I dragged myself out of bed the morning of my volcanic mud expedition after a hard night of drinking one caipirinha (low-tolerance lady) in Cartagena. The people on the bus were a mix of American and European gringos and South American tourists. I was very happy that two Cariocas (Rio residents) sat behind me and I got to speak Portuguese again. I felt a little skeptical though. Big tourist buses make me nervous.The sight of the “volcano” was enough to provoke giggles. Imagine an ant hill with a staircase up the side magnified approximate one million times. Lonely Planet says it’s really a volcano, but it’s hard to understand how it technically qualifies as one. Honestly I’m still feeling “muddy” on that one.
An even better moment was arriving at the top and seeing the actual mud pit. It was not much bigger than a typical square poolside jacuzzi with about 40 people in it covered in thick, lukewarm mud–most of them with huge smiles, laughing their mud-covered faces off. I have to admit my first reaction was shock and slight revulsion. Was this really what I had signed up for?
I inched forward in the line.
The guide on the bus explained that we would be asked if we wanted three services, each would cost $3000 pesos (about US$1.70), and we could day “No gracias” if we didn’t want them. The first one was a guy who would take our pictures while we were in the mud pit, the second was a man who would give us a massage, and the third was a woman who would help us wash off the mud in a nearby salt water lake. I couldn’t imagine saying no. And as soon as I entered the assembly line of the mud pit, I felt that it was hard to do anything but go with the flow.
The massage wasn’t quite a massage, it was more like a slightly violent rubdown. But it was so worth it to lie next to a Brazilian woman in her 50s, laughing her head off, so we could get rubbed down together. How could I refuse?
The biggest challenge in the mud pit was staying vertical. The body becomes so buoyant in the mud, my legs kept rising to the surface. Most of my first five minutes, I just laughed. Eventually I started chatting with other tourists and met a lovely ex-political reporter from DC who was traveling for a year after being laid off. There’s nothing like making new friends in the mud.
After emerging mud-covered from hair to toe, we walked down to the lake, where skilled bathers awaited. They even take off your bathing suit and wash it for you, piece by piece. It all happens so fast you hardly know what’s happening. These people are professionals. She was much more efficient than I would have been.
On the way back to the city we stopped for lunch by a not very appealing beach. I felt fairly clean and very high. The whole experience was cheaper and more memorable than an antiseptic mud bath at a high-class spa in Northern California. Viva the Volcán!