Sunrise on Mount Kuchumaa

This week I have a chance to visit a place I’ve been hearing about all my life. Legendary Esalen, the Big Sur retreat that everyone raved about while I was growing up in the crazy ’70s? Nope, not Esalen — Esalen was modeled on this place.

It’s Rancho La Puerta, founded 70 years ago in Tecate, Mexico, by a ragtag group of health nuts who landed here in Baja, just over the border from San Diego, by searching for the perfect geological climate based on latitude and days of sunlight.

Why? Because the founders, Edmond and Deborah Szekely, a Hungarian/French expat and his 18-year-old Brooklyn-born bride, had already figured out certain things about health that we are only just re-discovering today. Like……

1. We need vitamin D to prevent cancer, infection, and whole host of diseases – and 15 minutes of sunlight a day is the best way to get it.

2. Grape juice contains substances known to ward off disease and protect against aging.

Healthy travelers have come this way since 1940.

3. Aerobic exercise is the key to preserving flexibility, memory, and all the other qualities that contribute to long life.

Sound familiar? These are health tidbits that have made headlines in the past few years, as research confirms them as anti-aging secrets. But in the late 1940s a San Diego Union reporter visited Rancho La Puerta — then nothing more than a tent camp in a verdant valley — and wrote sarcastically about what he considered to be the absurd health claims made by its founders.

Read more about the improbable and groundbreaking history of Rancho La Puerta, originally christened The Essene School of Life, and I’m sure you’ll be struck, like I was, by a sense of eerie prescience. How is it possible that health principles we’re still learning about today — and still struggling to adopt — were so clear to these folks during the same years the rest of America was entering the era of sliced white bread and bologna?

Over the next week I’ll be summarizing what I learn here at Rancho La Puerta. But in the meantime, I’m still trying to grasp that the gnarled 70-year-old grape vines that grace this remote valley were planted because the founders had already figured out the secret of resveratrol – they just didn’t have a fancy name for it yet.