What’s your idea of the perfect winter getaway? It all depends on your age and stage. Years ago, I used to dream of lolling under a frangipani tree on some lovely tropic isle with a passionate (yet sensitive) guy, sipping from each other’s fruity drinks as we entwined our limbs and watched the sun go down.
Now, I’m much more sensible. This year, I decided to go to Mexico with a girlfriend and eat lettuce for a week.
“You’ll love it,” I assured her. “We can get up at 5:30 every morning and go hiking.”
We were both feeling slightly fat and sludgy, so she said yes. These days, people don’t think of a vacation mainly as a way to relax. They think of it as a vehicle for self-improvement.
The place we went to was founded 70 years ago by a Hungarian émigré who was a natural-foods nut. The Mexicans thought he was crazy, although he was merely ahead of his time. Today, the Ranch is the second-biggest employer in the area, after the beer factory. People who go there call it the Ranch, not the Spa, because they don’t want to be confused with pampered, self-indulgent, idle rich types who sit around in bathrobes getting mudpacks all day. They’re not spoiled. They believe in discipline and hard work.
There are hundreds of ways to improve yourself at the Ranch. As soon as you arrive, you get a list of them. Before your fat-free breakfast, you can do a nine-mile hike. After breakfast, you can do yoga, Pilates, Zumba, tai chi, circuit training, fitball and cardio drumming. You can take classes that will teach you how to cook, breathe and stand up. Each activity on the list has a little box next to it for you to check, so you can make up your own schedule. Sandra and I enthusiastically filled our list with check marks.
Our room was nice. It had a fireplace, some fruit, and free pedometers. On the table was an inspirational book called Organic Manifesto, which warned that powerful business interests are poisoning us with chemicals and plastics, and that we should all convert to organic food to save the planet.
Here are the two main things I learned that week: There are virtually unlimited recipes for roughage, and exercise is harder than you think.
It started well enough. The first morning, Sandra and I sprang out of bed at the crack of dawn and went charging up the mountain. I felt great, like I was 30. Then something in my leg gave way, and that was it for hiking. I limped back to the Ranch and decided I’d take up something less demanding. I found a gentle stretch class, where everyone was over 60. The instructor asked us to identify ourselves as hip people, knee people or shoulder people, depending on our infirmity. She had us practise sitting down and getting up again. I realized I’d found my level.
The food was as delicious as food can be without fat, starch or protein. We had roughage morning, noon and night. At dinner, we had four courses of it, including dessert. Between meals, they had a special drink concocted from organic vegetables. Sandra thought it wasn’t bad, but I didn’t care for it. It reminded me of pond scum.
By midweek, we were beginning to feel light and pure, perhaps even faintly spiritual. I noticed we were skipping the more strenuous items on our heavily check-marked lists. I discovered meditation class, which you can do lying down. We pointed out that walking back and forth to the dining room and the hot tub and the meditation room was a workout all on its own, even if we did nothing else.
We didn’t miss our husbands. In fact, we were glad we didn’t have them with us. They would have hated it, especially the green slime. A lot of the husbands (it was Couples Week) hung around the lounge whenever they had a chance, reading The Wall Street Journal or using their BlackBerrys. They looked hungry. One day, some of them bolted for town and took a tour of the beer factory. We weren’t surprised.
In response to popular demand, the Ranch is not as strict as it used to be. People who fork over that much money to get healthy want their options, even though the Founder would have disapproved. These days, you can get tuna fish at lunch, and sometimes even fish at dinner. To my amazement, there was even wine in our room. At first, we didn’t plan to drink it, but then we realized it would be wrong not to. Soon we were skipping even more classes so we could hang around our room, light a mesquite fire and relax in our bathrobes as we enjoyed the view of the sacred mountain from our balcony. By the end of the week, we were feeling very spiritual, indeed. Every evening before dinner, we filled our glasses and gave a toast to the Mexican god of roughage.
The night before we left, a storm blew in and knocked out all the power. We didn’t care. We partied in the dining room by candlelight and said goodbye to all of our new friends. When we got back to our room, it was dark and cold. We piled mesquite wood in the fireplace but discovered we were out of kindling. We looked high and low for something we could use. At last, our eyes fell on Organic Manifesto. We tore out the pages and stuffed them under the wood. It worked like a charm.