It’s all so cliché. Turning 40, reaching a milestone, planning an epic trip to celebrate. Well, cliché or not, that is exactly what I did when I turned 40 this year. I wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion in my life by marking it with a trip I wouldn’t likely forget. I toyed with the idea of a girls weekend with other friends who were turning 40, but this needed to be about me…my interests, my needs, me, me, me. Yes, selfish. Yes, indulgent. How often can you actually get away with that in your life? (Apparently in my case it is every 10 years).Anyway, after much soul (and Internet) searching, I came across Rancho La Puerta, just over the border in Mexico. Rancho La Puerta is a modern day fitness resort. This hidden oasis of laid back luxury is tucked into the mountainous region just south of California and is set upon 3,000 acres featuring landscaped gardens, beautiful mountain scenery, an on site organic farm, cooking school and luxurious spa. The resort’s claim that it encompasses health and wellness for mind, body, and spirit is right on the mark.
The resort appealed to me in that it hit upon all my interests…healthy eating, hiking, yoga, exercise classes, spa services, tennis, and writing workshops. It catered to women traveling alone so I wouldn’t have to feel like a freak at mealtimes. And it was also easy to get to since you can fly right into San Diego and then take a short shuttle ride to the resort.
At the onset of the trip, I started to feel the beginnings of a panic attack. I haven’t traveled alone since my days of backpacking in college and I did not much like being alone then, so what made me think I would like it now? My fears abated the minute I met up with the group at the airport who were being shuttled to the resort. Every single person there had previously been to the Ranch, some several times. All of them raved about their experience and couldn’t wait to return. I instantly felt welcome amidst this group of friendly strangers and was excited to start my journey. A week of inner reflection on my life and time to get to know myself again were really what I was looking for and judging from the commentary of the veteran ranchers, I had come to the right place. My life had gotten off track…my marriage was rocky, my career was stalled, I was feeling depressed and a bit lost. I wanted the Ranch to provide me with some clarity and sense of purpose.
As we pulled through the gates, I was struck by the resort’s simple beauty. The terrain was dry and desert like and there were small Spanish looking casitas strewn haphazardly throughout the sprawling acreage connected by winding brick paths. It took me a couple of days to get my bearings and not get lost on my way to the dining hall, but by the end of the week I was navigating the pathways expertly even in the dark.
The highlight of the week was waking before sunrise to go hiking in the mountains. Simply put, it was spectacular. The weather was brisk and it was nearly pitch black as we set out, moon high in the sky and water bottles in hand. The group gradually spread out according to fitness level and I soon begot the reputation of the fastest hiker at the resort. (It’s tough to get that competitive nature out of this born and bred New Yorker). As we climbed the winding path, the moon would be dropping on one side and the sun would be rising on the other…clouds of mist hanging suspended between the mountaintops. It was breathtaking, awe inspiring, and incredibly peaceful. If only I could start each day like that.
Returning to the base at 7am with a voracious appetite, I was one of the first online for the breakfast buffet. The food was at its peak of freshness just picked from their organic garden. You won’t find bacon and egg sandwiches here. The fresh local fruits, homemade oatmeal, freshly squeezed juices and daily chef creations made mealtime an event. I ate twice the amount of food I normally eat at home…not having to prepare it myself coupled with the 5 mile morning hike gave me quite an appetite. Since the food was all so healthy and we were all so active all week, nobody worried much about putting on any weight.
The daily activity schedule was more confusing to navigate then my freshman year college curriculum. Mornings were jam packed with every type of fitness class you could imagine; I took yoga and pilates classes, lifted weights, played sand volleyball and tennis, learned African Dance and best of all, Strip Tease (oh, if I only had a video of that one!) Afternoons were filled with mind enhancing classes such as writing workshops and meditation. I quickly fell into a routine of working out like a maniac in the morning, eating an enormous lunch, and then spending the afternoon either getting a massage, reading or taking a writing workshop. Alcohol is only served on the first and last evening of the week, so without any exciting nightlife, I was in bed by 8 or 9pm every evening. It was an easy schedule to get accustomed to. Phone lines back to New York were sketchy. No phones were in the rooms and cell phones were not permitted on the grounds outside of your room. Needless to say, I didn’t talk to my family much that week. Surprisingly, they survived.
By the end of the week, I was ready to come home. I had had enough time with myself and was looking forward to being with my family again. I left the Ranch feeling physically fit, emotionally stable, and having learned a very important lesson. I alone am in charge of my happiness. Nobody else. No more laying blame on my husband, kids or circumstances for not having or doing what I want with my life. I returned home with a new sense of purpose and determination to build the life I want. No more excuses. I just may need to return to the Ranch on an annual basis to keep all of that fresh in my mind!