From the Womb of Blue Lagoon

From the Womb of Blue Lagoon

I have a twin. Her name is Kim. We were born holding hands at the age of 34, fully grown women, twenty fingers, twenty toes.

Okay, let me back up.

The year was 2015 and we were in Iceland, floating in the warm water of the Blue Lagoon and we had just been reborn.

This was not some sort of religious experience where we found Christ or a scientific experiment where we had our cells rejuvenated. No, this was simply one of the best massages we had, or probably, will ever have. It was the Blue Lagoon’s in-water massage.

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Upon entering the Blue Lagoon spa, you are given a waterproof wristband that allows you to order food and more importantly, alcoholic beverages, while you are soaking in the 100 degree F water of the geothermal plant run-off. There are two things that I would like to point out here. #1) The Blue Lagoon is not a natural wonder. It is a man-made complex that is a by-product of the energy company that drills the earth for its geothermal heat and energy. That does not mean that it is bad for you (quite the opposite) or not one of the busiest tourist attractions in Iceland for a reason. #2) Alcohol makes everything better.

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Another unnatural, man-made effect is the combination of alcohol with hot water. When soaking in a hot tub or hot spring or geothermal, silica-bottomed lagoon and drinking champagne, you will get drunker, faster. I was feeling it and I was feeling gooooooood!

Go rub some white silica on my face and swim around with it for ten minutes, sure.

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Go swim back to the other side of the lagoon to have a free photo taken, why not.

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I particularly like the creepy dudes photo bombing us in the background. 

Go to the least crowded area and sit on the bottom of the shallows with a champagne glass in hand watching the people come and go, sounds like my favorite thing.

 

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Swim through every nook and cranny at least three different times to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, like the speakers announcing the history of the lagoon in English in a Playboy mansion-like grotto, check.

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Oh I was enjoying it all and no amount of pruned fingers would get me out of that communal bath tub.

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And three hours later, it was time for our massage.

You swim up to a gate where your massage therapist comes to greet you and lead you into the private massage area. It is not covered or outside the lagoon, only separated from the regular hullabaloo. You then swim onto a floating mat where you are covered with a large towel and told you may lower your bathing suit if you want. Okay, why not? (Read my previous post to see that nakedness doesn’t bother me as much anymore.) And then the massage begins.

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If you follow that path all the way to the end, you hit the massage pool.

It’s a combination of natural spa products being rubbed into your skin at various levels of scrubbing and being dunked down into the water whenever your towel begins to get cold. Your body is cocooned under the wet towel and a smaller towel is over your face and eyes so even though everyone can see you, you cannot see them or anything else for that matter. You are in an amorphous water dream that consists of a strong woman rubbing your body and being consecutively dipped and dunked into the warmest, most comforting water you have ever experienced.

At some point you flip over for your back and at another point you are wedged into the lap of the women massaging you for a neck and head massage but in between all of this, your buzzed brain can only conjure up one thought and one thought only. I am in a womb. This is what it feels like to be a baby. There is a reason we enter the world crying. Who would ever want to leave this?

But just as the contractions of labor squeeze out the last of the amniotic fluid from an infant and shunts it out into the real world, our therapists pushed us out into the waiting pool to transition back into real life. During the hour duration of our massage, Kim and I have not said one word to each other. As we both float into the waiting pool, our hands meet and we sit there silently, clasped together. I have not made one peep about my womb theory when Kim turns to me and says, “We’re twins. We were just born.” I am too relaxed to laugh. I nod my head in agreement and squeeze her hand. There is probably more truth in that statement than anything either of us have said all day…or maybe it just feels like it from all the champagne and dehydration. Either way, I am happy to have her as a sister.

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To read the rest of the Relaxation series, click below:

Part One- Hot Springs Time Machine

Part Two- Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties

Bathing Beauties

There are multiple times throughout the first season of Game of Thrones where Daenerys is bathed by other women. When I saw these scenes, I always thought, I would never ever do that, let someone bathe me. I am not one for being bathed, I usually keep that private time to myself. There are nooks and crannies that no one should be privy to but yourself.

India changed that.

The year was 2013. I was in India during monsoon season in the month of July. After two weeks of oppressive heat in the North and a bout of food poisoning, I was off to the cooling climes of Coonoor, a two and a half hour drive from Coimbatore at top speeds, up winding roads around the Nilgris mountains that rose up from the plains like an after thought from God.

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The city of Coonoor

I had booked a week stay in an Ayurvedic clinic housed besides a tea plantation. I was told no one can have serious Ayurvedic treatment short of four weeks so I would be receiving the massage relaxation package, which entails a massage twice a day and occasionally an oil drip. I was saved from the forced enemas and diarrhea-inducing cleanses that the rest of the four-weekers received.

