Steam of Life

Vancouver’s documentary film festival, DOXA, showed Steam of Life last night at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Steam of Life takes you inside saunas across Finland and into the hearts of the men who bare-all while taking part in this quintessentially Finnish experience. The documentary is a series of vignettes in which men share their most emotional stories from budding romance to the death of a child.

The camera shots are tight, without any zooming or panning, but they take in the spaces and faces of the men in a disarmingly intimate way. Watching, you get the feeling you are sitting on the bench with them and sharing their private (and often unusual) spaces.

In a Skype interview after the screening, director Mika Hotakainen said the success of the movie is due to timing. “Society [is] ready to accept the feelings of men,” he said.

The scenes from saunas all over Finland were completely unscripted and, although Hotakainen said he knew what the men might talk about, there were a lot of surprises.

During the filming the crew spent hours a day in the sauna and, like the men telling their stories, even the cameramen were naked. This was important to Hotakainen, who said they wanted to “create an atmosphere that we are all in this together.”

To overcome the technical challenges of shooting in extreme conditions, the cameras had to be put into the saunas 90 minutes before the filming began, to allow the equipment to adjust to the temperature and humidity.

Though Hotakainen said that making a sauna movie about woman would be a lot of fun, he has no plans to do a sequel. After all, the Finnish title for the movie is Men’s Turn — their turn to reveal themselves.

At its premiere in Helsinki, the film received a 15-minute standing ovation and is Finland’s official foreign-language candidate for the Oscars.

Watch the Trailer

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Indian Tubs Hot Springs

Indian Tubs Hot Springs: N.Irvine

Look up, way up, after you drive through the gate at Fairmont Hots Springs Resort in B.C.’s Rocky Mountains. Indian Tubs Hot Springs are the crowd-less way to take the waters at Fairmont. The three personal sized  tubs are maintained by the resort, but are free to anyone who wants to take a dip. Even if you would rather use the high diving board at the main pool, they are worth the short climb up the hill just to take in the view.


Skin Under The Overpass

Under the freeway in north Seattle may seem like an unlikely place for a spa, but then again, Little Red Day Spa is not your ordinary establishment. Artist Jeff Hengst shares his personal studio with the community by opening the space as a spa for private, reservation session and—a handful of times a month—for public drop-ins. His oil paintings of human forms and other organic shapes line the walls of this creative cave, and telltale signs of inspiration can be seen on the hardwood floor. Though the room is large and with high ceilings the space still feels intimate and it was only during my orientation tour that the spaness of the space became evident.

The woman who gave me the tour was hosting the evening. She was friendly and helpful, yet she warned me repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that sexual behavior, or even “sexual energy”, were completely unacceptable at the spa. After the third direct statement I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable, especially as I had brought my longest and most loyal spa-going companion—my mother—with whom I was beginning to exchange dubious looks. We were hoping for a relaxing evening of chatting and pampering, unfortunately for us, on this evening, it was not to be.

We went for one of the Ladies Night drop-in evenings, which, like all drop in sessions male or female, is clothing optional. There was a free-spirited, bohemian vibe to the event that intensified as more people showed up. Everyone enjoyed taking the time to choose a unique bathrobe from the large wardrobe. Then with the wine and other refreshments they had brought, draped themselves across couches or chairs and soaked in the hot tub.

My mother and I were both fully aware that “clothing optional” actually means, “clothing frowned upon.”  We have gone to many spas together and some of those have been “skin only”. But the fact that a “please sit on your towel” policy did not seem to apply to the furnishings, here, and the fact that hostess felt the need to make numerous and pointed reminders about not being sexually active in the spa, made us a tad uncomfortable. We made a snap decision to cover up and became the proverbial lepers of the evening. We also obviously flustered our hostess, who came over to say that she supported our decision to wear bathing suits, but we would probably be more comfortable if we took them off. I know she was trying to be kind, but it ended up making the whole thing turn slightly nightmarish, especially as the place was filling up with naked women who were gawking at our covered bodies.

