Royal treatment in Echo Valley
Flying off to the Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in a tiny six-seater plane, I was giddy with excitement. My fellow passengers – a couple from South Africa on a second honeymoon and an Irish banker/adventurer – snapped shots of the Georgia Straight waters looming below as we chatted animatedly about what lay in store for us at the Ranch.
As we flew away from the familiar view of Vancouver International Airport, I had to pinch myself for a moment. “Calm down,” I said in mental note to self, “You’re only going to Clinton.”
Clinton was always a place from childhood memories of long car trips to visit relatives in Prince George – a pit stop on the road to somewhere else. But now it had become a desired destination in the Cariboo region, even luring people from half way around the world to visit.
“It must be great living so close to places like this” said one of my flying companions.
“Yes” I demurred, “I suppose it is.”
When we touched down in 108 Mile House, I became a kind of cultural tour guide to the foreign visitors, pointing out back roads where gold-miners had ce roamed, replaced in modern times by enthusiastic snow-mobilers.
But – with the exception of a purple hippy van full of slogans about love and extra-terrestrials – the road to the Echo Valley Ranch was a time machine. Ghosts of old prospectors greeted us from the hulks of weathered cabins, and 100-year-old Cariboo fences still stood proud.
When we arrived at the Ranch, we were greeted by a gorgeous valley vista, complete with rustic log cabins, corrals of horse and cattle and, of course, the de rigueur traditional Thai pavilion.
Er…wait a sec, that’s right, a traditional Thai pavilion. The Echo Valley Ranch and Spa is the “East meets West” brainchild of British-Thai couple, Norm and Nan Dove.
Their Baan Thai pavilion, with its Canadian cedar exterior, was designed by Dr. Pinyo Suwankiri, architect to the Thai Royal Family, and blessed by a Thai Buddhist priest and a Shushwap shaman (from the local First Nations community) at its inauguration.
Who would have known that all this existed just outside of Clinton?
Taking in the night sky full of stars you never see in the city, the silence at the ranch was somewhat eerie initially, but soon became golden. As I stumbled slightly, walking in darkness from my deluxe cabin accommodation, past the horse corral en route to the main lodge, a tag team of friendly collies came to guide me.
After a delicious dinner of local beef, organic garden greens and BC wines (sorry – I can’t even mention the luscious deserts without gaining five pounds), the dozen or so guests retired to the lodge’s living room.
Under a high-beamed ceiling, in a lounge decorated with Persian carpets, comfy couches and Thai antiques, a group of American, British and Canadian visitors gathered. Soon guitars, bongo drums and songbooks appeared. Before long, even the most retiring of types were humming along to old cowboy songs and ancient Eagles hits.
The next morning I was up early. I opted for a quick swim in the tiny lap pool inside the spa. It’s less than 15 metres long but you can actually get a good rhythm going if you swim continuously in circles!
Forgoing the fly fishing and gold panning options – I soon took off for a morning riding lesson on my chosen horse, a good natured beast named “Commanche.” I hadn’t ridden a horse since my teenage years, but thanks to some patient instruction and a patient horse the ability soon came back.
An afternoon trail ride around the grounds and off into the acres of lovely woods the ranch leases from the province, revealed resplendent fall colours. Chatting with head horse honcho, Thomas – an urban refugee from near Frankfurt – I learned that “the best studs now come from Germany, not from America.”
I had planned a Thai massage to follow my ride. This, as it turned out, was a really good thing. Luckily, my particular treatment incorporated hot herbal pack treatments designed to soothe aching muscles.
It took place in the traditionally decorated Thai teak interior of the pavilion, with carved statues of lotus bearing goddesses looking on and classical Thai music playing. As an adept young Thai masseuse worked “Prai” oil (something ginger like and camphor feeling) into my tired joints, a cheesecloth full of special herbs steamed away on a small burner. Soon the herbal pack itself was used as a massage tool, its juices seeping into my oiled skin.
Just as I was mentally being transported to another world (or at least to a suburb of Bangkok), the gentle mooing of nearby cows brought me back to B.C. But the total relaxation effect lasted for hours and I’m not entirely convinced that there wasn’t something vaguely narcotic in those herbs. (Helpful hint: do not operate heavy farm machinery after said treatment!)
After another groaning dinner table of delicious local food, I was in just the right mood for the cultural evening in store: a demonstration of traditional Thai dance followed by a performance by a country and western band.
Before long, with plenty of Prai oil still flowing in my veins, I got up to sing Home on the Range with the band. And so it was that my inner Thai cowgirl was re-born. Happy Trails were here again and, although I was definitely in a different zone, the time was still the same.
For more information on this destination visit the Canadian Tourism Commission website at www.travelcanada.ca.