I met a ghost from my past at Comanjilla, Silao, Guanajuato. I hadn’t expected her. Some Mexican towns like Real de Catorce, SLP and Guanajuato, GTO. have more ghosts than living souls. Comanjilla is not a particularly psychic destination. But I figured, if a ghost took the trouble to visit, I should be accommodating and see what she had to teach me. I feel that, as I get closer to my seventh decade on the planet that I should be more open to unexpected gifts from the Universe. Perhaps they’ll open new pathways to explore. I’ve vowed not to stick to the tried and true, but to explore with an adventurous soul. Out with the old, look forward to the new. Aging is changing from winter time to daylight savings time. Spring forward!
I was driving from Aguascalientes to San Miguel de Allende. Well, that was my plan. The plan changed somewhere on the road and Guanajuato city became the destination. A Mikey plan and fifty pesos will get you a cup of coffee. I’d had such confidence in my plan that I broke one of my few rules and told someone I “might” arrive in Guanajuato City that night. I’ve lost more friends that way. People don’t hear, “might.” Sometimes I just keep repeating the same old mistakes, expecting different results. Familiar?
Are you a member of the Plan-less tribe? Do those annoying people sporting timetables, spreadsheets and reservations for a three week trip make you feel inferior? Do they project an air of superiority, nay Godliness, because they are organized? A pox on them and their houses! I stand for the befuddled, the adventurous, the men and women who go where the spirit suggests, not where a timetable dictates.
I got spectacularly lost in a very short time near Silao. It had something to do with believing a road sign. But you’re never really lost in Mexico – you’re just discovering new territories, meeting new people.
Back on the road, I saw a sign for Comanjilla, which I dutifully noted in my roadlog. Every once in awhile I got a customer who wants a trip plan that included the spa Comanjilla. It was a weekend – hardly the time to look for a room in Guanajuato, when the prices would be even more exorbitant than usual and the pickings slim. So I made a retorno near some sort of factory, risked life and limb to get over to a Starbucks where I mapped out a new plan. That was plan number three for the day and the sun was high in the sky.
Do you ever do something even though you know logically it is just plain dumb?
If hotel rooms were as scarce as socks at a nudist retreat in the city, why would I think they were any easier to find at a spa near a big city on a weekend?
Still, with the usual Mikey luck, when I got there, rooms were available at the inn for this prophet. Reminds me of a time when I showed up at the Hotel Tecolutla on the Gulf Coast decades ago on a holiday weekend.
A tour operator I have now outlived was there and said,
My God, Mike, you’ll never get a room. We made reservations weeks in advance. Do you have a reservation?
No, I replied, I’m “Mexico” Mike.
I got a room, though it may have had more to do with a cancellation than name-recognition. But the result was the same – my friend’s astonished face.
This time it was just me and Booking.com.
At Comanjilla, I couldn’t have asked for a better room. Two beds (one for my suitcases – a screed on not traveling light is in the future), next to, but not overlooking the big thermal pool. There are two pools. Immediately I disrobed, donned a swimsuit, re-robed and flip-flopped my way to the steaming, sulfurous waters.
The atmosphere was perfect for serious psychic work. There were a few people in the twice Olympic-sized pool, all couples who spoke softly. The stars were out and bright enough, but not enough to illuminate the scene and the moon was but a slight sliver of silver off in the distance.
I found “my” spot. Every hot spring pool has one spot where the thermal water flows in from underground. Sometimes it is too hot to be near since some waters are near boiling when they escape their earthly bonds. In Comanjilla, it was Goldilocks – just right. I’d spent many a night hugging the side of the pool feeling my aches and stresses gently washed away by the steady stream of almost too hot to handle mineral water. Life was pretty darn near perfect – close enough to make it impossible to think of anything that would make it more so. These were the moments I lived for. These small snippets of time made up for the hours on the road, the stresses of driving, the disruption of routines. Routines are important to some people, even so-called “free spirits” like me. I crave normalcy. When I was younger and a card-carrying hippie, I secretly desired to join the middle class. So, you might say I am conflicted. Or confused. But at that moment, in that slice of temporal reality, I was at peace.
