|Mint/Lemon Balm/Pineapple Infusion overlooking the Pacific|
The Big Sur area of the west coast is one of my very favorite places in the United States. It's roughly 90 miles of breathtakingly beautiful coastline formed by the sharp uprising of the Santa Lucia mountains from the Pacific ocean. There's barely enough room along the top of the cliffs for a two lane road that snakes to and fro, a series of bridges and curves and hairpin turns. At every bend of the road you can either look down and see a spectacular beach scene or you can look up through ancient stands of redwood to see the misty mountain tops above you.
The whole region is pure magic in my book, and my dear friend Bruce has settled there for the time being, caretaking at a fancy-schmancy new age retreat center and spa called Esalen. It too is a magical place - clifftop perch, exquisite gardens, delicious food, fascinating people, geothermal hot tubs. It has a fascinating history and a surprising roster of celebrity residents who have visited, all of which is detailed on Wikipedia if you'd like to read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esalen.
Shortly after I arrived around 5:00 Monday evening, Bruce and I stopped by the dining hall so I could make myself a mug of strong black tea with milk. In a gesture of immense civility, the dining hall at Esalen is always open and continually equipped with an excellent selection of not only myriad hot and cold beverages, but also a large station stocked with freshly baked breads and everything you need to make perfect toast, including a vat of peanut butter! I find it one of the most decadent things about the whole place due to my own particular proclivities.
The two of us prepared our beverages and proceeded out to the patio where we located a pair of chairs pointing toward the immensely scenic view of dramatic cliffs and thundering surf. There was a cold wind blowing, but the backs of the chairs blocked it very effectively, creating a cozy space that allowed the piping hot mug of tea to warm me through and through.
After we drained our mugs, Bruce gave me a brief tour of the shop where he does a good bit of his work, the final tour stop being at his desk on top of which sat a bright orange tool box, emblazoned with a label. What could be so dear to Bruce that it was carefully inscribed with his name, locked securely and left in a place where he'd be able to easily monitor it? Candy, of course. A wide ranging assortment, neatly organized into compartments and containers. I was silently jealous and very much in awe.
We decided it was time to go down to the baths for a nice long soak before dinner. I say go down because while the main campus of Esalen sits atop a large outcropping of cliff, the geothermal baths are situated at the end of a long gently sloping pathway that leads down to a spot I'd guess is about 80 feet above the crashing surf.
After you reach the bath house, you descend a short stairway that leads you to a vestibule where you are presented with a choice between whether to enter the <- Silent or Quiet-> side of the bath. After deciding, you must next undress and leave your clothing in a lifeless heap in the changing area before proceeding to the showers where you can rinse off your funky patina. The shower room at Esalen is hands down my favorite shower in the entire world. It's an enormous marble affair lined with 6 or 8 shower heads and saturated with light that streams in from the giant sliding glass doors that flank one side of the chamber. The sliding doors open directly onto the churning sea below, allowing occasional tendrils of cool ocean breeze to waft by you as you stand under a stream of luxuriantly warm water. There's often a sea otter, dolphin or whale frolicking about in the deeper waters if you gaze patiently out into the distance.
Once you've scrubbed the real world from your weary frame, you're free to choose any one of a variety of tubs (even several deep old-timey clawfoot bathtubs!) scattered over the three open and airy levels, and ease gently into the intensity of the hot sulphury water while you allow your gaze to wander the great halls of beauty that surround you.
As delightful an experience as the bath house is during the day, I've found it to be even more amazing at night. By the time Bruce and I started down the sloping path to the baths Monday evening, it had begun to darken significantly which allowed me to enjoy the beautiful sea grass light fixtures that illuminate the pathway down to the baths in a series of small warm golden pools of yellow light. After a lesiurely shower I hurried through the cooling night air to one of the large natural stone pools that is cantilevered out over the water and plunged quickly into the comforting cocoon of warm water. I rested my head on the stone wall and gazed upward where I could pick out the moon, Jupiter,Venus and even Mars all glowing brightly in the dense tapestry of stars above my head. The whole thing was so intensely pleasurable that I found myself entertaining feelings of guilt. Why did I deserve to have such an amazing and wonderful life? I soothed myself by reminding me that I was better qualified to enjoy life than anyone else I knew. That always does the trick.
After a nice long soak, Bruce and I decided our hunger had finally overcome our slothfulness, and so promptly dressed and ventured back down the curvy blacktop to a charming little place in the woods that served humble burgers and sandwiches. Bruce had gotten wind of the Monday night menu in advance - curried tofu - and resolved that we should eat elsewhere. I enjoyed my Rueben sandwich quite a bit beyond my imagining - it turned out this tiny little pub in the woods cures their own pastrami for crying out loud!
Bruce dropped me back off at my cozy little hotel room under the eaves after dinner and I crawled happily under the duvet and was asleep in no time.