Last month, my friend Emily and I embarked on a Girl’s Getaway trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Upon arrival, we were flooded with recommendations to visit the famous Ten Thousand Waves Spa. It seemed like an odd choice: Santa Fe is a vibrant kaleidoscope of old-world relics and new art: Dia de los Muertos statues mingle with Virgin Mary Candles under the shadow of ancient churches and Native American tribal design. But there, nestled in the rising red hills dotted with dense shrubbery is a Japanese spa, promising the true onsen experience.
Looking at the packages online the day before we decided to book the “Short and Sweet” package, for $125 per person. While looking on the website we also noticed photos of gorgeous people, laying around in the buff… in the famous tubs, in the showers, and in the locker room. The more we read about the spa, the more we understood that being naked was just part of the plan. The next day, while we packed for the spa, I asked Emily if we should bring our swimsuits. There was an awkward pause. “Let’s just do it!” I said. She agreed. We did not bring our swimsuits. We planned on being uninhibitedly free, just like the people in the photos.
On the drive up to the spa, along the winding and scenic Hyde Park Road, we joked with each other: “We are both secure and mature women. We can do nudity! It’s not a big deal. It’s just how they do it in Asia. We should not feel ashamed of our bodies.” The rise in our voices betrayed our lack of confidence. Upon arrival at the spa, we left the car in a lower parking lot and climbed 91 steps up to the entrance, dotted with tiny Japanese lanterns.
The spa itself was breathtaking. Like a child’s play toy, it was a series of stacked wooden boxes, and resembled a disjointed but fantastic pagoda. The beautiful heavy doors beckoned us, and we stepped inside. There was a palpable silence in the spa, and you instantly taken to a place of hushed voices and tranquility. Our check in was quick and painless, and we were handed two Kimonos and led to the women’s changing room. The changing room was pretty basic – lockers and showers – besides having a toilet that had computer buttons. Yes, it was the ultimate Japanese toilet, and it does more tricks than my dog. And that’s all I’ll say about that, except that it is something you MUST try.
From the locker room, we headed over to the waiting area. The spa centers on a lavish courtyard, it was a wonder to behold with serene Japanese landscaping and tiny Buddha statues all around. Birds chirping happily in the trees mingle quietly with the bubbling waterfall stretching under a delicate wooden bridge. We were led to a warm footbath, and what a fabulous treat, although getting in and out without showing the world your goodies is a feat worthy of a Cirque du Soleil performer.
As we waited, our feet soaking in mineral water and sipping on orange infused tea, our guide came and got us, leading us up several more stairs to our private bath. A round, wooden tub lay buried in the ground, surrounded by walls on one side, and the open wilderness in the other. Our guide instructed us on getting into the tub and left, leaving Emily and I standing, awkward and alone, our kimonos blowing open in the cool breeze.
In our defense, we tried.
We really did.
We tried to be those cool women, lounging in the tub, unclothed, unashamed and free.
We tried convincing ourselves that we were comfortable sitting naked in this tub, despite the fact that our arms were crossed tightly over our chests and we were both staring at the sky. In the end, we pulled our towels into the boiling hot tub and draped them over our naughty bits. It was only then that we truly relaxed. The hot water soaking into our skin, the silence of the woods all around us – it was paradise. A light rain started, which made our bath all the more incredible as the cool raindrops dripped off our skin into the steaming tub.
After our pleasurable soak, a chime sounded to let us know that our time was up. Emily and I were separated for our massage treatments: a Salt Glow and the Yasauragi Head and Neck Treatment. The Salt Glow was first. I was led into a private room and instructed to strip and lay facedown on the table. I uncomfortably disrobed and lay on the table. The woman unrolled a sheet, and I was awash with relief. Oh good, I thought, she’ll cover me up and it will be just like a massage. I was wrong. She shook out the sheet and then rolled it back up again so it was approximately the width of an Oreo. She laid it down vertical on my body. It covered nothing except my most intimate parts. She poured hot oil all over my body, making me look, as I can only imagine, like some sort of slimy walrus. However, as soon as she began the Salt Glow, I forgot about my immodesty and was scrubbed into a blissful submission, her soft hands working the rough salt into every pore. It was heavenly and my favorite part of the day.
When that was finished, I went in for my Yasuragi massage. This was the thing I was most excited about – a head and scalp massage sounded fabulous.
And it was.
Warm camellia oil was worked thorough my hair as my massage therapist led me in a series of relaxing breathing exercises. There was a bit less massaging than I would have liked, but it was still sublime from beginning to end. As I sat up, my towel fell to the floor. Blushing and stammering, I reached for the towel, totally mortified. My massage therapist smiled and picked it, draping it around my shoulders. I was still naked, only now naked and confused. It was then that I realized – this is just a naked place. And I am not a naked person.
As we left the spa, my body and mind a useless instrument of jelly, Emily and I both decided that we couldn’t wait to come back again. Sure, it was outside our comfort zone, but it was the most beautiful and encompassing spa experience I’ve ever had. We didn’t feel like we were in Santa Fe anymore, but that we were part of a serene Japanese onsen spa, being pampered from head to toe. After our incredible experience, we plan on returning together every year, for relaxation, rejuvenation, and a healthy heaping of uncomfortable nudity.
3451 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501