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The International Writers Magazine
:Galicia Spain

Mud In Your Eye
James Skinner

Basil! Stop it!’ No, it wasn’t Sybil screaming at her husband whilst he beat Manuel (he’s from Barcelona) for setting the fictitious Torquay hotel on fire in yet another episode of the old BBC television serial ‘Fawlty Towers’. It was my wife warning me to be on my best behaviour.

All I had said was ‘take a look at that lot.’ As we were checking into one of the tucked away Galician spas to spend our first peaceful New Year celebration away from the madding crowd. Waiting behind us was a group of old age pensioners, all dolled up and ready for a dinner party. It was only eleven in the morning! She knew from past experience that the moment we began any holiday, my sarcastic mental video camera would sprout into action and any moving human that entered my sights would be in for it. ‘But it’s only…’ I shut up and filled in the registry.

The Kingdom of Galicia as some locals call it is a part of Spain unknown tomost of the British lager-louts or fish and chip lovers. As opposed to the South or most of the Mediterranean coast, the landscape is lush green and wet. Its coastline, caressing the North Atlantic Ocean is blessed with breathtaking fiords hiding hundreds of golden sandy beaches all separated by menacing yet beautifully carved natural cliff-tops. Sporadic sunshine during the summer months attracts the inland Spaniards that escape the hot arid plains for their annual holiday break. Galicia is best known for its famous cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where St. James, the moor slayer, is buried. Thousands of Christian pilgrims visit the shrine each year having travelled from different corners of the world in all manner of conventional and other means of transportation. Travel inland and one is confronted with pure nature. Tiny forgotten villages, connected by twisting roads that circumvent cascading rivers will cause many a foreigner to forget that he is in Spain.

Hidden in this jungle of beauty is the province of Ourense. As its Latin name ‘Aquae Urentes’ implies it is famous for its hot water springs, discovered and exploited by the Romans back in the Ist century. The particular area around the town of Rivadavia straddled by the river Miño that separates Spain from Portugal is the most revered and sort after with the largest concentration of spas in the region.

My wife and I chose a relatively new one called Laias Caldaria half way between Rivadavia and the capital city of Ourense. We booked for the whole long weekend from the 29th of December to the 2nd of January. As I mentioned earlier, we were miles away from any national or international mischief. As we dumped our luggage in our room and readied ourselves for the first dip, I thought, ‘sorry George. I’m on holiday!’

I am sure that most derelict humans around the world have spent many hours or weeks in places full of natural swimming pools of all shapes and sizes, dozens of secret cubicles hiding an array of torture gadgets and an army of young healthy masseurs all dressed in white, ready to pounce on them. Spas are as common as apple pie. There are so many of them dotted around the globe and have been for centuries that even I became convinced that there must be some reason for their attraction. My wife incidentally, had just undergone a couple of complicated back operations and the doctors had recommended hot baths and mud sessions as part of her therapy. ‘Mud sessions,’ I thought. That was a new one. I must confess that this was not the first time I had been to a health farm, or whatever they call these places. It was the second. Clothes off, bathing suits on, my wife and I were ready for the real McCoy.

It was midday and there was nobody about. We were all to ourselves in this magnificent Roman watery temple. Like the ‘three bears’, there was a small ‘hot’ pool, next to a larger one followed by an Olympic size super pool that straddled the exterior wall of the building. You could either boil inside or freeze to death outside. The choice was yours. I ventured into the middle one. Slowly I moved to the centre to acclimatize my body and then floated like a retired walrus to one of the edges. Four separate underwater pressure hoses intermittently phased to either break your neck or bust your ankle gave me a broadside. It was total bliss! Goldilocks had chosen the open air one to exercise her body and prove she could still swim. Clouds of steam spread across her body with every stroke she took. It wasn’t long before a couple of lithe sexless youths turned up, and, clipboard in hand ushered each of us separately into two of the mysterious cubicles ready for the next ordeal.

May sound familiar to a great deal of you, but sitting in a hot bath with a myriad of tiny water jet streams tickling your fancies, followed by the local fire brigade practicing their aim at you with a larger than life hose and finally ending up covered in mud, wrapped in a plastic bag and left to fry for half an hour was new to me. I have no idea what they were doing to my wife. All I know is that we survived the first day and after a healthy nutritious meal, retired to bed without even bothering to watch the 9 o’clock news.

Just before lights out, I went out onto the veranda of our room. For a few seconds the mountain silence hit me. Not a whisper. Then the sound of a cock crowing in the distance pierced the evening hush. Another was heard in the neighbouring farm followed by yet another. ‘You male chauvinistic roosters, I know what you’re up to!’ I went to bed.

Being a nosy parker I asked one of the pool attendants the next day what type of person came to these joints and whether they had a resident doctor. Was I surprised! To start with, my wife and I were attending the spa that specialised in skin ailments. Had we suffered from old age bones we should have gone to the one on the opposite side of the river. No wonder I got the mud treatment! A third one specialised in handicapped persons. As far as medical assistance was concerned, he was pleased to inform me that their quack was trained in thermal therapy. As Confucious said, ‘you learn something new every day.’

31st of December arrived in all its splendour. The hotel was full and that evening everyone was dolled up and ready to eat, party and usher in the New Year. A five course meal including lobster, fish and sirloin steak gushed down with plenty of white Alvariño and red Rioja was over in no time. The large dinning room television set was then switched on and as midnight approached images of Madrid’s Plaza de España, packed with people and the town council clock ready to strike were flashed at all of us. Clong, Clong, followed by twelve Dings brought us into 2006! The uncorking of champagne bottles could hardly be heard amidst the roaring screams of all the guests. ‘I guess we’ve survived another year,’ I said as I kissed my wife.

My real surprise came the next day. Once again my wife and I were the early birds and had the pools to ourselves. Not for long. In two’s and threes they began to appear, disrobe and slither into the water alongside us. ‘God, aren’t they ugly!’ I whispered to my wife. All these characters looked like movie stars the night before but now they seemed like extras in a scene from ‘Stalag 17’. My wife didn’t bat an eye lid. ‘Basil! Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently?’ I went back to the four hose purgatory session.’

© James Skinner. January 19th 2006.
jamesskinner@cemiga.es

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