Ode To Harbin Hotsprings

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Imagine this: you’re naked and floating face-up in a warm pool shaped like a heart. Surrounding you are 11 people, their 22 hands simultaneously holding you up and kneading your body as it relinquishes control. Your ears vacillate between being under and above water, and your eyes vacillate between being closed and then languidly watching clouds drift across your field of vision.

That might sound like one of the weirder scenes from an Alejandro Jodorowski film, but it’s really just one of the groovy activities that tended to happen at Harbin Hot Springs, the legendary water-utopia two hours from San Francisco.

Harbin burned to the ground three days ago, swept by wildfires swallowing up the area. It’s sad, especially considering that the next logical place to skinny dip would be Baker Beach, where you’re much more likely to get attacked by a great white shark.

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The sacred site was used for centuries by native peoples then became a resort in 1870. The resort’s hotel burned to the ground. That hotel was replaced, and its replacement later burned down as well. Renewal is in its blood; fitting, as the one quintessential Harbin experience was to go back and forth from the scalding hot pool to the ice cold pool, sending your body into a very heightened kinesthetic state. A thrill ride, and also extremely good for your health.

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I always found exposure to these temperature extremes to be a very intense place to bring a date. I brought a date to Harbin for New Year’s Eve 2013, and we decided to do the hot-cold cycle seven times, each time dunking our heads under water the number of times corresponding with whatever round we were on. By the end, I felt like I was either on drugs or elevated to a higher spiritual state. And I felt a lot closer to my companion.

Being naked at Harbin transcended sexual connotations of nudity. I saw countless people there with figures that the media doesn’t consider sexy. But they owned it and walked around feeling good. To me they were shaped like ripe pears, plump oranges, oversized apples and skinny bananas, all equally beautiful. That being said, it was still a sexy, sexy place to be if your chose to be in that state of mind.

One of my best friends was at Harbin on the Saturday it burned. She and her partner were having a quickie in their tent when someone yelled that they had 10 minutes to evacuate the property because it was up in flames. Later that day, it was all over.

The warm pool at Harbin Hot Springs is for meditation and quiet reflection. (Photo by Luiza Leite,

Harbin was a fantasy land of sacred waters and magical peoples. A place with quaint meditation huts you’d find while hiking around its 7,000 acres of land. Geodesic domes and futuristic steam rooms. Deer and wild turkeys. Oh, and Watsu massage, which was invented there.

Greek mythology’s Phoenix Rising is a bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor. Hindu and Buddhist beliefs see the lotus flower, blooming from murky waters, as a symbol of beauty and purity. The ancient Egyptians associated the same flower with rebirth. Harbin Hot Springs will no doubt be rebuilt soon, and perhaps the new version will somehow improve on the old – maybe with a pool shaped like Siva, a giant zero-gravity dome filled with healing thermal mist, or a water slide that whisks you from your car to the meditation pool as an assortment of elves’ hands magically remove (and fold and put away) your clothing for you. Harbin, we are waiting. And we love you. will make sure to post an update about Harbin’s progress and status, currently they are accepting help and donations at:
Facebook link here: 
Cover photo by Luiza Leite,

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Dan Nazarian - Uninformed Informant

Dan Nazarian - Uninformed Informant

Dan Nazarian is a Bay Area native whose life has been colored by extensive world travel, a brief white-faced obsession with the Cure, and periodic acid trips while skinny dipping. He is a massage therapist in the City.