What better way to start out a cleansing? In my decades of traveling, starting in 1968, I’d accumulated a lot of emotional baggage. Have you ever been to a place and remembered the time you were there with some specific person? Were they indelibly linked? Memories are persistent, sticky things. They wrap themselves like invasive vines around our brain stems. At our house there were some little wild fig vines growing on the brick columns and walls. “Oh how cute. It’s like being in an Ivy League college.” Against the advice of our more practical neighbors, we let the “pretty” vines have their way. After all, if we ever wanted to get rid of them it would be easy. Hah!
After six years, we enjoyed them as much as we could. The brickwork (when you could see it) was cracking. The wooden walls of my studio were splintering. Insects (and worse) were nesting. I, being Mr. Macho in disguise, planned an assault with military precision. Armed with a new pair of shiny sharp loppers, misguided faith in my abilities and a dash of delusion, I staged a predawn attack. By the time the sun was high in the sky, my hands were bloody, my spirit deflated. I’d hardly made a dent. I felt like an ancient mariner, trying to sail my way out of a windless Sargasso Sea. But I am not a quitter! I may not be the brightest twinkle in the sky but I don’t give up. A wiser man would have just hired someone and gone back inside to do something he was good at. Hah! Not me. It took days to get “most” of those wild-ass figs (to use a Galveston patois). Their roots lie fecund underneath the building, amassing strength for a new assault, laughing at me. I know it.
I’d been to Comanjilla dozens of times, always with a different companion. The last time was with the otherwise clear-thinking woman who, years later, in a moment of befuddlement, said, “Yes,” when I asked her to marry me. So it wasn’t like I went to Comanjilla was intricately tied to one person. I didn’t go to relive a memory. I thought I just wanted some thermal water. But memories have a life of their own. Once I was there, one memory, one ghost from the past, raised her ink-black hair above the translucent fog that insulates my mind from reality.
She was a New Yorker. Why she traveled with me I didn’t understand. She didn’t like me much. She made quite a bit of money so she couldn’t have been along for the free ride. I was, shall we say, emotional stunted at the time so there was no romance. She liked Comanjilla so much that she went back several times without me. So, of all the places she and I went, this was the one where her ghost was most likely to lurk.
OK, if that’s what Fate has in mind for me tonight, I will go with the flow.
I clung to the side of the pool. Super-warm water flowed over my body. Through half-lidded eyes, I stared into a starlit sky. Opaque steam clouds covered the pool like a fuzzy child’s blanket. Deep breaths in. Slow breaths out. Empty mind. No thought. Welcome memories. Invite spirits.
You never really get cold in a thermal spring pool. So when I started shivering, felt a stream of icy water envelop me, I knew. Time slowed. I looked at the couples around me and saw them with their mouths open but no words issuing forth. One man held his baby aloft. I saw the droplets of water falling from the baby’s body, drop by drop, never hitting the surface of the water. It was as if the world in that pool was a tableau and I was a watcher but not inside it.L.’s voice, bright and husky at the same time, like her personality, came to me.
Do you have any clue why you’re here?
She never was one for small talk. No, I answered.
Look around you. See how the others in this pool are connected. Yet, you aren’t. How does that make you feel?
Aha! A great insight for you. Maybe you have grown up a bit from the last time we met. And why are you alone?
I struggled with that one. I knew that “alone” didn’t just mean not having family or friends around me at that moment. It meant for my life. And that was the truth. Even when surrounded by people who cared about me, or crowds of people listening to my lectures or book signings, I was there but not there. A part of me was never touched by anyone.
Let me show you something, she said and reached a bony hand out for mine. Without volition, I stretched mine out and took it. We were transported from the lush hot spring. We were in the middle of the stark desert of western San Luis Potosí. It looked like that long stretch between Matehuala and Huizache where the people are so poor that sell snake skins to passing motorists to get through one more freezing desert night.
