On the Wildlife Gardener’s list of Things To Do Before I Die, mud features quite prominently. I would like to see some volcanic, boiling mud, whether in Iceland or New Zealand. And seeing as I merely blobbled around in the Dead Sea while visiting The Holy Land in 1987 missing its mud flats, I wanted the chance to find some mineral mud to daub all over. So imagine my delight on a recent trip to Murcia in Spain to discover that the San Pedro del Pinatar salt flats contained a little resort called Lo Pagan where locals go to smear themselves with therapeutic black, mineral-rich lake sediment.
A lovely beach on the shallow Mar Menor lagoon side had the usual complement of Spanish families under umbrellas, teenagers texting and slow-roasted leathery British expats from Romford down for the day from their little places on the Costa. But then on the opposite side, strange figures, blackened like victims of some terrible fire or oil spillage moved about, drying to a deep grey in the 30Â°C heat. We must be near the lodo ” the mud baths. Walking down to some jetties by the shallow lake, the Junior Wildlife Gardeners started excitedly stripping down to their swimming costumes as I scooped up some mud on the shore. Suddenly, we were surrounded by a crowd of indignant Spanish grandmothers wagging fingers and saying things like el lodo es demasiado fuerte para los niños (the mud is too strong for children) and van a necesitar de una ambulancia (they will need an ambulance). Reluctantly, the JWGs had to accept the role reversal of their parents getting muddy and filthy while they would just have to stand and watch. The ferocity of the señoras’ concern had them standing meekly on the jetty as Mr WG and I larked about in the lake like naughty schoolchildren.
So what was the experience like? The lake’s surface felt chilly, but just below, the water was warm, and the black muddy sludge at the bottom really quite hot. Apparently in the summer, the sediment retains so much heat that it can be scalding. Lots of tiny red mud worms floated about, the only creatures that can tolerate this degree of salinity. Scooping up handfuls of the warm gritty mud, we smeared it all over each other. Lovely as an exfoliant, we sandpapered each other’s skin with the mud until it stung, then plastered it on thickly and emerged from the lake like primeval beings to dry in the midday sun. We had been warned about the mud’s smell, and while it was pungent (it contains iodine, potassium, magnesium, calcium, fluorine, sulphur and chlorine after all), it smelt like a safety match, only much stronger, and not unpleasant. The mud reputedly relieves acne, ulcers, abscesses and inflammations, arthritis, rheumatism and gout, none of which we have (yet).
Some smaller moat-like bodies of water near the lake contain salts at a much higher concentration (My toes felt like they had been immersed in a pH12 alkali ” which they probably had been) and some doughty pensioners were rolling around in this pickle perhaps treating arthritis, rheumatism, tendonitis and painful joints. Or perhaps they were just masochists, enjoying the undoubted stinging sensation of the concentrated minerals. Once we had dried to a crinkly greyness, we stepped back into the lake and swam around, washing the mud back down to the bottom for someone else to use. Our skin felt absolutely gorgeous, silky smooth and satiny, and not a pimple since. By now the JWGs were thoroughly hot, bored, tired and thirsty and in need of a trip to the Mar Menor beach over the other side. This was lovely too until JWG1 got stung by something in the sea (perhaps a plant, perhaps some small jellyfish) so we had to troop off in search of antihistamine and a paella. Mr WG and I were still grinning like children about our muddy shenanigans. You’re never too old to get down and dirty as most of the pensioner population of Lo Pagan will testify.