When I embarked on my road trip in October without an itinerary or agenda, I hadn’t a clue what the road had in store for me. What I did know is that I wanted to be a “yes girl,” meaning, I promised myself I would be completely open to new experiences, people and places. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d not only have the most magical experience of my life on this trip, but that this experience would take place in Arkansas.
My Huffington Post piece spoke to one part of the enchantment I had with Hot Springs National Park: the mineral spring water, crystals, architecture, art and abundance of hiking trails which lead to sparkling vistas at the alleged seven energy vortexes (one for each chakra!). However the part that really won me over was the people – people who made it so hard to leave that I choked back tears saying goodbye to each of my new friends when I left over five weeks after I arrived. The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met have convinced me that Hot Springs is so real and authentic that it makes Sedona look like Disneyland for metaphysicists.
I made my first Hot Springs friend an hour after arriving into town. While walking Yoda through the national park, a playful homeless brown and white puppy started following us around. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to leave him, but I also had no idea where I’d take him. Besides, Yoda seemed oddly attached to the little fella. As I stood there befuddled while watching them play, a park ranger pulled up and told me I looked like I needed help. A hero appeared, right when I needed one! After making him promise that he’d find the puppy a home, I handed the dog over to him. This park ranger has the coolest name ever for a park ranger, but out of respect for his privacy I reluctantly can’t tell you what it is. So let’s just call him “PR.” PR had just moved to Hot Springs 3 months earlier. New to the city himself, he wanted company just as badly as I did…and voila, my first Hot Springs friend was born.
Later on during that first day in Hot Springs I stumbled upon Ginger’s Popcorn Shop, a gourmet shop that sells popcorn flavors such as bacon & cheddar, watermelon, dill pickle and baked potato.
There I met Brenda. Brenda is a short, spunky woman who has lived all over the world and is another recent casualty of the economy. A few months ago she was laid off from her job in the health care field. In order to make ends meet, she now sells popcorn full-time and works part-time selling tickets at the Oaklawn racetrack. During my time in Hot Springs, I made many visits to Ginger’s Popcorn Shop for bags of kettle corn, and each time was more and more inspired by Brenda’s smile and optimism despite the hard knocks she’s recently endured.
On my second day in town I went mining for crystals at Ron Coleman Crystal Mine and met Krisanne and Ross, a dynamic and friendly couple from Austin. The prior evening Ross had attended a fire walk hosted by a shaman who lives in town. I was astonished: a shaman and a fire walk…in Hot Springs?!! They were leaving that day, and I found myself wishing I had met them earlier not only so I could have participated in the fire walking experience, but also so that we could have hung out longer.
I had only intended on staying in Hot Springs for three days, but once again was reminded that my road trip has a mind of its own. On my planned final day there, I was soaking in one of the thermal pools at Quapaw Baths and struck up a conversation with Art, an affable man with an infectious laugh who was soaking next to me. He is a shaman who spent 17 years studying under the great Lakota Medicine Man, Red Eagle. And yes, in a twist of road trip fate, Art is the shaman who had hosted the fire walk Krisanne and Ross had told me about. Through my conversation with Art, I learned about the large community of healers and metaphysicists in Hot Springs. Much like the ancient Native Americans, they come from all over the world either to live or to spend time – all attracted by the crystals and thermal waters. Art and his wife live in a geodesic dome built on a hill. He invited me to visit the next day to see the dome and meet his wife, a well-known and revered 72-year old Curandera, master healer and intuitive. This Curandera spent decades of study with shamans, healers, curanderos and masters in 13 countries around the world and has now dedicated her life to helping others with the unfolding of their paths and destinies. Without hesitation I accepted Art’s invitation.
The next night when I arrived, Art introduced me to his wife. She’s a round woman with twinkling eyes, chunky turquoise jewelry, a compassionate smile and a naughty sense of humor. I instantly liked her. She invited me into her office to talk with her and two of her senior teachers who were visiting from out of town. Armed with my black Moleskin notebook and wearing my wanna-be figurative journalist hat, I pulled out my purple pen so I could ask questions and take notes. However within minutes it became clear that I wasn’t in control of this conversation and I wasn’t there to interview them. I was told my soul drew me to Hot Springs for a reason – that I needed healing. Anyone who has been following my blog knows that I embarked on my road trip in October with the hope of finding inner-peace and healing myself from the toxicity that my life had become. Yes, I needed healing, but doesn’t everyone? The Curandera took it one step further and told me that I was being called to write a book. That my writing would not only heal me, but would help others. A book? Me? And then she invited me to stay in Hot Springs and said she’d work with me. She promised to kick start my healing and to “stick a lightning bolt up (my) ass” to get me to write the book. I hesitated. In many ways I’m a stereotypical Capricorn. I’ve always wished I had it in me to have blind faith for the metaphysical, but I simply don’t believe unless I have proof. However, remembering my promise to myself to be a road trip “yes girl,” I agreed. The Curandera arranged for me to move into the guest room of her dear friend Joanna Tremelling, a 68 year old woman with a heart of gold and a loveable Rottweiler named April who quickly became Yoda’s new best friend. True to the Curandera’s word, she cracked her whip. I spent every day of those five weeks writing. She helped me dredge up memories I had long forgotten and develop the courage to write about experiences I never dreamed I’d have the nerve to share. The process was painful, raw, and at the same time, exhilarating. Many of the experiences I had in Hot Springs with this Curandera and with other healers are sacred to me. Yet if I can ever figure out a way to put some of them to words, they just may make it into the book. And if the book is ever published, then you just may read about them.
During my weeks in Hot Springs I developed treasured and hopefully lifelong friendships with many special people whom either call Hot Springs home or call it their home away from home. Some of my new friends include Melissa Forbes, a lovely and nurturing New York yoga instructor, artist and author of No Teaching Yoga, who not only co-founded Heart of Yoga with T.K.V. Desikachar and Mark Whitwell, but also spent five years traveling around the world with the late Indian sage, U.G. Krishnamurti. Selena Rodriguez, the Florida-based owner of South Beach International Makeovers and author of The Archaeology of Style, is a beautiful and stylish healer who practices a unique healing technique of transformative and sustainable inner and outer makeovers.
Roy Rivers quickly became my confidant and hiking partner. Roy is a talented singer/songwriter whose duet with Dolly Parton shot to #1 on the European country charts and whom has also received 6 European CMA award nominations, including he and Dolly winning 2006’s CMA for Vocal Collaboration of the Year.
Joe Correia is a talented Portuguese photographer who looks like a wizard from the world of Harry Potter. Joe has shot everyone from American Presidents to musicians and spiritual healers, and one day he even shot me. His creative talent combined with his enlightening insight and sage advice about life quickly won him permanent residence in my heart.
Susan Julie Gonzales, an artist and inspirational consultant who recently relocated from San Francisco to Hot Springs, not only captured my imagination with her profound and spell-binding photographs of images and creatures found in the bark of trees, but also captured my heart with her cooking and hospitality.
By far the most difficult person to part ways with was the Curandera. This woman has selflessly given me compassion, love, friendship and wisdom at a time when I needed it. She’s the real deal. Despite my initial skepticism, she was right all along: my writing is healing me. Already I have 12 chapters of a book written and I’m committed to finishing despite the fact that I’m now on the road again. I have no idea if this book will ever be published. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is my latest lesson of the road: writing heals. Whether it be journaling, writing a book, blogging, or simply e-mailing your thoughts to a friend, I encourage everyone to just let the words flow.
Read me on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-buckley/