Ischia is famous for its’ thermal spas. For around thirty Euros one can spend a day lounging around, dipping in and out of pools at different temperatures with a variety of mineral contents in a tropical garden setting. Lara was very keen to do this. John was not. Lara carried the day and a lovely day it turned out to be.
We took a taxi to the nearest spa, Gardenia Negombo, towels and swimming costumes at the ready. As we paid him our driver handed us a ticket, which gave us a ten percent discount, which was good of him. It is probably what our first taxi driver of blue fan fame was probably trying to explain as he pressed his booklet onto John. We had arrived early to make the most of our day there. After changing we checked our rucksack, left John’s wallet in a locker and set out with our towels and the site map. Lara took the lead, climbing the Cliffside gardens like a mountain goat, leaving John and I too breathless to call her back to the various sun terraces and pools we were passing. Finally she stopped at the topmost point, the Black Grotto. John was not impressed by a small dark rocky cavern dripping water from an irrigation grid of pipes set above. He decided to wait while we explored it. Further investigation revealed a queue of sodden couples, so we headed down to the next level and spa three, a set of three pools at a luke warm thirty degrees. We swam about in the top pool and felt more relaxed. Various groups of women arrived and a few couples of our age. John settled into the spa experience and we headed off down to the next feature following our now slightly soggy map.
Our next stop had a trio of hot waterfalls spewing from a cliff face, so we had one apiece to stand under. Further into the rock a large cave held a grown up paddling pool full of hot mineral water. There was also a tiny cave full of deep water through a small arched entrance. John and I looked in. It was dark and there were a couple of metal handrails set into the rock at skewed angles. Hauling oneself back up from the water and out of the small archway looked fraught with potential hazards. John settled into the paddling pool, while I watched Lara disappear into the small cavern, ready to haul her out by the hair if need be. She found the water surprisingly buoyant and needed no help to slip back out. We all then lay sprawling in the hot water of the large shallow pool. There was another small cave with a dry passage leading up into the cliff face. A man was sat half way up in the dark. Eventually he came out, shook his head at his wife, who had joined us and disappeared into the deep water cave. Lara headed off up the tunnel and after a few minutes beckoned me to join her. John was happy to stay put. As I climbed up the air grew warmer and slightly sulphurous, just above where Lara was sitting were deposits of sulphur running down a small channel. The corridor formed a natural sauna with heat from the earth, which was a bit unnerving. We clambered back down and John joined us to head for the next pool. The man had not emerged from the pool cave, but his wife seemed unconcerned.
We passed a large rectangular Jacuzzi, where two small boys were daring one another to dip their toes into the bubbling water. We surmised the water was cold, so left it to head to a pair of adjoining pools of still water. Lara consulted the map. The larger of the two had hot water, the hottest at the spa, its’ neighbour was of icy cold seawater. John and I descended into the hot tub, whilst Lara braved the cold. She made it quite a way in before deciding enough was enough and joining us. She pronounced the experience stimulating. John and I were not tempted. After Lara a number of young people had a go and went no further than ankle depth, then an Italian with a swagger made just past his knees, but no one bettered Lara until a middle aged Russian man walked out of the hot tub, waded in to his knees and then flipped into the deeper water. He came straight back out and joined the rest of us. Then his wife set out stepped in deliberately and majestically descended to her waist. She smiled across at her husband, who indicated she should dip down, which she did, slowly up to her neck, still smiling before emerging with equally goddess like deliberation and returning to the hot pool. They both repeated the trick after ten minutes or so, ensuring Russian domination of the ice pond. When it was time for us to move on Lara, not to be bettered, headed back into the cold pool and took the plunge up to her neck. She came out swiftly but was triumphant, tingling all over. John and I were still not tempted, but the Italian man headed in up to his neck grinning manically, being bested by elderly Russians being one thing, but if a young girl could do it with nerry a squeal, then so would he. We headed back to the Jacuzzi, cold but not icy and that was refreshing enough for John and myself.
Our next experience was wading knee deep along a trough of bubbling water, between waist high rocks. It was called the Labyrinth, but was not much of one as it just involved wading in one direction and the turning a corner and coming back on oneself along a parallel channel. As I stepped in I realized the bottom was covered in pebbles, so walking was not straightforward. As we turned the corner to come back, John announced that the water in the second channel was icy, so we had a small experience of the tingling sensation on coming out into the air. Then we all swam in the Olympic size swimming pool overlooking the bay before drying off for lunch at the cafeteria. Ordering was rather manic, but we pointed and nodded and came away with rather a nice lunch. After lunch we picked out some loungers by one of the lower pools and John read whilst Lara and I did a tour of them, ending in a bubbling warm Jacuzzi.
Our taxi back was reminded me of our old VW van with bench seating. The driver had been a child of the seventies, now with shoulder length grey locks pinned down by a scruffy crochet skullcap in pink and baby blue. We willed the wheezing vehicle up the steep slopes and were glad to reach the marina. It was a surprise to see the Sunday market still in full swing. This morning feels such a long time ago. We walked along the front and topped the day off with ice creams from the gelatteria.