Determined to get our money’s worth without dropping our vestments, we soaked for a few minutes in the disappointingly tepid tub before moving on to the redeeming part of the evening: a self-administered, clay body-mask and “salt glow”. A large blanket was spread on the floor, in the centre of which was a copper bowl filled with locally-sourced clay. We applied the clay sitting on the blanket under the warmth of a heater. The extremely fine grain of the clay gently exfoliated my skin as I applied it and the light application dried quickly under the heat. After I showered and buffed my body with the salt glow, my skin was honestly as soft as it’s ever been.

At this point we would have loved to luxuriate a little longer and perhaps get a mini massage on offer for a small fee; however, we were feeling too out of place. We exited as gracefully as we could and resolved to see if the nearby Banya5 or Hothouse were still open.

I can certainly imagine that Little Red Day Spa drop-in times are a great way to relax, and at $15 dollars for the softest skin you are ever likely to get, it is worth every penny. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that next time I go I will rent the space out for myself.

Visit Little Red Day Spa’s homepage for more information on drop-ins, rates and reservations.


BC Hot Springs Circle Route: The Resorts

Supplement your next road trip adventure with some soaking in the swimming pool sized hot springs on B.C.’s Hot Springs Circle Route.

The B.C. Hot Springs Circle Route is a great road trip adventure. There are well over a dozen springs on the route, which circles the Kootenays between Cranbrook and Revelstoke in Southeastern B.C., Canada. Many of these springs are extremely remote, and though they are alluring, not all of us have the time or the four-wheel drive necessary to go hunting for wild hot springs. Luckily, there are a handful of developed springs that cater to the road-tripping family who like to stay “on pavement.”  These resorts are all places to spend a day by the swimming pool or to soak tired muscles in the hot mineral water after a long day of outdoor activity. These hot springs have all played a part in the history and development of the Kootenay region and each has stories of people miraculously healed by the waters. With the price of a soak hovering around ten dollars, they are a fun, healthy and affordable activity. What’s more, the landscape is itself captivating enough that even gazing out the car window as the scenery rolls by between is a satisfying way to spend the day.

Below are the Hot Spring Resorts in order if you head south from Revelstoke.

Swimming Pool and View at Halcyon Hot Springs

Halcyon Hot Springs is one of the more polished resorts on the route with three large pools and a great view. There is also a spa onsite for those who are looking for a bit of extra relaxation.

Nakusp Hot Springs has a north-south layout that is perfect for late night stargazing. Nakusp is a good starting point on the route if you are coming from the Okanagan or if you just want to make the area your destination. There are a number of wild hot springs near by and Halcyon Hot Springs is not far away either.

Ainsworth Hot Springs Cave

Ainsworth Hot Springs are not to be missed. The source of the springs is inside a large horseshoe shaped cave. The cave is completely covered in calcified mineral deposits and assessable for bathers to explore.

The Pool at Fairmont Hot Springs

Fairmont Hot Springs have a wonderland of facilities and activities that sprawl across the landscape. Not the least of which is their massive hot spring pool with a high diving board.

The Hot Pool at Radium Hot Springs

Radium Hot Springs is in Kootenay National Park. The facility is all terraces and walkways that look down into the hot spring pools and span the canyon that the springs are nestled in.

Roger's Pass Near Canyon Hot Springs

Canyon Hot Springs east of Roger’s Pass is truly RV heaven. It’s a perfect stop after a long day of hiking at Glacier National Park.

For more information on these hot springs and more go to http://www.bchotsprings.com/

Photos — Daniel Irvine and Natasha Irvine

Halfway River Hot Springs

Halfway River Hot Springs' Riverside Pools

Halfway River Hot Springs are a blissful soak in the Kootenays, just north of Nakusp B.C. They are tucked at the bottom of a steep cliff beside the pebbly Halfway River. These springs lure soakers away from hot spring resorts in the area to soothing mineral water in its own natural setting.

