Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Take your chances at Nance's (Mud Macht Frei)

Several years ago, I visited my friend P in Berkeley, California. Just for the hell of it, we took a trip to wine country. What a place! Beautiful scenery, fantastic weather, and the most sophisticated drunk drivers in the world!

To cap off this mind-blowing experience, P and I headed to Nance's Hot Springs in Calistoga. We were tired and ready for some pampering. We entered the office and eagerly paid $55 each for a package of mud bath, mineral soak, and massage. We were directed through a velvet curtain. We entered a long hallway and, after many twists and turns, found ourselves in a windowless concrete bunker. There stood a middle-aged woman in shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops. She was clutching a garden hose. "Take off your clothes," she ordered. Terrified, we stripped and placed our possessions in the burlap sacks she provided.

"Now," she said, "You need to be cleaned." She blasted us with cold water from the hose. "Lift up your arms. I gotta get your pits." Freezing water pelted our underarms and, then, for a long time, our privates. "Time to get in the mud."

I was first for the chop. Waving her hose, the woman directed me to a crude brick structure, much larger than a tub but with similar proportions. It was filled with mud and straw. She dropped her hose and grabbed a large, wooden paddle. She directed me to sit on the side of the tub with my legs sticking out over the mud. Without warning, she jammed the paddle under my ass and shoved me out into the center of the mud bath -- kind of like how pizzas are shoved into ovens. Suddenly the paddle was gone, and I found myself floating on top of the mud. It was very hot and equally smelly. Bits of straw poked at me.

"Now I'm gonna pile mud on you," the woman informed me. "Don't move. The mud is heated from below. If you touch the floor of the tub, you could be horribly burned." This was new and unsettling information. Apparently taking a mud bath is like surviving quicksand: If you panic and flail about, you will be sucked to the bottom and perish. YOU MUST KEEP YOUR HEAD IF YOU WANT TO GET OUT ALIVE!

As the woman flopped hot, stinking mud all over me, I noticed P in the corner. She had been observing everything with a keen eye. Before she had a chance to escape, however, the woman turned on her and said, "You're next." Soon P was in the mud bath next to mine.  The woman plopped wet rags over our eyes and left.

So there we lay -- blinded, up to our necks in mud, and afraid to move. A long time passed. We grew very thirsty.  The hot mud sucked and burped around us.

Finally, the woman returned. She yanked the rags off our eyes and, with the paddle, lifted us out of the mud. My skin vibrated with joy as it met the cool air.

The woman led us to a bare pipe protruding from a wall. "Shower off here," she said. I saw raw fear in P's eyes -- would we get a shower, or Zyklon B gas? The woman turned a valve under the pipe, and water began trickling out. Ecstatic, P and I took turns standing under the cold water. We helped each other get the mud and straw out of our hair and asscracks.

Our survival was rewarded with a mineral soak and massage. These were actually quite pleasant, especially after the trial by mud. We dressed and were permitted to leave. It was great!

Overall, I would give Nance's a rating of 8 out of 10. The location and price can't be beat, but they really need to improve their massage-to-terror ratio.

No comments: