The devastating eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 wreaked havoc on the Philippine island of Luzon. Blankets of ash, 650 feet deep, covered its slopes, hundreds died, homes and livelihoods vanished in what most volcanophiles believe was the largest eruption of the 20th century.

To this day, red tiled homes and even the 18th century church of San Guillermo, its third story windows now serving as doors, poke out of the debris in Balacor.

puning3

But like the proverbial phoenix, an inspiring spa and jeep adventure has risen from the ashes. Puning Hot Springs and Spa, in fact, uses actual volcanic ash and sand for mud baths and massages. And one of Pinatubo’s eight pyroclastic flows (Mount Saint Helens had one) carved a hauntingly picturesque canyon for four-wheel adventures out to the hot springs and Puning’s three spa stations.

puningAt Station One (AKA base camp), Dr. Joy, Marina and I donned yellow hard hats for the 30-minute open air jeep drive through lahar fields and narrow gorges, past eerie cliffs (think Mother Nature meets Gaudi) and demonic gargoyles. At the second stop, which was actually the third station, we soaked in a series of 12 hot springs, courteously taking turns with Korean tourists who had already set up sunbathing camp for the day. Each natural springs, heated by the hot spring waterfall that cascades down Mount Pinatubo, offered a different temperature and the three of us shared stories as we lounged and splashed in the healing waters of the geothermically heated baths.

At Station Two, our third stop, we were presented with baggy tan shorts and tops and pointed toward the changing room. After donning our less-than-attractive duds (let’s just say Kim Kardashian wouldn’t be caught dead in them), we were led to the sand and ash beds, heated to a balmy 86-degrees by a layer of charcoal embers, and instructed to lay down flat.

puning2The indigenous Aeta, Pampanga’s first tribal people, who ran the spa used shovels to cover us up to our necks. I wiggled my arms, just to make sure I could escape if for some reason they decided this was the day to exact revenge on the whole colonial system and the white privilege that I, by a twist of fate, was born into.

Joy, who obviously has a less active imagination, fell asleep immediately as the Aeta women began massage walking across our buried bodies. As a second attendant waved a giant heart-shaped fan, woven from the Anahaw palm, I, too, began to relax into the rich mineral residue and the sand steam that, according to the spa brochure, improves blood circulation, lowers cholesterol and relieves achy joints.

Next, we were led to white plastic lawn chairs where we were slathered from face to toe with sulfuric mud, volcanic ash and eucalyptus oil. This, we were told, would tighten our pores and eliminate pesky skin allergies.

puning4After posing for pictures with our mud-covered bodies, we sauntered back to the jeep which whisked us back to base camp where, against a backdrop of lushly manicured gardens, showers and a Filipino buffet were waiting.

Advertisements