2. Harbin: Baths for Witches and the Techno Riche

Distance to complete relaxation: 3.5/5 Spigots

Distance to complete relaxation: 3.5/5 spigots

Harbin’s entrance, with its tiles and vines and handpainted signs prepares you to enter one size fits all Hippie Chic. Like a YMCA owned by Deadheads appealing to Silicon Valley middle management. Whether you want to glamp with a bathroom, rent a room in the Norcal Disneyland hotel, or just let your Miata shine in the sun for a few hours, Harbin keeps you in striking distance of the baths.

Protip: Definitely bring a flashlight, fsho. The walk from the camp area to the baths is a minor but dark walk for which you’ll need light.
Attribution: http://califias.blogspot.com/2014/12/harbin-hot-springs-and-heart.html

There are six pools, from very hot to very cold along with a sauna and steam room. The heart-shaped pool fails on it’s promise of being a either a quiet special love-zone or a communal watering hole. The sauna and steam are standard. The warm pool is the largest of the silent pools, and is decorated in a witch-serves-a-nice-country-breakfast sort of way. But the real standout is the candlelit hot pool, a few steps away, with gnarled cast iron handrails that takes it all the way to coven-in-a-new-moon-mikvah. The overhead handrail allows you to hang half-in-half-out of the pool, providing maximum erector spinae release. There’s only room for about 10 people in the hot pool, but its very high temperature ensures there’s someone exiting to let you in.

It’s not that the entire compound is naked, in fact the only place that’s naked is the bath areas. The changing rooms can get full and are co-ed. Dick-wagglers exist, but are a silent (non-voting) minority. Only one erection was spotted and no one approached us. In fact it is quite coupley, but not to the degree that it would be unenjoyable as a platonic group of friends. It is the happiest place on pangea, after all. This interpretation of the Magic Kingdom has learned the lesson to keep your patrons fully entertained. Yoga lessons, a Restaurant, a movie room, and library. The food is mediocre but healthy, compromising on flavourfulness and fanciness, but not on quality. The library room, oh the libray room. It’s a great little refuge, for when your ereader is more appealing than being naked outside. It’s wooden and handcrafted. It’s not hobbled together and it’s free.

Our dedication to economizing our purse backfired on us during our trip. Unfortunately before leaving we didn’t fully rinse a can of garbanzo beans before recycling it, which very much angered the wind Gods. They knew our human-weakness, these wind Gods, that we required some non-zero amount of sleep, and therefore exacted revenge on us through the audio of tent-flappiness. It was really extraordinarily flappy. Not like a hummingdbird, or an even a scarf in a Miata. This was more like being in the cargo hold of an old propeller plane, except its sputtering engine was on the inside. We tried very hard to ignore this cacophonous plastic on plastic sound while cuddling necessarily for warmth. We contemplated abandoning the idea of trying to sleep, and eventually did at around 5 am, an hour before day break to seek refuge in the hot pool. Our deprived brains still acknowledged the heat of waters, and even registered the sweet sunrise dancing on the bare winter branches – but perhaps with not as much mirth as it could have. Upon return to our spent tent, some camping neighbours approached us. “How was your night?”  We responded distraughtly “very flappy tent.” And they said “yeah,” and we knew that they just knew precisely what we meant.

As it was now time to go, we augmented our scattered 15 minutes of sleep with two espressos at the on-site cafe, much like the YMCA smoothie bar – if only the Grateful Dead owned it.


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