I've been oiled, salted, kneaded, toned, perfumed, prodded in the intimate reaches of my metatarsal pressure points. My thighs have jounced and bounced; my Third Eye and First Chakra have been pried apart.

In this land of exquisite torture -- otherwise known as Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico -- I've even been denied chocolate. And I'm feeling pretty great about it all.

For a child of Depression-era parents -- Calvinists to boot -- tossing hundreds of dollars on a day at a spa is an all-too-fleeting extravagance. Springing for the occasional massage at the end of a particularly wretched week is pricy enough.

But when a friend suggested meeting at a spa in Mexico, I plunked down the credit card. Between a dying parent, one of those "zero" birthdays and my husband's midnight emergency appendectomy, I needed a break. And the price was oh-so-right: $830 for a four-night package including single room, all meals, workout classes and multiple spa treatments -- about the price of a day at a top spa in many major cities.

The added benefit: girlfriending, that peculiar female ritual in which you never run out of things to say, and what you do say never comes back to haunt you.

And so I found myself whisked from Mexico City's sprawling airport and daunting traffic on a two-hour ride through the mountains to Ixtapan de la Sal, a friendly mountain town where the main street is lined with gardens and white-washed tree trunks. Just past the stately village fountain, the hotel rises from a hillside garden of bougainvillea and poinciana trees.

Hotel Ixtapan isn't a luxury resort, but the open-air lobby, twin swimming pools and spacious, cheery rooms (sans AC, but in the mountains, cool enough even in summer) were more than comfortable. A constant refrain of tweets whistled from the treetops sheltering the 13-acre park of fountains and lawns. The tennis club, golf course and a children's play area offered diversions for guests who weren't sweating it out in the gym or soaking up the spa.

My pal waited in the lobby for my arrival, then whisked me to lunch and let me know about the aromatherapy massage she'd booked for me that afternoon. What more could a girlfriend ask?

For the next four days, we would pursue our common goals: exercise, health-conscious meals, pampering and the deepening of friendship.

Margaritas in the mix

We bypassed possible excursions -- Taxco for silver shopping, Cuernavaca for gardens -- in favor of a slow pace. By midmorning, we were ready for shopping in the sweet town, scooping up silver jewelry and locally made face creams and clay piggy banks painted by the artist as we watched. Then it was lunch, reading, a golf lesson one day -- and visits to the spa.

I was hesitant about the spa treatments, having had more than a few wimpy massages in my travels. But each -- some included in my package, some involving an extra fee -- rated very good to excellent. Firming facials, reflexology, deep massage, loofah, manicure and pedicure, scalp massage, and my favorites, a Thai massage and an aromatherapy -- left me feeling beautified and soothed. Many took place in the resort's new Holistic Spa, a serene space of high, light ceilings and trickling pools that opened last December.

By evening, we dined -- though I admit, not always in the spa restaurant, and yes, we had the occasional margarita. But we'd been good all day, and that, we figured, should be good enough.

The four-day spa visit may not have cured all my woes, but by the time I headed back to reality, I was at least less savage. I can't say that I lost the first ounce or dramatically shifted my lifestyle. But months later, I'm still eating healthier than I was and getting more exercise than before my visit. My jeans are a little looser. And while I don't talk to my friend every day, or even every week, I know that the minute I call, we'll be right back where we were -- at least friendship-wise -- in Mexico.