Ladybugs Are Lucky
As you may recall, when we were leaving Tennessee we found ourselves beset by hornets! We never found their nest (and not from lack of searching!), but they eventually stopped appearing. We speculated that they had built a nest in our AC unit just before we went up to Michigan where it was chilly, and then pupated until we got into the South and cranked up the AC.
Anyway, once we alighted in Hot Springs, Arkansas, we found a different type of insect companion swarming into our home-on-wheels: ladybugs! They began to appear around the AC vents and wound up crawling on every possible surface of the rig, indoors and out! Other campers in the wonderful campground we had set down in confirmed that they, too, were inundated with these cheerful little creatures. I didn’t mind at all, but Steve did take the time to usher them all outdoors a couple of times a day.
Hot Springs is a friendly little town, and J & J is a friendly little campground. JJ, the owner, and his somewhat reclusive wife have made a homey lounging area out of the sheltered patio of the common rooms, and it was cheerfully decorated with hay bales and pumpkins. More importantly, the people who were staying at the campground were friendly and sociable, as southerners tend to be. We all sat around and sipped our beverages of choice and told lies.
We were situated on a campsite right next to a babbling brook. The next day, I got caught up on blog posts about Cincinnati and Kentucky, and then we set out to explore what the area had to offer.
Hot Springs gets its name from springs of 147-degree water which stream out of the ground. This water is rich in calcium, magnesium, sulphate, and trace minerals. This spot has been famous for the healing waters since Indian times, and during the Guilded Age and the Roaring Twenties, it was a popular resort area. Prohibition brought moonshining to the area and Hot Springs was a favorite gangland hangout for the likes of Al Capone. Eventually, the US government decided to get into the act as well and make it into a National Park. Now, of the eight remaining bathhouses on “Bathhouse Row,” six have been made into restaurants, museums, or administrative offices. Two of them are still operated as baths: Quapaw (privately owned) and the National Park Service’s Buckstaff Baths.
Quapaw is the privately owned bath. It has been completely redone and features a series of coed hot pools which are graduated in temperature from 95 degrees to 105. The room where the baths are found is tiled and full of natural light with plants here and there. There are wood chaises and a café at one end. I didn’t avail myself of the spa services, but they also do offer a variety of beauty treatments and massages. The locker rooms and showers were comfortable and modern. Shampoos, soaps, and abundant towels were provided. I did kick myself for forgetting my waterproof sandals; they require foot coverings unless you’re actually in the water. I had to buy a pair of junky $3 flip-flops at the counter; the good news is that at least they don’t charge $15 for them, haha! The hot soaks were relaxing and serene.
One touching thing I saw was a very elderly woman, perhaps in her late 80s or early 90s, with hands and feet deformed by cruel arthritis. She was there with her daughter, a woman of perhaps 70. One could tell that they had visited the spa together before. They had a system for getting in and out all worked out, where the daughter remained one step below the mom. Daughter put one leg up, and mom sat on her thigh and swung her feet down, then daughter helped her stand. They repeated this process on each of the four steps into and out of each pool. The kindness and devotion of the daughter to her mother was sweet and inspiring.
Buckstaff Baths is the other operating bathhouse on Bathhouse Row. It is less modern and more of a historical curiosity than a pampering experience, but it’s worth going just the same. It is operated by the US National Park system, and it is geared less towards offering a soothing spa experience and more towards recreating the turn-of the-20th-century spa experience for the modern visitor. Gaining entry is accomplished at a lobby booth where, if you happen to be there during the few hours the entry booth is actually open, a uniformed Park Service ranger lets you pay, in a process which reminded me of nothing so much as buying stamps at the Post Office. You are then directed to a corner where you stand and wait for your attendant.
Ladies and gentlemen are segregated on separate floors. An old-fashioned cage elevator run by a female attendant takes you to the second floor. You are ushered into a small curtained booth with an old-fashioned steel locker and a metal-framed beveled mirror. High windows and tiled floors and walls recall times past. Once you are fully naked, you call the attendant, and she takes a sheet and holds it outstretched outside the curtain. You open the curtain and turn your back, and she wraps you deftly in the bedsheet like a Roman toga.
You are then escorted into the bath area. It is a literal bathtub, a giant clawfooted tub in marble-walled cubicle, with an ancient bubble motor mounted on the side. The high-diameter pipes and faucets fill it all the way up in a minute or two, and then you shed your sheet and settle in for a lovely, very hot soak (104 degrees F, just the way I like it!). I called my attendant, a very sweet lady named LaToya, to heat it up and add some more water after a few minutes when it had cooled off, and she came right in and got the steamy water right up to my chin. Ahhhh! Standard procedure is to soak for fifteen minutes, but I wound up staying in for more like 20, by request.
