Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A tough call

One of the reasons for maintaining this and associated blog is to broaden our knowledge of natural wellness opportunities and encourage their use. And hope that they remain publicy accessible without negative trashing the sites. 
More knowledge though may not always be a good thing. As with the increased information comes increased use. In many instances the freedom to use results in over-use and / or abuse. Clearly as a human species we have evolved, but not such that we can ourselves indicate when over-use and negatives of the over use kick in. And socially organize ourselves to keep public access and limit abuse. Hmmm.

But sometimes I also get it wrong.

High on my to-do list for years and years has been a visit to the mud baths of Espalmador. 
Espalmador is an island which lies close to the island of Formentera which (if still unknown) lies just southwest of the island of Ibiza, Spain. 

So it's all location, location here:
The southern most bay of Espalmador is reknown for it's brilliant white sands and clear blue waters. This in turn attracts a fair amount of sun / sea worshippers who wade the meter deep channel which separates Formentera from Espalmador. And this being all so close to the playground of the nouveau riche of Ibiza you'll find many a luxury yacht and their lesser cousin wannabees just lying idly in the bay of S'Alga (as the bay is officially called) itself.

The bay of S'Alga, Espalmador.

Espalmador is a privately owned island, which also falls somehow under the protection of the Ses Salines Natural Park, a safeguarded area covering the busy sea channel and islets between Ibiza and Formentera as well as the adjacent salt lakes of both islands. 
The Espalmador owners seemingly have little qualms about the above described daily invasion apparently, possibly relishing in the fact that outside this bay, the island remains largely deserted. Weighing out your options. 
It also seems difficult to dissuade the rich and famous from squatting on your door step ....

Making hey
The other actor in this play, is the island of Formentera

For decades Formentera was the destination of hippies and those seeking their holy grail: lying around on some of Europe's most beautiful and spectacular beaches. In boredom. 
Deliciously undeveloped, it was a haven for mostly cyclists who despite the camping ban were otherwise fine with staying in a local hut with the clear beaches never far away.

One of the hippy uses was the discovery of the use of natural mud on Espalmador. Having nothing else to do, they would consider a day of trekking out and wading accross to Espalmador to make use of it's mud bath as a day well spent. 
And to be honest it would have been. A couple hours on their way, an enjoyable slopping on of the mud followed by waiting for the mud to dry then washing it off and back to Formentera just on time for some tapas.

It would also be a great way for me to spend a day. 

With information slightly sketchy concerning the wading part, we decided to kayak ourselves there. 
That was a mistake. 
Leaving the small arrival port of La Savina on Formentera, one needs to cross the busy ferry channel with powerful catamarans servicing Formentera from Ibiza. Traversing this channel with a kayak is not a good way to do this; still nothing happened as most of our paddling happened during the siesta downtime, phew.

Coming closer to Espalmador, it's all attention to avoid a possible collision with the many luxury boats whiling away their day. 
We arrive on the south end, pretty busy as everybody there who has not come by boat has easily waded accross. So much for the unique experience!

The wading highway to Formentera.

While in the good old days, swimwear would have seemed to yet to be invented, nowadays a good pair of togs is essential: it's part of the culture to show you're in the upward mobile crowd yourself. That said, Formentera has not yet left it's hippy heyday totally behind it. So even though I'm one of the very few (un)dressed as a hippy, it's also very much acceptable. No batting an eyelid here.

A 15 minute walk along the bay, brings one to a major turn in the bay, as the sand beach itself ends. From here there's a sign board (see first photo) pointing towards the inland salt marsh. 
It's hot, hot hot, but 5 minutes later you are on the edge of the dry lake. The edge is delineated by a rope. 
Very near are the tempting tiny mud pools, possibly a dozen or so. No one is using them, but we had seen a couple before us return blackened, so they must have stepped beyond the rope. 
So should we. 
The mud is very luscious, black and reeks of sulphur. Good. 
The nearly dry pools are very salty. Good.
It only takes a minute or two to become a mud monster. Better.

 A mud monster in creation.

And so we return back to the seashore, looking hilariously weird to the other fashionista's. 
And though it might look tempting, there are precious few takers in the half hour as we slowly evolve from black to grey under the mid day sun. A rinse, a thorough wash and we can now walk and kayak the reverse path.

It's only a few days later when leaving Formentera I happen upon a brochure of said national park. It sternly states that it's not permitted:
'Bathing and use of the clay from S'Espalmador lagoon'.
So illegal. 
Surprisingly on official sites little is made of this, the park itself fails to list this nor does (the official tourism agency of Formentera) mention the forbidden nature of said mud bath.

