I jumped as the beeping alarm clock invaded the quiet serenity of my hotel room. I dragged my body over to the right side of the bed, checking the time on my phone. 5:30, oh my. I haven’t gotten up this early since high school. I rolled over to the side of my bed and started checking the list I had created the other night, for things I needed to pack for this upcoming trip. Swimsuit? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Wallet? Check.
It was week five of our Public Health in Mexico program, and we had decided to take an independent trip to a hidden gem of Mexico: Tolantongo. The entire group, on a spontaneous whim, decided to plan a trip to Toloantongo, or a box canyon and resort located about 1.5 hours northwest of Pachuca and 198 km or three-to-four hours northwest of Mexico City.
The eleven of us, with perhaps half of us speaking conversational Spanish, mustered up the courage to take an uber, a bus, and a van to this secret gem. None of us knew what we were doing, and we weren’t even confident if we were going to have housing at this resort due to the lack of reservations available. After multiple car rides, twists through the mountain, and getting lost in a bustling small town, we were finally able to arrive at our destination, Tolantongo.
From the second we exited the final van, wide cascades of mountains shadowed our visit. A wide river bustled into our eyes, and the sight of families swimming and relaxing in the river welcomed us. The smell of cooked hot dogs and fresh Elotes filled our hungry minds, and we quickly nudged over to ask if there was housing available.
We were shocked to find out that there were no more rooms available at the hotel. The other option was to go home that night or to camp out in rented tents. After reading about the caves, hot springs, and seeing the river once again, we all agreed on an adventurous spirit to stay one more night in tents. Some of us had never been camping before, and some of us were very under packed, but we decided to at least try to make the most out of the night.
After setting up the tents, we changed into our swimsuits and started exploring. Because of the scale of the resort, we had to take another van to get to the other side of the resort. After paying 10 pesos and riding through a very bumpy road on the sides of the mountains, we arrived at our first location: hot springs. The natural hot springs were made up of small circles on the side of the mountain, circles that looked like overlapping bubbles with light blue and green mixtures in the middle. The laughter of families and children filled the air, and we quickly joined them by relaxing in one of the hot springs, extending our arms to the edge and directly looking at the vast scenery of the mountains that juxtaposed us. The sight of 11 foreigners must have intrigued the Mexicans at the resort, as we very quickly, became stared at in friendly curiosity.
Afterward, we decided to go to the grutas, otherwise known as the caves or grottoes in the region. The 11 of us stood in line, barefoot, wondering what these caves were going to be like. Waterfalls surrounded every corner of our vision, and glorious streams pushed against our body. Taking a step past the waterfall covering the entrance of the cave, I felt my entire body feel the intensity of the steam of the cave. I felt as if my body was being trapped into an intensive sauna, a sauna with a powerful rush of water pushing against me. I felt a rope on the left side of the cave, and I held onto it heavily, using it to push my body into the cave. Further along the cave, workers of the resort helped grab my hand and helped me to walk through the deeper areas of the cave that I could have tripped in. A large circular pool was the finalé of the cave walk, and I slowly entered into the hot water that climbed up to my chest. This is crazy. Crazy amazing.
Right next to the entrance of the first cave, was another cave with a waterfall directly pouring into the center of the water. The water was less warm in this one, but the current of the water created an impossibility to move around with ease. My friends dragged me to the right corner of the cave, where ropes lined the sides of the cave. I wondered to myself why there weren’t a lot of people in this area of the cave, and it wasn’t until I swam halfway that I realized. Bats. I heard little sounds of flying animals around my head, and in terror, I swam into the water. Hundreds of bats lined the ceiling of the cave, and the sounds of their flying invaded my ear. I knew that these bats were most likely not going to hurt me, but my body was still in fear. I quickly swam into the deep corner of this cave with my friend, and we all looked up at the swarms of bats together.
Walking out of the caves, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I had walked through natural hot springs, explored natural caves, and had swum with bats. I was surrounded by the beautiful scenery of vast mountains, and a raging river that smiled at our sight.
This was the gift of spontaneity and the gift of adventurous spirits. The secret gem of Mexico was indeed a secret gem, and I was so thankful to have been able to experience such glory of nature first-hand. It was so easy to become swept up in the busy study-abroad lifestyle in the city, but this escape truly reminded me to appreciate the small things in life. Even with the busy rhythms of our life, let’s remember to appreciate, and to love.