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    Travel: This Baja resort with ‘brutalist’ architecture boasts its own shaman
    • July 5, 2023

    An hour away, boozy vacationers wore T-shirts emblazoned, “Chase me like a shot of tequila” in hard-partying, colossal Cabo San Lucas resorts. I, on the other hand, remained peacefully ensconced at my “brutalist” eco-lodge, ringed by 160 acres of family-owned farmland in Mexico’s secluded Baja desert. At the moment, a barefoot shaman was wafting a chalice of smoking copal incense around my bathrobe-clad standing body and wiping me head to toe with a bouquet of lemongrass and other purifying herbs.

    “These plants contain your bad energies and you will put them in the fire,” instructed Jorge Cano, who grew up in the Mexican state of Veracruz and learned this sacred two-hour yenekamu ritual from his shaman grandmother; by the way, she lived to age 100. Earlier I had to write down negative stuff I wanted to shed (uh, my crippling dentist phobia?) so I chucked that paper too into the flaming basin after Jorge, attired in all white, summoned Mother Nature and blessed me near swishing banana palms.

    Jorge Cano is Paradero’s in-house shaman and heads the wellness program that emphasizes Mexican family traditions. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    Soon we crossed a shallow creek to a thatched hut where, during an A-plus  ancestral massage, Jorge realigned my hips by twisting them in a sling and opened my cranium without surgery. He also placed a sprig of cleansing sage in my belly button and covered it with a hot volcanic stone to seal in good juju.

    Soft-spoken Jorge is the resident shaman of the minimalist boutique, remarkably unique, adults-only Paradero Hotel, about 15 minutes from the laid-back boho surf haven of Todo Santos in Baja California Sur. Most notably, Paradero is the anti-Cabo, 45 miles and a Zen galaxy apart. While hungover tourists scrimmaged for pool lounge chairs in Cabo, I serenely chanted “Om, shanti, shanti” in Paradero’s yoga class amid chirping yellow orioles, found my “inner light” through a serape-blanketed group meditation, and vibrated from bronze bowls perched atop my chakras during a sound healing inside a mud-and-clay igloo.

    A guest stands on her private rooftop terrace in the brutalist-style Paradero Hotel, built to look like it was chiseled by desert gusts. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    Visually, the stunning Paradero looks like an earth-sprouted fortress. Debuting in February 2021, its 41 suites are encased in twin two-story rippling beige concrete structures designed in the architectural “brutalist” style and melding into sands that coat the cacti- and yucca-specked property. (Architectural Digest lauded Paradero for being “at one with the land.”) Brutalist buildings became popular in the 1950s, are largely monolithic, and include housing projects, universities and, yes, prisons. At ground level, my suites’s oversized rusty steel door ominously slammed shut behind me before I climbed a dim bare interior stairway reminiscent of an old castle (or cell) to my second floor room. Suddenly, I was in the breezy fresh air gazing at a vast magnificent view — sprawling poblano pepper fields, the granite Sierra de la Laguna mountains and an opal silver of the Pacific.

    The grounds of the Paradero Hotel as seen from a suite’s rooftop deck. Near the center is the round temazcal and to the right, the yoga tent. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    On one side was my concrete, rustic-chic neutral-hued room with no TV, phone or clock. To communicate with the extremely friendly front desk, you need to use WhatsApp. All the suites’ private bathrooms are separate, requiring guests to pace a few feet outdoors to access the john. You bet I cursed when I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to pee. But when I stepped into the chilly dark, my sleepy eyes widened  —  a luminous full moon fabulously glowed straight ahead and dozens of flying nighthawks appeared fluorescent streaking past me on the terrace. Evidently, “nature calls” is a double entendre here.

    “The bathroom is outside the room exactly so you can disconnect from the room, connect with nature, and then go to the bathroom,” Paradero general manager Arturo Soto later explained.

    Paradero employee Diana Madero poses in a suspended star net, a bonus of Paradero’s Sky Suites. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    My Sky Suite also featured a cool rooftop “star net,” basically a two-person stretched hammock suspended above my second level and bolted to exterior walls. At night, in the silence, I dreamily stared above at countless celestial sparkles. (Then klutzy me tried to get up. Help. With nothing to grab onto, I crawled out of the bouncy net on my hands and knees like a baby.)

