Camping out is truly roughing it. No showers, no hot water, but millions of stars. So when my boyfriend booked a campsite in Big Sur, California, I booked a massage for both of us at the Esalen Institute.
Surrounded by pine trees, Esalen sits high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean near Big Sur. It was created in the early 70's as a place of peace, love and self-awareness, and offers workshops in everything from dance to philosophical inquiry.
All my life I've heard the legends of the hot springs, with curative sulphur waters in rugged tubs perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. They were destroyed in a storm in 1998, but have reopened after a $4 1/2 million overhaul. You can use the hot springs by signing up for a workshop. Or you can book a massage at the spa.
But calling the spa a spa doesn't quite describe it. It's closer to a magical, outdoor experience.
The facility sprawls over three levels with spectacular views from every vantage point. There are lots of naked people, in fact, so many that naked is normal. After showering off the trail dust, I relaxed in one of the half a dozen hot tubs. The sea breeze caressed my face while the therapeutic waters drained all the tension from me.
My masseuse came to fetch me and brought me to one of the massage rooms located on the upper level. He wrapped me in a warm sheet and I laid down on one of three massage tables in a large room with ocean views and an open air ceiling that let the ocean roar drift in and over my body.
Getting massaged in a room with two other strangers is a bit unorthodox, but it didn't bother me at all in this setting. An hour and fifteen minutes of invigorating and soothing massage followed. As my masseuse stroked his last stroke, a thought passed through my head, "This is my true nature. I release all negative thoughts."
I ended the day lolling in the warmest pool with the sun turning blood red on the horizon, my boyfriend's arms around me as I watched the whales migrate north heading for bountiful waters, spouting water as they swam.