The Springs That Time Forgot
Taking the cure for the modern malaise.
Thursday, December 13, 2001
Over the years the reports about Paraiso Hot Springs have trickled in, typically dispatched by friends and acquaintances just returned from an extended two-day soak in the elderly resort''s soda springs. They always say the same thing.
"It''s great!" they gush. "It''s ..." they wrinkle their brows, running down a mental list of modifiers. "Funky."
I always wondered what that meant. On a hot Saturday in October, I found out. Three gal pals and I traipsed down, chips, fruit salad and wine in tow, for a birthday celebration. We turned off Highway 101 past Soledad, drove past the rolling corduroy of vineyards, and arrived at an oasis of grass and gently waving palms on a parched mountainside overlooking the Salinas Valley. Overnight accommodations included one-room hillside cabins, quaint cottages, yurts, two-bedroom mobile homes and good old campgrounds. We''d picked the latter. We pitched our tents a short walk from the very clean communal restrooms, changed into our waterwear and hit the pools.
Well, hit the pool. The original and well-worn "small outdoor mineral pool"--a roughly 15-by-20-foot shallow bath (the "deep end" is about three feet) filled with 98-degree water and a few lolling bathers--was hard to leave. The first afternoon we spent so much time in it that everyone''s silver rings turned gold--nothing but a sulphury alchemist''s trick. They turned back after a couple of days.
Across a rickety old deck from this puddle of heaven was a swimming pool, also filled with the sulfate-, carbonate-, silica- and lime-laden waters that pour from the spring''s hidden source at the rate of 20,000-30,000 gallons per day. The swimming pool was cool and refreshing, but the enclosed hot bath, at about 106 degrees to 108 degrees, was much more akin to the spring''s actual unmitigated self, which leaves the earth at 112 degrees.
Maybe the best pool, though, was the Old Bath House, a relic from the resort''s early-19th-century origins, back when a grand hotel stood on the grounds. A blue-green, trellised haven in a lushly overgrown garden, it had two small hot pools and a cold plunge. (Unfortunately, it''s only open June-October.)
At last I understood the funkiness, and I loved it. Why Paraiso Springs is not always overrun with hordes of people taking the cure is a mystery. At Paraiso Springs, bugs fall in the water--lots of bugs--and no one scoops them out for you. Nets are next to each pool, though, so bathers take turns. The lawn furniture inside the dressing rooms has those garish blue-and-green cushions from the early ''70s. In the morning you get complimentary Folger''s in a styrofoam cup with Coffee Mate and Mexican pastry. You have to schlep to Soledad for dinner or else cook on your cabin''s hot plate. The rec rooms, which look as if they were gracious and well-used at one time, are deserted except for perhaps a beanbag or a bookshelf filled with mystery novels by authors you''ve never heard of.
In this anachronistic place, time slowed down. Eventually everyone settled into her own rhythm, leaving a warm bath for a warmer one, going back to the swimming pool, taking a nap on the expansive lawn. Conversation became secondary, and by the second day we''d become like the bathers who were there when we arrived.
None of those people talked much. They laid out on chaise lounges in sun or shade, reading or snoozing. There were many large bellies and varicose veins in evidence, and very little self-consciousness. The resort had a European vibe, if someone who has visited the Continent exactly once can make such a claim.
People kept to themselves. Halfway through the weekend a local family with some kids showed up and brought some noise with them, but even their splashy cannonballs into the cold pool and shrill laughter couldn''t puncture the tranquillity.
In 1999 a Pennsylvania company bought the hot springs and announced plans to renovate it, creating an upscale and fashionable resort once again. Luckily there''s no start date yet, and it looks like a long time before the faded glory gets junked in favor of shiny modernity. Meanwhile, winter''s the slow time, all the lodgings have heaters, and $30 per person to soak for a day is nothing compared to the pleasure in store.
To make reservations call 678-2882.