At 6:05 a.m., I join the sunrise breakfast hike that winds its way through scrub, cacti and arroyos filled with desert willow over to the Ranch gardens. The head gardener, Salvador, whose passion for food is apparent, leads us through row after row of herbs and veggies, encouraging us to taste everything – like the five different basils, lemon mint, and hibiscus leaves. He’s ecstatic to find a brave volunteer in the group who is willing to taste his hot peppers, but the dragon pepper has the volunteer perspiring and looking for water.
That evening, I have fun in a cooking class with guest chef, Alisa Barry, who has tailored her vegetarian menu to the seasonal produce in the garden. We each choose one of the 10 dishes to make and, with the promise of wine from a vineyard down the road being served when we’re done, we all get measuring and chopping. I make a dessert of poached pears served with a strawberry purée. The industrial equipment is far nicer than I’m used to, and I learn the trick of using a small ladle to push the strawberry purée through the sieve to quickly strain the seeds.
This last morning, I wake up feeling more relaxed, energetic and stronger than when I arrived. But I know feeling like this is easier when I don’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning (or real life), and there is a range of fitness classes just out my door.
How can I take this slower, healthier lifestyle back home with me? My goals: a strong focus on wholesome food and regular exercise; frequent relaxation and fun activities; and limited electronic usage to unplug. With these basics, I hope I can hang on to this recharged and rejuvenated feeling and improve my long-term health. Here I go….
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