5. Buckstaff Bath House
This morning, I woke up early, ready to hit the Buckstaff Bath House for a traditional experience. Buckstaff is the only bathhouse in Hot Springs that has operated continuously since its founding. They don't take reservations, and I couldn't sleep, so I was first in line at 8 a.m. Bear with me because I am going to describe this in detail... I've never experienced anything like it and I doubt you have, either!
I was shown to a changing stall, where I stripped down to my birthday suit and placed all my belongings in a locker. An attendant then draped me with a sheet "Roman Style" and showed me to a waiting area. I don't want to sound negative, but nothing about this is your traditional spa environment - it's very utilitarian. With the exception of the hairdryer in the dressing area, you could truly be in a very different era.
Soon, Mattie called me back to the baths. She had drawn me a tub full of hot spring water and had me disrobe (always back to the attendant) and get in the tub. She gave me two cups of hot water to sip on and scrubbed my back, legs, and feet. Then she turned on the whirlpool (which looked like a giant, ancient mixer) and left me to soak for about 15-20 minutes. This was the deepest, longest bathtub I've ever been in, and it was wonderful.
After the tub, I was wrapped in another sheet and seated on a table. Mattie put soaking, very hot towels behind me and had me lay on them. More hot towels went over my legs and a cool towel went around my face. I was given ice cubes to suck on and left to rest for another 15-20 minutes (I'm guessing on all these times... hard to really know).
Next, I was seated (naked) in the vapor cabinet, which is basically a metal closet with a seat in it, metal doors that come down over your shoulders, and a glass door on the front. I was left to steam for a few minutes with the door open, then a couple minutes with it closed so I could breathe in the vapors.
The sitz bath followed. Wrapped in a sheet, I sat on the edge of this little tub and slid down in to submerge my hips and lower back. I was also given a stool to prop up my legs while in there. Considering that my lower back was killing me when I got up this morning, I decided that I need one of these in my next home.
The needle shower sounds more dangerous than it is. Basically, it's a shower with a bunch of shower heads. I was given the opportunity to spend a few minutes rinsing off in there after the sitz bath.
After that, I had a 20 minute Swedish massage. It was one of the more "no nonsense" massages I've ever had, but it was a great way to wrap up the experience. No pan flute music, no coddling from the masseuse, no fancy oils... just a good, plain old massage.
I would say that my massage at Buckstaff sums up my time in Hot Springs. Very few people have gone out of their way to be overly friendly to me (except men in cars), but most people haven't been unfriendly either. It seems likely to me that life is not all that easy for a lot of people here. Poverty seems pretty prevalent. I don't want to sound at all as if I am judging anyone; I know that every place in this world is different and has their good points and bad points, struggles and triumphs. This is just my experience in the matter of a few days, and I'm glad to have had it.
I'm headed on to Oklahoma tomorrow!