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The Tinker Drinkers Go for a Dip
BY HEATHER SCHLEGEL
EXCERPTED FROM JACARÉ NO.4

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California is not known for its volcanoes. In fact, I'm not sure that California has any active volcanoes, but it did at one time. Those volcanoes spat their ash and dust into the air and it settled onto the ground, only to be mixed with mud and mineral water much, much later.

Just north of Napa Valley lies the city of Calistoga. The name was coined by a New York businessman who combined the words "California" and "Saratoga." (Saratoga is a city north of New York known for its spring waters.)

Calistoga is home to a number of mineral springs. It's the mineral water from these springs that is mixed with local volcanic ash and mud to create Calistoga's famous mud treatments. There are lots of mineral spas in and around Calistoga, ranging from rustic to posh. Charlotte and I chose the spa/hotel Nance's Hot Springs, which came to us well recommended.

We both opted for "the works" at Nance's, which included a mud bath, mineral bath, mineral steam, blanket wrap, and massage. Charlotte opted for the one hour massage, while I took the half-hour one. Nance's also has a hot mineral pool, open to all staying overnight at the hotel or just for the day.

Neither of us had ever had any experience close to a spa mud bath treatment and we walked through the shuttered white door not knowing what to expect except something wonderful.

We were greeted by an old woman who told us to take our clothes off and wrap ourselves in big white flannel sheets. After donning these togas, we wandered down a hall with old hospital beds on either side. In some of the beds women were wrapped up in blankets with their eyes closed. At the end of the hall we saw a room. Inside was a row of bathtubs. This was the mudroom, the location of the majority of our treatments.

We liked Nance's rustic atmosphere. It wasn't like the Roman bathhouse one might imagine. It was very backwoods, all open with nothing to hide. On one side was a row of huge, old-fashioned porcelain bathtubs. Two women were bubbling away inside them. On the other side were three huge vats of mud. This was our first stop.

Getting into the mud was not very easy. The mud was hot, especially at the bottom, and we had to slide into it. The bath attendants had us sit on a wooden board and they slid us into the mud. We had to lie as flat as possible so that we didn't stick our feet in too deep. Then we got covered from toe to neck with a mixture of volcanic ash and mud. Warm bubbles rose from the hot mud below.

I was kind of nervous in the mud. Sure, I played in mud as a child, but I wasn't supposed to do that. Having a mud bath was completely natural and relaxing, but I still felt nervous. The mud bubbled slowly and smells of sulphur rose. It truly did feel like I was in a volcano.

Charlotte and I were covered with a second layer of mud and with this my fear started to dissipate. I sank deeper into the vat and my body started to relax. The bath attendants brought a cool cloth and put it over my face and I disappeared into the warm mixture.

Too soon it was time to move on. Getting out of the mud was much easier than getting in; we just sat up and slid out on the plank. After taking a rinsing shower we entered the mineral bath. These tubs were huge too, and the water flowed over the sides as we each got into our own bubbling bath. I was completely submerged. The fluidity of the water was welcome after the thick mud and I was becoming more relaxed by the minute.

After another cool shower our treatment continued with mineral steam. I went into a small, tiled, steamy room that smelled faintly of sulpher. I wondered if this was really good for my skin or not. After being thoroughly steamed, Charlotte and I moved on to the blanket wrap. We each got our own bed and were wrapped in a blanket. We proceeded to sweat for the next half hour. It was at this time I began hallucinating as if I was having a successful sit in a sweat lodge. I was sweating like a pig and wsn't having fun at all. I couldn't wait to get out. The blanket wrap seemed horrible, but one never feels great when sweating, only afterward.

And bliss, like all good things, comes to those who wait. One more shower and it was time for my massage. My skin was soft and smooth. I was relaxed and I felt energized. Lying on the massage table, I knew I had found bliss and it was well worth the wait.

A Home Spa Companion

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