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There were many rules I had to follow at the Ayurvedic hospital. No drinking, no eating meat, no sugar and no sex. The last one was the easiest as I was traveling alone but the rest were made simpler by the sheer fact that I could get none of these things in or around the premises. The days were highly regimented as well.

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The daily schedule

Pills and tonics were delivered to your door to be taken at 6 a.m. Directly afterwards, you could climb to the top of the hill for sunrise yoga in the circular yoga room but more often than not, I went back to bed until the breakfast bell rang at 8 a.m. We breakfasted on the lawn in mixed groups for about two hours. The guests were from all over the world and varied in age from 10-late 70s. The common language was English which made things very easy for a monolingual like myself. I remember feeling like the clinic was one of those seaside resorts for people to recuperate at that you read about in old British novels. We could pretend we were very posh while doing nothing but lounging around in robes drinking tea.

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At around 10 a.m. everyone would disappear for their morning appointments. I’m not sure what went on behind closed doors in everyone else’s appointment slot, but I knew my morning consultation was always a massage from Lolly and Neela. Imagine this: You are ushered into a dark room with dark wood everyone. The massage table is oiled wood, the floorboards are wood, the windows are covered with wooden slats and you are being heated by a small electric heater charging by the door. The room is fragrant with the different Ayurvedic remedies and herbal mixtures. Some of it smells better than others. There are wet towels hanging on a wood rack near the door, plastic buckets either full of water or not are scattered around the room. There is very little light as they want to preserve your privacy from the chatty Cathy’s still out on the lawn. Your privacy in the room is another matter.

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Lolly and Neela in the massage room

“Put your robe here, then tie this on,” Lolly instructs me the first time I come in for my massage. She hands me a strip of cheesecloth, essentially tissue paper, and gesticulates explaining to me that this bit of floss is meant to cover my naughty bits. I tie it around my waist and through my legs and Neela comes from the shower room in the back and begins to rub strong smelling herbs into my hair, my neck, my temples and dotted across my face at places where I assume chakras subside.

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Post-massage chakra dots

I’m then asked to climb onto the wood table that over the course of the next thirty minutes gets covered with so much oil one has to wonder if they’re marinating me for a feast. The massage is a fumbling sort of synchronistic ballet where Neela and Lolly approach me from both sides and match their techniques in parallel motion. They both lift my arms then proceed to massage them in a way that any fifteen year old boy would be highly familiar with in technique and maneuver. They follow this by doing figure 8s around my breasts with the tips of their fingers, no real pressure, but apparently it’s meant to open up something in my soul. 

I’m asked to flip over and when I do, the string holding my cheesecloth thong on is untied and pulled off. Now it’s just me as God intended. They do the same double maneuver on my legs and pour more medicinal oil on me and at some point the massage comes to an end. Since I’m now so lubed up with “medicine” I might fall out of the room like a baby being born, I’m not surprised when they tell me to go into the shower room to get cleaned off.

Sure. Only Neela follows me and tells me to sit down. She is now pouring water over my head and scrubbing my back with an exfoliating soap. I am slightly in shock but don’t want to seem a prude. After all, the two of them had just been massaging my naked body for the past 30 minutes, what was the difference in a bath. So I sat back and tried to let my inner Daenerys out.

When she finished my back and arms and was done tossing some water across my front, she motions down to the bucket of warm water. “You do front,” Neela points to the water then points at my crotch. “Of course. Yes, yes I can do that,” I mumble as Neela exits the room to give me some privacy at last. Apparently some things are still considered sacred.

This routine would happen once a day, sometimes twice, for the next week. I got to know Lolly and Neela very well. They told me about their children, their working conditions (some people warned me later that Lolly and Neela really knew how to work the stories for tips, but I tipped them large anyway, I mean, the women washed my naked body every day, how could I not), about their love lives, how long they had been at the clinic for, whatever information we felt comfortable enough sharing on that day. It was a strange friendship we formed, me on a wood table covered with oil with two Indian women hovering over me sometimes speaking an English I could understand and sometimes not trying at all, but it was one I treasured either way. I won’t be making this bathing ritual a habit though. I’ll stick to my wet hot American showers.

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My vegetarian meal waiting for me my first night.
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Fresh herbs from the organic garden for remedies and food.

