Taking the Waters

Sorgento Hot Springs Cove

The Canadian woman and the Spanish woman and I make our way past swaths of bamboo and lemon trees and trees full of fluorescent blossoms, following the signs and hardly believing that we are going to the right place, because we seem to be walking away from civilization, from reality. It is dusk. My towel has not dried in three days.

We walk downhill, toward the cove, which we can see in the distance, the two tall ends of it poking into the sea. Then we come to the steps which twist along the rock face, all the way down to the shore below, the tiny lapping waves. There is no one but us.

I am first into the water, fast. A huge plunge. Not even thinking.

Along the edge, steam rises from the rock which is tinted a sour yellow from the sulfur. Signs warn: The water is boiling. Your own risk.

It comes in stripes, a warm one when the waves pull back and a cool one when new sea water rushes in, but moving closer to the edge, it just warmer and warmer. The rocks, green with algae, slide under our hands. It’s good for the skin, they say. A wave from a boat hits the shore and water from the edge splashes up and drops burn across my back.

I face the gaping mouth of the cove and watch as the ferries glide by, silent, their lights blinking in the growing dark. I am more tired than I have maybe ever been, my limbs like lead. I have walked for three hours already today, swum for two, in baking heat. I hardly have enough energy to rearrange myself to avoid getting burned.

A big wave crashes against the shore, sends me sliding off my algae-slick rock. I get a mouthful of seawater and gasp. It is sharp and metallic on my tongue, all strange volcanic minerals.

I rearrange myself toward a warmer spot near the edge. I can take it, I think.

The women and I marvel. We watch a tiny crab perched on a rock a few feet away, waiting his turn. On the shore, we change in the darkness without looking for rocks to hide ourselves. The air is warm. No towel necessary. No one will come along to disturb us.

I try to think of what this means, how to arrange this in the Stuff I’ve Learned file, but it doesn’t fit. It is not catastrophe, no moment of brilliant strength or insight. That will come twenty minutes later when, truly exhausted, I genuinely have trouble staggering back up the hill. I worry about collapsing in the dark, being a burden on these women, on some poor person passing on a scooter, their night interrupted by a fluid-deficient American. But for now, it is me, floating, enjoying the warm. Watching the mouth of the cave again, the open sea beyond it, the last streaks of dim orange in the sky, my impulse says. Go for the literary.

The world makes a space for you, an opening between two cliffs. Go through.

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