My dear friend Shay has been taking retreat vacations at Rancho La Puerta, along with her sister Ashaka off and on since the early 80s. Shay has often shared with me the magic of this wondrous sanctuary and would from time to time suggest that I visit there.
I had the surprise of my life a few months ago when Shay announced that she was going to The Ranch in September and I would be her guest. I couldn’t believe my great, good fortune. I asked Shay, why me? She replied, “This is your 60th birthday gift.” There are some perks to getting older. I was so touched, I felt like I would cry then and there.
I met Shay when we were both attending Howard University in the mid 70s. Our fate was sealed the day a mutual friend Edward C. Jones introduced us and Shay graciously taught me how to add hair extensions. This was a requirement needed for my new summer job as a braider. In those days, sisters wouldn’t even tell you who did their hair, let alone be willing to teach you a coveted technique. It’s been a 40-year friendship that I have long cherished.
Barely in our 20s when we first met, Shay, always easy-going and wise, was affectionately referred to as Mama Shay (by children and adults alike). With a degree in early childhood education, her life took a turn when she found a calling working in the arts. Shay went on to acquire a MFA at Yale School of Drama in theater management and is currently executive director for 651 Arts.
To reach Rancho La Puerta we flew to San Diego and then took a chartered bus an hour and a half to Tecate, Mexico. Even though Shay had often raved about Rancho La Puerta, it was far more impressive than I ever imagined. It’s located on a sprawling 3000 +acres of land with native plant life growing organically and intentionally on meandering brick paths and in open fields. There are beautiful sculptures that appear throughout the land, like peaceful angels, spirits. And everywhere you look on this property there is something pleasing to the eyes and soothing to the soul to behold.
The retreat has a number of salt-treated swimming pools, tennis courts; a number of gyms for all types of exercise, from yoga, to Tai Chi to body sculpting, Barre Bar, TRX etc. The gyms are one story structures made of natural elements that reflect the unique beauty of Mexican culture. Each is well-appointed but unpretentious and seems to grow right out of the land due to the ease in which the structure fits in the natural surroundings. An abundance of plant life surrounds the retreat, cactus, flowering and fruit bearing trees, boulders here and there. The floor to ceiling window of the gyms and other buildings seem to bring nature right into the rooms as you look out and see glimpses of Mount Kuchumaa. This is especially comforting when taking yoga or stretch classes.
The vibe at The Ranch is relaxed, friendly and welcoming. You know how it is on vacation, even the grouchiest people tend to have their hearts open, smile, and offer their better selves. There are sweet, unexpected delights like the labyrinth, the multi-colored hammocks, and the reflexology path.
Take off your shoes here and wake up all the nerve endings in your feet, giving yourself a free foot massage. There is also the ever-present aroma of flowers, herbs and earth, the sounds of birds singing and water gurgling in the many fountains around the property. It’s like natural music and fragrance for the soul.
The number of classes and activities available per hour will have you changing your mind back and forth about what to take that hour or not. There’s the option to go on early morning hikes, or to do sunrise yoga, or meditation, water aerobics, Pilates, circuit training and the list is vast. There are guest lecturers, cooking classes, dance classes, painting, sculpting, jewelry making, a movie every night or you can just relax in one of the lounges, by the pool or on a canopied bench or lie rocking in a hammock. There is also the option to visit Jacuzzi, take in the eucalyptus steam or sauna or you may opt for nude sunbathing at the sequestered women’s spa.
Relaxing may mean doing nothing or contemplating the ever-present Mount Kuchumaa. Also be prepared to have intriguing dreams while at the ranch. They say it is Mount Kuchumaa that inspires these dreams.
I finally had the chance to meet the dynamic duo, twins Coco and Connie after hearing about them for all these years. Coco and Connie have been teaching at The Ranch for over 30 years and inspire those that take their classes with high energy, muscle building, fat burning classes like Sculpt and Shape, The Ropes, Hip Hop Dancing and the list goes on. I’m sure they attribute their youthful looks and energy to the lifestyle at the ranch. They look not a day over 30 but are 59 years old this year. It seems between the four of us, we were the only African American women at The Ranch that week. Coco did mention that Susan Taylor has been a guest on several occasions. And Shay shared that she once spied Tracy Chapman.
If you were looking for a place to recharge and reset your internal or external compass, I would highly recommend Rancho La Puerta.
The food at the ranch is grown on The Ranch and is farm-to-table fresh, organic and mostly vegetarian. There are seafood dishes seemingly every other day, dairy and eggs served as well. There are accommodations made for those who have special dietary needs such as vegan, or gluten-free, raw etc. I didn’t see any meat served. Three daily meals are included in your stay and have a reputation for how they transform your bathroom visits.
Rancho La Puerta was founded by husband and wife team Edmond and Deborah Szekely in the 1940s. They are known as the pioneers of the Spa Industry in America. It was quite a treat to hear Deborah (at 93 years of age)speak so enthusiastically about The Ranch, and the vision she and her late husband and her daughter share. It continues to be their intention to help others to be active participants in their overall wellness.
This was a gift of a lifetime, and one I shall always cherish. Thank you Ashaka for encouraging Shay to tell me about The Ranch. And thank you so much Shay for being such a dear friend and for this most precious gift. I shall carry it with me always.