A cold snap had descended over the west coast. The sun was an intense ball of fire in a clear winter sky, illuminating the icy mornings. On a chilly weekend, my partner and I escaped to a local getaway, a peaceful sanctuary boasting magnificent views of a vast lake nestled in the arms of the mountains. Hot springs bubbled from the earth, tinged with a trace of sulfur, forming wispy steam trails in the chill air. The waters were named “Warum Chuck” by the natives, and it was believed that as long as there was sickness in the land, the waters would always boil. These magical springs were thought to be a cure for many ailments, such as rheumatism, paralysis, skin conditions, syphilis, diabetes and much more. People come from miles around to indulge in their warmth and find relief for their afflictions. I was about to be one of them.
We arrived at the main hotel majestically standing along the beachfront. Tourist and locals’ flocked to this tranquil place to bathe in the warmth of the springs, soothe their aches and pains, and drift away into a state of luxurious relaxation. Three attractive pools were assembled in the belly of the hotel, surrounded by polished walkways and tiny bridges. Underground pipes worked tirelessly to syphon in the scalding water heated by the earth’s core for the guests’ pleasure. From behind glass doors, we shivered at the sight of frost glittering on the shorn blades of grass beneath the winter sun. We stepped outside, a single towel wrapped around our body, our flip-flops tapping over the frosted path. Steam lingered above the pools, cleansing the crisp air with a hint of sulfur. We stripped off our towels, shivering in the winter air with only our bathing suits for protection; goose bumps popped up all over my skin. We moved quickly towards the steaming pool, stepping gingerly to avoid an unwanted fall in the wet footprints around the deck. I stepped into the sultry water reveling in the soothing warmth that wrapped around my body. My goose bumps disappeared like stars blinking out in the dawn. Every sore swollen joint was instantly appeased. I have always enjoyed a hot bath to cool their angry inflammation, but there was something uniquely different about this water. It was Mother Nature in all her restorative glory stripping away the discomfort of arthritis. It was like dipping my body into a hot paraffin dip, the sulfurous heat coating my inflamed joints and removing the relentless throbbing ache. I floated in the shallow water, staring up at clear winter skies. I couldn’t believe I was submersed in water at 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) while the temperature in the air hovered at zero. It was invigorating to feel the sting of the cold air against the intense heat of the springs. I emerged feeling years younger, reveling in the tingling of a renewed energy flowing through my body. My skin was soft and supple, as if its youthful elasticity had been restored.
Lounging in my own bathtub, immersed in the subtle fizz of bath salts, I look through the steam at a buttery ceiling, conjuring up the image of an unblemished winter sky and catching a whiff of that slight sulphurous smell. The worst of my symptoms diminished in the wake of those springs for almost a week. I can’t say for certain that it was a result of their legendary therapeutic powers or pure coincidence – I guess I’ll just have suffer the task of returning a few more times to verify the validity of their magical gift.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.