I’ve been having other kinds of adventures recently. Not the thrilling rush of landing in a city where you do not speak the language, navigating new transport systems in winding streets, or having exotic dishes and wine brought to my dinner table. Those adventures are fun, too. But since my partner and I moved to the southern coast of Mexico, we have been surrounded by nature and the opportunity to slow down. It’s also given us the opportunity to focus more on our businesses as there are less distractions here than in the city. Our days off are spent watching sunsets, swimming in the sea, and engaging in outdoor sports that make me both break a sweat and feel an emotional stability that can only be the result of sunshine and greenery exposure.
On one of those long and slow days off, we decided to visit the hot springs in the middle of the jungle in Manialtepec. We asked around in the Facebook group for expats in the area until we got a number to “a guy that takes you to the springs.” A little scary to go on a tour with a “guy” whom you casually contact on his cellphone to reserve your spot, but there seemed to be enough people that recommended the experience.
Rich in minerals like calcium and sodium bicarbonate, hot springs have many benefits like improving blood circulation, reducing stress, improving sleep, and healing the skin. The water can have a bit of an egg smell from the sulfur, and it can also be so hot that it is possible to get third-degree burns. There have been some occasional cases of death, so it is always good to check with your doctor, and follow all instructions when submerging in hot springs. But I don’t mean to worry you because truthfully, these hot springs gave me one of the most amazing, cultural, and spiritual experiences of my life.
At first, Bradley, Ismael (our guide) and I were the only ones there. Ismael went over the different temperatures and advised us to only spend 10-15 minutes in each hot spring. After 10 minutes, we would come out and lie on our backs, focusing on our breathing. Hot springs cause a drop in blood pressure so it is common for people to feel a bit lightheaded or dizzy, so you should never stay in the water for a long time. This is why lying on your back for a little while is the best and safest way to spend your time after immersing in a hot spring.
Two other ladies arrived with another guide, and we went up to the top of the hot springs. We walked up a hill and the guides explained that this hot spring is frequently used by indigenous groups from the area. “This is where they come for healing. Whatever illness they have, they come here, and they also use the hot springs for their babies.” Ismael went slowly to the back of the hot spring (the water was so hot bubbles rose up occasionally). He dug out some clay from the side of the mountain using empty coconuts. He brought us the mineral-rich clay and we slowly applied it over our own bodies to exfoliate. The skin is the largest detoxification organ in our bodies, which is why I have recently been learning more about ways to take better care of it. As I slathered on the clay, I found new appreciation for this amazing organ I overlooked in my 20’s.
After waiting for the clay to dry, we slowly took it off, using the empty coconut shells to grab a bit of water at a time. I do not know the exact temperature, but it was way hotter than my normal shower. After slowly removing the clay, Ismael helped us go to the center of the hot spring. One at a time, we would submerge. I went first.
I actually felt pain. “Move very slowly,” Ismael suggested. “If you move fast, you can burn.” For some reason, moving makes the temperature feel twice as hot. So I met him in the center of the hot spring, and he slowly helped me sit down. Very carefully, and at the speed of a snail, he helped me submerge all my body in the water for a couple of seconds. I came out and said, “Can I do it one more time?” Ismael helped me submerge a second time (the water is so thick and hot you need someone to fully submerge you because you float here so easily).
After the second dip, I came out of the water and felt so incredibly at peace, it was as if I had never known calmness before. It’s hard to explain because this was not a visible experience. It was like coming out of that water completely new—a kind of baptism. I felt connected to the hot spring, the jungle, the Earth, the Universe, and the higher power behind it all. It was like the water washed me away or blended me into another bigger and better being. It must sound like nonsense, but I think this is the best I can do to put that moment into words. I was amazed. “Wow,” I said, for lack of a better word. The experience only lasted a few seconds. It was so powerful, I couldn’t have processed more than that.
“Many people, including indigenous groups, take this very seriously. It is not just bathing. For many people this is a spiritual place. They do this as a serious ritual. It’s not good to do this more than once a month, so even though we live close, we do not go in the water all the time,” Ismael explained. We went down the hill and to the stream, where the water is cooler. We lied down on our backs for a while, and then on our stomachs. “Lie down with your head facing the upstream. Submerge as much as possible, and let the water run down from the top of your head to your toes.” Funny to say this now, but it’s the first time I could have fallen asleep in a river.
I am so humbled by this experience. In times like this, when the future of the Earth is uncertain, I find it necessary to realize the human privilege. We get to live in the most beautiful planet in the solar system, and we are harming it. Yet it keeps taking us in, allowing us to dwell in its mystery, and giving us the experiences that enrich us most. So now I’m sitting back at home wondering how I can do for nature, what it’s done for me: enliven me.
How do you enliven nature around you? And how does it enliven you?
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Photo: Vanessa Uzcategui