TECATE, Baja California, Mexico — “I don’t have time to be tired here.”

This comes from a fellow guest at Rancho La Puerta, a wellness resort on 4,000 acres in Baja California. The guest, like most everyone else here, comes to get away from it all. But getting away means different things to different people.

Plenty of well-heeled visitors to what’s casually known as the Ranch spend a week here rejuvenating themselves with massages, facials, wraps, salon services, and holistic therapies, along with poolside reading/snoozing moments and the occasional stretching, restorative yoga and meditation classes, accompanied by an all-natural lacto-ovo menu (with many of the ingredients grown on the Ranch’s organic farm).

Then there are those who find that the best way to take a break from their reality is by embracing the Ranch’s offerings of intense physicality–challenging pre-breakfast multi-mile mountain hikes up and down the rugged terrain of Mount Kuchumaa on the U.S./Mexican border, followed by hourly fitness classes such as water polo, circuit training, cardio hip-hop, cycling, Pilates, TRX flexibility, swim stroke clinics, tennis and pickleball clinics, cardio drumming, cardio kickboxing, kettleball … the schedule changes every week.

Experienced ranch-goers have learned to balance that energy-busting exercise regimen with more mindful pursuits such as stretching, Feldenkrais, meditation, nature walks, jewelry-making classes, Gyrokinesis, Watsu, lectures by physicians, musicians, chefs, nutritionists, and others who know more than we know (or think we know) about their fields, and other activities that are likely not offered at fitness centers back home.

I learned the benefits of balancing the hard way; on my recent visit to the Ranch (as a guest of a generous friend), a salsa dance instructor noticed I was having trouble with the none-too-difficult steps he’d taught. He quietly stepped over and asked, “Are you OK?” I bucked up, finished the class, drank a lot of water (it’s filtered), and thanked him afterward. “It happens all the time,” he said. “There are so many choices, and guests tend to take on too much.”

Yeah, like a five-mile hike across the lowlands at dawn, lots of fruit and little protein or carbs for breakfast (my choice, and a poor one), followed by Pilates, salsa dancing, and swimming 30 laps in an Olympic-sized pool–all before lunch. That was followed by cardio drumming, weight training, 30 minutes with kettleballs, and a brisk walk on the Ranch’s manicured paths during the afternoon.

Maybe one less strenuous workout per day might be a good idea, as is spending a relaxing and productive 90 minutes or so in Little Rock artist Catherine Rodgers’ jewelry-making and water-color classes, where she can be found teaching when the Ranch’s staff artist takes time off.

Watching other guests unload huge quantities of luggage at check-in, I’m glad I’ve also learned that I can get by with a carry-on bag containing two T-shirts, shorts, a swimsuit, running shoes, a decent shirt to wear to the nicely presented four-course dinners, and a small makeup bag. After a few days, nobody is much interested in messing around with hairstyling or cosmetics or stylish attire. The most important item for me to pack is a wide hair clip.

Two highlights of each week: A Monday evening talk by Deborah Szekely, the shrewd, business-savvy, and personable 97-year-old activist, philanthropist, author, and founder (in 1940) of Rancho La Puerta, and Tuesday evening’s riotous and often ribald popcorn-fueled bingo night with program director Barry Shingle, with ridiculous prizes for the winners.

No matter which direction is chosen, it’s easy to fall into a near-trancelike state of serenity here, especially since Internet access is limited to a couple of lounges and there are no TVs in the guest rooms.

Serenity has a price–accommodations start at $3,650 per week. Included is a rather awkward multi-stage transport to and from San Diego International Airport, about 90 minutes away, meals, 60-some scheduled classes and hikes, and free use of laundry facilities when the contents of all that luggage need scrubbing. Spa services and personalized fitness training are extra, as is wine, available at a substantial charge per glass at a cute little bar tucked in a corner of the property so it’s not in the faces of those who want to leave alcoholic beverages out of the picture for the week.

Many of the guests (like the woman who was making the most of her stay by refusing to be tired) have been here as many as 20-30 times. There’s a 60 percent return rate. “Guests who are ready to return [will] return,” Deborah Szekely says. “It’s what they are ready to receive. They connect.”

Among the facility’s attractions, she says, is the atmosphere. “Our staff members are genuinely kind, and our guests are genuinely kind.” That’s true about the staff members. And mostly true about the guests.

She’s obviously on to something, fit and vital and very much involved in the operation of the Ranch. “Longevity comes from peace of mind–not stewing and fretting–along with doing Pilates every day and eating fresh, high-quality food. My ego would not allow me to be fat and talk about health,” she says, although Barry Shingle, at her side during the evening talk, quickly adds that, “in the spirit of political correctness, all body types are welcome at the Ranch.”

Mrs. Szekely tells us that she’d arranged her life around 30-year segments: the first (to age 30) dedicated to growing up and becoming educated, the second (30-60) to becoming successful and making money, and the third (60-90) to growing herself.

What about this latest era, the one that started seven years ago as she moved past the age of 90? She smiles.

“I hadn’t counted on that,” she says.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.


Photo by

Special to the Democrat-Gazette/CATHERINE RODGERS
Flowers bloom along the brick walkways leading to Rancho La Puerta’s guest lounge, one of the few locations for Wi-Fi access at the resort.

Karen Martin

Editorial on 08/04/2019


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here