The human heart carries a secret desire to go back in time. A time when there was open country, a connection with nature and a simplicity that has all but been lost. People are living high stressed lives and there is a need to take a deep breath, unplug and enjoy a few days of rest. The opportunity lies just an hour across the border in the small pueblo of La Misión where the adventure is waiting for you, guided by Marty Harriman, the Horse Whisperer. When she discovered Rancho La Pila, one of the oldest ranches hidden far back in the hills, she thought how long ago she dreamed of owning a guest ranch. Today she shares, "Having ridden this ranch as a little girl, I finds it hard to believe it has been put into my hands to care for and protect.” In this secluded valley the water runs pure, the deer graze and the majestic hills restore the human spirit.
Marty has created three day Sleep and Ride Retreats. The number of participants will be an intimate group of no more than eight. It starts with a car pool from La Misión on an old dirt road, skirting a fertile valley where organic produce is grown. The adventure begins by opening the rusty metal gate where the road takes an extreme climb, switching back and forth through hilly coastal scrub. The sky is a deep blue and a lone vulture soars along the ridges of the mountains catching the thermals. The further in we travel, there develops a sense of leaving behind one reality and entering into another world more real than what we have left behind. Suddenly, we begin to feel the excitement of our decision to journey off the grid as we reach the crest of the hill and peer down into this secret valley where the heart of the ranch is nestled.
Still today, there are annual ceremonies where the Kumiai sing their sacred songs and all people are welcomed to visit.
Now the narrow road pitches downward. A herd of Black Angus cattle stands in the middle of the road, all their faces turned towards us, watching quietly. With natural grace Marty jumps from the truck, ushering them off the road. She speaks gently to the glossy black animals as they make their way up the hillside. Finally at the cattle gate, the rancho spreads out across the valley in all directions. The main lodge, once an adobe home, is surrounded by old trees, murmuring their pleasure in the afternoon breeze. Here guests will lounge in the main room or be able to use the kitchen with its old brick stove. Nearby is the bathhouse with hot running water for showers. The horses are the main attractions. Their ears perk up, as we approach the corral and they come to the fence to see what we might have for them. Their warm breath is felt on our outstretched hand and the soft muzzle tickles the skin. Marty will select the appropriate steed for us, according to our riding skill. She stresses this is an opportunity to begin to “trust your animal!” We pick our tent cabins with theme names like the Hemingway Hideaway, nestled in the trees, Cabaña de Caballo with a view of the horses and the Luna de Miel, the Honey Moon Hill Casa set far above it all. Once settled we have time to roam the rancho. The evening is casual with dinner served in the lodge. Later there will be a night fire burning over the very place the “Pila treasure” is said to be buried. Bring your favorite musical instruments for warm hearted entertainment. As we walk to our tent cabins, we gaze up into a night sky, so vast we can’t comprehend its brilliance.
Sunrise filters through the live oaks and fruit trees. Soft snuffling sounds and horse smells mingle with the fresh air. We have an 8am wakeup on Saturday. For some of us there isn’t anything better than a cup of hot coffee and our journal, while watching the pristine morning unfold. For others it is a perfect morning for meditation, yoga or a walk to greet our animals for the day. Breakfast will be served and the first ride begins at 11:00; there is no rush into this adventure. Marty is a storyteller and the history and magic of Baja California unfolds from a lifetime of her rich experiences. She shares, “I rode this ranch as a young girl and it has not changed, unlike the la Misión village where we reside today.” She gives high praise for the cowboys, Oscar, Antonio, Jorge and Ricardo who make these rides happen, due to their skillful attention to all the details.
The wildlife and bird sightings can be quite a surprise and they bring immediate joy at being so lucky in this moment of time. The morning ride is approximately three hour round trip, returning to the ranch for lunch. There is plenty of time to rest in the shade. Or we can put our feet in the historic pila which has fed this rancho with clear fresh water from the mountains for over a century. By now the city life has been almost forgotten, as the experience of freedom in wide-open spaces is the new reality. Even a little nap can be enjoyed as it seems so natural here in a country known for the siesta. The afternoon ride begins at 2pm and explores more of the ranch. A breathtaking view at an overlook is a photo op of the vastness of untouched wilderness. Keep an eye out for a golden eagle, as there have been sightings. Marty says that one of the favorite experiences for the riders is the possible opportunity of bringing in the cattle at the end of the day, as she exclaims, “I get to take people on an epic ride of their life.”
Following dinner we prepare for another mystical evening under the stars. We cannot gaze upward without our souls filling with wonder. Rodrigo the old ranch hand shares that he has seen strange odd lights hovering in the sky and it makes us consider life outside our own. The flames from the fire leap skyward, our faces dance in the firelight. It is amazing how content we feel as we join together over a cup of wine or favorite drink. The storytelling begins. We reach down deep and share our experiences, as we share the gift of resting in the wonders of nature. If the spirit of the night moves us, music and dance follow. Marty’s philosophy, “Bring your differences, do what you want, pick an orange, jump in the pila, BE YOU!”
Sunday morning is laid back. We don’t have to leave until 1:00pm. Breakfast is served and we begin to gather our things together for the trip back. There is no way we could leave without sharing some time with our four legged friends. A pat, a nuzzle and a tug on the heartstrings completes what is the beginning of wonderful memories. It is rare to meet a person who is fully living the life that they love and at the same time able to share the experience with others. Marty Harriman is a woman who literally saddles up and meets each day con gusto. As she says about her life, “I get to deliver the good news.”
Contact Marty to create your own unique weekend retreats. Some of the suggestions: A Women’s Get Away, A Men’s Wrangler Weekend, Cattle Drive, Star Gazing and Full Moon for Lovers, Gift to the Children and more.
Contact her on Facebook, Marty Harriman
Phone: U.S. 760-715-4639; from Mexico 646.155.0219