    Rooms at the Paradero Hotel are described as sanctuary-like and places to reflect in. The hats and water bottles are gifts for guests; the hanging rod is the closet. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    With rooms starting at $550, Paradero touts its staff-guided adventures that work off your free breakfast burritos. Some experiences are complimentary (such as yoga, meditation, an eight-mile bike excursion, and farming sessions in the garden); others charge a fee (including surf lessons, taco tours, catamaran outings and a shaman-led temazcal sweat lodge ceremony).

    “Instead of holding you here, you know with beaches, bikinis, margaritas … our model is different,” said Pablo Carmona, co-owner of the Paradero with Joshua Kremer. The Mexico City financiers were on-site for a Paradero foundation fundraiser.

    Fluttering banners decorate a quaint street in Todos Santos, about a 15-minute drive from the Paradero Hotel. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    One afternoon, I joined Paradero guide Hernando Torres on a walking jaunt through charming Todos Santos, a Mexican government-designated “Magic Town” for its cultural richness, history and beauty. Compared to the tranquil tan palette of Paradero, Todos Santos vibrantly exploded in color. Festive “papel picado” banners and bright umbrellas hung over streets peppered with art galleries and bejeweled steer skulls. Fanciful murals of a whale, an Aztec sun calendar and Day of the Dead skeletons decorated village walls. Todos Santos, which translates to “All Saints,” started as a Jesuit mission in 1724; picturesque colonial buildings still line cobbled lanes.

    A sign welcomes visitors to Todos Santos, once a sugar cane capital and now a Mexico-designated “Magic Town.” (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    In the main mercado, artisan Adrian Bailon Garcia urged me to buy his handmade fish bone swords, including one concocted from a marlin’s long pointy bill, topped with a goat’s hoofed lower leg and accessorized with cow bones. (No, I demurred, it won’t fit in my carry-on.) Later, at Todos Santos Brewing, Hernando introduced me to Aussie co-owner Liz Mitchell, who revealed why one malty suds is christened The Chuck Red Ale. “It’s named after Chuck Norris because it’s like a big red roundhouse kick to the head.” My fun flight of craft beers included karate Chuck, the Dizzee Lizzee, and Wowser’s Trousers IPA.

    Returning to Paradero, I again strolled through the separate entrance building, which is an unmanned portal furnished with just two big boulders and the piped-in crash of ocean waves. Welcome to Planet Earth. Through a square archway, the expansive terrain dramatically unfolded, with the hotel meant to look like it was sculpted by desert winds, an open-air communal “living room,” a hidden infinity pool, and al fresco restaurant. The latter doesn’t serve sodas because soft drinks are unhealthy. But it does pour a nutritious bourbon cocktail called the Ginger Carrot.

    “When you decompress, you decompress with nature,” Pablo said, noting Paradero’s 5 1/2-acre plot is 80 percent landscaping, 20 percent construction. Indeed, my new acquaintances included comical roadrunners, a silvery slithering snake, hovering turkey vultures, Cuatro the black cat (“head of security”) and his assistant Cinco the black dog.

    A clifftop view of Las Palmas Beach during a hike, one of Paradero’s daily included experiences. (Photo by Norma Meyer)

    At 7:30 one morning, guide Ivan Panzo led five of us on a hike through private farmland — past a towering spiked forest of 200-year-old cardon cacti and an oasis of 5,000 palm trees — to lovely crescent-shaped Las Palmas Beach, unoccupied except for two stately white egrets. Along the way, Ivan also proudly showed me videos of his 6-month-old son, Lucas, eating strawberries in his high chair.

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    The whole staff seemed really personable. So when I met Paradero architect Ruben Valdez, I had to tell him the “brutalist” label conjured up images of thugs flogging guests at the hotel. He laughed. “Maybe we should call it ‘brut’ like in French Champagne.”

    Actually, I was a little buzzed, perhaps because the shaman had given me a bougainvillea foot bath or because the sound healing practitioner clanged 14 Tibetan singing bowls and assured me my creativity-containing chakras weren’t too clogged.

    When I boarded my plane home, surrounded by red-lobster-faced Cabo burn-outs, I felt (smugly) happy that, on this Baja trip, I was a wellness wonk.

    ​ Orange County Register