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A story About Rio Caliente Hot Spring and Spa

(Excerpted from the book Spas and Hot Springs of Mexico)

Rio Caliente spa is closed now, but the story lives on. I heard it was being reopened as a holistic cancer treatment center, but have not been there to verify.

This is a story, not a travel article or review. It was written long ago and the Rio Caliente Spa (which is now closed) bore little resemblance to the laid-back Bohemian hot springs in the story. It became a mecca for the frou-frou "rich hippies" the Grateful Dead warned us about.

But read the story for the entertainment it provides and decide it you want to buy the book, Spas & Hot Springs of Mexico to get a whole bunch more like it. (After the story, the book contained facts like the water composition, temperature and so on, as it does for every hot spring).

Im happy to say that I am officially no longer unbalanced. At Rio Caliente Spa, near Guadalajara, an acupuncturist, MD, chiropractor and herbal healer all rolled into one officially diagnosed me unbalanced. Then he balanced me, using dots of gold and pronounced me as balanced as the next guy. You dont want to cross the next guy.

This isnt your run-of-the-mill fat farm. In fact, its not a place you can classify, except in that marvelously small category- unique. Its near Guadalajara, yet so far out of in the country youd swear you were a thousand miles from anywhere. After a couple of days, you like that. Its one of its charms.

It was late, near dark, and I had never been to this hideaway. In fact, I wasnt even sure it existed. My companion had long ago learned to give me my head when I smelled a hot spring. Besides, she was too tired to argue with me.

I, of course, dont need no stinking map. Hah. Big Blue (my old and now retired Volkswagen van) and I cut through the little town of Primavera. Fork right. Dead- end at river. Go back. Fork left. Then right. Another fork. 50-50 chance. Doing good. Feeling proud. Night now. Yellow headlights illuminate steaming river over road. Oops. Must be close. Hot water. No fool, I. Listen for sound of raging torrent of flooded stream. Just fast-rushing water. Deep?

Throw rock. Pretty stupid, that. What the hey, onward. Water sounds as tires try to grip. Deep enough. Up hill. Onto pavement. Flashlights ahead. Either Ive found the place, or its a group of smugglers who think Im DEA. Either way, its sure to be a surprise.

May we help you, a disembodied male voice asks from behind a candle. I can barely discern a group of white robes behind him. Great. Ive stumbled into a cult.

Uh, yeah. Im looking for Rio Caliente.

Do you have a reservation. Another, deeper voice asks.

Ive just driven over the ruts of Hell, nearly drove into a river and forded a bubbling hot stream. Now Im supposed to have a reservation for the privilege. Uh, no.

Then how did you know about this place? A third suspicious voice asks from nowhere.

Im Mexico Mike. I know all, see all.

Silence. I guess midnight humor is out of order. Its a little damaging to my tender ego, but I guess not everyone knows who I am.

I write a guidebook to Mexico. Besides, Im a journalist. You cant keep anything from a news-hound.

Laughter. Great, were in. Were in luck. They have a room left. Its plain, comfortable. The bed is good. It suits us. Im off to the hot water pools. My companion is smart enough to sleep. Unlike some spas, the pools and steam room are available whenever you are. I like the place. Its like me- not too structured. Later I was to find out that was both true and untrue. Like Mexico, Rio Caliente is a paradox, and a delightful one. There are few lights around the pools. Steam rises in waves, enveloping those in the water. More disembodied voices. Im reminded of a sance. The spirits are pleasant, though.

Whos the newcomer? a female voice asks.

Mexico Mike.

Welcome. May you find what you seek here.

Soft lapping of water indicates that the body that spoke moves away. I am alone, with thousands of stars above the steaming mineral springs. Night birds beat soft wings against the velvet sky. I pull myself out of the pool, feeling part of it, feeling my muscles relax, my blood flow with this primordial rhythm around me. I limp softly to the steam room. Pain from my arthritic knee and recently broken bones remind me of my ugly past.

The steam room is underground, in a natural rock grotto. Scent from fresh eucalyptus leaves fills the air. The atmosphere is thick, moist, womb-like. I stretch out on the wooden bench. Im alone. But Im not. Ive been here before. Later, I will learn that this was a secret healing place for the Huichol Indians, whose lives are intertwined with mine. Now I know nothing of this. All I know is I am home. It was a long, tiring journey. Now I can rest.

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