Part One of the Relaxation series can be read here:

Hot Springs Time Machine

Hot Springs Time Machine

Hot Springs Time Machine

There was a hair floating in the water. Not just any hair…that type of hair. The kind that is short and black and curly. And it wasn’t alone. To top it off, the water and air wafting about it smelled of egg, rotten egg. We were soaking in the hot springs of Rotorua in New Zealand…and despite what I just mentioned, I loved it. Apparently my mother has told me that I’m not very good at making people want to visit the travel destinations that I write about, I wonder where she gets this idea.

Based on a recent trip to Calistoga, an hour north of my hometown, I’m going to focus my next few posts on all things hot springs and massage, a world tour of relaxation destinations and my awkward experiences with them, so sit back and enjoy as I dip my toe back into this sulfur-infused hot tub of memories.

The year was 2008 and I was on my first and only Contiki tour visiting the north and south islands of New Zealand before I returned home to start my teaching credential program. Contiki Tours claim to fame is that it is only offered to people between the ages of 18-35 but it has a tendency to slant towards the younger end with more people averaging 21 than say 32. I was smack in the middle at 25. It also has a tendency to skew Australian as they are one of the largest demographics to travel with an expendable income and four weeks of vacation travel a year. Contiki also has a fixed method to help people bond swiftly and tightly. The method is mainly alcohol with planned theme-dress parties and reservations made at large bars with high tolerances. They also start each morning with the same song when you get on the bus. This seems obnoxious at first but feels like magic when that song invariably comes on in whichever bar you’re at that night and your entire group of 30-50 people scream out in one mass cheer, “That’s our song!” It’s calculated but it works.

Basically, it didn’t take long for me to have a crew of Australians of somewhat varying ages that I hung with on the reg (I was 25 at the time, let me talk like I’m young and cool). We had most dinners together, planned our extra excursions together and planned to share a room at each hotel that we moved to like we were college roommates on the first day of school. So why not soak in a warm tub full of pubes together too.

When coach touring, almost every day has an excursion planned or a destination that you are moving towards. It is very similar to a cruise ship but on land. Every once in awhile, you are given a chance to explore. Most likely, you will ask your tour guide what you should do and they will give you a suggestion from their list. It is probably a place that they have a partnership with to help that tourist attraction get visitors. Our free day in Rotorua was no exception.

We were off to the Polynesian Spa for a soak in their natural hot springs. We had been at a hāngi the night before and needed to relax after all those “traditional” cocktails and stretched facial muscles from trying to impersonate the warriors pūkana, or facial expressions, which they perform during a haka. Rotorua is part of a volcanic plateau in the North Island and all that volcanic activity makes for a lot of thermal activity. The town is actually known for it’s putrid smell as the gas escapes constantly from the thin layer of crust and there is no avoiding it. Rotorua is also one of the Maori’s original habitats and home to the Te Arawa tribe. All together this makes the city home to a number of different hot spring choices as well as visits to traditional Maori cultural experiences.

At our chosen hot spring, four of us rented a “Deluxe Private Spa” and were ushered down a corridor to our very own numbered door. At first you feel like you are inside any regular resort spa but when the door opens wide you have suddenly stepped through a wardrobe into a different version of Narnia. On the other side of your door is the outside. There is an artificial rock pool but real thermal hot springs water pumped in and on the other side of that rock pool is the real thing, the actual gurgling water escaping from the ground into a large lagoon filled with real rocks and real birds. Our private “room” is separated from other rooms by wood screens on either side but with the back open wide to take in the scenery. It took all my willpower to not hop over the rock ledge and go running after the birds, rubbing the natural mud over my face and chest and performing my own version of a warrior dance.

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Instead, I sat down and stayed in the water and after a short amount of time started to notice what floated around me. How were these natural pools cleaned out? What did private mean when renting a private pool? Was it implied that most people did the nasty when soaking in these tubs? Maybe the pubes were the least of my concerns. Can you get impregnated by a hot tub? These are not the questions one should ask while vacationing. So I didn’t. I sat back, I relaxed. I tried to ignore the smell and take in the view. My new Australian friends and I joked a little and talked about some of the excursions we’d like to do during the rest of the trip. I learned about their histories and our shared interest. Three of us were teachers. I stopped and appreciated the moment. I stopped to smell the sulfur.

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Featured Image from Morguefile user kconnors

Pau Hana Time

Pau Hana Time

The waiter looked down at us with our feet up on the metal chairs gazing out over the clear, calm water of Ala Moana Beach park. “You visiting?” It’s not so much a question but an assumption. Sondra shared that she lived on island and we had decided to come in for a drink to cool off for a bit from our time at the beach. 

