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ESCAPE | To a Mexican Eco-spa

Rancho La Puerta

Rancho la Puerta, Tecate, Mexico
From $2,855 per person per week (includes meals and most activities)

Photo courtesy of Rancho la Puerta
GETTING THERE No problema. Board ranch's free shut-tle at San Diego airport and munch trail mix while watching sailboat-dotted harbor give way to boulder-strewn mountains. Arrive at sleepy Tecate border after one-hour ride, zoom past neon-lit taquerias, disembark in willowy oasis, mosey down brick path past rosemary-scented native gardens, feel pulse slow.

BEST MOMENT Getting up before dawn and ascending Mt. Kuchumaa as the rising sun illumined a collage of sycamore, chamise, and cottonwood blooms, which fell like snow on a passing jackrabbit, then a coyote.

WORST MOMENT Watching a jalapeno-size scorpion crawl out of my fiance's underwear just before he slipped them on.

FAVORITE CHARACTER The ranch's octogenarian cofounder Deborah Szekely, who began milking goats, growing food, and serving rustic vegetarian fare to guests on this barren Baja landscape shortly after she arrived as an 18-year-old newlywed. She tirelessly espouses a farm-to-table, we-don't-serve-no-stinking-hamburgers philosophy.

LOCAL LORE Fifty years ago, when the ranch was more commune than spa, feverish ladies flanked the volleyball court to watch a bare-chested Burt Lancaster practice circus stunts for the 1956 movie Trapeze. Also, Kumeyaay Indians consider Mt. Kuchumaa sacred and once made pilgrimages here to receive mugwort poultices and sugar bush infusions from mountain-dwelling shamans.

Map by Peter and Maria Hoey
WHAT'S GREEN The Szekely family set aside 2,000 acres of wilderness to be preserved in perpetuity, creating a cross-border wildlife corridor in this biodiversity hot spot. Their Fundacion la Puerta cleans up the Tecate River and teaches local kids how to compost. Water from the guest rooms, health centers, and kitchen is recycled to irrigate the ranch's drought-tolerant gardens

WHAT'S NOT GREEN Recycled water keeps the grass green, but there's no circumventing the fact that the embattled Colorado River is the original source for this human-made oasis. Also, noise and exhaust drift into the ranch from the exhaust-spewing coches on nearby Highway 2.

PLANET SAVING OPPORTUNITIES Dig in the six-acre organic garden with Salvador, who believes that plants have personalities. Pick heirloom tomatoes or squash blossoms for the midday Mexican-Mediterranean buffet. Learn to cook with an eco-chef. Attend a lecture by alternative-energy expert Amory Lovins or other visiting thought leaders. —Rebecca Tolin



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