Thursday was an absolutely beautiful spring day. We could see new buds on the trees popping out in the warm sunshine. The drive from Withrow Spring Park took us through some pretty rolling foothills that were cut by small rivers and streams. The Ozarks reminded us a lot of Transylvania in Romania, with the rolled bales of hay. Pick-up trucks had replaced the horse and wagons, though. We drove up Mt. Nebo, one of the highest points in Arkansas for a picnic lunch and short hike. The drive up was steep with lots of hairpin turns. There were none of the giant RV trailers on this road. We picked up the highway for a bit before the last part of the drive, another scenic, mountainous road through Ouachita Forest to Lake Ouachita State Park. Our campsite had a beautiful view of the large man-made lake. We took advantage of the beautiful surroundings to do a little yoga and then took a walk on the pebble beach and skipped stones on the lake while the sun was setting.
Unfortunately, spring mountain weather can change in a flash and we woke up to a cold, rainy day on Friday. We spent the day in Hot Springs, another old spa town that was famous for its healing springs. A hot bath sounded nice on a cold day.
At the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, they built a lot of luxurious bathhouses (like the ones that were built during the same period in Europe) that are preserved today on Bathhouse Row. Most of the bathhouses have been closed up for years, as modern medicine replaced the demand for healing waters with more synthetic and effective cures. Some of the building now house art galleries or modern spas. The visitor center is housed inside of an old bathhouse that has been preserved in its original state. The interior is a museum with exhibits on the history of the area and the original equipment used. Some of the interesting items included the fitness machines and the electrically stimulating massage equipment (which made me think of Frankenstein’s laboratory.)
There is one traditional, working bathhouse, the Buckstaff, which has been in operation since the early 1900s where Fabien and I decided to partake in a traditional whirlpool bath. We’ve been to public baths in Budapest and Istanbul, so we had a little idea of what to expect. We started off by putting our valuables into little metal drawers at the reception and then we separated to go to the baths. (Men and women are separated.) I took a rickety old elevator with an attendant to the top floor where I was greeted by the changing room attendant. I undressed and put all of my belongings in a locker and then the attendant wrapped me in a toga. Next I was greeted by my personal bath attendant who escorted me to my private bath which was filled with 103 degree (Fahrenheit) spring water. There was an Italian-made contraption that blew air into the water making a whirlpool action. After soaking in the hot bath for about 20 minutes, the attendant came and scrubbed my feet and back with a loofah sponge. I was feeling very relaxed. Next, she led me to a very hot bath that you sit in. It’s meant to soothe lower back pain. From there, I went in to the steam box. There’s a whole in the top of the box where your head sticks out. I was feeling great up until this point, but just when it was time to step out of the box, I started feeling dizzy and fainted, scaring the attendant and myself when I came to. I think I overheated or maybe had low blood pressure. She put me on a table (the normal next step) where you should have hot compresses on your back, but I had cool ones and drank lots of water. I started feeling normal again, so I went to the “needles’ shower which sprays cool water from the side in needle like jets. Then I relaxed again in the cool-down room. It turns out that Fabien also started feeling strange after the hot bath, so he skipped the rest of the “treatments” and just relaxed in the cool-down room. Our healing baths were not what we expected- maybe we went to soon after lunch and got too hot, but it was an unforgettable experience…