We left Tennessee and crossed into our 44th State, Arkansas. Little did I know that within the next few days, I was going to encounter the most refreshing yet disturbing moment in my life. So thank you Arkansas. Thank you very much.
My back had just recovered from the last set of camping so it was only fair that we do it again. The first stop was at Gulpha Gorge Campsite in Hot Springs. It was a perfect location. There were no flies (which was a first for a campsite we’ve stayed at) and we were right next to a stream. By the time we had arrived and set up our tent, it was getting late so we decided to start on dinner. This time around, we decided not to buy any firewood and find it ourselves – which was convenient as there wasn’t anywhere to buy it anyway! There was a forest trail at the edge of the camp, so with a big bag, we collected as many sticks and logs as we could find.
It was a perfect fire and it didn’t cost a thing. On went the pork chops and we sat there, watching them slowly cook. Normally, Stef cooks our dinners on a portable camp stove (bar the jacket potatoes), but this time, we went all natural. On went the saucepan of water and within minutes later, we had perfectly cooked chops and cous cous. It went down a treat. I think it tasted better because we only paid for the food. That night got cold. Really cold. We had to sleep in hoodies, jogging bottoms and socks.
After waking up, we headed for the nearby trail for a short walk. We crossed the stream and headed into the forest. After about 30 minutes of walking, we arrived at the Goat Rock Overlook. It didn’t resemble a goat much, but it overlooked miles and miles of Arkansas.
On return to the tent, we had lunch. When we go shopping, I am always on the lookout for funky edible items. This time around, I found a Jicama. It looks like a potato/turnip hybrid but it is in fact a fruit grown in Mexico. It tasted like an apple and pear.
While we were sitting there, ol’ eagle eye Barry saw something in the stream. Normally I am blind as a bat but today I was bang on it. It was a couple of crayfish! They were just wandering about. Stef spotted some fish in a desperate attempt to top my crayfish but we both knew who won the “spot the wild life in the stream” competition.
Enough fun and games. It was time for “the” moment. That day will live with me for the rest of my life – no matter how much I try to blank it out.
The town of Hot Springs is mainly known for one thing. Natural hot springs. There are only a few original hot spring baths in town and Buckstaff was our bath of choice. It looked quite normal from the outside.
For $33 (£21) a person, you got to experience the tub bath, hot pack, sitz bath, vapour cabinet (sauna) and needle shower. We were going to be so relaxed after this. I couldn’t wait.
Whilst we were waiting, Stef was worried as she’s never been in a sauna before. She didn’t want to be naked in front of others (apparently she only runs around beaches naked and not bath houses). That’s fair enough. I comforted her and told her that she’d have a towel around her. As it’s a traditional bath, the men and women are separated. Stef got in the lift to the 1st floor and I walked through the men’s changing room door in the lobby.
I was shown to a changing room where I was told to strip off completely and wrap a sheet around me. Standing there naked, I unfolded the sheet. It was massive (the sheet). Was there a certain way I had to wrap it around me? I didn’t want to look silly. I tried many combinations. Toga style, covered like a mummy and at one stage I even threw it over my head to look like a ghost. In the end, I settled for just folding it up and wrapping it around my waist. I walked out and was greeted by a friendly man. He led me out of the room and into the men’s bathroom. There was a big sign that said that cameras were strictly forbidden in the area – so any pictures you see here, I’ve grabbed from the net. But trust me, it’s what they were like.
He walked me to a bath at the far side of the room. There were about 6-10 baths in a row with partitions between them. None of them had doors. The bath was filling with very hot spring water. There wasn’t a lot of room in the cubical and I had to stand in the doorway. The bath filled up and he said to me “give me your sheet and get into the bath.” Serious? He looked at me. I looked at him. I didn’t even know his name and he was asking me to get naked there and then. At least buy me dinner first! He held out his hand, gesturing for the sheet. It was a large room as it held all of the baths, showers and saunas, which meant other men were standing and sitting around.
At about 4500 miles away from England, it was a safe bet that no one else knew me there. But knowing my luck, as soon as I took off the sheet and let Barry Jr hang out, someone from work would pop his head over the partition to say hi! Sod it I thought, here goes. I gave him the sheet and got into the bath. I kept an eye on the bloke and he didn’t look down there once. A true professional. He told me to relax in the bath.
That was easier said than done. At the end of the bath was what looked like a boat engine. It was powering the water jet in the bath. There was only one jet and it was right between my legs. It felt like a pressure washer. My balls were thrashing around like they were trying to leave my body. Think of what a neck scarf looks like flapping around on a windy day!
About 20 minutes later, he returned to the cubical and tapped me on the shoulder. He gave me a towel and led me to the Sitz bath. I didn’t quite understand the point of this. It was a very small bath for the bum. Yet again, no door. He took my only towel and told me to sit down. With my feet on the floor, I sat in the bath. It had a wooden seat in it with a cut out for the testicles – they wouldn’t want you to feel uncomfortable. Water came from a tap near my spine and run down my crack. What did they have against the arse? First the jet and now this! I sat there looking out. Everyone could see me there. Knees in the air. Legs spread. Balls in a hole. I was there for a good 10 minutes. What the hell had I signed up for?
Next up was the sauna. He walked me across the room to it and it looked like a small personal one. Thank god for that. He took my towel and in I went. The boiling hot water bubbled beneath the seat. It got ridiculously hot in there and it felt like I was inhaling fire. I’ve never sweated so much.
The door opened (yes it had a door) and my bloke led me to a bed in the middle of the room. He took my towel and told me to lay on the bed. Naked. In the middle of the room. WTF? By this time, I’d given up caring. Off came the towel and there I lay. About a minute later, he returned with a hot towel. He told me to sit up and he placed it on my back. He disappeared and returned with another one. I laid down and he placed it over me. He then wrapped me up in a sheet. I couldn’t move. It was boiling. I couldn’t stop sweating. But at least nothing was hanging out!
As I laid there for what seemed like an eternity, I thought to myself how poor Stef would be getting on. She would have freaked out at the first hurdle and walked out. The beds around me were filling up fast with more men getting wrapped up. My time had come and he once again tapped me on the shoulder. It was time for the needle shower. He told me to sit up, get off the bed, hand him all the towels and walk to the shower. He pointed to the other side of the room. Really? Jesus. All I wanted was a nice relaxing bath but now he’d got me doing some naked catwalk parade. I jumped into the shower, which had a curtain. A bit late if you ask me but what do I know! The water came out from every angle. There were about 16 pipes with holes going all the way down them. It was actually quite relaxing.
Within minutes, the curtain was pulled back and I was told to get out the shower and stand there. He patted my body down with a towel. Yes that’s right. He patted me down. In front of everybody. He let me dry my own meat and two veg though.
He gave me a towel and that was that. I was shown to the cooling room where I waited for a few minutes. I got changed and walked back in to the lobby to find that Stef wasn’t there. How odd.
A few minutes later, Stef popped out of the lift. She seemed very relaxed. A little too relaxed.
As we walked down the road we discussed what had happened. She said she quite enjoyed it. ENJOYED! Had my wife changed since streaking on a beach?
Well, it turned out that the women have it quite differently in their bathhouse. They have doors on everything and not once was she naked. She even got into the bath with the towel still around her. I told her my experience and she couldn’t stop laughing.
After having ice cream in an old bathhouse turned pub, the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and Distillery which was next door, we returned to the tent. That night we cooked on the fire again. Salmon and noodles.
It was even tastier than the previous night’s pork chops.
But it didn’t take my mind off of the day’s events.
I have yet to be naked again….