Alan and I did something last weekend that Alan described as "surreal." He couldn't bring the word "surreal" to mind at the time we were in the midst of the...uh, activity. It wasn't until much later that day when we were wandering around in an art gallery. We saw a piece of art that prompted me to say, "That is soooo surreal!" "That's the word! 'Surreal!' That's the word I couldn't think of earlier today!" "Hmmm. I guess you could say that the experience was 'surreal,'" I replied squinting with wrinkled brow. "Yes, you could definitely say that was a surreal experience. You and me. Nekked in a hot tub in the woods."
We drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico on Thursday of last week for a long weekend during which we attended the wedding of a friend. On Saturday, Alan planned a little activity for us. When he told me of the plan, I was really pretty excited about it. I am always up for a massage and a good soak in a hot tub. I had never been to Ten Thousand Waves, but we had driven past it numerous times on our way up to the ski area just above Santa Fe. From the road, the place looks mysterious. A parking lot, clumps of trees, and some signs are all that is visible from the road. What hid behind the trees remained a mystery the blanks of which I mentally filled in with images of New Age nudists - fathers playing ancient native melodies on ocarinas while the hairy-legged mothers sat cross-legged on the floor breastfeeding their school aged children. Truth be told, I was a bit afraid of whatever was going on at "that place."
Pulling into the parking lot last Saturday, we saw a sign that pointed us towards a trail of stairs leading up into the woods to the spa. We slowly trudged the 91 steps while trying to get our "Zen" on for the afternoon of pampering and relaxation. It was a beautiful trail leading through snow covered rocks and trees. Huff. Puff. "Now I know why they ask you to arrive 15 minutes early!" I gasped as we reached the summit of our climb and came upon a Japanese style group of buildings. Entering the main building, we were greeted by a warm, friendly fellow who asked, "Have you ever been with us before?" We assured him that we had not. "Let me show you around and get you acquainted with all that we have to offer. He pointed out the free "spa water" dispenser along with the area in which whole grain, organic sandwiches, sugar free, organic snacks and Odwalla juices were available. "We'll keep a tab for you! Just help yourself to anything you need!"
He showed us where we would later wait for our massages. Then, he lead us through a door into a courtyard area in the midst of several small buildings. "There is the ladies' changing room. The men's locker room is up those stairs. We ask that you take a full soap shower before putting on these robes," he explained handing us our kimono style canvas-y cotton robes, "Here is the key to your bath, the 'Shoji.' Once you are both bathed and ready, you may enter at any time and enjoy the bath and sauna. You will be alerted on the intercom when you have 5 minutes left in the bath. Then, you will proceed to the spa waiting area."
Alan and I parted with our rolled up robes after exchanging uneasy, can-you-believe-we're-doing-this glances. I cautiously entered the dressing room with my eyes to the ground hoping that there would be no stark naked hippy ladies with hairy armpits sitting immodestly akimbo on the wooden benches. Fortunately, there were only a few equally modest normal looking women wandering around in canvas kimonos either fresh from the shower or heading to the shower. Panicking, I scanned the area fearing a communal showering situation. I'm sure that the other ladies heard my sigh of relief when I saw that there were individual shower stalls with curtains. I prayed silently, "LORD, I'm not sure that it's appropriate for me to pray this prayer, but please let my assigned locker not be in the middle of the row where I'll be vulnerable on three sides!" Looking down at my locker key, I saw that mine was locker #1 which put me in the far corner of the dressing area. I grinned as I looked towards the ceiling silently humming "How Great Thou Art."
When it comes to stripping naked in a locker room, I become all fumble-fingered. It takes me forever to figure out the logistics of going from fully clothed to naked-under-a-kimono all the while baring as little skin as possible. (I'm modest to the point of hiding my bra under my folded clothes in the mammography changing room. I wouldn't want to give anyone the impression that I'm messy or bra-less, for Pete's sake.) After several minutes of mentally choreographing my moves, I took a deep breath and got busy with the task at hand. Ten minutes later fresh from a 'full soap shower,' I walked out of the locker room to meet Alan in the courtyard by the koi pond. Glancing sheepishly around all I could think of was the fact that we were surrounded by men and women who were likewise naked under cotton kimonos. Some of the people were walking around with their kimonos loosely wrapped and tied with a single crisscross. I had wrapped my kimono around my body making sure that the overlapping parts were completely and thoroughly overlapped and then cinched the sash around my waist tightly before finishing it off with a knot that only a sailor could untie.
Looking to Alan for courage, I followed him up the path to our private bath, the Shoji. Unlocking the door, we came upon a very private, open-air area that was walled on 3 sides. The walls of our bathing area were fashioned to look like authentic shoji screens. To our right was a large, tiled hot tub. To our left was the tiny cold plunge pool. A door to the right lead into our own private wet/dry sauna. The "fourth" wall of the area was bounded by a fence that separated us from a wooded area that was blanketed with snow. I immediately scanned the outer perimeter to see if there were any weirdos or paparazzi commando crouching behind rocks with telephoto lenses. "Come on, Pinkie! Live a little!" Alan said as he carelessly cast off his kimono. Taking a deep breath, I chanted I-will-relax-and-enjoy-this-experience as I slowly peeled off my kimono.
If you have seen the movie About Schmidt, you no doubt remember the hot tub scene in which Kathy Bates drops her robe and does the naked jump into the hot tub with Jack Nickolson. It was kind of like that. Alan and I laughed at ourselves as we sunk shoulder deep into the steaming bubbles. "Can you believe that we're even doing this?!" I asked. "I know! It's seems like such a 'juxtaposition!' No wait...what's the word I'm looking for...uhhhhhhh..." he answered. "Weird?" I said. "No...it's uhhhhh...what is that word?" he said in deep concentration. We never came up with the word. Over the next hour, we soaked in the hot tub, steamed in the sauna, and talked about how proud we were of ourselves for trying this new experience. Alan, the Brave, even dunked himself in the cold plunge pool four times. He declared it "invigorating." From my steaming spectator seat, I declared it "insane."
Waiting for the 5 minute warning intercom message, we sat there in the hot tub buck "nekked" gazing at snow covered trees. We are both 53 years old. We have been married for 31 years. We have raised 3 sons. We are beginning to wrinkle and sag. Grinning like monkeys during that last 5 minutes, we felt really pleased with ourselves as we began to see the romance and adventure of Japanese bathing in the woods of New Mexico. Our empty nest is full of all kinds of wonderful surprises.
For now, sayonara.