Atop a little knoll covered with prickly pear cactus and a lone huizache bush was a grave. A weathered rock headstone had this crudely scratched on it.
Never loved. Never touched. Never missed. Just gone.
We stood there, a freezing December wind whipping up dust devils, madly spinning, growing huge, unimpeded by anything on the barren landscape.
The end of the path you’re on now. You thought (yes I can hear your thoughts) that I never liked you much. That wasn’t true. I never liked not knowing who you were. I didn’t like the facade, the carapace that protected you. You I never knew. This is your destiny.
Nothing written in the shifting sands of time is permanent. It’s up to you. You write your own destiny. This is just the one you’ve prepared so far.
She turned her head and gave me her trademark soul-piercing stare and sardonic smile. She disappeared like the Cheshire cat, with the smile last to go. The water warmed. The baby aloft laughed, water flowing off his pudgy body. The father made goo-goo noises. Everybody went back to their normal lives. Me, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to.
I stayed alone, in the corner of the pool for what seemed like a long time, though it could have been mere minutes. I didn’t think. I just was. That’s a rare thing, so when I can, I do. I was until I could not stand being anymore. I got out.
In my room, I saw that the restaurant was close enough that I could order room service with a 50-50 chance the food would be warm when it arrived. That brought back another memory. Nicki, the long-suffering woman who married me a decade ago stayed at Comanjilla. We had a Jacuzzi suite at the other end of the hotel. We ordered room service. The food was cold, but the atmosphere was warm. So there was one more memory to this place for me – a good one, a strong one. Memories are good. They give depth and substance to places we visit. There’s no need to exorcise them. Maybe L.’s spirit was there to free my spirit and honor Nicki’s.
I didn’t order room service. I didn’t want anything to dilute that memory. But I did call Nicki. After we finished talking, I put the phone down and cried. I doubt I washed away all my defenses, that I laid my soul bare, but it was a start. I was like those snakes in the desert. I shed a layer of my old skin and exposed the new. That was a first step.
Comanjilla, the hotel, was built to resemble an old hacienda. Long before, around 1803-4, Alexander von Humboldt and his exploring company camped here for the thermal properties of the water. Humboldt was a Prussian who traveled Mexico and the Americas extensively writing learnedly about the culture and geography. Although “Mexico” Mike and his crews stayed here several times, there is no plaque memorializing that honor. The road from Zacatecas and the nearby shortcut to San Luis Potosí that I wrote about earlier was called the Camino de la Plata because it linked the silver cities of Guanajuato, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí.
If you want to go to Comanjilla, you can make a reservation and save a bit off the rack rate here.
The rate nearly doubles on weekends and holidays.
I’ve seen this old hotel go through many changes over the years, not all good. Presently, it is operated by the Misión chain, which I admire. The staff won’t win any awards for friendliness or helpfulness, but they are not outright rude and you don’t see them after check-in anyway. The restaurant is okay but again the staff is less than welcoming. The rooms are big, quiet and the Wi-Fi is surprisingly good, considering the thick walls. Unlike most hot springs spas, the staff is woefully uninformed of their most important attribute – the mineral content of the water. Should any of the executives of the Misión chain read this, I freely offer the mineral content analysis below. It comes from my out-of-print book, Spas & Hot Springs of Mexico (soon to be re-released in 2019).
Water temp: (average not near vents) 37.5° C, 99.5° F. At vents approx.: 44° C. 111.2° F. At initial discharge pool (not accessible to public) water is just below boiling. Characteristics: strongly sulfurous, colorless. Chemical analysis is expressed in milligrams per liter:
Element Chlorine (Cl), 0.026, Carbonic Acid (H2CO3), 0.176; Sulfuric Acid (H2SO), 0.04; Boric Acid (H2B404), 0.021; Iron (Fe), 0.014; Calcium (Ca), 0.20; Magnesium (Mg,) 0.011; Sodium (Na), 0.07; Potassium (K,) 0.036; Lithium (Li), 0.005.