Whetting our appetite for life at Rancho La Puerta fitness retreat in Mexico
Sharon Walker reviews this brilliant fitness retreat in Mexico and discovers insanely good classes, a joyous vibe and a group of exceptional new friends
On the coach from San Diego airport to Rancho La Puerta – or The Ranch as old hands call it – I have the distinct feeling that I may have stumbled across a health cult. Everyone has been before. Most have been numerous times. The two women sitting next to me have been coming for 15 and 18 years. The regulars seem wowed to find a Ranch virgin on board and, as the only Brit, I am treated with a special kind of reverence: “Goodness me, you’ve come all the way from London really? All alone? So brave!” It’s the kind of welcome you might extend to a much loved friend or lost child.
In fact, getting here was hardly difficult. There are direct flights from Heathrow to San Diego. I’d spent a very pleasant night in the iconic Hotel del Coronado and wished I’d come a day or two earlier to try their beach front spinning classes or the fantastic Mermaid Fitness (yes you do get a tail), but alas I had to be back at the airport for the 10am coach to The Ranch.
More than 70 years after it opened, Rancho La Puerta is still very much leading the way in wellness. I’m actually quite stunned by the huge choice and variety of classes – seven an hour, every hour. I’m also stunned by the beautiful gardens and how big it is. On my first visit through them, for the most part I am lost. I find myself spiralling along the twisting paths, past meadows of daisies, arbours trailing jasmine and a whole bunch of different cacti. Dripping with sweat and panting loudly, I screech into yoga, only to find that, oops, I’m in Sex Ed for Grown-ups. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good.
Fired up by an inspirational talk on courage by the brilliant Leslie Zann, I decide to focus my efforts on things I don’t usually do, to try new things and revisit past failures. So my first class of the day is Level 1 Tennis with Kim Evans, a ridiculously cheerful blonde Mary Poppins of an instructor, with an equally cheerful array of skirts. I have had tennis lessons before, not terribly successfully, but Kim is unique in recognising my potential. ‘Good job Sharon!’ ‘That’s 100% better’. And my favourite: ‘Perfection!’
With Kim’s words: ‘Winner, winner, chicken dinner!’ ringing in my ears, I skip off to intermediate yoga 2 with Nathan, an Iyengar teacher from San Diego, whom my new hiking buddy has recommended with the zeal of a missionary. It’s not hard to see why. Nathan uses the rope wall ‘to open up spaces’ as I stare at his perfectly chiselled legs (they look like one of those anatomical models, where each muscle is carefully outlined and labelled). By end of the week I’ve finally ‘got’ yoga, a space has indeed opened, and not just in my joints but in the chatter that usually fills my head.
My ‘try new things’ philosophy leads me on all sorts of adventures: ‘This is not the time to be shy’, yells Manuel, making the sign of the cross, as we launch into the Striptease routine (don’t worry, pants stay on.) Then there’s Pickleball (the fastest growing sport in North America: a kind of hybrid of badminton and table tennis on steroids); sand volleyball (I don’t think they’ll be inviting me back); H2O Bootcamp (using webbed hand gloves and floats strapped to your arms – harder than it sounds), cardio-drumming (wild), sound healing (wild but less sweaty) and Watsu (a dreamy kind of healing water dance). The Ranch is a good place to try new things – however rubbish I am, no one seems to mind, least of all me. The Ranch has made me invincible.
By Day Four I have sent messages to friends and family, even my ex-husband: “YOU MUST COME HERE.” At the final night’s party there’s a Mariachi band and Yuichi, the 73-year-old dance instructor (a Ranch institution) comes high-kicking down the stairs in a diamond studded belt and sequinned vest. It’s fantastically joyously bonkers.
I don’t want to leave. Not now, not ever. There’s a small mutiny on the bus. Could we crawl under a bush, sleep in our suitcases, no one will notice surely? I had come to the ranch to ‘reset’ and relax. I achieved that and more. The Ranch whet my appetite for life. It also delivered something unexpected: my new Ranch family. The teachers were wonderful, funny, smart and skilled, but even more enjoyable were the guests, a fascinating bunch of warm, open-hearted women. It feels good to know these people were here waiting for me all along. I’m just a little sad that my new Ranch ‘sisters’ are all in the States, but I guess that’s just another great reason to go back.