In late spring, after the run-off has passed, there are a number of pools at the river’s edge and more permanent soaking pools upstream. Every year the pools and the conditions of the soaking tubs change, but the most enviable spot is always right beside the river. Halfway River Hot Springs are the perfect place to enjoy a quiet day or two. There are places to pitch a tent onsite and further up the road.  On weekends you are sure to run into other bathers, but there is always plenty of room for everyone.

For industrious bushwhackers looking for an extra measure of quiet or adventure; there are rumors of a hot spring that tumbles down a boulder slide 11km upstream of Halfway River Hot Springs. Pack a shovel.

Directions: The forest service road that will get you to Halfway River Hot Springs can be found 26km north of Nakusp. The fork to a flat parking area is at exactly 11.2 km from the highway and just past an ATV track that dives down to meet the hot spring trail. From the parking area follow a path on the left down a steep cliff. The forest service road is best accessed in the summer by four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. However, it’s not impossible in very dry weather for less capable cars. Check oil, tires, gas and the weather before embarking and plan on the trip taking a while. A tip from a local: If you are going in the winter bring your snowshoes. You’ll need them as soon as you get off the highway.

Photo–Daniel Irvine

St. Leon Hot Spring

St. Leon Hot Spring is a wild, slightly sulphurous hot spring  just north of Nakusp B.C. and is and accessible option for those who would rather stay away from the commercial springs in the area. The Nakusp area has a number of wild and developed hot springs and is great as a destination or as a stop on the way so something else.

At St. Leon there are three soaking pools on a steep hillside fed by hot and cold sources. The pools are all nestled in a rocky outcrop. To get to the smallest and hottest you can climb up the rock with the help of a knotted rope.  This tiny pool with a bird’s eye view is filled with piping hot water directly from the source. It is a natural wedge shaped tub with a small stone retaining wall and is perfect for one or two bathers who can take some serious heat. The middle pool is still quite hot. It is very shallow with a rock wall built around it. The biggest pool is a concrete lined pool in the shape of a guitar. It is the perfect temperature for good long soaks. Hot and cold water is piped into the guitar shaped pool and can help you regulate the temperature of your soak.

St. Leon Hot Spring has an interesting yet elusive history. Though none of the sources seem to agree on the specifics, the following seems to be the bones of the truth. In the early 1900’s there was a hotel built on Upper Arrow Lake (just a few kilometers west of the springs) and water from the pools was piped in. The hotel did well until the war, prohibition and a new rail line reduced steamboat traffic to the resort. It never really recovered and eventually burned down in 1968. A logging company now owns the land, and volunteers from Nakusp maintain the springs.

This secluded, yet not so secret, spring has recently been taken out of guidebooks and tourist information centers at the request of the owners in hopes of decreasing unruly traffic at the pools. However, the seven others we encountered there were all return bathers who had known about the pools for decades and were happy to share stories of their own previous dips at St. Leon Hot Springs. They were a colourful crowd, but each had equal distaste for those who besmirch springs and jeopardize everyone’s access. For the time being, the logging company is still allowing responsible bathers use the springs. We can help to continue to make St. Leon Hot Spring (and all hot springs) accessible for bathers by leaving them better off for having been.  Click here to read about the problem and how to be prepared and be a solution.

Directions: St. Leon Hot Spring is off Hwy 23, between Nakusp and Galena Bay. Clothing is optional at this spring and there is no cost. To get there turn onto a forest service road just after a rest area on Hwy23 about 23km north of Nakusp.  If you cross a bridge you have gone too far.  Stay on the most well worn road until you come to a place where a road forks and plunges steeply down on your left. You can park near the fork and walk down into the springs from here or venture down the hill in your car if you have four-wheel drive. For a shorter, but steeper walk continue on the right fork until you find a path the plunges down a steep embankment to the springs.

Photo–Daniel Irvine