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Pine Hill, New Jersey
April 9, 2008
From journal Molas and Mud - Adventures in El Valle, Panama
December 6, 2003
I'd heard about them from a Panamanian woman sweating beside me in Gamboa's sauna. She hadn't used the communal thermal pools but highly recommended the mud. So we took her advice and visited the tranquil forested setting a short drive from El Valle's main road by taxi.
Our $1 admission covered everything: mineral baths, therapeutic mud, and showers. We crossed a bridge and followed a path past flowering plants leading to a sunken pool of muddy water. A man spoke to us in Spanish, but we couldn't understand him. In response to our blank stares, he pointed to two ceramic containers, lifted the lids, and gestured spooning the contents–white and black mud–into his palm and onto his skin.
Aha! We were to apply the mud, let it set then rinse off in the nearby shower. He nodded and left. We looked at each other, wondering if we should bother getting all muddy fifteen minutes to closing time.
Why not? We stripped down to our suits (having learned our lesson in Gamboa) and began to lather white mud all over our face and body. It was the consistency of homemade ice cream but thankfully not as cold.
A young woman rinsing under the outdoor shower watched us with amusement. Apparently, we were doing it all wrong. She indicated that the white mud–which we had plastered all over our bodies–was for faces only. We followed her distracted gaze. The man who'd given us the initial instructions was approaching. Hurry!
We scurried over to the other container and began slopping dark mud over the white as quickly as we could -- arms, legs, waist. Oops, missed that calf–ya got some white showing there. But we straightened up and stood there like the Cheshire Cat when he walked past and glanced our way.
Don't think he noticed our glaring white spots. But we did and began laughing again, pointing out each other's fine cover up job. A local man with white mud on his face and patches of dark mud on his arm strolled past to check his face in the mirror. Compared to him, we looked ridiculous.
He was applying mud to specific parts of his body to relieve arthritic aches. And we were preparing for a tribal dance–in full body paint.
The owner caught our eye and tapped his watch. Our mud hadn't set, but it was time to rinse. Emerging from the shower I touched my face. Incredibly soft. So smooth. The combination of sodium, potassium, magnesium, silica, bicarbonates and calcium had surpassed Gamboa's expensive spa treatments and even my swim in the mineral rich Dead Sea.
We didn't dip in the thermal pools, but I highly recommend the mud. If I were a local, I'd wallow weekly.
From journal Nature Adventures in Panama's El Valle