Muddy waters

Call it kismet. As I walked down J Street, worrying about all the assignments standing between me and my Labor Day weekend, I thought, “I wish I could bury myself in the mud until it’s all over.” Then, like Ace of Base, I saw the sign. Literally. A blue sandwich board next to Tapa the World advertised Skinsations Spa, and among its many waxing and pore-cleansing options were the words “mud baths.”

I made an appointment immediately. The receptionist explained that the mud was a special blend containing camphor, red pepper, wintergreen, peppermint and eucalyptus and was good for detoxification. She warned me that I should be prepared to sweat. She also recommended I undergo a mud body wrap to reduce cellulite in my “problem areas,” but since I’ve made a resolution never to notice whether or not I have cellulite, I had to decline.

Thursday afternoon, I skipped lunch to get muddy. At Skinsations, a smiling woman in yoga pants and a tank top led me to a back room, where a Jacuzzi bubbled with dark black water like something from a Halloween haunted house. The rest of the room was classic day spa, with soothing blue tile, plenty of fluffy white towels, bottled water and a plate of fresh strawberries resting on the tub’s rose-petal-dusted ledge.

The woman dumped the last bowl of mud, which resembled chocolate frosting and looked deceptively delicious, into the tub. Then she directed my attention to a selection of disposable bras and panties on the counter, in case I wanted to wear them as I soaked. “Most people go in their birthday suits,” she said, before leaving me to wallow.

I inspected the flimsy underwear. Slightly more durable than paper, the bottoms looked voluminous. For grins, I tried on a black pair and was amused to find I could pull them up to my ribcage. I donned the “bra,” which was as slight as the underwear was generous, and looked in vain for a mirror to check out my ridiculous duds. Then I tossed them in the trash and slid into the tub. I’m not so puritanical that I need to wear clothes in a bath, especially one with opaque water.

I’d expected literal mud, like the baths in Calistoga I’d seen pictures of, but this was more of a mud tea. The water had a silty feel but no odor or taste. (Yes, I sipped my bath in the name of research.) The color took some getting used to, as my body seemed to recognize on a primal level that black water is generally unfit for bathing. At best, it resembled squid’s ink; at worst, the black lagoon. No part of my body was visible once submerged. I was soaking in the Blob.

I had 30 minutes, so I settled in and nibbled some strawberries. The water bubbled around me, the heat and Jacuzzi jets working their tranquilizing charms. Relaxed, I let my hands drift to the tub’s bottom and nearly jumped out when my fingers touched an unidentified fleshy-feeling mass. A monster? A piranha? A fallen strawberry? Nope, a wad of mud. I laughed at my fear, but I kept my hands on my stomach after that.

About 15 minutes in, the sweat arrived as promised. My forehead felt pleasantly feverish, and sweat ran down my temples and broke out on my upper lip. I downed bottled water and kept soaking.

When the Jacuzzi timer went off, I stood up to shower and realized the error of my ways. If there is one piece of mud-bath wisdom I can bestow, it is this: When someone offers you a ludicrously oversized pair of paper granny panties, wear them! You will feel silly, but not nearly as silly as you’ll feel trying to dislodge bits of debris from every nook and cranny on your person. I am still picking silt out of my belly button.

Burying myself in the mud didn’t solve all my problems, but it did provide relief—both therapeutic and comic—to see me through to my three-day weekend.