There’s something about staring straight into the scrotum of a reclining man, his legs expertly framing his genitalia like a seasoned Da Vinci nude, that awakens your conservative upbringing, where even the sight of an uncovered shoulder would send you blushing to your room.
I had just spent 10 days at Burning Man, where nudity is as common place as the dust, so I wasn’t feeling prudish but then I wasn’t exactly expecting a buffet of Rubenesque and arabesque models sunning themselves on the wooden decks or walking quietly between the hot springs, swimming pools and steam/sauna combos.
Welcome to Harbin Hot Springs – a non-profit retreat and workshop centre perched high up in the drought stricken hills of Northern California, where the extreme heat stresses the grapes into good wine and relaxes the people into happier, healthier human beings.
[QUEUE IMAGES OF YOGIS DRINKING ORGANIC WINE AND KALE CHASERS]
As I soon discovered, this open-minded piece of paradise is Burner country and a firm fixture on the post-Burning Man drive back to the San Francisco Bay area. It makes sense. The people are open and free loving, the waters therapeutic and free flowing and the resort’s “no pictures (sorry, the imagination is required for this blog), no smoking, no drinking, no tech” rule provide the perfect respite after 10 days of sensory overstimulation and physical excess. Not that you will be bored, mind you. Harbin offers a number of daily activities, including yoga, meditation, Reiki healing and other alternative and spiritual pursuits. While these activities ask for a donation of your choosing, visitors do get 24-hour access to all the other facilities (hot springs, sauna, hikes, movies, etc), which is included in their accommodation price (from $30 per person for camping weekdays up to $80 per person for a two man cabin in the bush). We chose to camp on a wooden platform by the river and set up a mattress and covers so we could star gaze and, as it happened, buck gaze. Even wildlife conservation comes included in the price. What a bargain.
[QUEUE IMAGES OF FROLOCKING BUCK and BUCK NAKED HUMANS]
If you take your lead from the wildlife and stay in the bush areas, venturing out for hikes and meals at the local restaurants, you could actually avoid any nudity, but then you would have to forgo the hot springs area, which is where most people (around 95% when I was there) were enjoying the gardens like Adam and Eve. And who wants to do that when you can throw caution and your clothes to the wind and partake a bit of the forbidden fruit.
The funny thing about nudity is that it does become commonplace quite quickly, if you have the cahoonahs to drop your inhibitions and enjoy natural aeration at its best. At first all you see is bums, boobs and balls but after a few hours you start to observe shape and texture, size and colour in a way that a sculptor might do his subjects. Not all have the artistic eye but I can’t say the gazes I experienced were anything different to the ones I have felt with my clothes on. Sure you get the odd man who takes up the Captain Morgan stance as you want to exit the pool steps but, apart from these timid exhibitionists, it’s really a calm and relaxing space, made more so by the beautiful details like stained glass windows, pewter staircases, and wooden window frames leading onto giant fig trees dripping with modesty leaves.
My favourite part was in the quiet, meditative area, moving from the extremely hot spring (116°F) into the extremely cold one (60°F). I’m talking the kind of temperatures that your feet instantly reject and send “flight or fight” messages to your brain. Entering these goes against all your survival instincts, which is why I walked out the first time. The trick I discovered is to enter with the speed of a trained Butoh artist, a zombie walk you continue in silence to the ice-cold pool outside. So it can end up a walking meditation, made more delightful by the dappled sunlight streaming through the fig trees and the sounds of the chimes being sounded as your fellow nudists walk quietly past.
Perhaps my mind was dulled by the experience or my body in shock at the extreme temperatures I was putting it through, but all I know is that I never reached for that fig leaf or wondered if my wobbly bits were more wobbly or droopy than hers. So my advice is go and don’t care, enjoy and don’t stare and if you can’t handle the nudity, get out of the pool.
Musing on how to beat the LA heat… with my clothes on