It was a very rough start to our vacation, and even if Puerto Escondido is a beachy paradise, we had our fair share of challenges to get settled in. The first big challenge was adapting to the heat. The only way to fall asleep at night was to carefully lay in bed and not move. I also had a hard time dealing with the stray dogs at first. Puerto Escondido is crowded with stray dogs, especially the beach areas. One of the dogs on our street had its eye popping out like a bloody ping-pong ball. I feared getting caught in the middle of a dog fight, but we did become close to one of the stray dogs which I named Bacon. He would come running to us every morning at 5:30 am, and escort us to our co-working space, barking at everyone and everything that came near Bradley and I. Thank you Bacon!
The biggest challenge was finding an apartment. We spent the first 3 days of our scheduled vacation time walking around many neighborhoods in the midday heat. Our feet would get swollen, and the highlight of those days was going to the only supermarket in town, which has air conditioning and fried food. I get this is not the picture of health, but sometimes you need to comfort yourself in any way available.
Once everything was settled, it was finally time to check out from social media, leave my phone at home, and experience all the beauty and nature Puerto Escondido can offer. Bradley had heard about these hot-springs in the middle of the jungle in Manialtepec. It was not a mainstream tour. We asked around in the Facebook group for foreigners and expats in Puerto Escondido until we got a number to “a guy that takes you to the springs on horses.” A little scary to go on a tour with a “guy” which you casually contact on his cellphone to reserve your spot.
Off we went to kickstart our vacation doing the most exotic thing we could think of. We had a one hour journey in a taxi, and then about two hours of horseback riding through the jungle to reach the hot springs. These have recently been built to accommodate tourists a bit more comfortably, and by that I mean they put some stones together to make it more like a “pool”, though hot springs are far from that.
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. Hot spring water has minerals like calcium and sodium bicarbonate. The water can 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. 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 nascent of the hotsprings. 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 hotsprings 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 clay and we slowly applied it over our own bodies, slowly exfoliating.
This clay is also considered good for the skin. The skin is the largest detoxification organ in our bodies, and it is important to take care of it. I have been learning a lot about skincare recently, and have found new appreciation for this amazing organ I often overlooked.
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 not the kind of hot I would ever shower in. 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 existing 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.
After about 15 minutes we dried off and got back on our horses. Bradley and I struggled to get back safely. My horse was in a terrible mood so it kept trying to bite other horses, cutting them off along the way just to piss them off, it seemed. After my horse decided to charge after Bradley’s and bite its face, Ismael had to reign it in and scort us back to the stable. I was no longer amused or relaxed. When I was 6 years old, I took a hard fall off a horse that was in a fight with my dad’s horse. So I relieved that moment, and now I find it hard to trust horses. But alas, I can say I’ve survived, and what’s a trip to the jungle without a little adventure?