“You should have brought a cooler of drinks with you. Would have cost you half as much as two drinks here.” He walked away to place our order and I laughed. Only in Hawaii would a local literally dissuade you from his own livelihood to find a way to relax more conviently by the ocean. To his benefit we didn’t take his advice as I was trying to tick off boxes of things that I had yet to try in Hawaii that had been noted as the best and we were only visiting Ryan’s Bar and Grill in Ward Center for the recommended Li Hing Margarita. The margarita arrived with a lip brimming over with red li hing powder, a taste I had only just discovered a few years back the last time I was on O’ahu. Li hing mui is salty dried plum that is popular in Asian cultures and therefore highly prevelent in Hawaii. The li hing infused tequila flamed like sunset in a glass and sang on my tongue but not necessarily my favorite song. In the summer heat of the island it needed to be colder, like a frozen plum rolled in salt but instead it was just a tepid bath. 

Over the course of the next week, this was my least enjoyable “best of Hawaii” purchase and it was in no way bad…just not as good as a poi doughnut and porchetta sandwich. 

Ed Kenney is probably one of the most popular and influential chefs in Hawaii right now. His first restaurant, Town, opened in 2005 and since then he’s opened two new hot spots in Kaimuki, a district half way between the overcrowded streets of Waikiki and my snowbird suburb of Hawaii Kai. I had to try them both after my fond memories of eating at Town for a birthday a few years back. Kaimuki Superette’s tag line is SEAsonal SANDwiches and SUNdries so I needed a sandwich for my sun and sea. I drove my warm porchetta sandwich like it was a newborn baby, tenderly and making sure it was safe buckled into its passenger seat. Only this baby made my mouth water and my stomach grumble as I halted and lurched through Honolulu traffic. 

Finally at Kapiolani Beach Park, my mouth sunk into the crunchy outer layer of fried pig and landed into the soft underbelly of pork fat that, literally, seemed to melt when it hit my tongue. I was in Paradise and not just because I was in Hawaii staring down the line of famous Waikiki hotels lining the glimmering beach. The sandwich was large enough that I probably only needed half but I tore through that whole thing without a second thought and then waddled to the bathroom to squeeze myself into a full piece swimsuit that now felt more like a corset holding all my organs into place after the porchetta displaced them. 

The next day I met friends at Mud Hen Water, the sister restaurant to Kenney’s Superette. We sat at the white marble topped bar and watched our platinum haired, tattoo-covered Aussie bartender whip us up some drinks. I had the Vishnu’s Vice which was made with Opihr Gin, juiced turmeric, honey, orange blossom water and topped with peppercorn. If it didn’t have alcohol in it I would swear I was detoxing in the most delicious way. It was spicy, hardly sweet in a good way and not too much kick on the alcohol side either which I can appreciate when I’d actually like to remember my meal. We ordered a couple starters to share and landed on the fried chicken and the I’a Lawalu for our mains. The latter was a white fish buried in coals to cook in a banana leaf with vegetables and coconut milk. The fish was buttery soft, the peppers were smoky and we devoured it like starved shipwreck survivors. For dessert we couldn’t narrow down the choices so with both bartenders prompting us to go for it, we ordered three, a pineapple polenta upside down cake with coconut gelato, doughnuts with espresso ice cream “like breakfast for dessert,” as one bartender put it, and finally, because I insisted we have it, two scoops of black sesame ice cream. The pineapple and black sesame won out as favorites and Sondra and Patrick told me all about their favorite doughnuts from Kam bakery, purple poi doughnuts. Seeing that our doughnut dessert could not match up, they promised to pick some up before our hike in the morning.

Kamehameha Bakery, better known as Kam Bakery, has been serving up baked goods since 1978 and the poi-glazed doughnuts are worth all the word of mouth. Even as I write this I wish I had another one in front of me to eat and can’t believe I may have another year to wait until I get one. As you bite into the purple confection, the doughnut smushes together like resting your head on a feather pillow and then expands again in your hand as you pull your mouth away, the dough rising again in long sugary strings, puffy and light from pockets of yeast. We had just spent the morning exploring ruins in the jungle on the one downpour of the week and decided that the only way to warm up was with hot tea and baked goods. I thought I could stop with one but had to try both original and the strawberry flavor which was an electric pink color. 

Give me those doughnuts, dude.

“Pau Hana” is the Hawaiian equivalent to “happy hour” but means literally “after work.” Most people think of enjoying a tropical drink by crashing waves in Hawaii. I like to think of Hawaii for its food and for my end of the school year holiday, I couldn’t think of doing anything after work other than eat my way through the island and this was just a sampling of some of the treats I found there. To see more of my food porn and get suggestions for your own Hawaiian travels check out my Instagram @goodetravels.