Then I got out and sat in the sitzbath. Not my favorite. I am short with short legs, and the sitzbaths are designed for someone closer to average height. I was ready to get out when the time came. I was offered a session in the steam cabinet, which I used to love in Baños de Cuenca, but there was no cold-water application in between the hot ones, and I was just too overheated. I sat on the table and drank many cups of chilled mineral spring water (no, it didn’t taste bad), until I was ready for the “hot pack” treatment, which consisted just of merely lying back on hot towels on a massage table. Not a clay “hydrocollator” hot pack was in sight. Finally, one is escorted to the “needle shower.” The brass contraption which surrounds you might have been really something when it was first installed. Unfortunately, every homeowner with hard water knows what happens to shower jets over time, and the mineral concentration of the springs over the past 100 years made the “needle” shower into more of a “trickle” shower. Next came a 20-minute massage, which was administered by a certified massage therapist in a separate room. She was reasonably competent but the massage was nothing special; I recommend skipping the massage portion and saving a few dollars.
The spa staff were very sweet and helpful. When I told them I was writing a travel blog, they permitted me back into the women’s area after closing time to take these pictures. Due to the toga wrapping and unwrapping that takes place, cameras are normally not allowed in the baths.
Overall, the experience was soothing and pleasant. I used to teach hydrotherapy to massage therapist students, using texts dating back to the 1930s, and it makes me a little sad that the newer electrical, ultrasound, and laser therapies have pushed some of the old-but-good techniques back into the cobwebbed recesses of memory.
A New Bed
One thing that I realized after all this soaking and rubbing was that I was very stiff and sore from the horrible RV mattress that came with the rig. It had the original mattress in it when I bought it, and the prior owner had purchased a fiberfill mattress pad, which did nothing. I immediately put on a 4″ thermal foam topper, but the bed was still so horrible we had to stuff pillows under us to sleep, and any time one of us turned over or got up to answer nature’s call, the motion shook the other one awake.
One thing that made the situation difficult is that the bed, while listed as a Queen mattress, is actually what’s called a Queen Short or RV Queen. Instead of being 80 inches long like a regular Queen-sized mattress, it’s 75 inches. Most regular mattress retailers don’t carry this size of mattress, and if they do, it’s priced at a premium. Not being able to afford to shell out $1,500 for a mattress, we’d been putting up with the discomfort for almost six months. Then, I found this mattress on Amazon.com, with almost 400, 5-star reviews and a price tag around $200. We had decided we were at J & J’s for another week, we liked it and Hot Springs so much, so we ordered the mattress (shipped free with Amazon Prime).
The mattress arrived in an ottoman-sized box. We wrestled the old mattress out of the camper, regret-free. The whole platform and surrounding area got a good cleaning. Then we took the box into the bedroom. It was encased in a heavy-duty, woven-plastic, drawstring duffelbag which took quite a bit of effort to remove.
Then we followed the instructions and placed the pancake-flat inner plastic package zipper-side down, carefully cut the plastic, and watched it begin to puff up. The instructions say to wait 24 hours before sleeping on it, and several reviews from people who did NOT wait, and wound up with ruts in their sleeping spots, persuaded us to camp out on the floor of the motorhome, on top of the carpet and old mattress topper, overnight.
The next night we slept on the new mattress and I realized how truly wretched it had been to sleep on the original RV mattress. I felt that it had been months since my body had really completely relaxed into deep sleep! Some advice to any would-be RVers out there: if you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an RV, spend a couple hundred more on a decent mattress! It will drastically improve your quality of life!
Kind of Feels Like Home
We spent a day hiking at a nearby state park, Lake Catherine. We picked a trail which was rated “moderate,” but was only two miles. The climbs up and down marble outcroppings were definitely challenging for two people as overweight as we are, with knee and foot problems, but we managed to complete the hike with a smile still on our faces. The beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people once again seemed a tonic for our hearts.
We were at a decision point now. We had tentatively planned to head for Brownsville and explore the area south of the border. Those who have followed me for a while now know that we expatriated to Ecuador, only to be forced to return by circumstances beyond our control. We are still thinking about emigrating from the USA. This election cycle really opened our eyes regarding the rottenness of our electoral system and the credulity of the voting public. So, Mexico is definitely on our short list. But we had lingered a little too long in the beautiful Upper Peninsula as Fall came late this year, and now it would be a big push for us to cross the length of Texas twice and make it back to Tallahassee in time to spend Thanksgiving with our kids.
Plus, we liked Hot Springs. We liked it a lot. And the weather had finally broken, so it was getting cool and pleasant at night by our little stream. So, we put Mexico on hold for this year and booked another week at J & J’s. We plan to explore the area, maybe even look at a home or two. We’ll be heading for New Orleans and Mobile to visit my cousins, then make the long trek across the Panhandle of North Florida.
Assuming that the whole country doesn’t lose its shinola right after the election, of course. In that case, all bets are off!
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