In itself a good move, especially seeing how Formentera itself is becoming increasingly a destination for mass tourism.

But it's one thing to forbid, it's another to enforce this.
Certainly at the lagoon itself, other than a rope, there's little to indicate that it should not be done.

End of the trail?

One could also note that many a celebrity get away with taking a mud bath, Paris Hilton being one of the more recent celeb soakers muddying up (source).
Then there are still quite a few web sites which enthusiastically note the use of mud baths.
Natgeo (Oct 2014):
'Strip off on one of its white-sand beaches, wallow in the natural mud baths found in its centre, and pad about the tiny, uninhabited island of Espalmador, separated from Formentera by a sandbank'.
Firstchoice  (a website with a photo which is not of Espalmador):
'For a different sort of bathing – this time involving mud – regular ferries leave La Savina port, a 10-minute drive from Platja de Migjorn, to Espalmador. It’s a private island to the north, with pin-drop quiet beaches, no buildings, and no inhabitants. At its centre, there’s a natural mud bath where you can wallow like a blissed-out hippo. Let the mud dry before washing it off in the ocean. The kids will love it'.
'Sights & Attractions in Espalmador
One of the more popular reasons to visit the Island is the natural mud bath that can be found in the middle. On a wide salt plain you can spend your day wallowing in the cool mud pool, and then wash it off in the sea after! A great way to relax...although there are actually no known health benefits of the mud'.
Just to name a few.

As said official sources are rather inadequate. There is though of course the excellent formenteraguide:
'Some guide books suggest you can walk across the shallow waters that lap between Formentera and Espalmador, but this is extremely irresponsible advice. The name of the area between the two islands is Es Pas, which means the strait, and on a day when the waters are completely still and there is not a breeze in the air, then yes it is technically possible to walk across, but with even the slightest winds then it is a perilous journey.
Mud Baths
One of the delights on Espalmador is mud bathing. Right in the middle of this tranquil island is a natural mud bath that’s easy to find. Head along the far north end of Platja de s’Alga (s’Alga beach) and follow the narrow pathway through the scrubland that backs the beach. Finally you will emerge at a wide salt plain that has liquid mud at its centre. In years with light rainfall the sulphurous mud pond is dry across much of its four hectares.
Although it has no proven therapeutic benefits, on a hot sunny day there’s nothing nicer than wallowing in cooling mud! Let it dry as you walk back to the beach then dive into the clear sea to get clean. A great experience and the kids will love it!
A common sight is naturists emerging clothed in black mud, only to then wash it off in the ocean and appear naked once more. Unfortunately not all people treat the mud baths with respect – they throw mud at one another and the surrounding area. In the summer of 2009 this led to such significant damage that the baths were shut. With Espalmador a private island it is important to remember that access to it is a privilege, and the baths should be bathed in, not played in'.
Wikitravel is less clear:
'Espalmador also has the famous mud baths, however as of July 2010, visitors are greeted by two female guards who stopped everybody and instructed to only look, but not touch or try, because it belongs to a highly protected nature reserve'.
ibizaspotlight note the following:
'It's a dream for ornithologists, but please take note ladies and gents, mud-bathing is not permitted'.
Possibly it's more of a dream for birding in spring / autumn and/or winter, but not in summer when the lagoon simply has insufficient water to sustain any significant bird life.

According to this Dutch publication bathing in mud was forbidden since 2005 when estimates noted that 300 persons a day used the mud. 
The dairiodemallorca (19 Aug. 2012) experiences how the enforcement of these regulations are null and void. In the article it blames the tourism industry and the ineffective policing by local authorities.
The dairio de ibiza (14 Sep. 2014) notes how the owners are compelling authorities to take action beyond the simple rope. They also denounce many a tourist site which promotes the mud bathing. They mention that even though it's not allowed, up to 300 visitors still make use of the mud baths. 
Oddly they also repeat the often used counter-argument that there's no significant wellness benefit that has been scientifically proven. 
That doesn't have to mean that there's none. Speaking for myself, taking a mud bath is in itself a very pleasurable experience.

Blackened and all hanging out to dry ...

And thus we have the quandary: the use of mud pools in themselves are not a bad thing, but the whole scale en mass slopping oneself in mud does. So cut off the source? Is this the price for development? 

Surprisingly tripadvisor is yet to reach here. Odd.
There are a couple of Youtube vdo's of the experience, here is one.

At least if you want to repeat the experience, you now know it's a no-no. Unless you're one of the many not reading this blog ...

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